Harriett Baldwin speaks in the debate on the King’s Speech which was made against a backdrop of tumultuous international events. As a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Harriett emphasizes the importance of NATO and its willingness to welcome new members. She also highlights the need to tackle inflation, ease the cost of living, and support business growth. Finally, she takes the opportunity to call for reform in the House of Lords where the 92 hereditary peerages are almost exclusively for men.
It has been said that we enjoyed a holiday from history between the fall of the Berlin wall and 11 September 2001, but unfortunately history has now etched two more horrendous dates into our memories: 24 February 2022 for Russia’s evil invasion of Ukraine, and 7 October 2023 for Hamas’s evil terrorist attack on innocent Israelis. It is against this tumultuous backdrop that we discuss His Majesty’s historic first Gracious Speech—the first King’s Speech for 70 years, and a speech that represents a profound moment in the stability and continuity of our unwritten constitution. That we were able to change our sovereign and change our Prime Minister twice last year and arrive at the Gracious Speech with entirely peaceful transitions of power is something that we should all find profoundly moving.
Our world seems increasingly dangerous, and around the perimeters of NATO we see terrible conflict and lots of mischief being played to stir up conflict. As a proud member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, I know how important it is that NATO countries continue to show unity and that our door is open to new members such as Sweden and Finland, as well as, of course, Ukraine, Moldova and, I hope, Georgia; I draw attention to my interest in that country. It is time that Putin realised that annexing his neighbours gives him more NATO on his borders, not less.
In His Majesty’s Gracious Speech, there was not a lot to distract the Treasury Committee; that will come in next week’s autumn statement—and let me add, in case colleagues are interested, that in addition to our Committee’s scrutiny of that statement, the Bank of England and the financial regulators, we currently have open inquiries into access to finance for small and medium-sized businesses, quantitative tightening, sexism in the City and central bank digital currencies.
I am glad that His Majesty, and also the Chancellor today, have emphasised the focus on increasing economic growth. I am glad that everyone now agrees that we should continue to take action to bring down inflation, ease the cost of living for families, and help businesses to fund new jobs and investment. I am also glad that Ministers will help the Bank of England to return inflation to target. It is the Bank of England that has raised mortgage rates, and the Governor of the Bank of England has acknowledged that the only increases that mortgage payers are now seeing are thanks to its efforts to control inflation and are nothing to do with the decisions of our now responsible Treasury.
These decisions will help household finances, reduce public sector debt and safeguard the financial security of our country, about which my constituents care deeply. Tomorrow we should see a milestone in the quest to reduce inflation: the market expects the consumer prices index to decline to 4.7%, and, combined with wage growth of more than 7%, that means that real wage growth has returned to our economy. We have also seen low pay fall dramatically: fewer than 10% of the many millions more people who are now in work are low paid, thanks to the national living wage.
There was one omission from the Gracious Speech, in respect of what I regard as constitutional sexism in our country. No steps were announced to end the indefensible system of “men only” seats in the other place. The 92 hereditary peerages are almost exclusively for men, and the Hereditary Titles (Female Succession) Bill, which I tried to get enacted in the last parliamentary Session in order to change that, sadly did not make it on to the statute book. I shall try again to get a good slot in the ballot for private Members’ Bills, and if I do so, I will reintroduce that Bill. If I do not get a good slot, I will invite my colleagues to take up the baton.