Queen’s Speech Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Leader of the House

Queen’s Speech

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Excerpts
Tuesday 11th May 2021

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Leader of the House
Lord Bates Portrait Lord Bates (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I second my noble friend’s Motion for an humble Address. It is an honour to do so and a particular honour to follow my noble friend Lord Bates, a true gentleman whom I first met when he was at the Home Office and I began working as an adviser to Theresa May. It was a relatively short acquaintance, for in 2016 he resigned to walk 2,000 miles from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro to raise awareness of the Olympic Truce. At the time I remember being impressed, not just by that act of charity but by the sheer scale of the task. Now I realise the lengths that someone will go to in order to avoid Oral Questions in your Lordships’ House, particularly when they are the Home Office Minister. Truthfully, though, as we all know, that walk was only one of many: my noble friend has in fact trekked more than 9,000 miles through 25 different countries, raising more than £1 million for a whole host of charitable causes. It is an achievement to be proud of, although he is far too modest for such things. I for one am very proud to share the privilege of speaking with him today.

I am also pleased to follow in my noble friend Lady Finn’s footsteps. As the last person to second such a Motion, she pointed out that this job is usually given to someone deemed up and coming. I note that she has set rather a high bar in that respect, having upped and upped and now gone to No. 10 as deputy chief of staff to the Prime Minister. As in all places of great renown, what goes on behind that front door is often more prosaic than people imagine but, having worked there myself for a while, I can tell your Lordships that all the rumours are true: the real power behind the throne is indeed a woman and, yes, you cross her at your peril. Her name is Alison and she runs the Downing Street canteen with a rod of iron. An early adopter of the Government’s obesity strategy, which has been further developed in the gracious Speech, she banned me from eating sausages because she said I was becoming too podgy. She is a woman who tells it how it is, whether you are a lowly adviser or the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. For as long as she is there, there will always be a strong seam of common sense running through that building.

Likewise, it is good to see my noble friend Lady Finn at Downing Street. Always thoughtful but also forthright in her opinions and dealings, she will be a perceptive voice at the heart of government. In her contributions in this place, she always speaks for many and, while I have no doubt that she will continue to do just that, I am probably not alone in hoping that she might also, on occasion, have a chance to speak for us. For after working in Fleet Street for 17 years and then going on to work for a Conservative Government, I am no stranger to jobs which do not exactly court popularity.

However, I must admit to feeling a particular dismay about the public reputation of the House of Lords. Look: I understand the charge sheet and am immensely conscious of the privilege we have in being here. It ill behoves us to complain too much but I will admit to being deeply frustrated as we came under attack in the media recently. There is of course nothing new in this; noble Lords who have served here longer than me will know that too well. But I was frustrated, as someone who still looks at this place with new eyes, and at that time was looking at how your Lordships were debating and improving the then Domestic Abuse Bill.

Were you to ask anyone whether it was a good thing that, thanks to my noble friend Lady Morgan of Cotes and others, we had now outlawed the threat to share intimate images, they would surely say yes—just as they would be pleased to know that, thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, we continue to lead the world in combating coercive control and that, thanks to my noble friends Lady Newlove and Lady Bertin, non-fatal strangulation has become an offence in its own right. This will not only help thousands of domestic abuse victims but help to guide a generation of young boys as to what is and is not acceptable in a relationship.

These things may have happened eventually but they would not have happened now, as was so essential, were it not for the work of noble Lords across this House. I am of course biased so I will instead refer the House to the words of the independent domestic abuse commissioner:

“I have been so deeply in awe of the process as the Bill has passed through the Lords. The issues have been passionately and cleverly debated with so much crossbench support. It has opened my eyes to the power of the second chamber to shape the law.”

I hope your Lordships will forgive this backward glance to previous legislation when today is about our forthcoming agenda. I do so because the then Domestic Abuse Bill really demonstrated the difference we can make. I am sure we are all grateful to the new Lord Speaker for his commitment to helping others better understand the work that we do. I also do so because it was a Bill which showed the House and the Government at their best. Even the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said so, so it must be true.

I hope that it is not naive of me to hope that we will engage in a similar fashion on many of the issues contained in this gracious Speech. I am delighted to see that, as promised, there will be further measures to address violence against women and girls, and to address racial and ethnic disparities. A new building regulator will be established; anyone listening to the truly shocking evidence emerging from the Grenfell inquiry will know that this is a matter of the utmost urgency.

There are, as ever, many difficult matters to tackle. We will work to secure a safer online environment, particularly for our children. One area that I know this House is keen to address is social care, not just in terms of provision but also on better recognition for all those working in this field. The commitment is there but I am sure we all look forward to more detailed proposals, doing so in the knowledge that the only way to solve a problem as intractable as this one is through cross-party consensus—and find a solution we must. For if any good has come from the pandemic, it is a greater appreciation of the fundamental role that social care plays in protecting many of our most vulnerable.

It is not the only lesson to be learned from coronavirus. We hope we have now been through the worst; certainly, we have endured much over the last deracinated year. But as we emerge, blinking into the sunshine, we have a legislative programme that will take us forwards, support the NHS, get to grips with the obesity crisis, and build on the brilliant successes of our life sciences sector. Life has been somewhat on hold in recent times but these measures, together with those outlined by my noble friend Lord Bates, give us cause to look to the future and to do so with optimism. It is in that spirit that I humbly beg to second the Motion.

Motion to Adjourn

Moved by