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Perhaps I may, at the outset, express my great appreciation to my noble friends the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip for conferring on me this very great privilege. It is of course a daunting task and it has taken a little time to think about what I shall say. Even now I am not entirely sure. I spent several years on the Benches opposite with my noble friends and then almost 14 rewarding months in this Government. It was a nice change. I served, too, in the government of my noble friend's father whom I am delighted to see here today. Many recall with pleasure the unique situation when my noble friend Lord Callaghan, with justifiable pride, introduced his daughter to this House, little imagining, I suppose, at that time that it would not be so long afterwards that she would become the Leader of the House. In the four months since becoming Leader she has swiftly won the admiration and confidence not only of this side of the House but much more widely. In the extraordinarily difficult period since the Recess she has demonstrated ability and resolve of the highest order, qualities on which she will most certainly need to call repeatedly, I dare say, as we undertake the bold legislative programme contained in the gracious Speech.
As for my noble friend Lord Carter, he, too, with his customary sense of humour--and he certainly needs that--has performed miracles. It is indeed something of a miracle for this side to avoid defeat in a House where we are so heavily outnumbered. It is, I suppose, his farming background that enables him to deploy with such consummate skill his knowledge of shepherding flocks and therefore the task does not come too hard for him. I am sure that there will be more miracles on the way.
Facing the desperate situation of having to make this speech, one has sometimes to resort to desperate measures. I even consulted precedent to discover what other people had said. That is pretty desperate. But then I thought: what about the Yellow Pages? I consulted Yellow Pages. According to BT advertisements, it is supposed to answer everyone's prayers. But, alas, nothing under Queen's Speech or humble Address! The only humble address was mine: 22 Bracknell Gate, Hampstead, NW3. Then, eureka, I thought I had found something. However, "Speech & drama teachers"--proved no use. "Speakers agents" or "Speech & language therapists". But then I found it, my Lords; a company called "Speeches for all Occasions Limited". Telephoning expectantly, I was met with the following immensely helpful and, in these days, customary voice
I am delighted that my noble friend has been chosen. She is eminently well qualified. Although still very young, at least by my standards, she has been a distinguished Silk, and only recently completed a most complicated inquiry, "The Luke Warm Luke" mental health inquiry, which she conducted with the utmost sensitivity. It addressed major concerns, leading to the ministerial conclusion that care in the community had failed. As a result--this is a notable achievement for her and her colleagues--there is to be a major review of the Mental Health Act. That, indeed, is very rewarding as far as concerns her hard work.
I turn now to the background to the gracious Speech itself. As they promised in their first days, this Government have concentrated on modernising our country--its institutions, its economy, its welfare state and its health and education services, which are so vital to our people. It has been an unprecedentedly demanding task. But the Government have laid down impressive foundations for further advance in this and future parliamentary Sessions. So much that had needed to be done had not been dealt with. Of course, so much will still need to be done at the end of this Session. But the themes established in those first days will remain the principal themes of the new Session.
In this Session, we will see the first Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. And clearly the next stage in institutional reform of significance to this House will be the first instalment of its reform. I beg of the House not to be too introspective about this. There are issues which demand very great attention beyond the affairs of this House, though it is of course important in terms of how we are to accomplish a greater measure of democracy in this country. Our manifesto commitment, endorsed overwhelmingly by the electorate, was clear. It was to make Parliament more democratic. In my submission, it is idle to insist that no reform should take place until the plans for the final edifice are in place. That would be a prescription for massive delay. Who knows, some of your Lordships may even want that delay. But I do not believe that it would be in the best interests of our country. Nor would it be the fulfilment of a very clear manifesto pledge.
What the Government propose is a staged approach--a new system for appointing life Peers and then a Royal Commission to examine further reform. That is an eminently sensible way ahead and one can only hope that the threats of which we read in the press of applying a scorched earth policy to the Government's legislative programme will be discarded. That would reduce real democracy to rubble. The fact is that this House, even
This Queen's Speech plainly signifies what is really at stake. My noble friend Lady Scotland will concentrate on educational, health, welfare and legal aid issues and reform of the youth courts--all vital elements of our substantial programme of reform and modernisation and all long overdue.
