§ Bill, pro forma, read a first time.7
§ ADDRESS IN REPLY TO HER MAJESTY'S MOST GRACIOUS SPEECH
§ The Queen's Speech reported by the LORD CHANCELLOR.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Baroness Pitkeathley
My Lords, I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament".I begin by thanking my noble friends the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip for conferring on me the great honour of making this Address. The Leader of the House is admired by all Members for her ability, her poise and her grace, especially during some of the more trying and difficult times that she faced during the previous Session. I first knew her in her role as chief executive of the National Aids Trust, as a most effective campaigner for people with HIV and AIDS. She won wide respect for her tenacity in pursuing what was then an issue which did not command much public sympathy. I want also to commend her work as Minister for Women.
My noble friend the Chief Whip must be a rare breed indeed—a Chief Whip who is not only respected but enormously well liked. When he approaches a group of us late at night, we are eager to see him, not only because he may tell us at what time we can go home, but also because we enjoy his company. My noble friend and I first met through our mutual interest in people with disabilities and their families. He took the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995 through this House with his customary skill, and I was most grateful when he agreed to be one of my sponsors at my introduction two years ago. We were still doffing hats then. My noble friend was the sole doffer—my other sponsor was the noble Baroness, Lady Flather—and I much admired his style. I have continued to do so.
I am also fortunate in that my noble friend Lord Bragg is to second the Motion. My noble friend is known far beyond this House for his commitment to, and influence on, the cultural life of our nation. It is a privilege to do a double act with him.
Your Lordships will note that I have referred to the work that my three noble friends do outside this House. That is because I want the "real world", and this House's relationship with it, to be the theme of my speech today. I count it a great privilege not only to be making this speech, but to be making the first speech, apart from the gracious Speech itself, to the new-style House. It is a time to be more aware than ever of our relationships outside this House: how we are viewed, how we are judged, and how we make a difference to society at large.
I choose the phrase, "the real world", because on 5th November I heard one commentator say to a Peer who had not been elected, "Now you can return to the real world". Sadly, we must recognise that the 8 sentiment that we are not part of the real world is widely held. I came to this House from the real world two years ago and do not feel that I have lost my connection with it because I became a Peer. I did not have a party-political background. Indeed, having grown up in the Channel Islands, where party politics do not exist, I found it difficult in my early adult life to understand what all the fuss was about. I had few political friends and certainly no cronies. I came to this House, I suppose, because I was a campaigner for the 6 million carers who provide such an example of duty and dedication in our society.
All my working life has been about making a difference to disadvantaged individuals and communities, and all of it has been spent in public service: in social services, the health service and the voluntary sector, and now as chair of the New Opportunities Fund. I regard my membership of this House as a continuation of that work. Like so many of your Lordships, the experience that I have in my daily life "on the outside"—in the real world—is what I can bring to my work here. But that must be a two-way street. What we do here must have relevance and be seen to have relevance to people outside.
I venture to suggest that it is easy for our judgment about what we do in this place to become impaired. I must emphasise that I speak as one who is extremely respectful of the history of our House, who rejoices in the magnificence of our surroundings, who loves to hear the Doorkeepers' guided tours and who purloins their stories to add to the pleasure of showing my own guests around. But we must remember that it is easy to be seduced by our surroundings, and by the care taken of us by the staff, into thinking that everything that we say and do here is important simply because of the surroundings in which we say and do them.
Being a Peer can change your life—or at least, it has changed mine. Some of the changes are minor. I must say that I have never yet managed to travel anything other than economy class on an aircraft, in spite of colleagues telling me that having "Baroness" on your passport leads to upgrading. It also leads to some surreal moments, such as that during an interview I did for American television when the interviewer thought that "Baroness" was my first name and asked me whether I liked to be called Ba or Nessie!
