15 Nov 2006 : Column 1

House of Lords

Wednesday, 15 November 2006.

Queen’s Speech

The QUEEN, being seated on the Throne, and attended by Her Officers of State (the Lords being in their robes), commanded the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, through the Lord Great Chamberlain, to let the Commons know, “It is Her Majesty’s pleasure they attend Her immediately in this House”.

Who being come, with their Speaker, Her Majesty was pleased to speak as follows:

“My Lords and Members of the House of Commons,“My Government will pursue policies aimed at meeting the challenges which the United Kingdom faces at home and abroad.“A stable economy is the foundation of a fair and prosperous society. My Government will continue to maintain low inflation, sound public finances and high employment.“At the heart of my Government's programme will be further action to provide strong, secure and stable communities, and to address the threat of terrorism.“My Government will put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system, support the police and all those responsible for the public’s safety, and proceed with the development of ID cards.“A Bill will be brought forward for the next stage of reform of the criminal justice system, giving the police and probation services new powers to protect the public from violent offenders and anti-social behaviour.“Legislation will be introduced to improve the way that offenders are managed and supervised.“Measures will be brought forward to give law enforcement agencies new powers to combat serious and organised crime.“A Bill will be introduced to provide the Immigration Service with further powers to police the country’s borders, tackle immigration crime, and to make it easier to deport those who break the law.“A Bill will be introduced to provide for trials without a jury in serious fraud cases.“Legislation will be brought forward to improve the administration of justice by reforming the tribunal system, the qualifications for judicial appointment and the enforcement of judgments.“My Government will publish a Bill on climate change as part of its policy to protect the environment, consistent with the need to secure long-term energy supplies.“My Government will continue their investment in, and reforms of, the public services in order to improve further their effectiveness and to help the most vulnerable members of society. “My Government will take forward legislation to reform the welfare system, and to reduce poverty.“A Bill will be introduced to improve the system of child support.“A Bill will be introduced providing for long-term reform of pensions.“Legislation will provide for free off-peak local bus travel for pensioners and disabled people.“My Government’s programme of educational reform will continue to raise standards in schools to help all children achieve their full potential.“A Bill will be introduced to reform the further education system so that it can better equip people with the skills that they and the economy need.“My Government will carry through the modernisation of healthcare based on the founding principles of the National Health Service.“A Bill will be introduced to provide a better framework for treating people with mental disorders. “Draft proposals will be published to reform the regulation of human embryology.“A draft Bill will be published to tackle road congestion and to improve public transport.“My Government will publish proposals to reform the planning system.“Legislation will provide for improved arrangements for consumer advocacy and for the regulation of estate agents.“My Government will also continue its programme of reform to provide institutions that better serve a modern democracy. It will work to build a consensus on reform of the House of Lords and will bring forward proposals.“Bills will provide for reform of local government and enhanced powers for the Mayor and Assembly for London.“Legislation will be introduced to create an independent board to enhance confidence in government statistics.“Members of the House of Commons,“Estimates for the public services will be laid before you.“My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, “My Government will work closely with the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales.“My Government will work towards the restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland, including by bringing forward legislation.“The Duke of Edinburgh and I look forward to our state visit to the United States of America in May 2007 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown Settlement. We also look forward to receiving the President of Ghana and Mrs Kufuor.“My Government remains committed to peace in the Middle East. It will continue to work to find a lasting settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, to support the new Iraqi Government in its efforts to build an enduring constitutional settlement, and to assist the Government of Afghanistan.“My Government will work with the United Nations and European Union partners to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, including addressing international concerns over North Korea and Iran, and to promote good governance.“My Government will continue to work to build an effective and globally competitive European Union and will also work to strengthen the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.“My Government will contribute to a modern and inclusive United Nations and will work to take forward the World Trade Organisation Doha talks.“My Government will continue its focus on Africa, including by seeking a resolution to the crisis in Darfur. I look forward to visiting Kampala next year for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. “My Government will work to foster a strong partnership between Europe and the United States of America in order to meet these objectives.“Other measures will be laid before you.“My Lords and Members of the House of Commons: I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels”.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed at half-past three: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Truro.

Select Vestries Bill

Read a first time pro forma.

