Debate (1st Day)
My Lords, I have to acquaint the House that Her Majesty was pleased this morning to make a most gracious Speech from the Throne to both Houses of Parliament assembled in the House of Lords. Copies of the gracious Speech are available in the Printed Paper Office. I have, for the convenience of the House, arranged for the terms of the gracious Speech to be published in the Official Report.
Motion for an Humble Address
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
My Lords, may I begin by thanking the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip for inviting me to move this Motion for the Humble Address? It is a singular and unexpected honour, and I confess that I feel like I did the other day when a very attractive young lady offered me her seat on the Tube. However, I imagine that my noble friend Lady Bertin—who will second the Motion—and I are part of the campaign by the Chief Whip to woo the youth vote after the result of the general election.
My first task is to express our thanks to Her Majesty the Queen for honouring our House with her presence to deliver the gracious Speech from the Throne. The whole House will also want to send our best wishes to His Royal Highness Prince Philip, who, sadly, was unable to attend this morning. We are grateful for the outstanding support which he has given to her Majesty, for his service in defence of our country, and for his contribution to countless charities and good causes. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme is but one example. It is now celebrating 60 years of offering young people the chance to shine, to serve others and to embrace new challenges and activities in more than 140 countries. There are 2.4 million recipients of the award in the United Kingdom alone, and even your Lordships may be among them. We are also grateful to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales for his presence today. The work of the Prince’s Trust is but one of the many initiatives he has taken to the benefit of our country.
I understand that Her Majesty the Queen has never missed a day at Royal Ascot since her coronation. I hope that there was sufficient time today for her to maintain that tradition and that she will be rewarded for her outstanding devotion to duty by her horse Dartmouth repeating last year’s success and bringing her total up to an impressive 24 Royal Ascot winners. I know little about racing, and bet on horses if I like the name, so my tips for Ascot this week are: Queen’s Trust, Top Beak and Queen of Time.
At church on Sunday, our rector informed us that we were entering ordinary time in the Church’s calendar. Well, it might feel like that on the Bishops’ Benches but it certainly does not feel like that on these Benches, for it is a pretty extraordinary period in politics. Our Prime Minister, it seemed, could walk on water a few months ago and is now subject to vile attacks on all sides. She does not deserve this; nor is it in our country’s interest to trash our Prime Minister at a time of great uncertainty. She is a good, competent, Christian woman, who served for a record period as Home Secretary in a department traditionally seen as an elephants’ graveyard. She may not be a flashy PR campaigner but she has the skills and experience needed to govern and navigate the Scylla and Charybdis that is Brexit. Our national security is threatened by fanatical terrorists and the negotiations began this week to secure our future as an independent country. Alea iacta est—the die has been cast. We are, by law, leaving the European Union in March 2019, and the months ahead should be devoted to getting the best deal for jobs and prosperity for our United Kingdom. Surely we can all agree on that. I believe that we have a duty to unite behind the Prime Minister at this time in the wider interests of our country.
While fighting the election campaign, the Prime Minister had to deal with the atrocities in Manchester and Southwark, and now the appalling attack on Muslim worshippers in Finsbury Park and the unspeakable horror of the fire in Kensington. The unimaginable trauma of the men, women and children trapped in that inferno and the loss to their families has, as Her Majesty pointed out, shocked and saddened the whole country. I recall the same sickening feeling as a new Minister in the Scottish Office in 1988 when 228 oil- workers were trapped on the burning offshore platform Piper Alpha and 167 people were drowned or burned to death. The public inquiry, conducted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cullen of Whitekirk, reported in 13 months with 100 expert-led recommendations, which fundamentally changed the safety culture of the whole oil and gas industry—not just in the North Sea but across the world. This example of effective action is what is promised in the gracious Speech following the Grenfell Tower catastrophe. In addition, immediate measures are required to ensure that people living in high-rise buildings and social housing can be assured of their safety and that the survivors and families of the victims of this tragic fire are housed and supported in every way possible. That is what the Prime Minister has ordered should be done.
Now, let us face it: the election campaign was not the Tory party’s finest hour. There were some unexpected highlights, however. Alex Salmond—
I knew I could unite this House. Alex Salmond, in the words of his beloved “Flower of Scotland”, was sent “homeward tae think again”. He left quoting Walter Scott’s poem about my noble friend Lord Dundee’s famous Jacobite relative:
“You have not seen the last of my bonnet and me!”.
The Jacobite cry “Down with the Elector” might have been more appropriate, as the SNP lost 21, or 40%, of its seats. The Scottish Tories, led by the outstanding Ruth Davidson—who, incidentally, was first spotted by my noble friend Lady Fall—won 12 more seats and the other unionist parties a further nine. Fundraising by the SNP for a new independence referendum is reported as having been cancelled. Nicola Sturgeon says that she is considering her position on Indyref2 and our United Kingdom has been saved from further nationalist-inspired instability. The Prime Minister, by facing down their demands for a second referendum, has set back the cause of separatists—to coin a phrase—for a generation.
