Debate (1st Day)
My Lords, I have to acquaint the House that Her Majesty was pleased this morning to make a most gracious Speech from the Throne to both Houses of Parliament assembled in the House of Lords. Copies of the gracious Speech are available in the Printed Paper Office.
I have, for the convenience of the House, arranged for the terms of the gracious Speech to be published in the Official Report.
Motion for an humble Address
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”.
My Lords, it is a great personal honour to move this Motion. I am absolutely delighted to be supported by my noble friend Lady Ford, of Cunningham, who has proved to be a strong contributing Member of your Lordships' House. I personally owe her a great deal. In 2001, she became the chair of English Partnerships; she led it with force and success. English Partnerships owned the land on which the Dome was built.
My Lords, my noble friend had the good sense to sell it. The current success of the Dome, now known as the O2 Arena, owes much to her. Before she arrived on the Dome scene, I was able to achieve what no other Minister in government, before or since, has achieved—namely, to have every single national newspaper call for my resignation on the same day. I waited patiently for the storm to pass; 10 days later, the Daily Star started its leader column with the words:
“Lord Falconer should not resign”.
It was a Brownesque comeback, you might think—but no; it went on:
“Lord Fatty should be placed on the top of the Dome and they should both be burnt to a cinder”.
Like politics today, things that start well can very quickly go sour. The gracious Speech recognises that overshadowing all our deliberations in the next Session will be the economic crisis. The Government have, I believe, been clear-eyed and decisive in the moves that they have taken to rescue the banking system. The gracious Speech focuses on helping families and businesses through difficult times, improving the resilience of the financial sector, including improving banking practice, promoting local economic development and reforming the welfare system. These are the right priorities, which will contribute to our recovery and provide long-term reform. I greatly welcome a stronger voice for the tenant and the focus on regional economic development. As the chair of a south London and south of England housing association and of the Newcastle and Gateshead City Development Company, I know the importance of both these issues. I formally declare an interest as chair of AmicusHorizon housing association and the Newcastle and Gateshead City Development Company.
I profoundly hope that the coroners and justice Bill will improve the lot of victims and their families, in particular the families of the victims of murder and manslaughter. All too often, the families and partners of murder and manslaughter victims suffer twice. First, there is their appalling loss. Our state systems are initially sympathetic, but then the justice system, the health system and sometimes the Foreign Office when the crime occurs abroad, are often insensitive to the needs of those families. Organisations such as the North of England Victims’ Association, which offers support after murder and manslaughter and support after murder and manslaughter abroad, provide without fuss, funding or credit a degree of support for these victims, which they seldom see from the state, except from the family liaison officers provided by the police.
We in this House can contribute much to the development of the programme outlined in the gracious Speech, as we proved in the previous Session. There was the Pensions Bill when this House persuaded the Government to introduce greater gender equity into the Bill; the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill where the debates in the House were of the highest quality; and the Planning Bill, when the Government, strongly supported by heavyweights on our Benches, persuaded the House that the Government’s proposed scheme was right, but at the same time they accepted significant amendments proposed by the House.
In her maiden speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, demonstrated how less is more. It took her three minutes to shake and then stir the Government to stop dead in its tracks the 42-day pre-charge detention proposal. The strength of this House continues only as long as the quality of our contribution and the reliability of our judgments remain as high as they are now. New entrants, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, the noble Lords, Lord Pannick and Lord Judge, and my noble friends Lord Myners and Lord Mandelson suggest a continuing supply of very high octane fuel for many years to come.
However, I should say that the existing fuel stocks are still pretty powerful. There is the ever-youthful noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, possibly suffering from anorexia, whose jokes keep getting better and better. In the dark times to come, when all other sources of humour fail, he can rally our spirits by reminding us of his support for a fully elected House. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, as incisive as ever, is, sadly, increasingly an isolated figure. He was cruelly abandoned by his co-conspirator from St Albans, my noble friend Lady Ashton of Upholland, who feels, understandably, that after a year of leading your Lordships, leading the disparate peoples of Europe will be a breeze. I fear that her conspicuous talents will ensure that she is away from us for five years rather than one. The noble Lord’s cares are alleviated by the promotion to the Liberal Democrats Whips’ Office of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, who has made such a significant mark on the House, making it one where success has become a family business—there is something of a tradition of that here.
My noble friends Lady Royall and Lord Bassam are two of the most popular figures in the House, both disdainful of oratorical flourishes. Never, however, underestimate the political acumen of this team. They have the most powerful commodities in politics: trust and friendship. I predict that they will be with us for many years to come in their leadership roles.
They are joined by my noble friend Lord Mandelson, a man born for your Lordships’ House, entering the unashamedly guacamole period of his political life. My noble friend is above all a man of talent, originality and political courage. For all of us, and for your Lordships’ House, it is “back to the future” in so many ways: to 2001, when my noble friend was last in the Government, and to 1895, when last a Prime Minister, the biggest box-office draw in government, was in your Lordships’ House.
