Baroness Sanderson of WeltonMain Page: Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Conservative - Life peer)
Department Debates - View all Baroness Sanderson of Welton's debates with the Leader of the House
My Lords, this is my 17th Queen’s Speech but Her Majesty’s 67th. It is staggering to think that her first Speech was delivered when Winston Churchill was Prime Minister and Dwight D Eisenhower was elected President of the United States. During that entire time, Her Majesty has been a supreme example of selfless devotion to her duties as sovereign and an inspiration to all who are privileged to be called to public service. We are especially grateful that Her Majesty has graced us with her presence today, so soon after a deeply personal loss—one that as a nation we share. As we have drawn strength from her, we hope that she will draw strength from the warmth and affection in which she is held, both at home and abroad.
This has been a State Opening like no other and a Queen’s Speech like no other. When my noble friend Lord Lamont so ably took on this role following the last Queen’s Speech, in December 2019, it seemed like a different age and a different world. In many ways, it was. Since then, more than 127,000 of our fellow citizens have lost their lives to the Covid virus, a disease that has touched every family and every community in the land, and every nation on earth. The loss here would have been far greater were it not for the heroic actions of our NHS and care workers and our scientists in developing vaccines and setting guidelines. We owe them so much and we honour them all.
Times of crisis do not create leadership; they reveal leadership. We have been fortunate that the leadership we have had in your Lordships’ House, guiding us through the past year, has been so strong. As the 16 perfectly socially-distanced statues of the Magna Carta barons look down on our proceedings today, we recall that we have probably seen more changes in our practices over the past year than over the previous 800. What they would make of cries of “Unmute!”, and Members being asked to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving, we shall never know—although perhaps they might wish that somebody gave them a dust from time to time.
That we have managed to change so rapidly and yet retained our effectiveness as a Chamber is a tribute to the Leader of this House, the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, and the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, along with the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge; to the work of the usual channels, so ably managed by the Government Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Ashton; and to the House administration, clerks, Hansard, broadcasting, the doorkeepers and all staff working together tirelessly, finding solutions and keeping us safe.
We are especially grateful for the work of the noble Lord, Lord McFall, and Simon Burton, and welcome them to their new roles as Lord Speaker and Clerk of the Parliaments. We express our gratitude today for the service of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and Ed Ollard. It has been a year of great challenge, and we have risen to it because we were well led and we did so together.
I also pay tribute to the leadership of our Prime Minister in guiding us through the greatest challenge our nation has faced in peacetime. To provide that leadership, despite almost succumbing to the virus himself and facing many setbacks as the crisis developed overseas, shows a level of personal resilience and commitment that is, quite frankly, astonishing. Given the election results of last week, there can be no doubt of his mandate from the people of this country to lead us at this time and to present us with such an ambitious legislative agenda as is before us today. I also welcome the Prime Minister’s invitation to the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales to meet and discuss—recognising their electoral success too—because, if we are to build back better, we must do so together, as one United Kingdom.
The first Queen’s Speech I attended was in 1992, in the House of Commons. It was proposed by Kenneth Baker—now the noble Lord, Lord Baker—and seconded by Andrew Mitchell, who memorably described the selection criteria for these roles as
“proposed by some genial old codger on the way out and seconded by an oily young man on the make”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/5/1992; col. 56.]
This is clearly only partially true, as no one could describe my noble and able friend Lady Sanderson as either oily or male. I recall congratulating Ken Baker on his speech, and he asked how I was settling in. I replied, “I’m feeling completely out of my depth.” He smiled, patted me on the shoulder, and said, “Oh, that’s quite normal. You spend the first five weeks in this place wondering how you got here and the next five years wondering how everybody else got here.” My experiences in your Lordships’ House have led me to believe that here it is very much the other way around.
This is an optimistic Queen’s Speech. It sets out the ambition of a national recovery plan to create a stronger, more prosperous nation than before the pandemic. It aims to level up opportunities across the United Kingdom. It sets our sights on building back better. I believe that these two central themes of levelling up and building back better can be strengthened by adding a third: building back together.
I have always been an optimist—even my blood group is B positive. It is a trait I share with all supporters of Newcastle United Football Club, and it is much needed. It was optimism that led me to join the Conservatives in Gateshead in 1979, when the red wall was actually red. Optimism is an essential ingredient for human progress. Pessimists see problems; optimists see solutions. Pessimists point out where people fail; optimists show how they might succeed. Cures for disease are discovered by optimists; new businesses are started by optimists; inventions and discoveries are made by optimists; records are broken by optimists.
I am not alone in my optimism. The Governor of the Bank of England said that, although Britain had suffered its greatest economic crisis for 300 years, the economy would return to pre-Covid levels in little over a year. This year, we are forecast to grow at our fastest rate for 70 years. That forecast for economic recovery is an incredible reflection of the resilience of the British people and of British business. We are world leaders in education, finance, science and technology—the raw materials of the new industrial revolution, just as iron, steel and coal were of the first.
I am also optimistic because of the quality of our young people, who have sacrificed most in this pandemic while statistically being the least at risk. They are no snowflake generation; they have demonstrated a steely resolve and discipline every bit the equal of older generations. They deserve our gratitude, and we should strive to build back better for them. They remind us that, as we rebuild, we do so on strong foundations.
But building back better does not mean building back the same. We cannot hope to meet the challenges of the future if we waste time and energy refighting the battles of the past. We cannot pour new wine into old wineskins; we must embrace the change that circumstance has forced upon us. Winston Churchill remarked:
“If you don’t take change by the hand, it will take you by the throat.”
We need new ways of working, thinking, teaching and learning, of legislating and governing, and of co-operating, at home and around the world.
We live in an interconnected, interdependent world. A virus from the other side of the planet can be carried here on an airline in a day; climate change is triggering an unprecedented movement of people across the globe, seeking safety and survival; a financial crisis can be triggered across interconnected markets within minutes; a ship blocking the Suez Canal for days disrupts global supply chains for months; a computer virus can disable critical infrastructure around the world in seconds. We must stay engaged. We must keep working with others, no matter how great our differences. We must struggle to keep building bridges when it seems oh so much easier to build walls. We are, whether we like it or not, all in this together.
The past five years have been some of the most divisive in our history, both domestically and internationally. We seem to have lost the ability to see the other person’s point of view, to hold out the possibility that it is we who might be wrong and that we may not see the full picture—too quick to see the bad in others, too slow to recognise the good. Over the past 10 years I have walked through 25 countries on four continents and all four nations in the United Kingdom. The people I meet are kind, hospitable and helpful. They love their families and want the best future for them. They work hard. They love their country, their community, their culture and traditions and find comfort in their religion or belief. What always strikes me most are our similarities, not our differences.
We are not called to be spectators, screaming at the shortcomings of the players from the comfort of the stands; we are all players on this pitch. Victory will depend on us all playing our part and playing it to the full. As we prepare to host critical meetings of the G7 in Cornwall and COP 26 in Glasgow, we must not let our separate identities obscure our shared humanity and our national interests obscure our common interests. There is an old walking proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, travel alone. If you want to go far, travel together.” This Queen’s Speech has set out a bold plan for our long road to recovery and to a better future, but it is a future that none of us can reach on our own. We need to come together, work together and stay together because in this United Kingdom and in this world we will always build back better when we do so together. I beg to move.