It looked like a good election for Labour. Indeed, it is behaving as if it won it, despite being 56 seats behind the Tories. And the new, rapturous enthusiasm on the Benches opposite for Jeremy Corbyn, is matched only by their relief that he is not running the country—go on, smile. Oh yes, Labour now certainly has momentum, but sadly for them, Momentum now has Labour. This was not in the plan. As Robert Burns explained to an 18th-century mouse:
“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!”.
In my party’s case there is little joy, as 33 good colleagues were defeated and we have lost our overall majority, despite a record number of votes. We got 318 seats and I expected 375—375 turns out to be the number of seats in which the Liberals lost their deposits campaigning for a rerun of the referendum.
This brings me to the most important commitment in the gracious Speech for this new, long Parliament: ensuring that our country takes full advantage of the opportunities open to us as we leave the European Union. There is serious work to do, and this House knows its duty and can—and I am sure will—continue to make a constructive contribution to delivering Brexit and building a new partnership with our European friends.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has rightly emphasised the importance of securing jobs and prosperity as we leave the European Union. Free trade is central to achieving that economic objective. One thing Donald Trump and Jean-Claude Juncker have in common is their hostility to free trade. Yet the case for it is not just economic, it is a moral case. It is estimated that more than a billion lives have been lifted out of extreme poverty by trade since 1981. Encouraging free trade brings prosperity, social stability and ultimately global security.
One in 12 of the world’s population under the age of 28 is living in India, where the EU has no trade deal. Scotch whisky is subject to a massive tariff in a market a fraction of which could keep distilleries going to the crack of doom. Coffee is the second most-traded commodity after oil in the world. The entire continent of Africa exports coffee to the European Union amounting to $2.4 billion, while Germany alone earns far more at $3.8 billion on exports of coffee. How can this be? The EU customs union has no tariff on raw beans, but any added-value product is penalised. This ensures that added value is retained inside the Union and denied to poorer African countries, which results in higher prices in our shops. The EU tariff on decaffeinated coffee from a third country is subject to a duty of 9%. A similar story applies to cocoa and the duty on chocolate is even more egregious.
I welcome the commitment in the gracious Speech on mental health services. This is something the Prime Minister has championed, together with my right honourable friend Dr Liam Fox, who is particularly concerned as Secretary of State for Defence with those service men and women suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Norman Lamb too—I hope my mentioning him will not damage his leadership chances—has been a tireless campaigner as a Liberal Minister in the coalition Government and as a Back-Bencher. More recently, Prince William and Prince Harry have spoken out to encourage people to see mental illness like any other health issue. In this context, I urge the Government to focus on one area of great concern: the number one killer of young men in Britain today is suicide, accounting for about one-quarter of all deaths in men aged between 20 and 34. Men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women. We need to reach out to men suffering from depression and find ways to neutralise any sense of stigma or shame which may prevent them from seeking the help they need.
As a Minister of State many years ago responsible for prisons in the Home Office, and later as Secretary of State more than 20 years ago, I was acutely conscious of the number of people who end up behind bars who suffer from bipolar disorders, depression and other conditions. I recall with great sadness visiting Cornton Vale in my constituency in Stirling—which I am delighted to say has been returned to Conservative representation—on Christmas Day when another young woman had taken her life. Mental illness has been the poor relation for far too long and I am sure the whole House will support reform.
I conclude by turning to the substance of the Motion. We are surely blessed that we do not have a presidential system of government in our country, and we have been doubly blessed by the wonderful service and inspiration which Her Majesty the Queen has given to our country and the Commonwealth. Long may she reign over us. I beg to move the Motion for an Humble Address to Her Majesty.
My Lords, I beg to second my noble friend’s Motion for an humble Address.
My noble friend Lady Goldie reflected last year that it feels somewhat strange to say “an humble Address”—but then so, too, does not shaking a Peer’s hand when you first meet them and still saying “good morning” when it is two in the afternoon. I cannot pretend that I understand these eccentricities, but I am beginning to get used to them.
It is a great honour—and something of a surprise—to be speaking here today. I am still at that early stage in this place when receiving a note from the Chief Whip saying that he would like a word does not necessarily mean a good thing. It is only a few months since I was speedily ushered out of this Chamber and shown to the officials’ Box, where I sat for some time not wanting to cause a scene. Our doorkeepers are wonderful, but they are quite right to be security conscious. I do not think anyone had told them that Peers, rather like policemen, are getting younger these days.
Today, as you can see, I have written my speech on paper. I considered goatskin parchment, but then remembered that I was meant to be a moderniser. Some noble Lords may know that I was David Cameron’s press secretary—and, while I have huge admiration for my former boss, it is fair to say that he gave me one or two PR challenges over the years. However, faced with an unforeseen delay to the Queen’s Speech, I do not think that even I could have come up with “slow-drying ink on vellum”. I have to hand it to my successors in No. 10 for that stroke of genius.
