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”.
This is a great day: State Openings of Parliament always are. Amid all the pomp and glory, they are happy, rejoicing occasions—and today has been no exception. Having had the privilege of being in your Lordships' House for 55 years, I have never before been asked to undertake this awesome responsibility. Your Lordships will soon find out why. At least your Lordships will realise that youth is on your side.
We have witnessed today what must be the greatest constitutional spectacle in the world. Its majestic procession says a hundred and one things to all of us. The uniforms in all their glory have ensured the anonymity of the wearers. Gone are the Berts and Freds of normality. In their place, as we tiptoe back in history, come the glorious titles of Bluemantle Pursuivant, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant, Maltravers Herald Extraordinary. Then there are the Queen's Body Guard, the Gentlemen at Arms and all the others. Each represents a facet of the constitution in which we all bask. We should never forget that. We live in a country full of history, traditions and peculiarities. Sometimes we get stroppy and want to change it all, but we should never forget that the intricate weave of the constitution and the majesty of the monarchy allow us flexibility to wriggle and to move within their confines. We must be careful not to snap the thread. Today, as we saw Her Majesty once again open her Parliament, there can have been few people who did not admire the grace, dignity and elegance with which she carried out her tasks.
I, along with most other noble Lords, I fancy, am humbly grateful for all that she does for Parliament and for the nation, and for all the pleasure, pride and encouragement that she gives to people all over the country. We are indeed blessed.
It was particularly sad that his great office could not be performed on this occasion by Black Rod himself because of his indisposition. He has endeared himself to everyone in your Lordships’ House in the time that he has been with us, and we offer him our best wishes for a speedy recovery. The Yeoman Usher, if I may say so, jumped in, as it were, at the deep end and was masterly. He looked as though he had been doing it all his life and we congratulate him on that.
What had been the portents of a dull old election suddenly became one in which everyone was riveted with interest. The electorate decided to punch each party on the nose, which no one likes. The Labour Party wanted to win, but it did not. It is never a nice experience being removed from office, and I think that in your Lordships’ House we probably understand that better if only, but not only, because in your Lordships’ House there is real friendship between your Lordships, irrespective of party. I thank all noble Lords opposite, and especially those who held office, for their kindness and for the fun that they made it for all of us—at least, for most of the time.
The Liberal Democrats thought that they were sailing into a lovely welcoming port, but they were not. They received fewer seats than they expected, but I congratulate them on holding office for the first time in 65 years. That is quite an achievement whichever way you look at it. They have been at the forefront of all political jokes, especially from my party, most of which we thought were wholly justified. But not no more! We are chained together like suffragettes. When the late Lord Pethick-Lawrence, whom I remember sitting at the end of the Bench opposite, was in another place and his wife was a formidable suffragette, he made the wonderful observation that he would give £100 to a charity for every day that his wife remained chained to the railings of the House of Commons.
Then the Conservatives—they thought that they were going to win, but they did not. So everyone has had to eat humble pie, which, as Churchill once said, is not an unwholesome diet.
But then the unthinkable comes along: a coalition. The whole point of a coalition is that no one gets their way, which is not necessarily a bad idea. Parties which said that they were going to do one thing find that they cannot—at least, not without a good bit of shake and shove. It will be a case of co-operation, which is no bad thing. However, there is a gritty determination by the two young leaders to make it work. A few feet will get stamped on in the process and there will be some squeals but, as the lyricist would say, “What’s New Pussycat?”.
If the parties of the coalition will all work together to get the country straight, that will be a huge statement of statesmanship and a great reflection on the corporate wisdom of Parliament. It will, I hope, emphasise how much we all have in common with each other, rather than highlight the things that keep us separate. The gracious Speech has heralded in a new era, ensuring the fundamental importance of reducing the deficit and restoring economic growth. That will not be easy: it may be like turning a battleship around by giving it a poke with a boat hook. However, it is possible and it is essential for everything else to work.
I hope that we will get out of the modern habit of saying, when something goes wrong, that it is all somebody else’s fault. People tend to suspect that the upheaval in the economy is all the bankers’ fault. I do not believe that. They may have made some mistakes but they are affected by the upheaval just like everyone else. It is rather like blaming the captain of a ship for trying to steer his vessel through a storm for which he is not responsible. You need him to succeed; you do not have to shoot him. All the countries in the world have been affected by this and we shall have to co-operate to get out of it. There is usually a silver lining to most clouds and we must rejoice in the fact that we are not members of the euro.
Afghanistan, that thorny problem, will be high on the list of the Government’s priorities. We admire all the effort, total devotion and dedication of our soldiers there and we all regret the loss of life to which so many of them have been subjected. I hope that the Government will ensure that those soldiers, who are prepared to give their lives to a cause on the other side of the world, to which at home there is not a natural sympathy, will nevertheless be properly equipped. We neglect our forces at our peril.
