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House of Lords: New Leader

Volume 693: debated on Monday 2 July 2007

My Lords, before Questions are called—it is an unusual procedure—perhaps I may be the first to welcome to this House as Leader the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland. She has been in this House long enough to have built up a very substantial reputation, not just for hard work and thoroughness but for the very great decency with which she treats all Members of this House. She has set herself as one of her over-riding ambitions to work in the interests of the whole House. On behalf of the Opposition we very much welcome that view.

I take this small opportunity to pay tribute to her predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, who earned her place in history as the first black woman to be Leader of the House of Lords and in the Cabinet. She was a very remarkable feature of this House, particularly as Secretary of State for International Development. She goes on to different things, perhaps not better—perhaps they will be—but certainly different. We wish her well for the future as she works with the European Union.

I cannot resist remarking on the absence from the Front Bench of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton—the last Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords. I very much hope that we shall see his like again some time in the future, but for now it is a loss to this House, both in body and spirit. We wish him well. However, the purpose of my speech is to welcome the noble Baroness as Leader of the House and Lord President of the Council. We all look forward to working with her.

My Lords, first, I echo the tributes paid to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer—surely the Labour Lord Chancellor most beloved by the Conservative Benches—whose passing was noted with sincerity by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Amos. I sincerely hope that she gets the job in Europe for which she is applying as it would be a very happy coalition of her passions and experience, and Europe would do well to make use of them.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, knows that if she wants advice, she only has to come to the Liberal Democrats; indeed, these days I do a quick count every time I come in. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, she has a very seductive manner. Indeed, in my daydreams I sometimes think that—

My Lords, I was thinking more of “Antony and Cleopatra”, with me as Antony—but she already has an Antony. My other problem is thinking of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, as the young Octavius, but that is another matter. As he hinted, if there is such a thing as a good House of Commons man, she is certainly a good House of Lords woman. We shall all be well protected by her skills in the weeks, months and years ahead. These Benches wish her well.

My Lords, on behalf of the Cross-Benchers, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, very warmly for her work as Leader of the House. We are very conscious that she has always acted in the interests of the House, and that is particularly important for the Cross-Benchers. On a personal note, I have greatly enjoyed working with her, and we have never had a cross word. From her past work in international development and from the smile on her face in the past week, I know that she is very happy in her new job. It will be good for her, and I am sure that it will be good for Africa, and we wish her well. We shall also miss greatly the presence of a Lord Chancellor in this House, particularly because it is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, who is leaving us after his very distinguished career here. We wish him well outside the House.

Finally, and substantially, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, to the high responsibility of leading the House. We know her well, and we have often voted in favour of her proposals on the Floor of the House, as she knows. We shall enjoy working with her for years ahead.

My Lords, I echo the sentiments that have been expressed about my noble friend Lady Amos. She cannot be with us today as she is on government business, but she will be delighted by the tributes that have been paid to her, and I share them. It is a sadness that we no longer have my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton with us, although I am sure that he will be with us on the Back Benches entertaining us and helping us in our debates for a long time to come. I look forward to that very much.

I stand here deeply privileged to be part of the talented Front-Bench team that noble Lords see before them. We will endeavour to work as hard as we can for our new Prime Minister and for the Government. I stand here also as part of a Labour group with whom I share the same values and beliefs, and I look forward to working closely with all of them in the future. More than anything, the honour that was bestowed on me was this: my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said, “I want you to lead the House of Lords”. I will lead the whole House.