Debate on the Address

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): 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.

3.37 pm

Lord Giddens: My Lords, I beg to move that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

Let me say first that it is a great honour and pleasure to move this Motion. I thank my noble friend Lady Amos for giving me this opportunity. She is a warm, generous and open person, as well as a very talented one, as I am sure noble Lords will agree. I would make the same comments about my noble friend Lord Grocott, except maybe to give them a slightly more masculine tinge. Both noble Lords are extraordinarily democratic in their approach to colleagues, and that is true for the House as a whole. In the gracious Speech the Government have stated their intention to reform the House of Lords. I am not against reform, but I would ask the reformers to remember that there are two aspects to democracy. One is how Members of the House are selected and the other is to provide a public forum for the open, objective and expert discussion of public issues. This is something which in my short experience I feel the House is exceptionally good at. Whatever happens in these reforms, that quality should not be sacrificed.

I can still remember my first missive from my noble friend Lord Grocott. I am pretty new to Parliament so I was impressed when I got a thick letter with the words, “From the Labour Group”, printed on the back. I thought that it would be full of information about interesting things to do, people to meet and ideas to discuss, but it had just a single slip of paper in it stating,

I thought, “I do not want to be reminded of my mortality so quickly”. It brought to mind perhaps the most ambitious classified ad that I ever saw on eBay: it said, “Used tombstone for sale. Would suit family called ‘Naisbit’”. I carefully checked that there is no Lord Naisbit in the Chamber.

Before coming into your Lordships’ House I was the director of the London School of Economics, an institution which I am pleased to say is often mentioned here—sometimes even approvingly. There are many economists in your Lordships’ House—I am sure that is a good thing—but not everyone is persuaded of the virtues of the subject. Economics is said to be the only subject where two people can share a Nobel Prize for saying completely opposite things. This happened when Friedrich von Hayek and Gunnar Myrdal shared the Nobel Prize for saying completely opposite things in 1974. Why do economists exist? To make weather forecasters feel good.

Mention of economics brings me back to the gracious Speech, which quite rightly begins with the Government’s economic record. If you want to show the health of an economy, you should look not at its rate of unemployment but at its rate of employment. In the UK at the moment 75 per cent of the labour force is in work. Is this not an extraordinary achievement? Compare it with the percentages for France, Germany and Italy. In France and Germany, only 63 or 64 per cent of the labour force is in work. This means that you have to pay out a lot more in unemployment benefits; you cannot spend the money on hospitals, pensions or the other things that people need. In Italy—I do not mean to sound too down on Italy, which is a lovely country—only 51 per cent of the labour force is in work. So the Government have considerable economic achievements to their credit.

This has not been purchased at the expense of social justice. The Government have introduced a fairly substantial minimum wage. This was much criticised at the time but it has not destroyed jobs. The New Deal means that there is virtually no long-term unemployment in this country and only a very low level of youth unemployment. Compare that, again, to France. In France, about 30 per cent of people under 30 have never held a proper job. It is a very different situation here. The Government have hit upon a combination of economic prosperity and stability, as the gracious Speech says, low inflation and very substantial social justice. More than 2 million people have been lifted out of poverty since 1997. Is that not a substantial achievement? Is that not an achievement to be proud of? Yes, it is.

A good deal of the gracious Speech concentrates on security, crime and international terrorism. I know there are many in your Lordships’ House who have worries about the Government’s policies in these areas. I think it is entirely right and proper that the House should be a bastion for the defence of our liberties and our freedoms. However, I ask noble Lords to consider not only our formal freedoms but our real freedoms. Freedom is not real unless you can utilise it. Am I free if I cannot go outside my house at night for fear of juvenile gangs? Am I free if I dare not go to my local park, even in the daytime? Am I free if I live with some realistic fear of international terrorism?

Noble Lords should remember that the new international terrorism is totally different from the terrorism of the IRA or ETA with which we are familiar. That is local terrorism oriented towards local nationalist objectives. It is a muted form of terrorism, whatever the barbarisms carried out in its name. We now face a much more ruthless form of terrorism in which the terrorist leaders say that if they could, they would kill millions of people. Osama bin Laden has said that he would kill millions of Americans. This is a new threat; we must mobilise to counter it, and you cannot do so, I think, with just a classical civil liberties position. We must be prepared to find an appropriate balance between traditional civil liberties and protection.

