|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
My noble friends the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip have done me a great honour in asking me to follow my noble friend Lord Denham. I can only hope that it will not become too obvious that his silvery words are the lining to which my cloud is attached.
One of the few lessons that has always stuck in my head is that it is extremely unwise to take your own line in an unknown country, and it goes without saying that today I find myself in just such country. But I also learnt that the best way to cross such a country is to find a stout looking fellow with lots of local knowledge to act as your pilot, and then to stick to him like glue. Thus, my Lords, you find me following my noble friend Lord Denham. If, incidentally, your pilot should happen to knock some holes in the rather more formidable fences along the way, so much the better.
Perhaps it was his local knowledge or his great experience that led my noble friend to cover foreign affairs so concisely, while leaving the subject of Europe to me, knowing that the next two speakers, the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, are not entirely unfamiliar with that subject. I make no apology for my lack of understanding of a subject which is clearly bread and butter, if not indeed meat and two veg, to both those noble Lords. With their distinguished records of service in Europe, the noble Lords will understand the issue far better than I do, but I hope that they can understand those of us who, while believing firmly in the desirability of a trading partnership, still view the prospect of closer political union with dread.
I take great comfort from the reference in the gracious Speech to continued implementation of the principle of subsidiarity, for it is the perception of European interference in domestic matters that causes so much mistrust and anger. Equally, I am delighted to hear that the Inter-Governmental Conference of 1996 is to be used to prepare the European Union for enlargement, for it is by the inclusion of more eastern European nations that the continued peace and further prosperity of Europe will be assured more than any other factor.
The commitment to a flexible and low-cost labour market is, I know, a cause of concern to some; but surely the increased employment and growth that emanate from it must enjoy the support of all of us. This last point of European policy dovetails neatly into the economic programme that was laid out this morning. This policy rests on the most solid of foundations, described in those tremendous words in the gracious Speech, "permanently low inflation". No previous gracious Speech in my lifetime could have included such words, particularly when coupled, as they were, with the aims of continued rising employment and increasing economic growth.
It is worth reflecting on these points for a moment. While the fight to control inflation has been hard fought and not without casualties, we now have the best prospects of any country in the European Union, which is presumably why Britain is now attracting more inward investment than any other European country.
I am delighted too to see that small businesses will continue to receive the support that they need, and that we shall progress further along the route towards increased deregulation. Dismantling the petty rules that restrict economic movement and frustrate the nation's wealth creators will receive universal support, as will the pledge to reduce public sector expenditure. We have surely all now learnt that government can never spend the nation's wealth as well as those who have created it through their own initiative and ingenuity and the sweat of their brow, and that the best place for a man or woman's hard earned money is in his or her pocket and not in the Treasury's coffers. The recognition of this fact in today's gracious Speech must be a challenge to any who believe that they can spend what they have not themselves earned. Such sentiments serve only to empower the individual and place responsibility back where it rightfully belongs.
Those of your Lordships who have stumbled into the odd health debate--and let us face it, we have had some odd health debates over the years--may have noticed that I have a passing interest in community care issues. I am therefore more than happy to welcome the forthcoming Community Care Bill. The health service has undergone a huge period of change over the past few years, not all of it as popular as it might have been, although clearly change was inevitable, and perhaps a period of consolidation is now called for. However, the Bill which will come before the House is an enabling Bill and ushers in a sensible and I believe a popular development. I have long been a champion of forms of care that local authorities are for a whole variety of reasons unable to provide adequately, and yet are often desirable. This measure will allow those who are entitled to local authority care to choose the type of care that they consider suits their needs best, within certain guidelines, thus encouraging individuals and families to accept responsibility for the care of themselves and their families, instead of relying on the state to provide. The principle is sound both on economic and clinical grounds, but I suspect that it is the kind of measure that will require your Lordships' most careful attention in order to render it workable in practice.
The same principle is carried on into the educational arena. The subject of nursery schools, or pre-school education, has been debated much of late, and at a temperature that only our friends in the press can generate. Because I spent most of my school years trying, with some degree of success, to avoid being educated, I have, during my time in your Lordships' House, tended to steer clear of debates on the subject of education. But now that my daughter is approaching the relevant age, I find the prospect of being interviewed by her prospective headmistress so utterly, utterly terrifying that I am obliged to pay attention.
But I have to say to your Lordships that a scheme whereby parents of all four year-olds will receive vouchers to spend as they choose is desirable in that it meets both the state's duty to provide for such education, while placing the responsibility fairly and squarely with the parents where it belongs. Parents will have a choice of nursery class, playgroup or reception classes, and I daresay when I finally find out what the difference between them all is, I too will exercise my true democratic freedom to choose--and then do exactly what my wife tells me. I have little doubt that, later on, I shall take the blame, too.
