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Lord Speaker

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2006

My Lords, I can now announce the result of the election for the office of Lord Speaker. Details of the votes cast are being made available in the Printed Paper Office. The successful candidate was the Baroness Hayman.

My Lords, I have the honour to notify your Lordships that Her Majesty the Queen, having been informed that your Lordships have elected the Baroness Hayman to be Lord Speaker, has pleasure in confirming your Lordships’ choice of her as your Speaker.

My Lords, I rise on a significant and special day for this House, that of the election of a Lord Speaker. As the House knows, the Lord Speaker replaces the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the Woolsack.

I begin by paying tribute to my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton. He is known for his unfailing good humour, patience and pragmatism, and he has helped to steer the House through a period of important change. My noble and learned friend has the distinction of being the last Lord Chancellor to act as Speaker in the House of Lords, and I am grateful to him for ushering in a new era with his customary charm. I have to say to the House that there have been occasions when I have seen my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack and have despaired because, despite the efforts of many, his wig never seemed to stay on straight for very long. I am delighted that my noble and learned friend will now continue to contribute to the business of this House from the Government Front Bench as Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs.

Some Members of your Lordships’ House will know that Robert Moy, the Lord Chancellor’s Purse Bearer, and Norah Dobinson, the Lord Chancellor’s Train Bearer, are due to retire after more than20 years of service to the department. Their service has been exemplary. I am sure that all noble Lords will wish to join me in thanking them for their service and wishing them a long and happy retirement.

I now turn to the new Lord Speaker. I am delighted to welcome the first elected Speaker of the House of Lords. The House now has its own representative as Speaker, who has been chosen by its Members. I have known and worked with my noble friend for many years. She has enormous respect for this House, its traditions and its contribution to the working of our bicameral Parliament. I am sure that, as she has said, she will be an energetic, diplomatic and persuasive ambassador for the House, its value and its values. We all look forward to working with our new Lord Speaker.

My Lords, on behalf of the Opposition, it gives me the greatest pleasure to congratulate and welcome the noble Baroness on her election as Lord Speaker. She will know that it is a mark of the respect she has in this House and our confidence that she will represent this House with distinction outside and respect its authority and self-regulation inside.

I hope she will understand that in the past I had some reservations about the necessity for and the cost of this new role, but I fully accept the House’s decision and share the feelings of the whole House, demonstrated this afternoon, that this first term of a Lord Speaker will be successful, as I am certain it will be in the noble Baroness’s hands.

It would be wrong to allow the passing of the historic role of Lord Chancellor to go without comment. It was a unique office, a typically British anomaly that worked wonderfully well, one that protected the judiciary and lent grace and authority to this House. It was held by that remarkable succession of individuals whose Arms surround us in this Chamber. I will not list them all, but I confine myself to the names of Becket, More and Bacon, among Lord Chancellors of England, and Hardwicke, Halsbury, Birkenhead and Hailsham among chancellors of Great Britain. The roll-call of the centuries speaks for itself.

Now no more Lord Chancellors will follow in that distinguished line. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has achieved what he undertook on the day his predecessor resigned. Now the House can let him disrobe and depart in peace. He may now be able to enjoy a rather longer lunch than he has been able to until now, but we hope that we will see much more of him on the Front Bench.

I echo the words of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in giving our appreciation to Bob Moy and Norah Dobinson, who held the posts of Purse Bearer and Train Bearer with such dignity and grace over so many years.

Now we must close that book and turn to the future. Let us hope that, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, a line of Speakers as long and distinguished as the line of Lord Chancellors now opens up. Let us pray that this House goes on in unity and common purpose to serve our country for many centuries to come.

My Lords, I echo the optimism with which the leader of the Opposition finished his tribute. We on these Benches were enthusiastic supporters of this change as part of making this House, to use the current phrase, “fit for purpose” in the 21st century.

I can take great pride in assuring the new Lord Speaker that I voted for her, which demonstrates the inherent cunning of the House of Lords in devising such an election method. It is also a real pleasure, and I hope that she took great encouragement from the growl of approval from all parts of the House. I have known her a longish time and have always seen her as a kind of Julie Andrews figure in politics. It may well be that in her new role, she needs something of the skills of a nanny and of a singing nun—we will have to see. But it is the beginning of a new era and I can think of no one more fitting to start us on that road.