I do not want to hammer the theme of economists too much, but I remind noble Lords that it is an economist, Sir Nicholas Stern, who has just produced the definitive report on climate change. The Prime Minister has described this report as the most important one to be produced during his period of office. Again, there are some sceptics when it comes to climate change—some people do not believe it and say that the risk is exaggerated—just as there are sceptics about international terrorism, although one group tends to be on the left and the other on the right. But climate change is different. We cannot wait around to see whether the sceptics are right or wrong. We must act, and we must act now, to counter climate change. I am very pleased that there is a sort of cross-party consensus on this issue. I beg to move.

Moved, That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty in the following terms:

3.47 pm

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I beg to second my noble friend’s Motion for an humble Address. I still literally cannot believe that I am a Member of your Lordships' House, and this honour is completely unexpected—so much so, that when I was asked to see the Leader, it crossed my mind that I might have been found out. It occurred to me that I might be the wrong Delyth Morgan. I am often told that I do not look like a Baroness, and there are quite a few Delyth Morgans in Wales, so it occurred to me that it could be quite an easy mistake to make. There is Delyth the post, Delyth the farmer’s wife, Delyth Morgan the international rugby player and sports producer, Delyth Morgan the neurologist. I could go on. Am I really the right Delyth Morgan? Perhaps my Letters Patent went to the wrong address, and the Leader was about to ask me to do the decent thing. But there was no such suggestion when my noble friend Lady Amos greeted me with her broad, dignified smile and informed me of this great honour. I felt huge relief, as your Lordships can imagine, but this was followed immediately by a great knot in my stomach, which is still here and is always present when I contemplate addressing this House.

I, too, pay tribute to my noble friends Lady Amos and Lord Grocott. Both have been a great inspiration to me and enormously supportive as I go through my journey of acclimatisation from my former identity, as I don the ermine, whether real or fake, and become acclimatised to your Lordships' House.

It is a particular honour for me to second the Motion of my noble friend Lord Giddens, and what an amazing speech he made. How can I follow that? It gives me great pleasure to pay special tribute to him; he is an internationally distinguished sociologist and political scientist, and an eminent economist. He is also, of course, the acclaimed architect of the third way. Most importantly for us, he is a prolific contributor to this House.

My background is in the voluntary sector, in which I have been an activist and campaigner all my adult life. Directly before coming into your Lordships' House I devoted my time to raising awareness of the impact of cancer, especially breast cancer, which affects one in nine women in the UK. My noble friend talked about the health of the economy; I should like to say a few words about the health of the nation. The gracious Speech makes reference to the importance of maintaining sound public finances. I am sure that we all recognise the importance of that, especially with regard to public services. I am sure that the House will give me some indulgence and allow me to focus a little on the National Health Service.

The health debate will always rage on. Now may be the right time to consider the most significant changes that have taken place under this Government. First, the Government are well on the way to achieving a level of investment in health that is on a par with the European average. That is something that voluntary sector leaders and myself campaigned for in the late 1990s, and now it is happening at last. That must be an enormously progressive thing.

Secondly, rationing by waiting list is being consigned to the history books. Virtually no one waits more than six months for an operation and average waits are now under eight weeks. This is a momentous turnaround. I know from personal experience how important this is: in 1997, my mother-in-law had a hip replacement, having waited two years in pain. As for thousands of other patients, that was the norm unless you could pay; it was unforgivable then and it is unforgivable now. Death rates for the big killers, such as cancer and heart disease, are also falling ahead of target, with cancer death rates in this country falling faster than anywhere else in the world. Importantly, measures of the patient experience are extremely high—and that, of course, should be the ultimate yardstick for NHS success. But there is still much more to do to empower patients and give voice to the concerns of service users and carers on a more systematic basis.

In spite of those achievements, when we look back at this era in years to come I suspect that one remarkable achievement will stand out—a legacy for the future. It is the Government’s attack on tobacco, starting with an advertising ban and leading finally to a ban on smoking in public places. That was quite unthinkable 10 years ago. My father was diagnosed with lung cancer when I was a child and I have seen at first hand the devastating impact that tobacco can have. Experts estimate that today a staggering 1,000 hospital admissions per day take place because of diseases linked to smoking. So that is a real legacy of prevention for the future.