I am sure the whole House will join me in praising my noble friend Lord Forsyth for his speech, which was full of eloquence, passion and wit. He is a very daunting act to follow. I second so much of what he said, particularly his support for our PM. Not only is he a great speaker, he is also a great public servant, and it is about public service that I will speak briefly today. We in this country have a culture of public service of which we can be proud. We have seen this brought into sharp focus over recent months in a series of terrible tragedies: Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge, Borough Market, Grenfell Tower and Finsbury Park Mosque. We have seen police officers risk their lives to disarm terrorists. PC Palmer did not just risk his life; he gave it.
I considered joining the police force after university and still sometimes wonder whether I should have—but I also wonder whether I would have had the necessary courage. Just a week ago we saw firefighters run into a burning tower: for all they knew, one that was about to collapse. A relative of one of the survivors yesterday spoke about how he saw firemen who cared so much more for the people in that building than for themselves. Let us not forget also the general public: the diverse communities in north Kensington working together to help those so hideously affected by the fire; a community’s determination in Finsbury Park to fight hate, showing that, overwhelmingly, people want love and kindness to overcome division; and, over and again, the sheer bravery of the man and the woman in the street. We have seen that this country has courage and decency at its core.
We have also seen this strong thread of public service shared by people of every age, background, ethnicity, religion and gender. This ethos is above party politics and should encourage political opponents to respect each other as decent human beings who go into public life to make the country better, even if they disagree on the route. At times of national importance, such as now, we need to face down divisions rather than inflame them.
I will share two thoughts. First, Brexit is not our only challenge and it must not be allowed to suck the energy from the other huge problems that we face as a country and as a society. Secondly, there are areas, including Brexit, where we are divided, but we must do all we can to heal conflict and seek to achieve consensus. There can be no greater figures of national unity or greater public servants than Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness Prince Philip. They have been, and remain, the mother and father of all public servants. Their contribution is immeasurable; we owe them so much. I hope that Prince Philip has a speedy recovery and that the Queen was on time for the 2.30 and had some winners.
Politics matter: not the ideology or the colour of your team, but the practical good of what your policies do for people. I feel sure that this gracious Speech will stand out as doing exactly that. Setting aside the Brexit colossus, important areas are covered in the speech, such as mental health and discrimination, where we have an opportunity to improve many people’s lives and also nourish society as a whole. I am particularly pleased to see a reference to disability discrimination. I have spoken before in this House of my own experience of disability. My little brother had severe cerebral palsy. Sadly, he did not quite reach adulthood, but I remember how concerned we as a family were that his life post his 18th birthday should be rich and fulfilled. It is therefore important that we use this Session to try to bring an end to the inequality faced by many disabled people hoping to find work. There is a mountain of evidence showing that employing disabled people is good not only for society but for business. It is not just an act of sympathy but makes good commercial sense.
I also welcome a draft Bill on domestic abuse. According to the ONS, seven women a month are killed by a current or former partner. I think we can all agree that this is a shocking statistic that has no place in a civilised society.
The security services and police do a magnificent job in their enormous task of keeping us safe. I welcome the announcement in the gracious Speech of the review of the Government’s counterterrorism strategy to ensure that they have all the powers they need.
This longer Session will be full of challenges. Parliament and all those in it will need to be resilient, resourceful and diligent as never before. However, I will end on a positive note, with something said by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in your Lordships’ House not so long ago, expressing a view with which I profoundly agree. He said that this country is “deeply embedded” with a,
“sense of destiny and of hope. We can catch hold of that hope and be that agile, flourishing and entrepreneurial society that will benefit both the poorest and richest”.—[Official Report, 5/7/16; col. 1861.]
In this spirit, I beg to second the Motion.
Motion to Adjourn
That this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
My Lords, first, I join those wishing the Duke of Edinburgh a speedy recovery, and thank Her Majesty and the Prince of Wales for being here with us today for the Queen’s Speech.
We just heard two excellent speeches. It is a parliamentary tradition that the proposer and seconder of the Humble Address be a wise, experienced sage and an up-and-coming new Peer. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, would agree that it is amazing how quickly you can move from one to the other.
However, that has not always worked out. In March 1974, Lady Birk was paired for the debate with Lord Taylor of Mansfield. He certainly qualified as “experienced”. A former MP, he was then 79 years-old and was a regular attender in your Lordships’ House into his 90s. Lady Birk later became a Government Whip. Unfortunately, as she made her way to the Chamber for the debate, she tripped, fell and cut her head, so was unable to take part. The new Leader of the House for the new Labour Government, Lord Shepherd, had to find a replacement with just minutes to go. He alighted on Lord Brockway, who entered the Chamber preparing his speech in his mind because he did not have time to write anything down. Then, as ever, he spoke with great style and thoughtfulness. However, it was commented at the time that, at the age of 86, he could hardly be described as “up and coming”.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, made a typically combative speech with very strong support for the Prime Minister. He highlighted his own political passions. I welcome the comments he made on mental health, on which there was general agreement around your Lordships’ House. There was not quite the same agreement for his comments on the European Union but that debate will continue as this extraordinarily long Session of Parliament goes on.
In his earlier life, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was identified as a champion of the emerging new Conservative thinking and policies. He pioneered outsourcing and privatisation in local government with great gusto. As one article put it, he was preaching Thatcherism before the word was even coined and even before Margaret Thatcher knew such a thing existed. Just think: if history had been slightly different, there may never have been Thatcherism—only Forsythism.