These minor changes of life are not perhaps of great concern, but if becoming a Member of this House changes our value system, we must indeed take care. One of the ways in which our values may change is that we lose our judgment about what is important to the real world, become too concerned with the House itself rather than its role and, like all members of institutions, however worthy, become resistant to change. Change is almost always painful, as we have reason to know. Many Members of this House will be feeling pain and sadness, particularly today. It is more necessary, therefore, than it has ever been for us to show that change is also positive and can bring us more closely in touch with the society we are here to serve.
9 I never expected to become a Member of this House, but as I have been fortunate enough to do so, I am determined to serve it to the best of my ability, and to use the opportunity it gives me to continue to work to make a difference. If I chide the House for its tendency to be self-indulgent, I do so only because I care passionately that we use our positions and our influence in ways which will benefit the majority of our population.
I believe it is clear from the gracious Speech how connected with the real world this Session will be. Naturally, I can refer only to parts of it and, equally naturally, they will be the parts in which my background gives me most interest. These include the long-awaited legislation on social services, on setting standards of care and training for those who work with vulnerable people, and on protection for children leaving care.
I could not be more delighted that the welfare reform Bill features state second pensions for carers and long-term disabled people and that the reforming of child support arrangements will ensure more speedy and effective distribution of income to children. The extension of the Race Relations Act to cover the entire public sector is overdue and will be very much welcomed.
I am also pleased that protection of the consumer features so highly in the utilities Bill, the freedom of information Bill and the financial services Bill.
I am very struck by how much emphasis the gracious Speech places on communities. For a while, communities seemed to have gone out of fashion, but they are now very much back on the agenda in the local government Bill, the representation of the people Bill and the countryside Bill. The crime and probation Bill will also be of great significance for communities, especially those which are rightly concerned about their major drugs problems.
Some of the legislation we are to scrutinise will, of course, be controversial and we shall no doubt need the blessing which Her Majesty this morning prayed might rest upon our counsels. I, too, hope that whichever gods your Lordships worship will be supportive. But I have another maxim to commend which I hope may guide our counsels as it has guided my work ever since I first came across it. Ralph Waldo Emerson, writing about success, says this:To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition. To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded".Each one of us has the opportunity in our daily lives, both here and outside, to ensure that one life breathes easier, but collectively we have the chance to bring about a redeemed social condition. I believe that is what we are here for and I believe that this new-style House will not be found wanting.
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty.
10 Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament".—(Baroness Pitkeathley.)
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Lord Bragg
My Lords, I beg to second my noble friend's Motion for an humble Address.
It is a great honour and privilege to be invited to do this by my noble friends the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip. A summons from my noble friend the Chief Whip set the tone: "I want to see you", he said, jabbing a fierce index finger, "in my office later". And he added that deadly wink. I obeyed, of course, and it would be too much of an exaggeration to say that I went to see my noble gentle friend not unlike a reluctant blood donor summoned to lunch with the Count Dracula, but I sympathised.
Frankly, I have no clear recollection of what happened next, but the word "privilege" was rattled out. The phrase, "That's OK, then!" was loud and clear and I was marched back into the Lobby, having agreed to do this, without saying a word. In retrospect, it is very impressive. The Chief Whip should publish his secrets—"The Dark Art of Whipping", one of those self-improvement books.
But it is an honour and a privilege to second the excellent speech by my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley. Her skill as chief executive of the Carers National Association is widely known and, as chair of the New Opportunities Fund, my noble friend will undoubtedly shine again.
It was in the debate on the Queen's Speech last year that I made my maiden speech. It was almost as daunting as this. Over the last 12 months, I have been increasingly struck by the quality, the vigour, the fun (that was a surprise) and the care taken by your Lordships, old and new—a feature of this House a touch underplayed on the Rialto of the press. Now a new House has arrived and it is right to acknowledge and welcome it from the start.
Honest and sincere tribute was paid to hereditary Peers by many, including myself and on all sides. There was a loss, but as a novice, looking all about the House over the past 12 months, I have, as I have indicated, seen and heard life Peers more than capable of keeping flags flying, wheels turning and the House's business going.