I wish to touch on other aspects of the Speech concerning domestic and foreign affairs. This Government, as it says in the Queen's Speech, have reduced borrowing in a very short period of time--barely 18 months--by no less than £20 billion despite a deepening world recession. We provided greater job opportunities, especially for the young, and the Government will continue to buttress Britain's economy in the best way possible by ensuring that the talents and abilities of our people, too often in the past allowed to lie dormant, will be effectively harnessed so that our nation becomes more competitive; and that we promote partnership as a part of that increasing competitiveness in the workplace. That is a priority for us. Fairness at work, including recognition of trade unions on the basis set out in our manifesto, is part and parcel of that operation, as indeed is the improvement of relations between business and the trade unions.
Last Session we made a significant start to the whole process. We rectified initially the unjustifiable denial of civil liberties at GCHQ. We passed legislation introducing a national minimum wage. I am glad to say that I played some part in that. We shall continue in our quest for a better balance of rights and responsibilities in the workplace. I earnestly hope that following the consultation on which the Government are to embark on the impact of employee stakeholding we shall witness a British version of what has been achieved with marked success in the heartland of capitalism--the United States. Through employee stakeholding they have enjoyed improved productivity. They have seen a far greater involvement of the workforce in their enterprises, and they have seen, too, the improved performance of their companies so far as concerns their shareholders. Those are important gains. They can be reflected in the economy of this country too.
As regards institutional changes, beyond this House, we shall be establishing a new greater London authority, different from the old Greater London Council, which in my submission was capriciously and irresponsibly abolished as a result of a demonstration of political pique by a previous government. The people of London have made it unmistakably clear that they do not wish to be the only major capital city in the world without its own elected local government. They want a directly elected mayor, an elected assembly with sufficient powers, especially concerning transport, to bring London into the millennium as a properly governed capital city of which Londoners and the nation as a whole can be proud. At the same time, as is stated in the gracious Speech, rural Britain must be helped and the Regional Development Corporation will have a crucial role in that regard.
Our people are entitled to be better informed about decisions that affect their daily lives. They are concerned about the opinions of too many experts regarding the people's environment, the people's safety. Too often their confidence in those experts has been eroded by what they perceive to be a somewhat condescending approach--rather like the old-fashioned general medical practitioner who would come into the home, pat the patient on the head, and say, "Leave it all to me. It will be all right". That will not do today. People demand to know more. They have been misled. When I was Commissioner for the Environment in Europe, I am afraid that people were not told the truth about the effects of acid rain. They were not told the truth by their governments about pollution. And although we tried very hard to impart the information to them, the experts often got in the way to disguise the real truth of the matter.
We are to have a draft freedom of information Bill. I think that that is the right way to proceed. We shall have full debate on the basis of precise proposals. We have waited years for the Bill, and consequently one Session's further delay--if that indeed is what is at stake; it may not be--would not, in my view, seem to be fatal to the whole project.
Another major Bill touching on civil liberties will be introduced dealing with asylum and immigration. I declare my interest as a former chairman of the Refugee Council. These measures are again long overdue. This Government have inherited a flawed system involving unconscionable delays and a flagrant denial of basic rights to far too many genuine asylum-seekers. They suffered for too long. Reform is essential, while recognising that those who are not genuine gravely imperil the rights of those who are. It is high time, too--I hope that it will be embraced in the action we take--to expose those so-called advisers who, through their cupidity, ruthlessly exploit those unfortunate and vulnerable people. They should be exposed for what they are.
I turn now to matters affecting international trade, the European Union and foreign affairs. This Government believe in the rule of law in international trade and, as the Speech makes clear, this must be accompanied by reform of the international financial institutions. It is critical to sustainable development and I believe that this Government are entitled to be congratulated on their role at the Buenos Aires conference on the environment in producing agreements when just hours before people were predicting disaster.
I spent 14 months as Minister for Trade. It was a greatly rewarding experience. I visited a large number of countries and I wish to pay tribute to the co-operation of our business community. That was always forthcoming and it was essential. One of my grandchildren, then aged six, was watching television just after the election. Her mum asked who she was watching. "Tony Blair", she replied. Very good. "And who's he?" She replied, "He's king of the Government".
Especially in time of economic difficulty, we must work for the success of the World Trade Organisation, and its dispute resolution processes. But we must constantly re-examine to make sure that they answer the needs of all people throughout the globe.