A combative and conviction politician, the noble Lord has had a long and distinguished career in Parliament, including as Secretary of State for Scotland. I am told by Scottish friends that a great claim to fame is his bringing the Stone of Destiny to Edinburgh Castle and the premier of the film “Braveheart” to Stirling Castle. However, no comments on the noble Lord would be complete without a tribute to his amazing charitable work. Many give of their time and money but few would dare to climb the highest mountains in Africa, Antarctica and the Americas as he has done for those causes he supports.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, shares the noble Lord’s commitment to charity and is a trustee of the charity KIDS, which supports children with disabilities and their families—something that, as she said today, has a personal resonance for her. As the youngest and one of the newest Members of your Lordships’ House, she still brings considerable experience of government and Parliament, having worked for David Cameron from 2005 until he resigned as Prime Minister. She is highly regarded by all those who have worked with her.
When the noble Baroness made her maiden speech, I was touched by a passage which impressed many of us. She said:
“A benchmark of a civilised society is how we care for the most vulnerable and, equally, how cared for they themselves feel”.—[Official Report, 2/12/16; col. 443.]
Her speeches since then have shown her commitment to those with disabilities and learning disabilities, and today she has also shown us her natural wit and a thoughtful approach. We look forward to hearing more from her.
The last time this House met was on 27 April. So much has happened in that time. The terrorist attacks in Manchester, London Bridge and outside the Finsbury Park mosque have shocked, saddened and angered us all. As a nation, we have been clear that we will not allow such evil to compromise our democracy, but we continue to be deeply affected as we recall those who have lost their lives and those whose lives are for ever changed. The sheer horror of the fire at Grenfell Tower, with the final number of fatalities not yet known, has left hundreds homeless and so many deeply shaken and traumatised. As well as the inquiries into the causes and the response, it also raises deeper questions about our society that must be seriously and genuinely addressed in the weeks and months to come. In all of this, we pay tribute to the dedicated, caring and professional work of our police, our fire service, our National Health Service staff and all those who put the needs of others first as they sought to help. In their responses we saw the best of humanity.
The backdrop for this election and its aftermath has been challenging; it has also been emotional. It was also quite an unusual election. It was not due for another three years so when the Prime Minister announced she wanted to sweep aside the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and have an early election, she took the country, Parliament and, indeed, her own party by surprise—and, perhaps, for granted. But she was clear about her rationale: it was about returning her as Prime Minister with a larger majority, to provide strong and stable leadership, with a clear mandate for the kind of Brexit she had outlined. Apparently it had nothing to do with a 21-point lead in the opinion polls. She claimed that the country was coming together but Westminster was not. She added that,
“unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way … So we need a general election and we need one now”.
That was the only way, she said, to guarantee certainty for the years ahead. Well, we now have neither strong leadership nor certainty, and certainty is not provided just by announcing that we will skip the next Queen’s Speech, unusually, and have a two-year Session of Parliament.
We should challenge the premise on which the election was called. The Prime Minister had her mandate. She had an overall majority of 17 in the House of Commons—how long ago that must seem now as she sits round the table trying to broker a deal with the DUP. When the Prime Minister called the election, she had just got her Brexit Article 50 Bill through Parliament, unamended—the “clean” Bill that she wanted—although I wonder if David Davis, as he left the rather short initial talks with Michel Barnier yesterday, privately wished that the Government had accepted your Lordships’ House’s amendment on protecting the rights of EU nationals and thus settled the issue, so that he could focus on other matters. Despite the Prime Minister’s complaints, there was nothing extraordinary or unusual about our tabling of amendments, the debates and the votes. It is what we do. On these Benches, we will continue to be a robust, challenging and responsible Opposition, recognising the conventions of your Lordships’ House.
As an unelected House, this House has recognised the primacy of the other place—the House of Commons—and always will. That was the central premise recognised in the Salisbury/Addison convention, reinforced in the Wakeham report in 2000 and the report of the Joint Committee on Conventions chaired by my noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling in 2005. Following the election of a minority Government, there has been discussion about whether the conventions of this House still apply, so let us be clear what they are. The Salisbury/Addison convention recognised the legitimacy and the mandate of that great 1945 Labour Government, who had a majority of 146 in the House of Commons but only a handful of Peers in your Lordships’ House. The agreement in essence held that, given that majority, this House would not vote against manifesto items at Second Reading or introduce wrecking amendments. Whenever our conventions have been re-examined, the starting point and the endpoint have remained the same. This House recognises the primacy of the Commons, and that is how we have always conducted ourselves.
What is also clear in those reports, and from our own experiences, is that the House of Commons has primacy, not the Executive or Government. Your Lordships’ House can advise, scrutinise and propose amendments to the other place, but at the end of the day, the House of Commons, as the elected House, is entitled not to accept that advice, however wise we may think it is. That makes the process sound a bit more confrontational than it generally is when in so many cases, as we know, the terms and principles of our amendments are accepted by the other place. That is where the Strathclyde report went wrong—in trying to confuse the House of Commons with the Government. They are not the same. The Queen’s Speech in 2016 was very clear on this. It said:
“My Ministers will uphold the sovereignty of Parliament and the primacy of the House of Commons”.—[Official Report, 18/5/16; col. 3.]