We have all heard of legitimate anxieties. Good usages are important to preserve, just as withered customs are important to cull. I have learnt that it is better not to jump up and down on the Woolsack if you want to capture the mood of the House and that it is advisable not to attempt to speak from the Bishops' Benches unless you are suitably collared or you will be instantly collared. If you dare to read your Question, then be braced for a growing howl—a howl which would chill a pack of Arctic wolves—I have been there too. If you intend to rise to your feet from the aisles, 11 then the glittering eye of the Clerk of the Parliaments will sit you down again in his zeal to exercise zero tolerance (he seems to enjoy that part of his job). But given time, we shall learn all the usages, especially with the constant help offered by the officers and staff of the House.
There have been warnings about courtesy and they are noted, but again from my limited experience, I have observed that courtesy is not the monopoly of any one group. Nor is independence. No one in your Lordships' House has personified that valuable virtue more gallantly in recent weeks than a Labour life Peer, my noble friend Lord Ashley.
No, my Lords, as one of the new Peers I welcome the new House. I believe that what has begun will play a transforming and energising role in the radical reassessment of our constitution now taking place. Like many noble Lords, I look forward to the next stage.
Equally, I look forward to the wide variety of contributions which will surely come in the future from those whose valuable experiences in many different fields will bring them into your Lordships' House and will enrich it. Her Majesty's gracious Speech will be dissected expertly and eloquently in your Lordships' House over the next few days. For my part here, I will be both brief and highly selective.
I welcome the measures proposed for countryside amenities and conservation. No one pretends that all is well or happy at the moment in the countryside, as I know from my own experience among hill farmers in North Cumbria. But one sure way through is to facilitate informed access to those of us who live much of our lives surrounded by bricks and cement and roads rather than by fields and trees and hills. I am delighted that that is being pursued.
I also welcome moves to extend the freedom of information and particularly applaud the proposal to provide a statutory right of access for the public to information held by public authorities. The openness enjoyed in other comparable countries adds greatly to their democratic credit.
I welcome, too, further legislation to improve race relations. Among much else, it is proof that good can come out of tragedy—that of Stephen Lawrence of course.
My final point takes as its starting position the education and training Bill. I am delighted that the learning and skills council is to extend its brief and its powers. Recently, Professor Michael Porter from the Harvard Business School, wrote that,the greatest economic problem facing Britain is that it is still trying to compete on a low wage economy".The only sure way forward, he implied, as many do, is to increase the high skilled base in this country as quickly as possible. So many of the great dunes of our economy which stood guard against erosion by the relentless waves of foreign competition have slid away. Go north and see the gutted fortresses of what once were great citadels of old success. They are erased as completely as Henry VIII erased the monasteries and 12 Cromwell the castles. But to hold back those tides which could swamp our new industries just as much as they swamped the old—only faster, now in a blink, more ruthlessly—we need skills, the marram grass for the dunes if you like: skills and the mind of change to stave off entropy, to adapt. That is hard to take on board in a country so cushioned with tradition. We have seen how difficult it is in your Lordships' House. And we must achieve change through a lifetime of new skills.
It is that or what? Or what inheritance do we hand on to young people who deserve far more than the sad sermon of decline preached to them so grindingly in the second half of this century? Decline; decline: tolling the new generation into the new millennium. They are always being told that they are at the rump end of past greatness. What sort of gift is that to pass on?
There has been great achievement in this century. The end of the 19th century might seem golden to some; but not where I came from. For millions of people in this country, despite the horrors of the century—horrors well remembered—the past 100 years have been richer, more fulfilled, more tolerant and freer than our country has ever known. And they can get better if we fight.