I was delighted at the coalition’s determination to cut down on consultants and bureaucracy. Cutting down on bureaucracy will be an almost Herculean task and one thinks that it will never be achieved, but it must be. It is not enough just to remove the heads of bureaucracy and hope that the rest will wither. It will not. If you cut off a mushroom at the top, another three will grow from the mycelium underneath. It is the mycelium that must be dug out. I hope that this will be pursued with vigour.
I was glad to see that the Government intend to get more police on the street and to do away with bureaucracy. We all want that. Some years ago I had the privilege of being an ornament in the Home Office and I visited a police force. I actually visited more than one, but there is one in particular that I remember. A police officer asked, “Can you do anything about this?”. I said, “I don’t know, what is it?”. He replied, “I have to write out this form 13 times and the person won’t even be charged”. That was 20 years ago; I do not know how many times he has to write it out now. It must be possible to remove such absurd practices. Everyone knows that they are indefensible but nothing seems to be done about them. I hope that the Government will do something.
The attack on bureaucracy must be allied to the generation of civility. Civil servants and local authorities must have it drilled into them that they are the servants and not the masters. There is too much of the police state about now—in what is said, written and inferred. “Keep out of the bus lane—fine £150” may be factually correct but it is deeply offensive. In their reform of bureaucracy I hope that the Government will remove the word “targets”. They may be fine for a salesman but they are inappropriate for policemen, doctors and others.
Out go identity cards. At least that will create some savings even if it causes disputes in other respects. Exeter and Norwich are no longer to become unitary authorities. That will save money and will please a lot of people—but not, I fear, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham. A fixed-term Parliament: that is a new idea. There was a lot of talk about the Government wanting an Opposition majority of 55 per cent in another place before the Government are unseated. Your Lordships will have your own views as to whether that is wise or not. I shall content myself with saying that when the Labour Government were defeated in 1979 on a Motion of no confidence, I was watching in the Gallery. There was a sombre feeling in another place because everyone thought that the Motion was lost. Then, one of the Whips—Anthony Berry I think it was—rushed in holding up one finger. The roar was tremendous. Everyone knew that the Government had lost by one. Everyone understood that. Now, one would have to work out 55 per cent of 423—[Laughter]—and come in holding up three and a half fingers.
A second House which is wholly or partially elected is in the gracious Speech. One does not have to be a genius to realise from which end of the suffragette’s chain that idea came. I have always had the respectful temerity to advise your Lordships not to cheer too much at the removal of the hereditary Peers because the life Peers would be next. Well, that was a little premature. They got rid of the Lord Chancellor and the Law Lords first but, if there is to be an elected Chamber, now will come the time of the life Peers. Each one will have to take leave of each other and say, “Farewell, pleased to have met you”—but not yet. Get rid of everyone in the House and what are you left with? The Clerks. As Gilbert and Sullivan would say, “Here’s a pretty how-de-do”. Nobody will know where to go, what to do or how to do it, because there will not be anyone here. That is most odd. I can never understand why we always have to use up energy and parliamentary time in changing things which are working well—time which could be better addressed to the subjects which are not working well. I think that I had better not pursue that line too far, because it might be regarded as controversial, which of course it is not.
I think that there is at last an understanding by the Government that people are fed up with being cocooned with regulations, laws and obligations. Governments consider it a matter of pride to pass more laws. Actually, people want to live their lives in peace and contentment with fewer laws. It is often said that we know the cost of everything but the value of nothing. A German wrote a not dissimilar paradox on our time. It was, of course, in German, but I thought that for the convenience of your Lordships I would give it in English. He said that we have more degrees, but less sense; more knowledge, but less opinion; more experts, but more problems. We have learnt to make a living, but not a life. We have added years to life, but not life to years. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, and accomplish less. We have learnt to rush, but not to wait.
I think that that encapsulates much that is wrong with our society. If our coalition Government succeed in getting some of that right, the chances of us crawling out of the mess that is all around us are large. What a triumph that would be, and I wish them good luck.
I beg to move the Motion for an humble Address to Her Majesty.
My Lords, I beg to second my noble friend’s Motion for an humble Address. It is a privilege to follow the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in our proceedings today. The noble Earl’s membership of this House is in its sixth decade, as he reminded us, he having taken his title here in 1954, before I was born in a distant military hospital in Quetta the following year. In that time, he has served on the ministerial Benches with distinction in no fewer than five different Conservative Administrations. But apart from our new-found friendship on the government Benches—I am not entirely sure about being a suffragette chained to the noble Earl—I trace another link to him. His line descends from the Shirleys of Astwell Castle in Northamptonshire, while my link to that illustrious county lies in my role as the inaugural chancellor of the University of Northampton. Northamptonshire is well served in this House, with several noble Lords having connections there. They include the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, a former MEP for the region, the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, and my noble friend Lord Naseby. It is a county well versed in both continuity and change.
