My Lords, I beg to second my noble friend’s Motion for an humble Address. It is an enormous privilege to have been asked to speak this afternoon. Historically, the honour of seconding the Motion for an humble Address is given to fairly new and up-and-coming Members of your Lordships’ House, so having entered my 15th year here, it is really good to hit the ground running.
This is always a great day in the House and it is an astonishing thought that no one under the age of 62 has lived in the reign of a monarch other than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Her record of dedicated service to the nation, now well into its ninth decade, is both remarkable and a genuine inspiration to the nation.
It is a real honour to follow my noble friend Lord Fowler, who I know is respected right across this House and far beyond it. I feel confident in saying that without the leadership he showed as Secretary of State for Health when the threat of AIDS first revealed itself, hundreds of lives would have been lost and many thousands more blighted. It is magnificent that he is still campaigning on this issue, and that his new book Aids: Don’t Die of Prejudice is due to be published next week. It is only £14.99 from all good bookshops.
I had the pleasure of serving on the Communications Committee under his chairmanship and it was a most informative and interesting experience. I have never confessed this to him before, but six months before, as a member of the Liaison Committee, I had strongly opposed the formation of the committee. Well, he was right and I was wrong; it has gone on to do some great work.
That of course is one of the strengths of this House: the way in which a range of expertise and knowledge is used not just to hold government to account through debate and legislative scrutiny but to take evidence, deliberate and then contribute to public policy. The range that we cover is quite remarkable. In the coming Session we shall have new committees on the digital economy and on the challenges facing the Arctic region. Our European Union scrutiny work is respected across the EU and I am very proud of the work done by the members of Sub-Committee D, which I chair. Our recent report on food waste has sparked a genuine national debate. I gently say to the leadership of the House that our sitting schedule does not have to be totally dominated by the legislative agenda; we have other valuable work to do.
One of the big changes that I have seen in my 14 years in the House is the increasing size of the House. This is testing both the procedural and operational capacity of the House, as well as its staff and facilities. I am sure that noble Lords will join me in thanking all the staff who do so much to make sure that we can do our job effectively. Not only are they efficient and good at what they do, but their friendliness and genuine commitment to the work of the House is remarkable.
On the subject of change, I am sure that the House will join me in thanking my noble friend Lord McNally for a decade of service as the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords, and as Deputy Leader of the House and Minister for Justice. He is not in his place today, but I do not think that the House will begrudge his day release; even for a Liberal Democrat, a whole-life tariff might have been a little harsh.
We wish him well in his new role as chair of the Youth Justice Board. He is a hard act to follow, but I can think of no one better to do so than my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness—or, as my computer spell-check likes to call him, Lord Tenderness. He has long earned the respect of this House for his work both in the Scottish Parliament and here in this House. I have one piece of personal advice, Jim, just between us: at the Dispatch Box, calm down. There is too much passion, too much irascibility. Just ask our noble friend Lord McNally; he will give you some tips.
It is one of the many conundrums of this House that while new Peers are invariably given an individually warm welcome, sometimes the overall impression is that new intakes of Peers are not entirely welcome. Well, I for one do welcome them and believe that the contribution made by the Peers introduced during this Parliament has been excellent. This House needs to be constantly refreshed with new thinking, approaches and experience if it is continue to be effective. We cannot afford simply to pull up the drawbridge behind us. It is worth reflecting that in this fast-moving world, the technologies that dominate our lives did not even exist a single generation ago.
The work that many of us do outside the Chamber also makes our contribution to this House all the more rich. Like many noble Lords, I am involved with the voluntary sector both nationally and at home in Suffolk. I am sure that we all stand together in gratitude for the contribution that volunteers make to the well-being of our nation. I was pleased to hear in the gracious Speech that the question of legal liability for people acting in good faith in the public good will finally be clarified.
I also very much value my external role on the board of the Harwich Haven Authority. As a maritime trading nation, our ports should be drivers of job creation and growth. I hope that the forthcoming infrastructure Bill will encourage the road improvements to our ports that the sector has long been calling for. Stormy seas, hidden rocks, the occasional man overboard and even mutiny—and when I have had enough of the party, it is always good to go up to Harwich.
In 2010 many commentators believed that the first Queen’s Speech of the coalition would also be the last. It was—and for some still is—very difficult to comprehend that two political parties might manage their differences and produce a programme for government. We do not have much experience of coalition in this country, either as voters or when it comes to the machinery of government, and there is a lot to learn from the past four years. It is ironic that while the public are not showing any particular enthusiasm for coalition per se, their voting intentions make it a likely outcome again in the future.
I was president of my party in 2010. I was proud then, and remain proud, that my party did not shirk its responsibilities, either by telling voters to think again at a second general election or by permitting an unstable minority Government. At a time when the country’s finances were in jeopardy, the eurozone faced collapse and the global economic crisis continued to unfold, to do so would have been wholly irresponsible. My party has paid a heavy price for that decision, but even in hindsight I do not believe it was the wrong thing to do.
The irony is, all Governments are coalitions; compromises between different wings of the party, or even between No. 10 and No. 11, have to be thrashed out, and no one ever gets everything they want. But in the end, it is about balance. Next year the Government can reflect on their achievements, most notably in rebuilding the economy, for no Government has a greater responsibility than its stewardship of the public finances. I was very pleased to see the emphasis in the gracious Speech on stability and security for the economy, and a recognition of the importance of the role of small businesses.
The measures announced today on pensions, affordable childcare and apprenticeships are not about tomorrow’s newspapers but about people’s lives for decades into the future. They sit alongside raising the income tax threshold, reforming the pension system, introducing the pupil premium, the Green Investment Bank, equal marriage and fixed-term Parliaments. These measures all reflect long-term thinking and, I venture to suggest, will not be quickly overturned by any incoming Government. They say that success has many fathers, but a DNA test of those policies would show definite Liberal Democrat paternity.
The gracious Speech has outlined many measures for which proper scrutiny will keep us fully occupied, although I applaud the emphasis on the business of governing. I note that there are always calls for more and more regulation—and then we have to have a deregulation Bill to undo all the regulation that we have made.
To use the old phrase, we live in interesting times. There are some huge decisions facing our nation which will determine our place in the world. They will start with the choice that Scotland will make about its future and will go on to the general election next year and beyond. Debate in this House will no doubt be lively and, at times, fractious, but while our beliefs may differ, and despite what the cynics would have you believe, what unites us here in this House is a desire to do the very best for our country.