We say farewell to the Lord Chancellor. When I first came here, 40 years ago, the Lord Chancellor was Gerald Gardiner. I cannot remember anyone referring to him as “Gerry”. But it says something for the way in which the Lord Chancellor has humanised the role that many call him “Charlie”—and they do so with a familiarity and a fondness for the way in which he has carried through his task. I hope the speed at which the wig was removed does not mean that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already put it on eBay. He will be remembered not only as the last Lord Chancellor to occupy that position but as one who has done great service to the House as its Speaker. We wish him well in his new position as a member of the government Front Bench.

As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, this is a new and exciting beginning. We could have no better person to lead us into it.

My Lords, the choice by the House of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, as our new and first elected Speaker will be very widely welcomed in Parliament and, on behalf of almost 200 Cross-Benchers, I very warmly join in that welcome. The noble Baroness is more than qualified by her long experience in committee work, as a former MP and as a Minister in three testing jobs, in health, transport and agriculture. It is a particular pleasure for me, who served for many years in the Ministry of Agriculture, to see on the Woolsack the noble Baroness, who had a very hard dossier there and emerged from the Ministry of Agriculture safe and sound. Her work on charities and other organisations gives us complete confidence that she will fulfil the role that we now foresee for our Lord Speaker in representing our interests outside Parliament, and she will be, as she said in her own short statement, an energetic, diplomatic and persuasive ambassador for the House.

I also wish to express the Cross-Bench Peers’ appreciation for the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and, with him on this occasion, the Train Bearer and Purse Bearer. I pointed out when I spoke about the Speakership in January that the title of Lord Chancellor can be traced back to Angmendus in 605 AD. It is rather sad that the noble and learned Lord with that title will, from today, no longer sit on the Woolsack. But the noble and learned Lord’s ability and personal qualities—apart, of course, from a certain tendency to reform the House—have always been appreciated by my Cross-Bench colleagues, and when we say goodbye to his occupation of the Woolsack we again record our appreciation to him at the same time as we welcome our new Lord Speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.

My Lords, we on these Benches add our thanks to the Lord Chancellor for his duties on the Woolsack in recent years and our congratulations to the noble Baroness on her election as Lord Speaker.

There were nine candidates from all sides of the House, apart from these Benches. That does not mean that the duties of the Lord Speaker will be in any sense unspiritual; quite the opposite. It seems to me that the role bears something of a spiritual trust for the great traditions of this House, and I know that the noble Baroness is ideally placed for this important task.

I am told that one or two Bishops gave at least a passing thought to standing and were tempted—though without sin. In fact, any Bishop who did stand and was successful would immediately have had to resign their bishopric and from the House, so that is perhaps why they did not stand in the first place.

But to what might we compare the role of the Lord Speaker? The noble Lord, Lord McNally, suggests Julie Andrews; I had wondered about the Archbishop of Canterbury, who also presides, with much honour and influence but not much direct power, over a self-regulating institution known as the Church of England. One might have forgiven the Archbishop in recent weeks if he had indeed thought of standing.

The Archbishop's task in the Church has been likened to trying to manage a herd of cats: the harder you try, the more they scatter. The new Lord Speaker will not have quite such a difficult task, but it will be a sensitive and delicate task. We all wish her well as she settles down to the task.

The Jewish and Christian faiths hold the Psalms in common, although they are, of course, of Jewish origin. I end by adapting a verse from the Psalm that I read during Prayers, to the task of our new Lord Speaker: her work is worthy to be praised, and had in honour, and may her righteousness endure for ever.

My Lords, this is a hugely important day for your Lordships’ House. For me, it has been one of the greatest privileges of my life to serve your Lordships' House as its Speaker for the past three years. This House is one of the great institutions of our country. Despite how it may appear to some outside, it has always proved able to change and to adapt and, for the good of the country, to secure its place at the heart of our constitutional legislative arrangements.

Today is one of those days of change. Rarely do we have such days when the change is so visible. These are days of great sadness. For centuries a Lord Chancellor has sat on the Woolsack and 345 years ago his position was formalised in Standing Orders. Throughout those years the role of the Lord Chancellor has changed dramatically. My great17th century predecessor, the Earl of Clarendon, sought to ensure that judges never exhibited signs of independence and the Lords did the Crown’s bidding. Now the judges rightly look to the Lord Chancellor to protect their independence and the Lords look on the Executive as someone constantly in need of a critical friend. I often wish the emphasis were more on “friend” than “critical”.

