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".
"The Duke of Edinburgh and I look forward to receiving the state visit of His Excellency the President of France and of His Excellency the President of South Africa next year. We also look forward to our state visits to Poland and the Czech Republic in March and to Thailand in October next year.
"National security remains of the highest importance to my Government. They will continue to support the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and to promote Britain's wider security interests by contributing to the maintenance of international peace and stability. The United Kingdom's minimum nuclear deterrent will be maintained.
"My Government will encourage a co-operative relationship between NATO and Russia, and will offer further help to countries in central and eastern Europe to consolidate democratic reforms and build stability and prosperity in the region.
"Preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction remains a priority. My Government will introduce legislation to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention. They will pursue negotiations on a verifiable comprehensive test ban treaty and a convention to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other explosive purposes.
"In the European Union, my Government will participate in the 1996 Inter-Governmental Conference and contribute to preparing the Union for further enlargement. They will work for the continued implementation of the principle of subsidiarity and maintain their efforts to combat fraud. They will promote flexible labour markets and reduced social costs as the best means to improve the competitiveness of the European economy and create a climate for job creation.
"Reform of the United Nations, and efforts to enhance the organisation's effectiveness in peacekeeping, will remain an important objective. My Government will work to develop the capacity of the United Nations and regional organisations in the prevention of conflict. They will continue to promote a negotiated settlement in the former Yugoslavia.
"My Government will work for the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong. In the interests of the Hong Kong people, they will seek to co-operate with China on the basis of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in order to promote a smooth transition in 1997.
"In Northern Ireland my Government will continue to build on the present peace and to create the conditions for political progress through inclusive talks. They will facilitate economic development and promote fair and equitable treatment for all people in Northern Ireland. They will maintain close and friendly relations with the Government of the Republic of Ireland. Legislation will be introduced to continue special provisions required for preserving the peace and maintaining order.
"My Government will continue with firm financial policies designed to support economic growth and rising employment, based on permanently low inflation. Fiscal policy will continue to be set to bring the public sector borrowing requirement back towards balance over the medium term. The share of national income taken by the public sector will be reduced.
"My Government will improve the performance of the economy by encouraging enterprise and competitiveness and offering support for small businesses. They will promote further deregulation. They will introduce a Bill to extend choice and competition in broadcasting by providing for new digital services and easing restrictions on media ownership. Legislation will again be brought before you to authorise the construction and operation of a high speed rail link between London and the Channel Tunnel.
"Increased competitiveness will be encouraged by raising educational and skill levels, advancing knowledge, and promoting an efficient and flexible labour market. Legislation will be laid before you to expand nursery education for four year-olds and to allow grant-maintained schools to borrow on the commercial market. Legislation will be introduced to enable students to choose between private and public suppliers of subsidised loans. In Scotland, legislation will be introduced to reform education and training.
"Legislation will be laid before you to enable the Security Service to assist the law enforcement agencies in their work against organised crime; and to reform the procedures in criminal cases, including those for prosecution and defence disclosure.
"Legislation will be introduced to extend the Parliamentary Health Service Commissioner's jurisdiction, and to enable local authorities to make payments to particular groups of people who want to purchase their own community care.
I would like to say how grateful I am to my noble friends the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip for giving me the privilege of proposing the Motion for a humble Address. Having in past years advised successive leaders on who should stand where I am standing now, I feel the honour particularly keenly. I may also say that I feel more than a little nervous, rather like being a new boy again. No doubt it serves me right that, having put others in this position in the past, I should now have to pass the test myself.
During my time in your Lordships' House I have seen many changes, but these have served only to enhance and not to alter the essential character of the House. I may yet live to see even more fundamental change. But surely the sole criterion for that must be: will a reformed Chamber, through the functions allotted to it, through its powers or indeed through its composition, be better equipped to serve the nation than the present one? If not, we would do well to heed the words of the forbear of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, from more than three-and-a-half centuries ago:
At the risk of trespassing too much on the noble Viscount's family history, it was that same Viscount of Falkland who finally found the duties attaching to the Secretary of State so burdensome that, at the first Battle of Newbury, he deliberately rode into murderous musket fire. One can be nostalgic for the past and still feel grateful that there is nothing in the gracious Speech that is likely to put my noble friend the Leader of the House in quite such desperate straits as that. We no doubt have our battles but, equally, they will be conducted with your Lordships' habitual courtesy.
One of our tasks will be the quinquennial renewal of the Armed Forces Acts. This is of course a routine but essential measure, without which the powers of discipline necessary to maintaining the Armed Forces would lapse. Perhaps, while I am in historical vein, I might recall the origin of those renewable Acts 300 years ago. They were to prevent the maintenance of a standing Army which might have proved a threat to our young parliamentary system of government. We needed an Army, and powers of discipline were essential, but those powers were only ever granted for a limited period. In that way Parliament kept and keeps a close watch on them.