We agreed with that then and we agree with it now.
If the Government are ever able to do a deal with the DUP, the details should be published along with the costs. There must be transparency. There must also be transparency about the legality and the political implications for the Good Friday agreement, to which the UK Government are recognised as a co-guarantor. They should act with rigorous impartiality towards all political parties in Northern Ireland. However, even with a deal, I suspect that there are a number of issues on which a Conservative/DUP Government might not find all the MPs of their respective parties in total agreement, particularly if the Prime Minister fails to put jobs and the economy of this country at the heart of Brexit negotiations. So—I want to be very clear on this—should the House of Commons send this House legislation that has been amended from the Government’s original intentions, their Ministers should not seek to use your Lordships’ House to thwart the mandate of the democratically elected House. The Government do not have the mandate that the Prime Minister sought.
This is the Prime Minister’s first Queen’s Speech and it is clearly not the speech that she originally planned. It has been delayed and shorn of so much promised social legislation, and it is the first in decades to be delivered without a parliamentary majority. If it was delayed to wait for the ethereal deal with the DUP, that is even more chaotic than we first thought. Perhaps it is chaos without coalition.
The first three paragraphs of the gracious Speech are on Brexit. First, there are warm words about getting the best possible deal and working with others—and then the harsh reality. Interestingly, the words “great repeal Bill” are not even mentioned, perhaps because such legislation was so misnamed. In addition to new legislation on trade and customs, the Government have identified five areas where new national policies are required with, presumably, new primary legislation: on immigration, on international sanctions, on nuclear safeguards, on agriculture and on fisheries. These areas will be complex and often very technical. The detail of these Bills will be crucial, so I urge the Government to publish their proposals early. I hope that the noble Baroness will take this away and consider it. It would ensure meaningful consultation so that we can look at them in some detail, because small mistakes could have serious consequences for our nation.
On the other Bills referred to, I, like the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, picked up on the mental health Bill. There is a serious and immediate need to improve mental health services and we look forward to seeing the proposals. Previous promises that there should be parity of esteem between physical and mental health services have not been met. Just saying something does not make it happen but, with good will and appropriate resources, new legislation has the potential to make a real difference. Like the noble Baroness, we also welcome stronger action to tackle domestic violence and abuse. Since 2010, cuts to local authority funding have seen one in six specialist refuges close in England, and one-third of all referrals are currently turned away. Refuges are key to tackling this crime, and I hope they are seen by the Government as part of the solution. Perhaps this is also an opportunity to revisit the coalition Government’s policy that removed legal aid from victims of domestic violence in child custody cases.
The promised full public inquiry into the horror of Grenfell Tower is welcome, and it must be to learn lessons and to hold those responsible to account. Those who have suffered must have their voices heard, and process and information must be open, be totally transparent and hold the confidence of the local community and those affected. We welcome that the Government have taken up the issues raised by my noble friend Lord Wills in his Private Member’s Bill to introduce an independent public advocate. Such an advocate should play a key role in supporting bereaved families through any official process or inquiry that can sometimes seem distant and not have their needs at its centre. That office must be fully independent and resourced and must not in any way be used to avoid the normal legal processes or potential legal action or be linked in any way to legal aid, which should not be ruled out for such cases.
The Government have also pledged to review their counterterrorism strategy. With the expertise and knowledge in your Lordships’ House, we will want fully to engage with any review and discussions that seek to make our community safer and to prevent such criminal and terrorist atrocities as we have seen. When the Prime Minister announced as her starting point that she was prepared to tear up the Human Rights Act if it “got in the way”, she was perhaps just looking at the issue from the wrong end of the telescope. The greatest and foremost human right is the right to life, and the first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens. Before any rush to new legislation, the starting point should be to examine existing laws, and their enforcement and resourcing. This needs wise judgment. It requires intelligence and experience and must be effectively resourced. We have to ask ourselves questions. If we had more police officers and more community officers and the capacity for intelligence operations, would that make a difference? We know that our police and security services have foiled numerous attacks, so do they need new powers or are the existing ones adequate but in need of better resourcing? Should we better resource the border agency? How do we prevent people becoming radicalised through misplaced ideology or racial hatred? Unless we examine the hardest questions, we do ourselves and our communities an injustice.
This Queen’s Speech is as much about what is not in it as what is in it. The promised commitments in the Conservative Party manifesto on scrapping the pension triple-lock, the means-testing of winter fuel payments, grammar schools, even yet another promise for a further vote on fox hunting and many other commitments have bitten the dust, despite this now being a two-year Session. Were they ditched for a deal that may never be agreed? Despite the issue dominating part of the election campaign, the Government still could not find room for anything meaningful on social care, other than perhaps that it should be improved and there will be proposals at some later, unspecified date.