The EU faces its greatest challenges as it moves inexorably towards European monetary union. The Government are right to do what they can to facilitate its success. In or out, Britain will be affected; and it is interesting at this stage to observe that public opinion, and commercial opinion in particular, are coming round to welcoming the idea.
The other challenge is enlargement. It will be immensely difficult. It is essential that those countries, burgeoning democracies, which have recently thrown off the thraldom of totalitarianism, who want to be in the European Union, must accept the acquis communautaire, the laws and practices of the European Union. But I hope that, notwithstanding the fact that the negotiations will be long and difficult, they will be in the end successful. A condition precedent for that success is reform of the agricultural policy.
Britain has become a much more positive and influential member of the European Union. Gone are the days when, as the President of the NFU said yesterday, threats and insults were preferred to persuasion and information. Yesterday was the answer to that with the successful negotiation on BSE. I think that the House will wish to congratulate my right honourable friend, Nick Brown, and his predecessor, Jack Cunningham, on the successful and adroit way in which they conducted those negotiations.
We continue to face many difficult situations. I refer to Ireland, where we can only pray that the successful negotiations so far will be brought to a final fruition. I refer also to Iraq, a situation still full of uncertainty. But here at home we have before us a demanding, relevant and significant series of legislative proposals. This Session of Parliament will clearly be eventful.
First, I should say that today, I too am in need of my prop. It is a great honour to have been invited by my noble friends the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip to second this Motion and to follow my noble
It was bestowed in such dulcet tones by my noble friends the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip and with such sweet, winning smiles that I scarcely appreciated the enormity of what I had been asked to undertake. I have since come to appreciate more fully why both my noble friends are rightly considered such models of their office and worthy of emulation. I congratulate them both on their advocacy and I defy any Member of this House to deny them once they have set their minds to persuade.
When making my maiden speech last Tuesday, I comforted myself that for once, I was neither the youngest nor the first Caribbean nor the first woman to fulfil my task. I revelled in my relative normality. I had broken with precedent and laid to rest my family's fear that I would forever be to the fore. Well, my Lords, a week is a long time in Parliament.
However, so tenacious was my desire to savour those brief moments within the outer fringes of the norm that I began to wonder whether my noble friends the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip had made a mistake. After all, when my noble friend Lady Kennedy QC and I took silk in 1991 it was said among our friends that the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern--whom I see secreted at the back--had appointed her because he knew she was a Scot and me because he believed I was a Scot. Could not the same have happened again? Lynda Clark QC, a notable and veritable Scot, is to second the Motion for a humble Address in reply to Her Majesty's most gracious Speech in the other place. Could there not be some confusion? A glint in the Chief Whip's eye tells me that there is no escape on those grounds.
I am, regrettably, no longer fleet of foot and thus thoughts of a quick 400 metre dash of the type which peppered my youth have melted away. A raging temperature, the flu and an almost total loss of voice have in the last few days replaced any such thoughts. Unkind rumours of psychosomatic illnesses abound. Where is Scotland the Brave, I hear them say, or has a poor timorous wee beastie replaced her? At last ringing in my ears came the advice given to me as a pupil by my then senior, much revered, and gender-blind clerk, "Well, Sir, you have to remember that there is only one reason which can justify your non-attendance at court and that is that you died the night before, and then, Sir, I will be checking the coffin to make sure they've got the right one".
Conscious that I have no such legitimate excuse, I invite your Lordships' indulgence in helping me to discharge this most honourable task. I have listened with awe and gratitude to the erudite exposition of the issues by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. He is an able and gifted practitioner with a long and distinguished record of public service, first as a Hackney councillor, then as mayor, a European Commissioner and Minister of State at the Department of Trade and Industry. His kindness and warmth is well known in this House and I am privileged to follow him and intend to tuck safely
In truth, I accept my instructions with great pride and am conscious of the singular honour which has been paid me. During the last year I have watched as the great modernising thrust of the legislation generated by this Government has forged ahead, touching virtually every sphere of the lives of the people of this country. I have sat at times spellbound as logic and reason have tussled with feeling, sentiment and heart as the issues fundamental to good governance have been debated; observing Members of this House locked in debate, intent on fashioning a seamless garment fit to clothe the nation. It has been a fascinating and rewarding sight and one which I have relished and at times filled me with great pride.