There is also a departure. My noble friend Lord Grocott is sadly no longer Chief Whip. Happily, he has decided to stay among his people in Telford. What little time off he has from soliciting their views he spends with us, and we are grateful for that. My noble friend’s part in the past decade will only be known when history comes to be written. Those noble Lords who thought that the Labour Government have made mistakes should have seen the ones we would have made had my noble friend Lord Grocott not been there. How often he would take me to one side when I was in government and say, in the friendliest way possible—usually about Lords reform proposals—“Strewth, Charlie, where do you think the Ministry of Justice gets these mad ideas from?”. I do not know if he noticed my face reddening.
Over the past year, your Lordships’ House has owed much to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the Lord Speaker. She has, with patience and skill, and often in the face of sharp-elbowed politicians, found a place for herself, frequently providing leadership on a range of issues without impinging on your Lordships’ desire for self-regulation. Our influence as a House depends on the quality of what we do. To have as our Lord Speaker a person whose values reflect the best of this House makes us, both inside and outside, immeasurably stronger.
In the forthcoming political season, above all else, leadership is required. The United States of America has been much derided by the world for its inwardness and failure to understand the cultural sensitivities of different places but its people have, in the past month, elected a leader who is of a different ethnic group from 80 per cent of them. In the course of the campaign, his wife was abused, he was called a terrorist, his friends and his preacher were vilified, his aunt was exposed as an illegal immigrant and the de facto leader of his political party pointed out that he was black. His dignity and calm in the face of that remorseless attack smack of real leadership.
In the UK, we have a Government who are prepared to put their own survival at stake to do everything required to beat the recession. Whatever else new Labour is about, it is about putting the sensible and fair management of the economy above other considerations. Times are difficult. Our role is to challenge, to provide ideas, to amend and to improve. However, it is also to support, to assist and to contribute in a time of national crisis.
We have much work to do in the coming Session. Never has there been a time when insight and quality mattered as much as they do now. We must play our role. We can do so confident that, as the gracious Speech shows, we have a Government who are willing to lead. I beg to move the Motion that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty.
My Lords, I beg to second my noble and learned friend’s Motion for an humble Address. It is a great honour and privilege to be asked to do so, and especially to follow him, with whom I had the pleasure of working when he was an outstanding Planning and Housing Minister. Therefore, I am used to following in his footsteps, or possibly trailing in his wake for he is a very fast mover, as we all know. In fact, on reflection, I think that the very best way to follow him is probably on his shirt-tails because they are nearly always in evidence.
My noble and learned friend interviewed me for the position of chairman of English Partnerships. It was an interesting experience. I can now easily imagine being on trial for murder. We spent many happy hours selling the Millennium Dome and when he was then shuffled to the Home Office, he was replaced by my right honourable friend John Prescott. Some girls have all the luck. It was suggested to me that I had swapped the Lord High Executioner for the Ancient Mariner. I enjoyed chairing English Partnerships immensely and had the pleasure of working with many noble Lords across the House on important projects. As the new Homes and Communities Agency vests this week, I am proud of the legacy that English Partnerships left in the renewal of so many communities. If I might single out one achievement, it would be the remediation of the English coalfield, where in so many places now the number of jobs above ground far exceeds those employed in the pit even at the height of the industry. It is the most comprehensive regeneration programme ever undertaken in the United Kingdom and it was championed with great energy by my right honourable friend John Prescott.
I have worked with many noble Lords over the years. The noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, who I am glad to see in his place, appointed me to the Scottish Prison Service more than 20 years ago, where I served my apprenticeship as a non-executive director. I learnt a lot. My first visit was to Barlinnie prison in Glasgow, and I studied my brief assiduously. One of the first points in the brief—this being the west of Scotland—was the number of Roman Catholics and Protestants in the jail. I soaked up all the information. When we toured the canteen, I noticed a large blackboard high on the wall. It said, “RC 344 and P 227”. Brimming with enthusiasm, I said to the governor, “How odd, for everyone knows that there are more Protestants than Catholics in Barlinnie”. “Don't be so stupid”, he said, “that stands for rice crispies and porridge”. An important learning point is to study your brief, but not to try to show off—advice I have tried to put into practice ever since, particularly in your Lordships’ House. Almost exactly the same advice was given to me by the then Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who also explained that your Lordships’ House was a self-motivating place: the more work one put in, the more satisfaction would be derived from membership.
Since coming here, I have had the pleasure of working with many noble Lords, particularly in the previous Session on the then housing and planning Bills. I am sure that noble Lords will forgive me for singling out the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who is such a diligent and delightful colleague and whose expertise in guiding both Bills led to many improvements in that most important legislation. This House is rich in expertise and in experience. It is this combination that seems to me so formidable and so important to preserve.
I also pay tribute to the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, the Leader of the House. She is new to that role, but not to the Front Bench, and has brought to it her unique combination of steely resolve and genuine charm. She will be an outstanding Leader of the House, of that I am sure. Alongside her on the Front Bench is the new Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, who was resplendent earlier today in his uniform as the Captain of the Honourable Corps of the Gentlemen-at-Arms. He fills the shoes of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who are difficult acts to follow, but already he has developed a most beguiling approach. He never appears to pressure but instantly has commanded loyalty. However, I am, of course, still new enough to be pathetically compliant.