Finally, it seems that the spaceflight Bill has been announced again; we want to leave the EU and fly off into outer space. I do not know if this is an attempt to seek voters elsewhere, but I say to the Government that, before they head off into new worlds, they should focus on transport on planet Earth. We have the ongoing, never-ending chaos of Southern Rail and still no firm decision on a third runway.
There are some positive individual proposals in the gracious Speech, but on the whole it is undoubtedly a disappointment. Half-echoing Ted Heath’s infamous “Who governs?” when calling and losing the February 1974 general election, the Prime Minister went to the country on the dividing lines of strong and stable government or a coalition of chaos. How she must regret using those words. In calling the election, she has unfortunately weakened herself and the Government. These are troubling times for our country, with so many difficult issues needing a strong and capable Government. In such times, Governments have to rise to the challenge. Those key issues that affect, and even blight, the lives of so many of our citizens were not effectively addressed in the Speech. Should this Session last two years, the bulk of the legislation will be Brexit-related but the issues that people are worried about, such as housing, jobs, quality of life and their hopes for future generations will not be improved by the measures put before us today.
As the Official Opposition—indeed, as a Government in waiting—we will continue to maintain our constitutional role of scrutiny and challenge with responsibility, and at all times act in the best interests of our nation in the challenges we all face. I beg to move that this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
My Lords, each year, in advance of the Queen’s Speech, we receive our Writ of Summons. Normally when I glance at it, I smile rather complacently when I see that we are being summoned to consider “arduous and urgent affairs” and “imminent perils”. This year, however, those words seem only too apt. We are indeed, as the Queen herself put it, living in sombre times, which she must feel even more keenly today with the illness of the Duke of Edinburgh. We wish him well.
Recent weeks have seen a spate of quite horrific events. I too would like to pay tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks in Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park, and to those who lost their lives in the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower. The terrorists who carried out the attacks in Manchester and London hate our tolerance and the freedom it brings. The attacks were meant to divide us, but the response from the local communities and the country more generally was to unite, to show compassion and to support the victims and their families. I commend in particular the actions of the imam of the Finsbury Park mosque, Mohammed Mahmoud, whose calm, decisive intervention prevented further injuries and violence.
That same generosity of spirit has been shown in recent days to those who lost their homes and all their possessions in the Grenfell Tower fire. The alacrity with which so many people gave their time, money and possessions to help the victims was truly remarkable. I also pay tribute, from these Benches, to the emergency services for their professional and courageous responses to all these tragedies. The police, fire service, ambulance crews and medical professionals acted with bravery and huge dedication. They have humbled us all.
It is a great pleasure to echo the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, in congratulating the proposer and seconder of the humble Address. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, made a speech of characteristic energy and wit. The House will be aware that there are times—many times—when the noble Lord does not quite see eye to eye with the Liberal Democrats. It is always rather worrying when making a speech to see the noble Lord readying himself to intervene with what one often rightly fears will be a particularly fatal acerbic barb. This, however, is nowhere near as worrying as when I was a Minister and the noble Lord rose to intervene on a Treasury Question. Then I knew that the Government, and more particularly me, were really in trouble.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, made an excellent speech. She is the youngest Member of your Lordships’ House. I was once the youngest life Peer in your Lordships’ House, and I know how daunting it is to speak to an audience whose average age is several decades older than one’s own. This is, of course, one of life’s few problems that diminishes with the years, but in the case of the noble Baroness it is clearly not a problem even now. Her speech had all the hallmarks of a consummate wordsmith.
I must apologise to the House that this speech is not as polished as I would have liked, but when I sat down to write it towards the end of last week I was unable to make much progress. Everywhere was confusion. Was there a Conservative deal with the DUP? Had our Brexit negotiating stance softened? Had we indeed reached, to quote the breathless Times headline of last week, the end of austerity? And which, if any, of the Conservative manifesto pledges had not been jettisoned on the grounds that they were too unpopular to pass the Commons?
I thought then that I would write the speech at the weekend, but Sunday came and the fog had not lifted. The only new announcement was that because it was proving so difficult to write this year’s Queen’s Speech the Government had decided not to have one next year at all. Perhaps, I thought, Monday would bring clarity. It did not. Tuesday? No better. Although we now have a speech, it leaves all the big questions facing the Government and the country completely unanswered. The recent terrorist attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire have both in their different ways illuminated rifts in our society that appear to be widening rather than closing. They both demand a thoughtful and proportionate response from government, but there is no sign of that in the Queen's Speech.
Those specific events, appalling though they are, happened against the backdrop of two more systemic crises facing the country as a whole. The first relates to public services and the public finances. On education, the Government are planning a 7% real-terms cut in spending per pupil. In health, as more and more hospital trusts run up large deficits, it is impossible to see how current levels of patient service can do anything other than decline further. On social care, we face a funding crisis which the Conservative manifesto made no serious attempt to resolve at all. Following the debacle of the dementia tax, we now also have no idea what the Government plan to do to limit the amount that individuals might pay for their care.