Another measure in the gracious Speech renewing powers is the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill. All your Lordships will join me in wishing Her Majesty's Government well in continuing the peace process. It is slow and tough work to remove and resolve the conflicts of many years. There is room for disagreement over exactly how the objective ought to be pursued at any particular moment. It cannot be wrong, however, to renew powers that are needed to combat terrorism, even in the light of the blessed relief which Northern Ireland is enjoying. But there is no need for the powers to be used, and Parliament stands here to ensure that they are not used when they should not be; and their periodic renewal also ensures that we can get rid of them completely as soon as it is safe to do so.
I know that many people distrust those who wish to be cautious over these matters; who would wish to see something done about the Prevention of Terrorism Act immediately; who distrust the Armed Forces' role in Northern Ireland and, for that matter, distrust parliamentarians. I think that they are wrong. No one wants these powers to go on longer than they need to and, as I hope I have shown, the historic mechanism of the renewal of powers, whether in relation to terrorism
One thing we do not need to debate is the fact that our Armed Forces today are a guarantee of our liberties. Their role now includes peacekeeping in accordance with our United Nations obligations, and the humanitarian objective of disaster relief.
I am therefore glad that mention was made in the gracious Speech of the Reserve Forces Bill. As the world changes, the role played by the Reserve Forces will change also. They need to be available for peacekeeping and humanitarian work, and this requires some adjustment.
Paradoxically, there is a need for some Reserve Forces to be in greater readiness than before--to be, as it were, nearer the front line. This in turn requires safeguards for those undertaking these obligations, and for their employers. All this is to be welcomed.
In this connection I should mention the Honourable Artillery Company, whose full dress uniform, as a former Gold Sergeant, I am proud to be wearing this afternoon. Although of far earlier origin, the HAC received its charter of incorporation from King Henry VIII in 1537, and is the oldest fighting regiment in the British Army, and probably in the world. Today it has an operational role in support of the ACE Rapid Reaction Corps. Long may it flourish.
Perhaps I might enter here a plea to my noble friends on the Front Bench. The Reserve Forces Bill may have as its object, or one of its objects, the making of public expenditure savings, something that is not unknown in government measures. Can we ensure that those economies are not false ones, and that our Reserve Forces are maintained at a proper level?
Her Majesty's Government are also setting their hand--very bravely, to my mind--to further reforms of criminal procedure and to family law. When I say that they are brave, I speak as an old business manager. As a Member of your Lordships' House, I can look forward to the fierce debates that will no doubt carry us through many a night; but as a former Chief Whip, I will feel for my noble friend Lord Strathclyde.
One of the things which has changed in the years since I have been in your Lordships' House is that some measures are widely, if not always accurately, discussed in advance of their appearance in the gracious Speech. I have to say that this is not a development which I welcome, even though it is probably inevitable in a world of instantaneous media comment on every thought that flits through a Minister's mind.
We would do well, however, to wait until a Bill is actually published before becoming too exercised about it. In this case, my noble and learned friend has published a White Paper and consulted widely since then. The Bill will no doubt reflect that.
I would only add that I do not believe that there is one of your Lordships who wishes the family harm, or would agree to having one word on the statute book which would make the break-up of a marriage more likely. That is not, however, what my noble and learned friend is about. As I understand it, he seeks, as a good Minister and a good lawyer, to provide the best possible legal framework for inevitable human events. So let our debates on this matter at least acknowledge that we all agree on ends, even if we fight fiercely over means.
Much the same considerations apply to the subject of asylum seekers and immigration. I know that successive Home Secretaries have wrestled with the world of mass travel which has made it so much easier for many people to cross fences in search of greener grass. I know too--if my image is not becoming absurd--that for many people in the world, their side of the fence may be an arid waste.
We are a haven for refugees. We always have been. I trust we always shall be, and I have no doubt that in essentials the Government's plans will do nothing to change that. Nevertheless, we have to balance this with our duty to our own people--and by that I mean the diverse society which we enjoy in this country, and not some myth of Anglo-Saxonry. Apart from anything else, those of your Lordships who can boast of Norman blood would be out for mine.
My Lords, there is nothing wrong with heated debate; and there is nothing wrong with agreement, when it is genuine. To that end, I noted the inclusion of the Chemical Weapons Convention Bill in the gracious Speech, and welcome the fact that it has already been given full support by Her Majesty's Opposition. It is so much better and more courteous, particularly on this day, to give noble Lords opposite their full title, rather than referring to them as "the Opposition". These weapons should be banned and we will play our part in ridding the world of them.
My Lords, the gracious Speech opened with the highlights of Her Majesty's own arduous programme, and that of His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, during the months covered by this parliamentary Session. I have deliberately left them until the end of what I have to say. This programme includes the State Visits to this country of their Excellencies the Presidents of France and South Africa, and the State Visits of Her Majesty and His Royal Highness to Poland and the Czech Republic in March, and to Thailand in October next year.
My Lords, it must seem strange to somebody unacquainted with our constitution that the gracious Speech from the Throne should otherwise largely consist of the partisan political aspirations of whichever Administration happens to be in power at the moment. But surely this is symbolic of the constitution itself. I never cease to wonder at how fortunate we are to possess a monarchy that is above party politics and other
"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".--(Lord Denham.)
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