I think that our empire had greatness in it—more than others—but I am glad that it has gone. I am glad that the rule of the few and the education for the few has yielded and will continue to yield. And, if we are again to play a dominating role in the world, let it be by what we can best draw out from our tremendous history: our skills, our inventiveness, our scholarship, our buccaneering spirit, our way of conducting the complicated trial of running a modern democratic country in a stable and civilised way. The learning and skills council, in both what it is and what it represents, is to me most welcome of all. I hope that it will be the beacon that lights new generations down the next century. For there are promises to keep—to the past and the future—and miles to go before we sleep.
I beg to second my noble friend's Motion for an humble Address in reply to Her Majesty's most gracious Speech.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I beg to move that this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
It is my great privilege to move this Motion. In so doing, it is a great pleasure to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, and the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, on their speeches today. In the case of both of them, I can justly say that their reputations before joining the House came before them; and they have enhanced their reputations by the manner of their being here. The noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, was a pioneer in campaigning for the recognition of carers—frankly, an area in which much more still needs to be done. One of the results of the House of Lords Act, passed in the last Session, has been an increase in the average age of the House. I am sure we shall all feel the kindly gaze of the noble Baroness upon us as the days and years go by.
13 The noble Lord, Lord Bragg, has a voice and face well known outside this House. He was once famously quoted as saying that he came into the House to help to change it. I wonder whether he is now satisfied, and whether he now rests upon his laurels. If so, I warn him. We may see him overtaken by another Bragg—a Mr Billy Bragg. The second Mr Bragg is at this very moment campaigning for further change in your Lordships' House. I hope that he will keep pressing the Government for genuine reform, although I do not agree with his specific proposal. The name of Bragg may therefore loom large here. Instead of stage one and stage two, we shall have Bragg one and Bragg two. But what the Government have not agreed so far is to no Bragg one without Bragg two.
What we witness today is a fine keeping of tradition. One of the great traditions of the day is that we should have a proposer and seconder to the Motion for an humble Address. It is also normal for one to represent the more elder statesman-like position in this House, using experience and knowledge picked up over many years, and complemented by an up-and-coming, thrusting young Turk. I leave it to your Lordships' House to work out which is which.
The noble Baroness and the noble Lord should watch out for, by accepting this honour this afternoon, they have put themselves firmly in the firing line: they are on the path to preferment. It is not a matter of "if" but "when". It is now only a matter of time before the bountiful eye of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House falls upon them and they are invited to join the Front Bench. One has only to cast one's mind back some 12 months to the excellent speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland. Hey presto!, the noble Baroness is now an eminent member of the Government Front Bench—and today she has already moved swiftly on to the Privy Council Bench; clearly upwardly mobile! Both the seconder and the proposer of the humble Address would make worthy adornments to the Front Bench. The noble Lord, Lord Bragg, may want to warn his employers and his listeners about his future, just in case. On behalf of the Opposition, I congratulate them both on, and thank them both for, their excellent speeches this afternoon.
We now have four days to debate the gracious Speech—less perhaps than we would have wished had we known the volume of the programme as soon as the press appear to have done. I shall not detain the House with my views specifically on the Speech. For the first time in 50 years, the Conservative Opposition will be moving an amendment to the humble Address tomorrow, and I shall be opening from these Benches.
I do not want to trouble the House too much with politics today, for this is a day for ceremony and tradition. Behind me, many old familiar, well-loved faces are gone. We have deep wounds to heal. But we must go on for that chapter is closed and we need to face up to the new challenges of the future. There are also many relatively new faces here for the first time on the day of State Opening. I hope that they will not be too impatient with the spirit of this place, for it has much to teach us all. I welcome them here. Over the 14 next few days we shall hear a number of maiden speeches. Let me wish those speakers well and say how much we look forward to hearing from them.
This is an occasion for good will. But I have one serious thing to say, and it is well that it should be said now, at the outset of the year. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House knows my views and may well share them. In the past two years a quite exceptional burden has been placed on this House. In 1997–98, we had a record Session: 228 days, well over 1,600 hours. For 102 days—almost half of the sitting days—we sat beyond 10 p.m. All of those are records. We had an overloaded programme: 40 Bills, 24 of them major Bills to which 50 or more amendments were laid. We debated an astonishing 9,000 amendments to legislation, of which some 4,000 were agreed to be necessary. There were 560 agreed amendments to the Crime and Disorder Bill alone.
