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House of Lords

Wednesday, 3 December 2008.

Queen's Speech

11.30 am

The Queen, seated on the Throne and attended by Her Officers of State, commanded that the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod should let the Commons know that it was Her Majesty’s pleasure that they attend Her immediately in this House.

When they had come with their Speaker, Her Majesty was pleased to speak as follows:

“My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, my Government's overriding priority is to ensure the stability of the British economy during the global economic downturn. My Government is committed to helping families and businesses through difficult times.

The strength of the financial sector is vital to the future vibrancy of the economy. Therefore, legislation will continue to be taken forward to ensure fairer and more secure protection for bank depositors and to improve the resilience of the financial sector.

My Government will also bring forward proposals to create Saving Gateway Accounts to encourage people on lower incomes to save more by offering financial incentives.

My Government will bring forward legislation to promote local economic development and to create greater opportunities for community and individual involvement in local decision-making.

A Bill will be brought forward to reform the welfare system, to improve incentives for people to move from benefits into sustained employment and to provide greater support, choice and control for disabled people.

My Government is committed to protecting the public and ensuring the nation's safety.

A Bill will be brought forward to increase the effectiveness and public accountability of policing, to reduce crime and disorder and to enhance airport security.

My Government will also bring forward a Bill to deliver a more effective, transparent and responsive justice system for victims, witnesses and the wider public. The Bill would also improve the coroners service, and the process of death certification, and provide increased support for bereaved families, including the families of servicemen and women.

A Bill will be brought forward to strengthen border controls, by bringing together customs and immigration powers. The Bill would also ensure that newcomers to the United Kingdom earn the right to stay.

My Government is committed to ensuring everyone has a fair chance in life. My Government will bring forward a Bill to promote equality, fight discrimination and introduce transparency in the workplace to help address the difference in pay between men and women.

My Government will enshrine in law its commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020.

Because the health of the nation is vital to its success and well-being, a Bill will be brought forward to strengthen the National Health Service. The Bill would create a duty to take account of the new National Health Service Constitution that will set out the core principles of the Service and the rights and responsibilities of patients and staff. The Bill would also introduce measures to improve the quality of health care and public health.

My Government will bring forward a Bill to reform education, training and apprenticeships, to promote excellence in all schools, to improve local services for children and parents and to provide a right for those in work to request time for training.

My Government will continue to take forward proposals on constitutional renewal, including strengthening the role of Parliament and other measures.

My Government will bring forward measures to protect the environment for future generations. A Bill will be introduced to manage marine resources and to create a new right of public access to the coastline.

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My Government will continue to work closely with the devolved administrations in the interests of all the people of the United Kingdom. My Government is committed to the Northern Ireland political process and will bring forward further measures for sustainable, devolved government.

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 towards European action on economic stability, on climate change, on energy, enlargement and security.

My Government will work for a coordinated international response to the global downturn, including by hosting the next G20 Summit on financial markets and the world economy in the United Kingdom in April next year and reforming financial institutions. My Government will continue to work as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation including at its sixtieth anniversary summit.

My Government will press for a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East, for continued progress in Iraq and for effective measures to address concerns over Iran's nuclear programme.

My Government will work with the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan for security, stability and prosperity.

The Duke of Edinburgh and I look forward to receiving the President of Mexico.

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”.

11.41 am

The House adjourned during pleasure.

3.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.

Members of the House

It was ordered that a list of Members of the House, prepared by the Clerk of the Parliaments, be printed.

Death of a Member: Lord Rees


3.36 pm

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I regret that I have to inform the House of the death on 30 November of the noble Lord, Lord Rees. On behalf of the whole House, I extend our condolences to his family and friends.

Select Vestries Bill

First Reading

3.37 pm

The Bill was read a first time pro forma.

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Queen's Speech

Debate (1st Day)

3.37 pm

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.

Motion for an humble Address

Moved by Lord Falconer of Thoroton

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, it is a great personal honour to move this Motion. I am absolutely delighted to be supported by my noble friend Lady Ford, of Cunningham, who has proved to be a strong contributing Member of your Lordships' House. I personally owe her a great deal. In 2001, she became the chair of English Partnerships; she led it with force and success. English Partnerships owned the land on which the Dome was built.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, my noble friend had the good sense to sell it. The current success of the Dome, now known as the O2 Arena, owes much to her. Before she arrived on the Dome scene, I was able to achieve what no other Minister in government, before or since, has achieved—namely, to have every single national newspaper call for my resignation on the same day. I waited patiently for the storm to pass; 10 days later, the Daily Star started its leader column with the words:

“Lord Falconer should not resign”.