I, of course, consider myself a mere apprentice. I have made the usual raft of mistakes, for which the House has gently chided me. I have bobbed up at the wrong time, crossed the wrong piece of Floor and almost ventured down the wrong Lobby. On each occasion, I was put right in the most courteous but firm manner. Let me tell you; nothing quite compares to inadvertently promoting yourself to the Bishops’ Bench. The right reverend Prelate knows what is coming. I was sitting minding my own business late one evening when my error became manifest when the right reverend Prelate, who will remain nameless, sat down beside me. I immediately realised my error and apologised. He leant over and said conspiratorially, “You will find on this Bench that if you wear a Laura Ashley nightdress you will fit in a lot better”.
Apprenticeships are important rites of passage, whether in this House or in the wider world. I am really delighted that the issue of apprenticeship has been placed right at the heart of the gracious Speech. I sincerely hope that the legislation that emerges makes it far easier for both employers and potential apprentices to get together and train a new generation for the challenges of the modern world. Over the years, we have made apprenticeship, which ought to be a straightforward contract, needlessly complicated. Let us simplify it. University education is hugely important, but that route is simply not for everyone, and we need to place again a genuine premium on the value of a good-quality apprenticeship.
I grew up in the west of Scotland, and my title is taken from Cunninghame, the ancient name for North Ayrshire, the area where I was born, brought up and educated. Generations of my family have prospered there in trade, in commerce and in education. My grandmother was a pupil teacher throughout the Great War and kept many village schools going, and my mother was an eminent head teacher. My father and his before him were engineers, and my father trained scores of apprentices throughout his career in the nuclear power industry. He built many nuclear power stations; that might be back in fashion soon.
I did not come to your Lordships’ House via a traditional political route, because my career has largely been made in business and in finance. I have voluntarily worked in social housing and regeneration for most of my adult life. Those are my passions, because the kind of environment where children grow up profoundly affects their self-worth and their aspiration. A decent home is the most basic building block of all.
I have the privilege of chairing the Irvine Bay Regeneration Company, which focuses on the economic renewal of the area where I grew up and where I have returned to live. Battered by the recession of the early 1980s, we have never recovered the levels of very high employment that the area boasted right up until that time, when really seismic shifts in the world economy meant that textiles, shipbuilding and chemicals, which were major sources of employment in our area, closed down. Twenty-five years later, we still continue to work really hard to attract new industries and new employment to our towns.
But Ayrshire is a resilient place; it is a gorgeous county and of course it is the home of Robert Burns. We know how to enjoy ourselves, and we love to laugh. Our humour can be particularly surreal. I recall sitting on the train from Glasgow, which was headed for Ardrossan to meet the Belfast ferry. A greyhound—an especially frisky greyhound—was put into the freight van and, at a station near Ardrossan, the dog escaped and bounded along the platform. The guard then ran after it the whole way down the platform, hollering the immortal words, “Stop that dog, it’s a parcel!”.
Motion to Adjourn
My Lords, I am delighted to move that this debate be adjourned until tomorrow. In doing so, it is my welcome duty to congratulate the mover and seconder of the main Motion on their most excellent speeches. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, made a typically elegant speech. He did so this time out of some pretty thin gruel, given the size of the gracious Speech. He spoke as a man free of the cares of office and clearly enjoying it. But you never know, this could have been the great comeback speech. After all, in this day and age, you can be cruising on a luxury yacht off a Greek island one day, only to discover that switch at No. 10 has got your number. The noble and learned Lord’s support for the former Prime Minister, Mr Blair, will do him no harm either. We have always seen the noble and learned Lord as a Blairite down to the pancetta and eggs baveuse for breakfast back in the old flat.
Over the years we of course grew to know and acknowledge his ability to argue a case for the preposterous—like abolishing the great office he had just taken on, or even limiting the right to trial by jury. He should be careful, though, because his skills are much needed: a Cabinet role putting the preposterous case that the Prime Minister had nothing to do with the recession might indeed be tailor-made for the noble and learned Lord.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ford, does not need to nurture a hope of a coming back, because it is clear from her contribution today that the only direction in which she is coming is forwards. The noble Baroness spoke with warmth and humour, which are qualities that this House much admires. The House has already taken to her manner and good sense, and she underlined that today. And should we be surprised, given that, like me, she is a native of the finest county in the British Isles—the noble soil of Ayrshire? As far as I can see, the more Scots who play a part in English Partnerships, the more that is to be admired.
This is the 12th gracious Speech since the 1997 election. The next would be the 13th—unlucky for our country, which after a decade of debt-fuelled boom is now completely and utterly bust. The gracious Speech, like the pre-Budget Statement, both copiously leaked to the press, incidentally, is all about the short-term prospects of the Prime Minister and not the long-term future of the country. The Government are embarked on a race against being rumbled. When I see a speech like this, I do not expect a long Session. When we hear a nationalised bank being ordered to stop repossessions for six months, many will conclude that the cunning plan is this: repossessions in June, elections in May; tax rises next year, tax cuts today. They must think that the British people are very simple indeed. But I must signal to the noble Baroness that if the Government call an early election, they cannot count on our letting these Bills into law without scrutiny. We made that mistake before with the Gambling Act. What followed was the scandal of trying to regenerate poverty by building casinos. We will not go there twice.
Will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House confirm the total number of Bills? Given the tight timetable, a balanced programme is vital. We have much work to do on the Banking Bill over the next few weeks, regarding which we have already agreed to co-operate on timing. Will the noble Baroness say what other Bills will start in your Lordships’ House? Will they include the marine Bill, on which there is great expertise in this Chamber?