Last year we had another exceptional Session with 154 days—longer than the House of Commons—with almost 1,200 hours, and on 89 days sitting after 10 p.m. That is almost 60 per cent of the time. It was another enormous burden, made worse by the fact that the programme was unbalanced. This of course is the fault of jealous Secretaries of State. Too few major Bills were introduced in your Lordships' House. Once more, we were overloaded, with over 30 Bills, 18 of them major Bills, to which 50 or more amendments were laid. We debated more than 7,000 amendments to legislation, of which 3,000 were agreed to be necessary, which is far above the norm. There were 2,372 amendments to the Greater London Authority Bill. More than 900 were agreed to be necessary; that is surely some kind of record.
Mention of the monster Greater London Authority Bill fills me with some dread. No doubt it fills the Government with some dread, too. One only has to look at today's news to learn of the chaos which has erupted in the Labour Party in choosing its mayoral candidate. The handling of that Bill was an insult to Parliament. We were deluged with hundreds of amendments at the end of the Summer Recess, amendments which could and should have been available much earlier. A mass of material was produced at the later stages. We had the grotesque spectacle of the Government moving Commons Reasons amendments to their own later-than-last-minute amendments in the Lords.
I recoil with horror at the thought of another monster Bill from the same department, the DETR. Why cannot its Bill be split? What possible relationship is there between the regulation of railways, buses and air traffic control? I hope that the answer is not an "integrated transport policy" and I hope very much that the department will think most carefully about it. There must be no repeat of last year's fiascos. If there is, I hope that your Lordships will use your powers to compel those responsible to appear before this House.
15 In the gracious Speech, at first reckoning I count 30 major Bills—even more than in recent Sessions. That does not include legislation on Northern Ireland, which all noble Lords will hope and pray will come before us. But legislation is not about standing at a bar, challenging each other on how many pints of the newest lager one can drink in the shortest time. It is about changing people's lives, and even, in the case of some of this year's proposed legislation, putting people out of jobs. It should be a slow, careful, measured business. Get it wrong and people, businesses and the nation will suffer. The noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, made a similar point, although I suspect she made it rather better.
At the end of the previous Session, we found ourselves dealing with five major Bills in an unacceptably crowded and illogical timetable. The result was poor legislation. This Session, this more legitimate House will not allow a repeat of that. I make that clear beyond all doubt, not as a threat but as a statement of our duty. For if we are not a revising Chamber, carefully scrutinising every line of every Bill on behalf of citizens and businesses alike, what are we here for? And what honour or dignity do we possess? These are questions for all of us as Members of this House.
For my part, I want an inquisitive House—not because we are in opposition but because I want an inquisitive House under all governments of all parties. I want it because we are a House of Parliament. I hope that when the noble Baroness the Leader of the House replies, she will give us some good news and will tell us a little about the balance between the Houses and that she will list those Bills which are to start in the Lords.
I look forward to meeting tomorrow to debate the measures in the gracious Speech. We shall not wilfully obstruct the Queen's business. The duty of this House is to see that good government can be carried on. But there are too many big measures in this Speech, some of which are not in any sense pressing in terms of time; and the risk of bad law as a consequence is high, whatever our views on the merits of each measure.
This House will not be dragooned into small hours churning of late amendments. We shall not see important legislation relegated to the Moses Room. We shall not sign on the dotted line until we see the small print. We shall not be fobbed off with long and evasive half-answers; nor shall we accept Written Answers which do not provide information for which it is reasonable for this House to ask. It is, after all, the Year of Freedom of Information. If we remember those rules, and if the Government avoid those temptations, we shall have a productive first Session in this new House. If we do not, I fear we may be courting unnecessary trouble. I hope that the Government have the wisdom and the statesmanship to think carefully about these details. The Government—and Parliament and the people alike—will be the better served if they do.