Overall, the Conservative manifesto treated the electorate like children when it came to money. We were told not to worry our pretty little heads about how a raft of spending pledges were to be met, because the all-wise Government would ensure that it was okay. It was hardly surprising that the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that they were “not being honest” with the electorate, and that they would have to raise either taxes or borrowing beyond their current plans if the quality of public services, including the NHS, were not to decline. We therefore do not know in reality how the Government will pay for their plans, nor indeed what those plans really are.
We do, however, know that the economy is in real trouble. We have the lowest growth in the G7, inflation is rising fast, real wages are falling, and as a result consumer expenditure is starting to fall. This all stems from the fall in the pound brought about by Brexit, the second major crisis facing the country. The election was called ostensibly to give the Government a larger majority and therefore a stronger hand in the Brexit negotiations. In reality it was a cynical attempt to use a brief window of opportunity with what they saw as a weak Labour leadership and a temporarily robust economy to shore up the Conservatives’ own fortunes. They failed to read the history of Ted Heath’s attempt to fight a single-issue election in 1974, and they have reaped the consequences.
As a result, and as the Brexit talks begin with a massive climbdown over timetabling, our weakened Prime Minister and squabbling Ministers have made us worse than a laughing stock across Europe. We have become an object of pity, with prayers for our well-being being said last weekend across Germany and with newspapers across the continent saying yesterday that the Government have already thrown in the towel on the Brexit talks.
There is clearly no majority in the Commons or the country for the harsh form of Brexit which the Government presented at the election. There is certainly no majority for the idea that no deal is better than a bad deal. For noble Lords opposite who have argued that the there was no alternative to this harsh approach, I suggest they have a word with the Chancellor, who is clearly desperately trying to moderate it. He, at least, knows that Brexit will be bad for jobs, public finances and investment and is trying to limit the damage.
My party has made it clear that we will be looking to work across Parliament to try to achieve the least worst Brexit possible. We agree with the Prime Minister in her speech of 25 April last year that any Brexit will make us poorer, less secure and less influential, but it is incumbent on us all to try to mitigate the cost incurred by any final Brexit deal.
We will, however, continue to argue that the people, having started the Brexit process, should have the final say. I believe that every poll on the subject over the past couple of months has shown a majority of respondents now saying that they thought that the Brexit decision was a mistake, and a poll published over the weekend showed that a majority now want to have a final say on the outcome of the negotiations. During the Article 50 proceedings in your Lordships’ House, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, argued that Labour could support such a confirmatory referendum if public opinion was asking for it. I trust that that remains the Labour Party’s position.
In this period of unparalleled uncertainty, we are of course delighted that in your Lordships’ House we have retained strong and stable leadership, and we welcome the Leader and Chief Whip back in their previous roles. We are sorry, but unsurprised, that the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, felt unable to carry on defending the indefensible as Brexit Minister, and we welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, to her new role. We wish her luck; she may need it.
There has been some debate about the effect of the election result on the application of the Salisbury convention. On these Benches, we are clear: we will carefully scrutinise every piece of legislation which comes before us and judge it on its merits. There are clearly some measures in the Queen’s Speech with which we will agree—for example, the reform of mental health legislation and the new rights for tenants. But if we think that a Bill contains measures which are damaging to the country, we will seek to ask the Commons to think again. The balance of forces in the Commons now means that the Government will face daily problems getting their legislation through there, but when legislation eventually comes to your Lordships’ House, we will give it exactly the same degree of scrutiny as we have in the past.
The current situation in the Commons is obviously a muddle. We do not know whether the Conservatives will do a formal deal with the DUP. If they do, there will be concerns about security, human rights and funding. Most importantly, there will be concerns about how the Conservatives can possibly be honest brokers in the ongoing implementation of the Good Friday agreement. In these circumstances, it is imperative that the Government provide full transparency of any deal that is entered into. It is only by making the agreement public and allowing the details to be open to public scrutiny that the electorate can be satisfied that the Prime Minister is acting in the national interest, not just that of her party.
The Prime Minister called this election purely to strengthen her position and that of the Conservatives. She has achieved the opposite. At this time of national crisis, and in the absence of a majority Government, Parliament assumes a particular responsibility to provide a sense of direction for the country. We on these Benches take these responsibilities with extreme seriousness and will play our part in bringing the country through our current travails and into a better future.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and to support her Motion. I also join all noble Lords in wishing the Duke of Edinburgh a speedy recovery.
It is a great honour to stand here again as Leader of the House following the general election. Now that it is over, this House will once again play an important constitutional role, ensuring that our collective expertise is used to improve the legislation in front of us and to debate the important issues of the day. I have been grateful as Leader to have had as my opposite numbers the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. While we have very robust exchanges at the Dispatch Box, I can reveal that, behind the scenes, we actually have quite friendly and constructive relationships, which are vital to the running of this House. I very much hope that they continue through this Parliament.
It is also a pleasure to add my congratulations to those already expressed to my noble friends Lord Forsyth and Lady Bertin for moving and seconding the humble Address. My noble friend Lord Forsyth has had a long and illustrious parliamentary career, both in your Lordships’ House and in the other place. After serving as the chairman of the Scottish Conservative party under Lady Thatcher, he became the Secretary of State for Scotland between 1995 and 1997—the last time that Scotland had about a dozen Conservative Members in the other place. As a strong supporter of the union, it was very clear from his remarks that he was at least delighted with the results in Scotland.