The gracious Speech was Delphic on constitutional renewal. Some of us, like the drunk at midnight, feel that we have had one-too-many constitutional renewals lately and are a little under the weather as a result. Indeed, it is with great sadness that I reflect that this may be the last Session in which the Law Lords will be Members of this House. We have benefited from their advice since time immemorial. The costs of building and running an unnecessary Supreme Court and replacement courts are making their contribution to the doubling national debt. If this folly is not stopped—I suspect it will not be—it would be wrong to let this occasion pass without an expression of the deepest gratitude for the role of the justices and Law Lords over so many centuries in making this Chamber what it is. Will the noble Baroness say whether there will be a constitutional renewal Bill? To keep the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, happy, will she confirm that the Government will be supporting no more proposals this Session that affect this House or its composition?
There is a related issue that should concern your Lordships, which is the privileges of your Lordships’ House. I must say bluntly that this House is being taken for granted far too much. At the end of the last Session, as powerfully expressed by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding, privilege was cited to block Lords amendments in the most tenuous of circumstances. Long ago, in 1702, this House found itself on the receiving end of a practice known as tacking, whereby non-financial matters were attached to Finance Bills to stop your Lordships amending them. Your Lordships’ forebears were wise enough to pass a resolution—still our Standing Order 53—declaring that this practice was unparliamentary and tended to the destruction of constitutional government. The resolve of this House was effective and tacking stopped. If privilege is cited where none really exists, we may need to renew that resolution of 1702.
Then there are other matters: the packaging of unrelated Lords amendments in the other place, which still continues; and the ignoring of recommendations of your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Merits Committees, and the exclusion of your Lordships from any say in certain regulations. There is a pattern of if not contempt then certainly carelessness. Now, we have the heavy-handed arrest of a Front-Bench opposition spokesman, who published facts that Ministers wanted to cover up, and the invasion of police to rifle through the private records of a parliamentarian’s office without even a warrant. I saw comments made earlier by a Cabinet Minister in which he made insinuations about a threat to national security. What tosh, my Lords. This was simply bad news that Labour Ministers wanted buried.
As long ago as 1626, this House, in the Earl of Arundel’s case, held that no parliamentarian could be arrested by the Executive to prevent him going about his parliamentary business. Peers on both sides of the House—on all sides, indeed—have said that they are concerned at how this threat may affect their duties if they are sent undisclosed information. Can the noble Baroness, who serves us all on these matters, help us? What would happen if a request came in to raid an office here? Who would be told? I should like to think that the House’s authorities would not so lightly have allowed such an invasion of this House to occur. Will the noble Baroness, when she responds, give the House assurances on this, perhaps by undertaking to bring a paper to the Committee for Privileges laying out what safeguards Members of this House should expect?
Of course, there are things in the Speech with which we agree. Many seem to have been borrowed from our own policy papers. Of those that were not, a savings gateway is fine, but is not the sadness that under this Government savings have vanished? Too little, too late, my Lords. Reform of welfare is something that we have been advocating for years. It would have been achieved long ago if the Prime Minister had not plunged his dagger into the back of Mr Frank Field. However, it is hardly a propitious time to force disabled people into a jobs market which is contracting faster than at any time in recent memory. If only, as in so many things, this Government had done the right thing as the sun was shining, we would not be in the same mess today.
Can the noble Baroness say whether reports are true that the Government intend powers to stop people in the street and ask them for their ID cards? I warn her that this House will be very sceptical of that. Can it be true that there are yet more Home Office and justice Bills, while in the real world violent crime continues to rise? We hear that there will be another education Bill and another health Bill. Will we be better taught and better cared for as a result? I doubt it.
That this is a shorter Speech is welcome but, even to this Government’s dying day, Ministers do not clock the basic fact that government is about far more than passing laws. The whole Speech—as mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, although he came to a different conclusion from mine—is overshadowed by the disastrous results of the mismanagement of our economy. On this occasion in 1997, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead said, with his customary modesty, that the new Labour Government had inherited a stronger economic legacy than any Government of modern times, except of course the one that succeeded Lord Jenkins’ tenure of No. 11. Not even the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, would try that one today. The claim that it is all the fault of foreigners would not convince Alf Garnett at his most jingoistic. The idea that Britain, with its homemade manufacturing recession and its ransacked capacity to sustain public spending, is in a better state to face global problems is a cloud-cuckoo-land.
There is a sense of utter detachment from reality in the spin that world leaders are gagging to touch the hem of the Prime Minister and that he can puff himself up as a saviour of the world when people here are losing homes, jobs, savings and pensions. The failure to accept any responsibility or to offer any apology for boom and bust can only spread cynicism about politics today.
Nothing in the gracious Speech can or will repair the damage done by the Government’s policies since 1997. The harsh reality is that nothing will avert the fact that Britain, with public and personal debt mushrooming and future taxes and liabilities piled selfishly on our children, faces the worst economic legacy left by any Government. It is a nightmare cocktail of a plunging pound, mass redundancies, business bankruptcies, and lording over us all, an arrogant bureaucracy that is high on privilege and utterly divorced from the problems of the high street, unemployment, repossessions, vanishing pensions and savings, and record regulation and tax.