Moved, That this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.—(Lord Strathclyde.)
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, I support the Motion for adjournment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. As he said, this is by common consent and tradition a day for ceremony, formalities and good will. I do not intend to depart from that. In so far as it is any comfort to the Government Front Bench, I say that we on these Benches do not intend to move any amendment to the gracious Speech. They should not assume that that means that we like the Speech. We shall take the next few days to examine it closely, perhaps dismember it a little and make clear where we can support it or will find difficulty in doing so.
We had a most enjoyable morning. I wonder whether, reflecting on that, I am treading on dangerous ground if I add a thought concerning a tradition invented only in Victorian times. In a spirit of goodwill, perhaps there could be a small increment to what we enjoy. As always, noble Lords are dutifully in their places at an early hour. For 45 minutes we sit here, most of us feeling rather cold, waiting for Her Majesty to arrive. A little music during that interval would perhaps be appropriate and we should enjoy it. I am sure that the with the help of the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms a string quartet could be found to play in one of the galleries to keep us occupied. That would be a fine addition and we should be able to say that we had made our mark on history.
As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, the difference between our proceedings and those of the other place is that there the debate on the gracious Speech begins in earnest today—no holds barred—continuing until a late hour. We shall rise at about five o'clock today, as on other occasions. I see no reason why we should depart from that practice. However, it may be that we could evolve the habit of last year and the previous year of three principal speeches from the Leader of the House, the Leader of the Conservative Party and from these Benches on the second day which take an overall view of the gracious Speech. I am sure that it would be of advantage to the Leader to explain the form of the Speech and the priorities given, and to answer some of the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the weight of business. That would get us off to a good start. I say by way of preface or warning that tomorrow I intend to take an overall view of the gracious Speech, and I hope that the House will bear with me if I do not devote too much time, if any, to defence, foreign affairs and international development.
We heard two good speeches from the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, and the noble Lord, Lord Bragg. As we all know, the noble Baroness has a long and distinguished reputation in the voluntary and community sector. I thought that her speech today was wise and salutary. I agreed with all she said about the importance of trying to build a bridge with the real world outside and not being seduced by the life we live within this Chamber. We must keep things in proportion. If it was necessary to have an additional reason for appreciating the contribution made to this place by the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, I 17 should say that we on these Benches remember her as a very close friend and colleague of Lady Seear. Lady Seear is regarded and remembered with respect and affection not only on these Benches but throughout the House. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, recognises that, by association, she has an extra bonus on these particular Benches.
The noble Lord, Lord Bragg, has abandoned "Start the Week" with Melvyn Bragg for "Start the Session" with Lord Bragg. We are very glad to see him here. I follow his radio programmes with great interest. Perhaps I may recommend to your Lordships "In Our Time", a very good programme which will be broadcast at 9 a.m. tomorrow. "Roots of English" is another of his programmes which has taken us from Cumbria to Hastings, to Canterbury and beyond. I believe that we shall respect and remember his long career in popularising the arts without succumbing to populism, which I believe to be most important.
I like the way in which the noble Lord has taken to this place. I hope that that is not an improper way of expressing the matter. Some of your Lordships are of this place without really sharing in it. However, I have been struck by the extent to which the noble Lord has come to share this place with all your Lordships who were here when he arrived, while maintaining a career outside of very considerable distinction. We look forward to enjoying greatly his further contributions to our debates.
We approach the debate on the Queen's Speech tomorrow in our usual way—with great fairness and careful scrutiny. I shall not say anything about the important points made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, regarding the weight of the business except to recall that there were often complaints about the weight of business that his administration—long ago, it now seems—brought to this House. Perhaps it is only from these Benches, though things will change, that it is possible to complain about the weight of business of any one administration.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)
My Lords, I am delighted to support the Motion moved by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. It is always a pleasure to be able to agree with the noble Lord without question or qualification. Let us hope that that continues throughout this Session.