In Her Majesty's most gracious Speech, we have been provided with meat fit for your Lordships' table, and, although the reformation of your Lordships' House will be part of the challenge with which your Lordships will have to grapple in the coming months, it is by no means the centrepiece of the work entrusted to us. We have come a long way since the start of this Administration and the milestones along the path to modernisation have not been easy to achieve. At its core has been the belief that it is possible to create a better life for the majority, without sacrificing the needs of the minority, be they disadvantaged or advantaged, and that it is possible to create a multifaceted, multi-cultural partnership for change, enabling all our people to take advantage of the new opportunities that are available as we welcome the next millennium.
We are a wealthy nation and if the modernisation of our financial institutions continues to be a success we will grow in wealth. But our main wealth lies not in our financial worth but in the richness and variety of our people. Exploiting that richness, taking advantage of the skills which are brought to us from the four corners of the globe by peoples who are entitled and proud to count themselves as British, is part of the challenge. Making sure that each individual has the opportunity and support necessary to enable him or her to achieve his or her full potential and crafting a system of modern provision capable of delivering a just and equitable response to perceived need constitute the purpose which drives much of the proposed legislation.
I rejoice in the holistic approach adopted towards health, education, and the provision of care and assistance. This has been evidenced in part by the new proposed single gateway benefit system, or the one-stop-shop, which should do so much to lighten
The modernisation of the National Health Service must play its part and I hope that the theme of partnership which echoes throughout the proposed legislative changes will find its voice here too, so that we may see those who provide education, health, housing and social services working in partnership to provide a full spectrum of care for our children and their families, each becoming part of the continuum of care into which people will be entitled to dip at times of need.
Children need our particular attention. In my 21 years at the family Bar I have seen many changes to the way in which the problems of youth are addressed. I await with keen interest the proposals which are being made to modernise youth courts and the legal aid system. Practitioners are currently doing valiant work in the field and I am confident that such reform will excite the informed interest of all whose practice touches the lives of children or who undertake legal aid work.
There is much for us to do. I hope that the spirit of unity and accord that was so evident in my early months in your Lordships' House will sustain us so as to enable each of us to discharge our duty, with the interest of the diverse people of this nation, whom we serve, foremost in our hearts and minds.
The coming Session is likely to prove even more controversial than the last, particularly, I fear, in your Lordships' House. It therefore gives me more than usual pleasure to begin my brief remarks on a note of enthusiastic harmony by congratulating the mover and seconder of the loyal Address. Their task, for obvious reasons, was perhaps more than usually difficult this year and I am sure that your Lordships will agree that they acquitted themselves nobly.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, is well known as a seamless exponent of the art of oratory from the Dispatch Box in both Houses. It is perhaps alarming to members of my party that his skill from the Back-Benches is at least as great as it was then, for your
Those skills were honed during the course of what has so far--I emphasise "so far"--been a long and distinguished career in many fields in public life. I believe I am right in saying that he is an academic and a solicitor. He was a Member of the other place, has served as a Minister in both Houses, and also served in local government in London--a task which some of us feel is even more demanding than a career at Westminster. Also, he spent four years as a member of the European Commission, as he reminded us. His personal interests are wide, including, I understand, a passion for the game of golf. I know that he is a courageous player for one specific reason. My noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie confessed last year to your Lordships that he had played against the noble Lord, and anyone who takes on my noble and learned friend at anything commands my admiration for their courage.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, is a relative newcomer to your Lordships' House, as she made clear. Your Lordships will be aware that she was preceded here by her reputation not only for charm, but also for intellectual brilliance. I say in a spirit of abject admiration and in no remotely patronising sense that she more than amply justified that reputation today. The noble Baroness is a barrister of great distinction who is an ornament to this House, adding to our gravitas. She has a wide range of interests, particularly in the areas of the mentally disordered and child abduction, which feature among some of the subjects of most constant concern in your Lordships' House.
The task of seconding the loyal Address is often given to a Peer marked for preferment. I hope that the noble Baroness will not be offended or will consider that I risk blighting her prospects when I say that part of me hopes that she will shortly be addressing us from the Dispatch Box; the other part of me views that prospect with deep trepidation. The noble Baroness spoke, as your Lordships will acknowledge, with enormous charm and wit. Unusually for her, she may not have been either the youngest or the first, but as someone who springs from a hereditary peerage I can say with absolute authority of intermittent attendance of these occasions since my earliest years that she was certainly one of the very best.
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