There is much more to do and there are major challenges ahead. An ageing population combined with the impact of childhood obesity, the speed of innovation and the cost of new technologies are all very challenging financially. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said recently to young people:

I thought that those remarks were very important and great to hear, but I wonder if perhaps he meant, “become a health economist”? It is all the better that we face the future with the underpinning values of the NHS settled—a universal health service funded through taxation, available to all according to need and free at the point of use.

Then there is the possibility of further reform of your Lordships' House. I am taking the long view. In 23 years, I shall achieve the average age in this House, and I hope not only to make full use of my well-connected free bus pass but to continue to serve this House for many years thereafter. So I speak as an optimist—as someone whose glass is always half full, especially in the wonderful new Lords bar. I see a House of Lords that is very good at change. Apparently, we have been very quick to adopt new technologies, such as the PDA mobile computers; we have been much faster than our colleagues from another place. We may be adept at using those tiny keyboards, but you can still find an inkwell in the Salisbury Room if you need one. I think that the House of Lords is rather good at change, so long as it can take change at its own pace, however fast or slow that may be.

I aspire to be a great orator one day, and I hope to have plenty of practice in your Lordships' House. I have noticed that the most eloquent speakers use a literary quotation to close. As my father grew up in Swansea, I feel that I must turn to its very own bard, Dylan Thomas. As we are about to start work on a very busy Session, perhaps we should take heart in his words:

I have also been given very good advice not to go on too long. I do not want to have cause to use his second most famous line:

Thank you, my Lords. This has been a great honour.

3.56 pm

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I beg to move that this debate be adjourned until tomorrow. In so doing, it is my most pleasant duty to congratulate the mover and seconder of this Motion on their remarkable speeches. I refer especially to the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and his thoughtful remarks on reform of this House. I agree with much of what he said.

It was for me a particular pleasure to see that the noble Lord was to speak today. As is widely known, he is a distinguished economist, but he is far better known as the father of the third way. It confirmed my feelings that this year’s gracious Speech was all about the legacy. After all, the noble Lord was in at the beginning of it all; it is right that he should be here to pronounce the last rites.

The noble Lord rightly got his slot today while his pupil the Prime Minister is still in charge. Next year, Britain will have a new leader with new friends. I have a confession to make to the noble Lord. I am not an avid reader of tracts on the third way. Perhaps I would be a better person if I were, but I am not. I looked up the noble Lord’s website at the LSE. It opens like this:

clearly a modest man. The website goes on:

Having heard him today, we all acknowledge that fluency. The “Best in the World” title was from the University of Aarhus, no doubt a very fine centre of learning, but this House is a tougher judge, so the noble Lord will know that the pleasure with which he is heard here, and was heard again today, is a greater accolade than many. I congratulate him on his remarks.

I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, with equal delight. She is one of the younger members of this House, in fact a near contemporary of mine, although she may not look it. She may lack the worldwide fame of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, but she has won enormous respect in her career of public service. She has worked on many causes: for children, the homeless, the NHS, on asthma and notably in the field of breast cancer, where she came to know too close to home the terrible way in which this scourge strikes the young.

I hear that during the last election she drove with great verve and skill a Labour women’s battle bus. Think of the treasure that she had in her hands—the Crown jewels of new Labour: Patricia Hewitt, Tessa Jowell, Harriet Harman and, who knows, perhaps the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, too. If the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, was equal to that awesome responsibility, she is equal to anything. Having heard her today, I am sure that a visit from her team did more good for Labour than an ocean of spin from Millbank. The noble Baroness graces this House and I congratulate her warmly on her speech.

This is a great occasion. The state opening of Parliament is a great day, when all of us come together to celebrate something that is fundamental, the rock of a constitution that has given our country freedom from revolution and civil conflict for 260 years. It is a day when we, who are, as was once cruelly said, here-today-gone-tomorrow politicians, see something greater than us: a Crown that is the gracious embodiment of the nation. It is also a day when this House for a few brief hours is the centre of the country’s attention.

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