Today I join wholeheartedly in the congratulations offered by the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, to my noble friends Lady Pitkeathley and Lord Bragg on the way in which they moved and seconded the Motion for a humble Address. I believe that the House will agree that both my noble friends have excelled in setting out with great verve a number of key themes in the gracious Speech. My noble friend Lady Pitkeathley has spoken often with the kind of authority she has demonstrated today on issues that concern her greatly.
As has already been mentioned by both noble Lords who have spoken, it is for her work on behalf of carers that my noble friend is perhaps best known. It is no 18 exaggeration to say that she was responsible for putting on the political agenda the concerns of millions of informal carers in this country, believing passionately, as I know she does, that the strong moral case for supporting carers is underpinned by sound economic sense.
I was very privileged to work closely with her some years ago when, before she joined your Lordships' House, she masterminded the carers Act. As she said, my noble friend the Chief Whip took that Act through this House. That significant Act has given statutory recognition to the needs of the millions of people in this country who are informal carers. In particular, I believe that my noble friend's personal concern for the role of young carers—often schoolchildren struggling to look after a disabled parent or other relative—has been effective in achieving change.
As Minister for Women, I am constantly made aware that the greatest problems for women in today's society are often to balance the competing demands of their complex responsibilities. My noble friend Lady Pitkeathley is a shining role model of someone who combines successfully an outstanding professional career with a lively and rich family life. Many of us have enjoyed meeting her grandchildren on their regular tea-time visits here. On these Benches, we are particularly grateful that her own children have been so well brought up that they have both become workers for the Labour Party.
I am sure that the whole House will agree with me that my noble friend's speech today reflected the deep commitment she has shown in both her professional and personal life, and the thoughtfulness that she always adds to our debates.
My noble friend Lord Bragg was, as he said, introduced into your Lordships' House almost exactly a year ago. I was proud to be one of his supporters on that occasion. Since then, I have been proud to introduce such a distinguished colleague to the often complex and sometimes opaque procedures of this House. From what he said earlier, I think that he has now forgiven me for restraining him from speaking recently when he tried to give us the benefit of his wisdom from the Bishops Bench. It has been suggested to me that perhaps he was reliving his boyhood in the church choir, when, we are told, his ambition was to be a missionary. I believe it is fair to say that he has instead become a missionary of ideas. As has already been rightly acknowledged this afternoon, my noble friend has an eminent career as a writer and broadcaster. I believe that he should be particularly noted for his determination to improve the communication of science to non-scientists. That is a mission of particular value today as we lay people try to make dispassionate judgments about how biotechnology or geophysics impact on our own lives.
Away from the camera, the microphone and the word processor, my noble friend has held senior management posts in broadcasting companies. His honorary degrees and fellowships are now too numerous to mention. They have been crowned by his appointment this year as Chancellor of Leeds 19 University. I am sure that this House will continue to benefit enormously from the energy and intellectual qualities of leadership which my noble friend has now brought to our proceedings.
This is the first time that the House has met in its new, transitional form. In many ways, I believe that my noble friends who have spoken today characterise the new Members of this House. As has already been mentioned, they bring to their particular roles here a wide authority and experience gained during outstanding careers in different fields. That is true also of the many distinguished maiden speakers whom we shall hear over the next days of debate. At the last count, I believe that they numbered a surprising 15. We all anticipate with pleasure and interest their first contributions and their fresh perspectives on your Lordships' deliberations.
Like other speakers, I do not intend to delay your Lordships for much longer this afternoon. We shall, of course, have a full debate on the gracious Speech over the next few days. I look forward to concluding it myself next Wednesday. However, it is appropriate that I set out a few of the themes of this Government's third programme. This Session, we shall be considering issues that touch individuals very closely, and legislation will be introduced which will improve everyday lives, or, as my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley has called it, the "real world".