Was it for that that they thronged so eagerly to the Bar to hear that first gracious Speech when Labour was new? Let them bring on the election that the Speech prefigures. We are ready. The sooner a new Government can get to work to repair the damage done by this one, the better. I beg to move that this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
My Lords, it is a real honour for me to second that proposition and to open the Queen’s Speech debate from these Benches. I know that within the next few days the galaxy of talent at my disposal will be using its experience and expertise to comment on the details of the gracious Speech.
My first task is to pay tribute to the mover and seconder of the Loyal Address. Let me say first to the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, that she has an impressive record in both business and public service. One of the internet biographies that I consulted listed her skills simply as “management”. She has certainly managed her task today with skill, humour and eloquence. Given her long-standing concern for the need for a vigorous and imaginative housing policy, I wonder that she does not share my surprise that the words “housing” and “homelessness” do not appear anywhere in the gracious Speech. Surely keeping people who are under threat of eviction in their homes and providing new supplies of social housing for those in need must be a priority in the coming year. I declare my interest as a vice-president of Shelter. As I have reminded the House in the past, 40 years after she disturbed the conscience of the nation, Cathy has not yet come home.
Secondly, I must say what a pleasure it was to see that Beau Brummell of Lord Chancellors, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, back in the front line. I confess that I had a certain concern about his employability after his departure from office. I note that he has reinvented himself as an expert in litigation likely to arise from the credit crunch. He recently predicted a boom in post-credit-crunch litigation, which, in his words, will be on a scale that we have not seen before. As we used to say in Lancashire when I was a lad, “If he fell in the Co-op he’d come out with the divi”.
Whatever the prospects for lawyers, things are not going well for economists. I saw the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in the Corridor the other day. He was complaining that, in spite of being a professor of economics, a former adviser to government and a member of the economics committee of this House, the only question that he gets asked these days is, “Are you Robert Peston’s dad?”.
Although my degree is in economics, I have never claimed to be an economist. However, I have detected from the Government in recent months what I would call the boing effect in determining economic policy. Let me explain what I mean. If you go down to the Terrace of the House of Commons and stand opposite St Thomas’s Hospital just as Big Ben is about to chime, you hear first the sound of Big Ben, then a delay and then a boing from across the river.
Earlier this year, the Prime Minister said that he had cured boom and bust. Dr Vince Cable said that you could not build an economy on runaway debt and a housing price bubble. Boing—a little while later, the Prime Minister is reaching for the biography of Keynes written by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. The Prime Minister says that there is no case for nationalising Northern Rock. Dr Vince Cable says that that is the only way—boing—and Northern Rock is in public ownership. The Prime Minister derides the Liberal Democrats earlier in the summer when they call for tax cuts for middle-income and low-income families—boing—and by the autumn we are all tax cutters. If you really want to know what the Government are likely to do next, listen to the Liberal Democrats and wait for the boing.
The Government have recently strengthened their economics team by two star signings. First, there is the noble Lord, Lord Myners. The House is equally divided about the noble Lord. Half is dazzled that he seems to know every detail of government economic policy without any reference to a briefing book, while the other half suspects that he is making it up as he goes along. Then there is the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, of Hartlepool and Foy. Each day, like other noble Lords, I get a digest of press cuttings about the House of Lords from the Library. Until a few months ago, it was slim—a few pages recording Peers supporting a worthy cause here or a campaign there, or the occasional sensational headline, such as “Baroness Kennedy to vote with the Government”—but now the press brief thuds on to my desk with page after page about what Peter did and what Peter did next. One day he is Mephistopheles, the next day he is John Travolta. So many stories, so many headlines, and I am told that some of them are even true.
I have no complaint about the Government sending big beasts into our Chamber, but I regret the lack of any mention in the gracious Speech of any further reform of this House. It was 100 years ago last Monday that this House rejected Lloyd George’s people’s Budget and paved the way for the first attempt to reform the House of Lords.
I think that I am going to regret that, my Lords. It is better when you are doing it on your own.
One of the most spirited warnings to the Tory Peers about the follies of their ways came from the then Archbishop of York—so that is a tradition that is alive and well. As we are moving towards the centenary of that House of Lords reform, I sincerely hope that we will have an exhibition and other reminders of that great piece of radical legislation. The absence of a hint of reform to this House in the gracious Speech is an opportunity missed unless—perhaps the Lord President can explain—the references to constitutional renewal and strengthening the role of Parliament include reform of this House. I am sorry if they do not, because I have enjoyed going into battle shoulder to shoulder with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on those matters. I hope that that helps, Tom. Some of the protestations of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the vigour of opposition would ring a little more true if the Conservative voting record in the Lobby matched that of the Liberal Democrats.
It is true that the public in the main approve of the work of this House, but I must say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, that there is no softer option in speechmaking than telling this House how wonderful it is. If there is no immediate prospect of change, the reputation of this House will suffer. During the past 10 years, more than 300 Peers have been created. Most of them have made excellent contributions, but during the next year that intake will be getting older and not retiring. The result could well be a House more than 800-strong, with half its Members making little or no contribution to the work. That will make us fall into disrepute. If the Government refuse to do anything, I encourage my noble friends Lords Steel, Oakeshott and Avebury to persevere with their Private Members’ Bills on Lords reform. Indeed, I understand that my noble friend Lord Steel has already submitted his Bill to the Public Bill Office.