It was a Brownesque comeback, you might think—but no; it went on:

Like politics today, things that start well can very quickly go sour. The gracious Speech recognises that overshadowing all our deliberations in the next Session will be the economic crisis. The Government have, I believe, been clear-eyed and decisive in the moves that they have taken to rescue the banking system. The gracious Speech focuses on helping families and businesses through difficult times, improving the resilience of the

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financial sector, including improving banking practice, promoting local economic development and reforming the welfare system. These are the right priorities, which will contribute to our recovery and provide long-term reform. I greatly welcome a stronger voice for the tenant and the focus on regional economic development. As the chair of a south London and south of England housing association and of the Newcastle and Gateshead City Development Company, I know the importance of both these issues. I formally declare an interest as chair of AmicusHorizon housing association and the Newcastle and Gateshead City Development Company.

I profoundly hope that the coroners and justice Bill will improve the lot of victims and their families, in particular the families of the victims of murder and manslaughter. All too often, the families and partners of murder and manslaughter victims suffer twice. First, there is their appalling loss. Our state systems are initially sympathetic, but then the justice system, the health system and sometimes the Foreign Office when the crime occurs abroad, are often insensitive to the needs of those families. Organisations such as the North of England Victims’ Association, which offers support after murder and manslaughter and support after murder and manslaughter abroad, provide without fuss, funding or credit a degree of support for these victims, which they seldom see from the state, except from the family liaison officers provided by the police.

We in this House can contribute much to the development of the programme outlined in the gracious Speech, as we proved in the previous Session. There was the Pensions Bill when this House persuaded the Government to introduce greater gender equity into the Bill; the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill where the debates in the House were of the highest quality; and the Planning Bill, when the Government, strongly supported by heavyweights on our Benches, persuaded the House that the Government’s proposed scheme was right, but at the same time they accepted significant amendments proposed by the House.

In her maiden speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, demonstrated how less is more. It took her three minutes to shake and then stir the Government to stop dead in its tracks the 42-day pre-charge detention proposal. The strength of this House continues only as long as the quality of our contribution and the reliability of our judgments remain as high as they are now. New entrants, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, the noble Lords, Lord Pannick and Lord Judge, and my noble friends Lord Myners and Lord Mandelson suggest a continuing supply of very high octane fuel for many years to come.

However, I should say that the existing fuel stocks are still pretty powerful. There is the ever-youthful noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, possibly suffering from anorexia, whose jokes keep getting better and better. In the dark times to come, when all other sources of humour fail, he can rally our spirits by reminding us of his support for a fully elected House. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, as incisive as ever, is, sadly, increasingly an isolated figure. He was cruelly abandoned by his co-conspirator from St Albans, my noble friend Lady

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Ashton of Upholland, who feels, understandably, that after a year of leading your Lordships, leading the disparate peoples of Europe will be a breeze. I fear that her conspicuous talents will ensure that she is away from us for five years rather than one. The noble Lord’s cares are alleviated by the promotion to the Liberal Democrats Whips’ Office of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, who has made such a significant mark on the House, making it one where success has become a family business—there is something of a tradition of that here.

My noble friends Lady Royall and Lord Bassam are two of the most popular figures in the House, both disdainful of oratorical flourishes. Never, however, underestimate the political acumen of this team. They have the most powerful commodities in politics: trust and friendship. I predict that they will be with us for many years to come in their leadership roles.

They are joined by my noble friend Lord Mandelson, a man born for your Lordships’ House, entering the unashamedly guacamole period of his political life. My noble friend is above all a man of talent, originality and political courage. For all of us, and for your Lordships’ House, it is “back to the future” in so many ways: to 2001, when my noble friend was last in the Government, and to 1895, when last a Prime Minister, the biggest box-office draw in government, was in your Lordships’ House.

There is also a departure. My noble friend Lord Grocott is sadly no longer Chief Whip. Happily, he has decided to stay among his people in Telford. What little time off he has from soliciting their views he spends with us, and we are grateful for that. My noble friend’s part in the past decade will only be known when history comes to be written. Those noble Lords who thought that the Labour Government have made mistakes should have seen the ones we would have made had my noble friend Lord Grocott not been there. How often he would take me to one side when I was in government and say, in the friendliest way possible—usually about Lords reform proposals—“Strewth, Charlie, where do you think the Ministry of Justice gets these mad ideas from?”. I do not know if he noticed my face reddening.

Over the past year, your Lordships’ House has owed much to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the Lord Speaker. She has, with patience and skill, and often in the face of sharp-elbowed politicians, found a place for herself, frequently providing leadership on a range of issues without impinging on your Lordships’ desire for self-regulation. Our influence as a House depends on the quality of what we do. To have as our Lord Speaker a person whose values reflect the best of this House makes us, both inside and outside, immeasurably stronger.