My noble friend Lady Bertin is the youngest Member of the House. As someone who was also at one point the youngest Member of this House, we share a few things in common. While in my early days here I was not ushered into the officials’ Box, I was regularly mistaken for a researcher and had to show my pass on many occasions to confirm who I was. While I, perhaps luckily, dodged the bullet of giving a seconding speech, youth has been no impediment to my noble friend today, who, as everyone has said, has made an excellent contribution.
On these great days, we recognise the work of the House authorities in making today such a success; they always ensure the smooth running of your Lordships’ House. I know that all noble Lords will join me in thanking all staff for their hard work and good humour, which is hugely appreciated by us all. While we now see a different make-up in relation to Members of the other place, there have been a few changes in your Lordships’ House, too. A number of noble Lords have recently made the decision to retire, and I extend my deepest gratitude to them for their many years of dedicated service and offer my warmest wishes for a relaxing retirement. Sixty-six noble Lords have chosen to retire since 2014, showing that reforms to this House can be successfully implemented if they have support across all Benches.
There have also been a number of changes on the Government’s Front Bench, to which the noble Lord referred. I am very grateful to those who have stepped into new roles, but I put on record my thanks to those stepping down from Front Bench roles—the noble Lords, Lord Bridges and Lord Dunlop, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Neville-Rolfe and Lady Shields. I look forward to their continuing work in the House.
As we have heard, since we last met, our country has endured a number of terrible events: the terrorist attacks on a concert at Manchester Arena, on London Bridge and Borough Market and, only this week, on worshippers outside a mosque in Finsbury Park—and, of course, there was the devastating fire in west London last week. I know, and we have heard, that the whole House is united in horror at these events, and we all express our deepest sympathy and support for the victims, their families and loved ones. I would like to join noble Lords in applauding the professionalism and bravery of our emergency services—the police, ambulance, fire and health services—in the care of those affected. The stories of heroism and generosity that have emerged from these tragic events are a sign of the strength of our great country and people.
With regard to the unimaginable tragedy at Grenfell Tower, the Government are committed to ensuring that all those affected get the right support as quickly as possible and are rehoused at the earliest opportunity. There will be a full public inquiry into those tragic events and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said, residents’ voices must be heard, so the Government will provide funding for their legal representation to make sure that that happens. I am sure noble Lords will want to discuss what we can learn from this awful tragedy over the coming weeks and months ahead.
The legislative programme laid out today is about recognising and grasping the opportunities that lie ahead for the UK as we leave the EU. It is about delivering Brexit in a way that works for all parts of the UK, while building a stronger, fairer country by strengthening our economy, tackling injustice and promoting opportunity and aspiration. While the election result was not the one that we hoped for, this Government will respond with humility and resolve to the message that we were sent by the electorate. We will work hard every day to gain the trust and confidence of the British people.
First, we need to get Brexit right and so we will have a busy legislative Session, which, your Lordships will be aware, will last for the next two years, with a number of Bills geared towards making a success of leaving the EU. Much has been said recently about what the general election signified about Britain’s decision to leave the EU. The fact is that over 80% of the electorate backed the two major parties, both of which campaigned on manifestos that said we should honour the democratic decision of the British people. While this Government will be one that consults and listens, we are clear that we are going to see Brexit through, working with Parliament, business, the devolved Administrations and others to ensure a smooth and orderly withdrawal.
Secondly, last year’s referendum vote was not just a vote to leave the EU; it was a profound and justified expression that our country often does not work in the way that it should for millions of ordinary working families. For that reason, we will work to build a stronger economy so that we can improve people’s living standards and fund the public services on which we all depend. At the same time, we will work to build a fairer society where people can go as far as their talents will take them and no one is held back because of their background. As the noble Baroness highlighted, we will improve protection for victims of domestic violence and we will make further progress to tackle discrimination on the basis of mental health—as was so powerfully expressed by my noble friend Lord Forsyth—sexuality, faith, disability, gender or race.
Thirdly, keeping our country safe is the first duty of any Government. We will bring forward measures to give those who bravely serve our country in the Armed Forces more flexibility in the way they live and work and to ensure that critical national infrastructure is protected to safeguard our national security. We will also set up a new commission for countering extremism.
Finally, the Government will do everything in their power to strengthen our union, taking seriously our responsibility to govern for the whole country and seeking to work closely with the devolved Administrations. We will also work with all parties in Northern Ireland to support the return of devolved government that we all wish to see.
This is a Government with purpose: we are determined to deliver the best Brexit deal; intent on building a stronger economy and a fairer society; committed to keeping our country safe, enhancing our standing in the wider world; and bringing our United Kingdom closer together. We want, as I know noble Lords across this House do, to put ourselves at the service of millions of ordinary working people for whom we will work every day in the national interest. I support the Motion.
Debate adjourned until tomorrow.