I referred just now to the commitment in the gracious Speech to the strengthening of the role of Parliament. Such a commitment jars on a day when another place has been discussing parliamentary privilege. I associate myself with the call of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for a report from the Clerk of the Parliaments about how the issues raised affect the rights, protections and privileges as they apply to Members of the House of Lords. I must say, when I hear the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, bandying about precedents from 1625 and so on, how I miss Conrad Russell. Conrad would have known the precedent instantly.
Parliamentary privilege aside, this is surely the moment to introduce the long-promised Civil Service Bill, for which the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, and I have long campaigned. Such an Act would give statutory protection to civil servants who are genuine whistleblowers and at the same time set out clear responsibilities, including duties of confidentiality, for those who work in the public service. The independence and neutrality of the Civil Service and parliamentary privilege are both issues that transcend party politics. Indeed, parliamentary privilege was won by blood and should not be surrendered lightly in a parliamentary democracy.
I said in opening that my colleagues will deal in detail with our attitudes to the proposals in the gracious Speech during the next few days, so let me close with a final thought. In a time of recession, it would be easy to slip into fractious bitterness, which, in turn, would play into the hands of extremists in our society. This House is particularly well qualified to examine the proposals before us with rigour, while at the same time reminding ourselves and the country of the values that unite us in the tough times that we face. That will certainly be the mindset on these Benches as we approach this gracious Speech and the work of the year ahead.
My Lords, it is indeed a huge pleasure and privilege for me to follow the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally, two Peers who, with their great experience and wisdom, are remarkable leaders for their parties in this House and, beyond that, for the House as a whole. In my short time so far as Leader of the House, I have already learnt enormously from them and plan to go on drawing on their abilities for free for as long as they will allow me.
I was struck yet again last week, as we carried out the ceremony to prorogue Parliament, by the disparity between the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. For those who, unaccountably, missed it, at one point, the presence in the Chamber of the members of the royal commission for prorogation is indicated by their full names being read out. So we had McNally, Tom for the one and Strathclyde, Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, for the other. Tom though he may be to each of us here, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has always seemed to me to be a touch under-endowed with names, while the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, seems to be very generously provided for. That may be the difference between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party.
It is a huge and humbling privilege for me to serve the whole of your Lordships’ House as Leader. I have a list of distinguished predecessors to live up to—a list a good deal longer than my arm—and I intend to do my best to follow in their footsteps. My job is to serve the House—a job that I will fulfil to the maximum of my ability.
I am proud to be the Leader of your Lordships’ House, and I think that this House and the people in it—the Members on all sides of the Chamber—are a huge credit to themselves, to their parties or lack of them, to Parliament and to our country and our democracy. The work that this House does is tremendous. I think of the debates that we have had recently—the economic debate that we had a couple of weeks ago being only the latest example—and I believe that the quality of argument, the depth of experience and the extent of the wisdom and judgment demonstrated are a testament to this House and to our bicameral system. I pay tribute to all those who make this Chamber as good as it unquestionably is. I am proud, too, to lead those on the government Benches here, and I pay tribute to the ministerial team—Ministers and Whips alike—who strive to serve this House and the country beyond it.
At the end of a Session that saw her so successfully take the European Union (Amendment) Bill through this House, I thank my predecessor as Leader, my noble friend Lady Ashton of Upholland, and I wish her well in her new role as the UK’s European Commissioner in Brussels. I pay special tribute both to my successor as Chief Whip, my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton, and to my predecessor as Chief Whip, my noble friend Lord Grocott. To be sandwiched between people of such ability is both a delight and a huge challenge that is beyond even Pret a Manger. I also thank two ministerial colleagues who chose to step down at the reshuffle—my noble friends Lord Rooker and Lady Crawley. We on these Benches owe them a huge debt, and I know that the whole House thanks them for what they have done in this House as a whole.
I am genuinely delighted to congratulate my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton on moving the Motion on the gracious Speech. This House is, of course, used to hearing him both as a Minister in the Government and as a much respected and, indeed, much loved Lord Chancellor. Most Ministers spend a good deal of their time strengthening and, indeed, trying to expand their ministerial role; very few try to diminish it. Absolutely no one, other than my noble and learned friend, has put so much effort, skill and intelligence into a wholesale dismemberment of his own job.
Although we in this House have tended to hear him taking a Bill through the Chamber or replying to a debate, it is one of the oddities of ministerial life that the broader speeches, which are one of a Minister’s stock in trade, are pretty well uniformly made outside the Chambers of Parliament—at political and other conferences. We have therefore been privileged in this House today to have been given a glimpse of what others outside this House have seen many times: a marvellous speech full of wit, erudition, argument, and even—although I am sure I am woefully mistaken—a tiny spot of criticism. Members across the House have their differences. There are sometimes differences even on these Benches, but after they happen we unite and move on. That is what we on these Benches have always done, and that is what we will continue to do together, as we have seen today.
My noble and learned friend’s skills in making speeches are very well known, at least in this House; perhaps they are a touch less well known outside the Chamber. On one occasion, when campaigning for the Labour Party during the previous election, he arrived at the venue for his speech. The venue was not quite as bejewelled as your Lordships’ Chamber; it was a room above a pub in Bury. When the gathered crowd, if that is not too strong a word for the good handful of people clustered there waiting for the evening’s political entertainment to begin, was informed that they had a special treat tonight—sandwiches and chips; oh, and the Lord Chancellor—my noble and learned friend was not to be deterred.