In the forthcoming political season, above all else, leadership is required. The United States of America has been much derided by the world for its inwardness and failure to understand the cultural sensitivities of different places but its people have, in the past month, elected a leader who is of a different ethnic group from 80 per cent of them. In the course of the campaign, his wife was abused, he was called a terrorist, his friends and his preacher were vilified, his aunt was exposed as

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an illegal immigrant and the de facto leader of his political party pointed out that he was black. His dignity and calm in the face of that remorseless attack smack of real leadership.

In the UK, we have a Government who are prepared to put their own survival at stake to do everything required to beat the recession. Whatever else new Labour is about, it is about putting the sensible and fair management of the economy above other considerations. Times are difficult. Our role is to challenge, to provide ideas, to amend and to improve. However, it is also to support, to assist and to contribute in a time of national crisis.

We have much work to do in the coming Session. Never has there been a time when insight and quality mattered as much as they do now. We must play our role. We can do so confident that, as the gracious Speech shows, we have a Government who are willing to lead. I beg to move the Motion that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty.

3.49 pm

Baroness Ford: My Lords, I beg to second my noble and learned friend’s Motion for an humble Address. It is a great honour and privilege to be asked to do so, and especially to follow him, with whom I had the pleasure of working when he was an outstanding Planning and Housing Minister. Therefore, I am used to following in his footsteps, or possibly trailing in his wake for he is a very fast mover, as we all know. In fact, on reflection, I think that the very best way to follow him is probably on his shirt-tails because they are nearly always in evidence.

My noble and learned friend interviewed me for the position of chairman of English Partnerships. It was an interesting experience. I can now easily imagine being on trial for murder. We spent many happy hours selling the Millennium Dome and when he was then shuffled to the Home Office, he was replaced by my right honourable friend John Prescott. Some girls have all the luck. It was suggested to me that I had swapped the Lord High Executioner for the Ancient Mariner. I enjoyed chairing English Partnerships immensely and had the pleasure of working with many noble Lords across the House on important projects. As the new Homes and Communities Agency vests this week, I am proud of the legacy that English Partnerships left in the renewal of so many communities. If I might single out one achievement, it would be the remediation of the English coalfield, where in so many places now the number of jobs above ground far exceeds those employed in the pit even at the height of the industry. It is the most comprehensive regeneration programme ever undertaken in the United Kingdom and it was championed with great energy by my right honourable friend John Prescott.

I have worked with many noble Lords over the years. The noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, who I am glad to see in his place, appointed me to the Scottish Prison Service more than 20 years ago, where I served my apprenticeship as a non-executive director. I learnt a lot. My first visit was to Barlinnie prison in Glasgow, and I studied my brief assiduously. One of the first points in the brief—this being the west of

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Scotland—was the number of Roman Catholics and Protestants in the jail. I soaked up all the information. When we toured the canteen, I noticed a large blackboard high on the wall. It said, “RC 344 and P 227”. Brimming with enthusiasm, I said to the governor, “How odd, for everyone knows that there are more Protestants than Catholics in Barlinnie”. “Don't be so stupid”, he said, “that stands for rice crispies and porridge”. An important learning point is to study your brief, but not to try to show off—advice I have tried to put into practice ever since, particularly in your Lordships’ House. Almost exactly the same advice was given to me by the then Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who also explained that your Lordships’ House was a self-motivating place: the more work one put in, the more satisfaction would be derived from membership.

Since coming here, I have had the pleasure of working with many noble Lords, particularly in the previous Session on the then housing and planning Bills. I am sure that noble Lords will forgive me for singling out the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who is such a diligent and delightful colleague and whose expertise in guiding both Bills led to many improvements in that most important legislation. This House is rich in expertise and in experience. It is this combination that seems to me so formidable and so important to preserve.

I also pay tribute to the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, the Leader of the House. She is new to that role, but not to the Front Bench, and has brought to it her unique combination of steely resolve and genuine charm. She will be an outstanding Leader of the House, of that I am sure. Alongside her on the Front Bench is the new Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, who was resplendent earlier today in his uniform as the Captain of the Honourable Corps of the Gentlemen-at-Arms. He fills the shoes of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who are difficult acts to follow, but already he has developed a most beguiling approach. He never appears to pressure but instantly has commanded loyalty. However, I am, of course, still new enough to be pathetically compliant.

I, of course, consider myself a mere apprentice. I have made the usual raft of mistakes, for which the House has gently chided me. I have bobbed up at the wrong time, crossed the wrong piece of Floor and almost ventured down the wrong Lobby. On each occasion, I was put right in the most courteous but firm manner. Let me tell you; nothing quite compares to inadvertently promoting yourself to the Bishops’ Bench. The right reverend Prelate knows what is coming. I was sitting minding my own business late one evening when my error became manifest when the right reverend Prelate, who will remain nameless, sat down beside me. I immediately realised my error and apologised. He leant over and said conspiratorially, “You will find on this Bench that if you wear a Laura Ashley nightdress you will fit in a lot better”.

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