This is probably not the most exciting gracious Speech that your Lordships have ever heard but for that, I, at any rate, am grateful. It continues a pattern of policies that have been well conceived and firmly implemented, although clearly they will not be to everyone's taste. The objects of the economic policy have not changed and nor should they. The measures to be introduced in health and education are sensible developments from the policies of previous years. If one theme, however, winds through every strand of policy, it is one with which I heartily concur. The empowering of the individual over the state; the enabling of the citizen to take responsibility for his health, wealth and education, as well as that of his family, and the sloughing off of the overwhelming and suffocating weight of state interference shine through the measures as the lights shine from our homes on a November evening.
And the embodiment of personal responsibility, both accepted and embraced, comes to us from Her Majesty in her selfless example of duty done in this the 43rd year of her reign. When Her Majesty first came down to your Lordships' House to deliver the gracious Speech five years before I was born, the Motion for a humble Address was moved by my father, who was then exactly the same age as I am now. In his speech he looked forward to a new Elizabethan Age, but he also looked back and contrasted the dawn of that age to the last time that a Queen had read a gracious Speech from the Throne in 1861.
My father used the occasion of Her Majesty's first gracious Speech to emphasise the importance of continuity. I now use the occasion of Her Majesty's 43rd gracious Speech to couple continuity with responsibility as the bedrock of policy. From my father I inherited my peerage, and from him I learnt a little of its privileges and a great deal more of its responsibilities.
Two weeks ago my son and heir was christened in the Crypt Chapel beneath your Lordships' House. By the time he comes to inherit my peerage, I hope that, possibly with the help of nursery school vouchers, he will have learnt as I have, that responsibility can never be abdicated, nor should continuity be sacrificed. I also hope that the Lord Denham of the day gives him as good a lead as my noble friend has given me today.
My first task this afternoon is a very pleasurable one indeed. It is to congratulate both the mover and the seconder of the Address. I believe that everyone will agree that they have made speeches of quality which we shall treasure. It is not only what they said, but the way they said it and the way that they have looked that is important this afternoon. In the course of this morning's festivities, a visitor to the building espied the uniform of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, under his robes. I have to tell the noble Lord that the visitor turned to me and said, "Good heavens! are they down to the NCOs now?". I was able to explain to him that he was a very special kind of sergeant. I was also able to tell him that he may look like an RSM, and sound and behave like one, but beneath the scarlet cloth across that ample bosom--I of all people in this House am entitled to talk about ample bosoms--there beats the heart of at least a major-general.
It was indeed, as the Government will recognise, something of an innovation to have the noble Lord, Lord Denham, moving the Address. Usually those speeches are reserved for Back-Benchers on the Government side. Although the noble Lord is technically a Back-Bencher, the noble Lord's political experience hardly qualifies him for the role of a parliamentary tyro. And what an experience! A Whip of one kind or another for 30 years from 1961 to 1991. That is 30 years of persuading other people to do what he wanted them to do even (or perhaps especially) when they did not want to do it. The noble Lord knows more secrets from more sources than any man in this building, apart possibly from MI5 and the Special Branch. I trust, on behalf of many Members opposite, that he never feels the necessity to write his memoirs.
Always courteous and gentle in manner, I have no doubt that the noble Lord shepherded his flocks with quiet confidence and wholly rational argument. Never, I am sure, was he known to raise his voice or to become irate with one of his flock. It is said, however, that the noble Lord once observed that he could get them into the building, but that if he did, he had to make sure that they stayed out of the Chamber lest they were infected by argument. We heard the noble Lord's speech with great delight, and were indeed pleased to listen to it.
would wear a uniform at least as refulgent as that of his noble friend Lord Denham. I said that he should put on hunting pink. The noble Lord said that he had only two uniforms--one was hunting pink and the other was that of a lance corporal in the Eton College cadet corps, and that he did not think that that would do. The noble Lord's speech had a certain amount of political content and I am sure that he would not expect me to agree with all that he said, as I clearly did not. On the other hand, it was a speech of humour and elegance, and we listened to it with great delight, and we thank him for it.
Perhaps I may now turn to the gracious Speech itself. It is not a document upon which I propose to spend a great deal of time. It is thin to the point of anorexia, and I do not think that it requires a great deal of comment from me. Naturally, we shall examine each of the proposals with the care and attention which they deserve. However, perhaps one result of the new Budget procedure has been the commensurate down-grading of the importance of the gracious Speech as a prelude to the significant events of the coming Session. It now sets out the Government's intentions with varying degrees of piety and veracity. It refers to some of the pieces of legislation to be introduced (perhaps) and, as always, concludes on the stirring note:
The fact is that the speech is dominated by two desires on the part of the Government: first, to do everything that they can to avoid even the threat of internal dissension within the Conservative Party; and, secondly, to try to embarrass the Labour Party. The spin-doctors of Central Office were clearly working hard yesterday. The gracious Speech, we were led to believe, is part of a cleverly planned offensive by the Government. As an offensive, it has all the hallmarks of the careful preparation exhibited by the Grand Old Duke of York, except that in this case they have not been up and down the hill once; it is now becoming a regular--almost an annual--pastime.