On another constituency visit, he was warned ahead of knocking on the door of a particular house that the resident in question was a man of firm views who had, for a number of reasons, been protesting about proposed changes and had recently changed his name by deed poll to Status Quo. My noble and learned friend was not put off for one second. Bounding up to the door, he said, “Good evening, Mr Quo”, adding, in that spirit of uncrushable friendliness that we all know so well, “May I call you Status?”. But the electorate, as always, had the final say. On a further, and no doubt equally successful, campaigning visit, he knocked at someone’s door. When it was opened, he said, “Good morning, madam, I am the Lord Chancellor”, to which the doughty householder replied, “And I am the Queen of Sheba. Now, off”.
While obviously from these accounts his eloquence is clearly widely unknown on doorsteps the length and breadth of Britain, in this place the opposite is the case. The wonderful website, theyworkforyou.com, which specialises in providing painstakingly and often painful details on all our appearances and interventions in this House, lists for my noble and learned friend an astonishing 4,600 mentions in this House, which in itself is a daunting figure. That is all the more so when you take into account that it covers only the period from January 2001 to now and that the website includes a maximum of 5,000 entries in order to conserve memory—a conservation limit that my noble and learned friend is clearly stretching. Worst of all, as many as 2,079 of those entries are my noble and learned friend talking. Astoundingly, against this impressive record, he has managed to find a new form of words to inform, enlighten and entertain us today. I am enormously grateful to him for proposing our thanks to Her Majesty for the gracious Speech.
My noble and learned friend has set out on a new career path since leaving office, although of course he is still within the legal profession. Indeed, he regularly excites legal journalists by forecasting, to calls of “Shush” from assembled lawyers, that there will inevitably be lots of business for legal firms from the remaking of key economic institutions. Clearly, capitalism may come and go, but lawyers go on for ever.
What has been happening in the financial sector was also obviously of central concern for our seconder. I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lady Ford for her impressive and immensely enjoyable speech seconding the Motion. Traditionally, the seconder of this Motion makes a lighthearted speech while the mover makes a policy speech in support of the Government’s programme. Just as the likelihood of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton not slipping the odd joke into his speech seemed remote, the likelihood of my noble friend Lady Ford, with her extensive, practical, day-to-day experience of banking and the financial markets, not mixing humour with a focus on the current economic position, also seemed low. I am grateful to both of them for exploiting our conventions so enlighteningly.
As your Lordships have so obviously seen when I have repeated the Prime Minister’s Statements on the current economic position, I yield to pretty well everyone in my knowledge and experience of the economy, although I am trying very hard. But I especially yield to my noble friend Lady Ford. Most of us in this House have mainly just looked upon the turmoil in the markets over the past few months and have been glued to the coverage, but view it through the prism of being mostly outsiders looking in. My noble friend is different. When not engaged in her extensive activities in this House and beyond, she works in the capital markets and her perspective and insights have informed the speech she has made this afternoon.
For me, it is particularly important and impressive that her success and her perspective is rooted in the democratic socialist values that we share. Naming one’s sources for anecdotes in speeches is usually not the done thing, but I shall now do exactly that in relation to my noble friend. Recently, I had the pleasure of a conversation with her daughter. We began to touch on women’s achievements and with that, sadly no doubt, on the concomitant issue of the limits placed on such achievements—glass ceilings and so on. My noble friend’s daughter opined with tremendous love and admiration, “My mother just has no concept of a glass ceiling”. That is a tremendous tribute from someone in a real position to know. The merest glance at what my noble friend has achieved across a variety of walks of life shows just how true that tribute is.
Her career in trade unionism, consultancy, regulation, economic management and, perhaps especially, in housing shows that for my noble friend glass ceilings are not there to be shattered. They are not there even to be acknowledged in her case. She is one of the best jugglers of roles I know and she is a very fine role model. We have been fortunate this afternoon in hearing such a considered, thoughtful and incisive speech from my noble friend in seconding the Motion. I thank her for her contribution today and to the business of this House more generally.
I should like to welcome the new Members who have joined the House during this Session, a number of whom have come on to our Benches as Ministers. I believe that, regardless of our political differences, the House as a whole has benefited at a time of huge economic concern and uncertainty from the expertise in this area that some of them have brought. All our new Members are contributing to the debates in this place and I look forward to their contributions over the coming Session.
I am delighted to see our Lord Speaker in her place. The Lord Speaker and I are already working closely together for the House as a whole. The Lord Speaker has a special resonance for Members on these Benches given that they are from whence she came, but her work as Speaker within and beyond this Chamber makes her an enormous asset and we pay tribute to her for all that she does.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, and his team of Deputy Speakers for all that they do to ensure that our business is conducted co-operatively and constructively. I thank also the chairs and members of your Lordships’ Select Committees for their commitment, dedication and sheer hard work. I know that we have further business this afternoon in relation to the chair of the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union and I do not wish to pre-empt it, but I want to make mention of the magnificent work of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. I have already mentioned my personal gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally, but perhaps I may express the thanks of noble Lords for all that they do for the House. I have to confess that I am sometimes not quite so grateful for all that they do for our Benches, but the political arguments that we have are constructive, engaged in with good spirit and fundamental to what we do here.