We change with the times. These changes carry with them the seeds of our future. We are a respected, effective second Chamber, constructive in our approach and keen to do as good a job as we can in scrutinising legislation and holding the Executive to account. Today, the House loses two of its most popular and effective servants, my Purse Bearer, Bob Moy, and my Train Bearer, Norah Dobinson. The House has always held them in the highest possible regard. Between them, they have served five Lord Chancellors, stretching back 20 years. They have ensured both the dignity of the office and that the office has been fully informed of all current gossip in the House. I thank them profoundly for all that they have done.

Others have supported me in my role as Speaker of your Lordships' House. The Clerk of the Parliaments has ensured that I am properly briefed on the business of the day. He always arrives promptly at 2.15 pm each day; I invariably arrive late. The Doorkeepers and the security staff ensure that we can work in a safe and orderly environment. They carry out their duties with such diligence that they have, on occasion, halted my procession and asked for my security pass, which I have not had. Finally, the staff of the House work to ensure that the business proceeds efficiently and that your Lordships are well supported.

We are indeed lucky to have as our first elected Speaker the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. She carries the support and good wishes of the whole House. She will both respect our traditions and look with new eyes on the office of Speaker.

This is a very different place from when I joined. No doubt it will change further as a result of today’s changes. Our voice has changed; we stand for new and more varied things; our membership has changed so much; our viewpoint and our voice frequently differ from the Government’s and also from the Opposition’s. It is the voice and viewpoint of this House; it connects to the world outside. Despite the very sincerely held opposition to the changes to parts of this House, throughout the three years this place has been consistently warm and affectionate to me and to my family. I thank every Member of the House profoundly for that. Life for me will never be the same again. The most important “thank you” is to the House for all it has done to support me in my role as Speaker. I thank the House for giving me the honour of serving it.

My Lords, may I be permitted to make an observation? As one who has been against the change from the beginning, I nevertheless congratulate the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on achieving what he set out to achieve. It was a very considerable task. He persuaded your Lordships' House; he persuaded the other place; Parliament agreed. We congratulate him on that. However, I have a sneaking feeling that, somewhere in the depths of his heart, a little tear is being shed for the role which he played and for the office in which he participated, which is now to be no more.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, the new Lord Chancellor. Whatever the past—

My Lords, I beg your pardon. I would not like to usurp her authority already. I congratulate her on her achievement. She has been chosen by the whole House and she will be warmly welcomed and warmly supported, whatever views we might have had about the change in the past. We wish her the greatest success. She will do her task with elegance and charm, and great graciousness as well. I know that she will rely on the goodwill and the friendship of all of us in your Lordships' House.

My Lords, nobody could take up the position that I have done today without a sense of honour and a sense of history. It is customary on these occasions to say that your predecessor is a very hard act to follow. When you have to talk about several centuries of predecessors who are enormously hard acts to follow there is a tremendous sense of responsibility. I feel that sense and I will do my utmost to live up to the responsibilities with which the House has entrusted me.

One of the things made very clear to me during the debates about the change to a Lord Speaker was that the last thing that the House wanted inside its confines was long speeches from the Woolsack. That mistake I will not make today. However, I wish to add my thanks for, and my tribute to, what has been said already and the very kind words that have been addressed to me.

I am always slightly nervous when one is congratulated and told of one’s qualities, even if they are about being a singing nun, in advance of having performed any function whatever. However, they are very gratefully received. I am grateful even to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, although when he spoke about voting for me, I was reminded that, on election day, I met one of his Front-Bench colleagues going into the Moses Room to vote. He said, “The alternative vote, it’s a wonderful system. You start with the bottom number and the person you really dislike most”. So even if that was the spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, voted for me, I am seriously aware that the wonderful thing about this election was not only the spirit in which it was conducted—and I pay tribute to everybody who stood and everybody who was involved in the election—but also that, your Lordships' House being what it is, what it was and what it will be, no candidate could have won it without support from all round the House. That is what will sustain me in the time ahead, when I try my very best to do the job well and when, inevitably, I do not do it perfectly at the beginning.

My Lords, as a Back-Bencher I congratulate the Clerks on the way in which they have carried out this election. Many of us thought that we would have read who the new Speaker would be in the Sunday newspapers. I have lost a considerable amount of money on betting that we would have heard before now. The way in which they have carried out the election has been first class. On behalf of all Members of the House, I congratulate the Clerk and his staff on how they have done it.