In going to work, or on holiday, transport will be safer and more efficient. People will more easily be able to visit beautiful places in the countryside. Those places, their wildlife and physical environment will be better conserved. Young people over 16 will have better opportunities to continue their education and gain skills that fit them for work. Children with special educational needs will have a greater opportunity of an integrated education. Children in local authority care should gain a fairer chance and be safeguarded from abuse.
At the other end of life, security in old age for future pensioners will be improved through state second pensions. As citizens, people will have more say in the local authority services which affect them. They will see changes in the way they can vote. They can have more confidence in the way political parties raise and spend money.
Beyond those important domestic themes, the Government will continue energetically to try to improve international relations and institutions. Tomorrow, although I hear that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, will speak more generally, we shall concentrate on defence, international development and foreign affairs. The debate will be opened by my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean. I am proud to say that she is the first woman ever to be a Minister at the Ministry of Defence and to speak in 20 that capacity. The debate will be closed by my noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal, another unique appointment.
The debate next Monday will focus on transport, education, the environment and rural affairs. My noble friends Lord Macdonald of Tradeston and Lady Blackstone will, respectively, open and wind up the debate that day.
On Tuesday, the debate will concentrate on industrial, social and economic affairs. My noble friend Lord Sainsbury of Turville will speak first and my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey will conclude that day's debate.
The debate will finish on Wednesday with consideration of health and home affairs. My noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton will open this final day; my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will speak during the debate; and I look forward to replying to the whole debate on the gracious Speech on Wednesday evening.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the Opposition, has told your Lordships that he intends to move an amendment to the Motion under which we debate the gracious Speech. That is, of course, perfectly acceptable, if rather unusual. My colleagues very occasionally did the same when we were in Opposition. It is legitimate if, perhaps, opportunistic gesture politics. But of course we, in the Labour Party, were confident of losing such a Motion in your Lordships' House. As the party of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, still has a majority over the Government here—and I understand from reading some of the comment today that he intends to win a vote at the end of the debate—I wonder whether he has contemplated the problems of sending back the gracious Speech with a rejection slip. That is an outcome to be pondered. However, those are matters for another day and I look forward to responding to the noble Lord's amendment when I close the debate next week.
Speaking at the end of a day when the House will consider home affairs also gives me a rare opportunity to speak about my important portfolio as Minister for Women. There are usually too few opportunities to cover these issues in your Lordships' House. Focusing on policies which affect women—who make up 51 per cent of the population—is an essential part of the key theme of this gracious Speech to improve the everyday lives of the people of this country. To do that in the context of promoting enterprise and fairness is the aim of this Government's programme, and I anticipate four days of informed and lively debate to begin the Session.
It is traditional for me—and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked me specifically to do so—to outline at least some of the Bills which will start in your Lordships' House. Today I can tell your Lordships that those will include a Bill to reform disciplinary 21 procedures in the Armed Forces to bring them into line with the European Convention on Human Rights; a Bill to allow the formation of limited liability partnerships; a Bill to ensure that young people leaving care receive more help in achieving independence; and a Bill to allow magistrates' courts to determine mode of trial in either-way cases and to require them to consider the effect upon a defendant when doing so. A number of other significant measures will be introduced into your Lordships' House as the Session proceeds.
Your Lordships will be aware—this has been commented on this afternoon—that the gracious Speech contains a very substantial programme. The Government fully anticipate that noble Lords will bring their considerable expertise and authority to bear on all the measures outlined today. We fully expect that when we look back this time next year, completed Acts will be the better for being properly scrutinised. Personally, I hope that in this Session we shall be able to achieve that essential scrutiny in a less glaring spotlight than was focused on us in the past few months.
Apart from legislation, time will also be found for debates on Select Committee reports. In addition, the usual Wednesday debates of a party and balloted nature will take place.
As I believe we always say—because it is always true—I believe that we have before us a very busy and interesting Session.
22 On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until tomorrow.