I want to pick up on one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in relation to the argument over parliamentary privilege in another place. Earlier this afternoon, the Speaker of the Commons made a Statement in connection with the current events and announced that he would establish a committee of seven senior Members of another place to report on them. In response to the request made by both the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally, I can tell them and indeed the whole House that I have already asked the House authorities to prepare a report setting out the current position on this aspect of privilege in connection with this House and with Members of this House. I will ensure that, once the report has been completed, copies are made available to noble Lords as speedily as possible. Clearly the Lord Speaker has a number of responsibilities with regard to security and related issues that are of direct relevance here. I also readily acknowledge the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and expressed by the House recently, about financial privilege. I am giving it careful consideration and I will be consulting widely within the House. We will return to the matter in due course.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, for all that she does for the House as Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers. Leading political groupings is sometimes likened to herding cats, so goodness knows what it is like to convene something that is neither political nor a group, but the noble Baroness does it with enormous skill and dexterity, as well as with great charm and openness. We are indebted to her.
We are often not aware of—I think that he would be appalled if there were any clear evidence of it—the huge help and guidance given to this House and its Members through the work of Michael Pownall, our Clerk of the Parliaments, his team of fellow clerks and the senior management of the House. Their work is often unsung and unseen, but this House would have no chance at all of doing what it does without these individuals. I am personally grateful for all the guidance and advice that Michael in particular has so ably and unstintingly given to me. Doing this job would not be possible without him.
I single out a particular person for special thanks—Black Rod. To the public, he is the person who works for one day a year with the totality of his job being an enviable one, that of a walk along a corridor and three bangs on a door. We know differently because we know of the extent and importance of Black Rod’s work. As our current Black Rod, Sir Michael Willcocks, is retiring during the coming Session, I know that noble Lords will want to express not just at that point but here today their thanks and appreciation for all that he does in carrying out his role.
I shall add a further word of thanks to those whom we do not see in this Chamber but who work for us all and to those who, even when we see them, sometimes we do not see properly. I refer to the real unsung heroes of the House: those who work in the various parts of the administration, the staff of Hansard, who with dedication record accurately all that we say and do, the staff who work so hard in the Library, our doorkeepers and messengers, and the cleaning, bar, catering and support staff whose hard work and unfailing cheerfulness is such a boon to noble Lords. I thank them all.
The gracious Speech sets out the Government’s programme for the coming Session. It has one primary, overriding aim: to help people meet the economic challenges facing our country as a result of the global downturn, and so to make sure that we come out of this downturn both sooner and stronger than we otherwise might. As a Government we are taking action now to help people, not just proposing standing by and doing nothing. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said about the Opposition in regard to the economy: it is a do-nothing party led by a do-nothing leader with do-nothing policies.
The Bills set out in the Queen’s Speech will strengthen the financial sector through the Banking Bill, soon to come to this House; support families and those on lower incomes to save through the saving gateway accounts Bill; and support local economic regeneration and housing through measures in that area of policy. Our commitment to fair chances for all will be taken forward with Bills to eradicate child poverty; to promote equality, including tackling the remaining discrimination on grounds of age; to promote excellence in schools and give our young people the necessary skills and education to equip them for future challenges, while the welfare reform Bill will help people find work. We will promote fair rules for all, with tough measures to punish and prevent crime. We will strengthen our borders and ensure an earned citizenship. We will improve public services through the NHS Bill. A fair say for all means that we will have measures to give parents, patients and the public greater control over the services they use. We will continue to work on measures aimed at improving our democracy and our constitution.
I can confirm that so far two Bills will start in your Lordships’ House—the marine and coastal access and the local democracy, economic regeneration and construction Bills. Through the usual channels, we will make clear further Lords starters, as necessary, as decisions are taken. I can also reassure the House that while we still have the White Paper on Lords reform before us, the Government will not seek to make further progress on Lords reform in this Session of Parliament.
Last week we completed a full and tough Session. We sat for a total of 164 days and I thank the business managers and the usual channels for all the skill and hard work they put in to ensure that the Session went as well as possible. I thank, in particular, the wonderful staff of the Whips’ Office. We passed 24 government Bills and three other Bills reached Royal Assent; we took 63 oral Statements; we debated 70 short Questions; and Ministers and Whips dealt, as ever, with a huge range of Questions from Members of the House.
As a country we face unprecedented challenges. Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures, and these are the responses and the leadership that the Government, led by the Prime Minister, are providing. Not all are legislative, but the gracious Speech sets out the legislative measures which we believe will best help the people of this country in these difficult times. I look forward to bipartisan support for these essential measures from the other Benches in the House. This is an essential programme and we have to pull together for the benefit of our economy and our country. I look forward to working with all sides of the House as we do so.
I am confident that this coming Session will, as ever, show the House at its best—a hardworking, responsible, relevant House with a real part to play in the politics and the practicalities of our country. It is a House that we can be, should be and are proud of. As both its leader and its servant, I certainly am proud of it and of what we do here—in the Session just ended and in the coming Session; in the past and in the future. I support the Motion.