It is a rare distinction to second the humble Address in the knowledge that you are the first Liberal in 96 years to do so, following Lord Methuen in 1914, but it does not seem a long period, given the swathe of reforms envisaged in the gracious Address. There is much unfinished business from our time in the 1910 and 1914 Governments yet to do, and, yes, we Liberals are always mindful of the long game. Even the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has had his patience tested in our fulfilling his instructions to prepare for government. I suspect that he did not intend us to take quite this long. But here we are, and perhaps it is the beginning of a trend. We shall see.
There were not many among our ranks on these government Benches and, I dare say, the Opposition who, when looking at where the voters told us to go on 6 May, could have envisaged this day. The spirit with which our two parties have come together for this programme of government is remarkable. It takes good judgment to see clearly what is legitimate, but it takes courage to walk in a direction you have not been before, and the leaders of both parties have displayed bagfuls of that. Having said that, it is still a little strange to see my noble friend the leader of the Liberal Democrats sitting in such close proximity to the Leader of the House. While this is undoubtedly good for the country, I hope it will not deprive us of the humour we have all enjoyed as they have torn strips off each other on opposition Benches in the past few years. The whole House will wish to join me in congratulating the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, on their new roles. I am enormously grateful to the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Shutt, for their generosity in allowing me the opportunity to address the House today.
Opportunity does not present itself with 20:20 vision. When, at a drinks party in 1987, I confessed to a lady called Celia Thomas—now the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester—that I was a member of the SDP, she enrolled me in the Liberal Whips Office in about three minutes. Later, I was interviewed to be a researcher by the then Chief Whip, now the Advocate-General for Scotland, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness. He asked what I brought to the table. Well, in Asia, we are not backward about coming forward, and I went in for all the special pleading: gender, race, religion, even age—I was younger then, but older than the usual suspects. Then, and only as a last resort, I said it was because I wanted to change the world and make a difference. He sat upright. “In that case, why on earth do you want to come to us?” he asked. “We are not going to be the Government any time soon”. Reflecting on the political road I have taken reminds me of the words of the American poet Robert Frost:
“I never dared be radical when young for fear it would make me conservative when old”.
Change and its compromises are very much part of my background. With parents who migrated from India to Pakistan, I grew up in a military family that was, by definition, itinerant in a culture that took moving around for granted. As many noble Lords from similar backgrounds will testify, all aspiring south Asians are second to none in spotting greener pastures elsewhere. We are living proof of the dictum of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, to get on our bikes, hence our large numbers in this country contributing across all fields of social and economic endeavour.
But the most precious thing this country gives is freedom, day in and day out. I had never voted in an election until I naturalised as a citizen in 1983 and then cast my first vote in the general election of 1987. The thrill of a blunt pencil marking a cross against a name on a secret ballot is something never to be forgotten when you do it for the first time. My only regret is that I have done it in only four general elections, but then, this House has other compensations.
In this House, there is great support for wise deliberation, and time and time again, we see strange bedfellows coming together through the call of principle. I have found myself agreeing with the Bishops, which is a little strange for a non-Christian—and even from time to time with the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, which is stranger still—but, whether in agreement or not, I have always been persuaded to respect opposing positions.
In this spirit of shared objectives and mutual respect, our two proud parties have come together to propose this programme for government. Against the backdrop of the severest financial environment in generations, it would have been permissible to concentrate on bread and butter issues and to set aside lofty ideals, but fundamentals are the foundation stones of this edifice, and no more important as fundamentals are the values of freedom, fairness and responsibility, and they will become all the more important when underpinned by the sacrifices that so many will have to make to restore our country’s economic strength.
While our Government will have to undertake the task of cutting public expenditure, it is right and proper that this be done fairly, with the lightest burden falling on those who have the least. This will be made easier through having independent economic reporting, which the new Office for Budget Responsibility will provide. Removing barriers to flexible working will be essential in this economic climate, and promoting equal pay is long overdue and will help millions, as will a simplified and fairer benefit system. Restoring a balanced Budget will require resolve and determination, and Messrs Osborne and Laws in the other place will do well to remember the words of the Republican senator Phil Gramm on Budgets:
“Balancing the budget is like going to heaven. Everybody wants to do it, but nobody wants to do what you have to do to get there”.
Real fairness also extends to our compact with those beyond our shores, and I am proud to be associated with the gracious Speech, which says unequivocally that we will honour the commitment to reach the UN target on international aid by 2013. Many might say that in this age of austerity compassion to others should take second place, but if the bonds of our common humanity are to mean anything they should bind in bad times as in good.
The most important value that binds us as partners in this endeavour is our mutual attachment to individual liberty and freedom. It will be a good day for our country when our children are no longer fingerprinted at school, when we as citizens do not have to carry ID cards, and when those who disagree with us can protest peacefully without being arrested. In this House, I am conscious, too, that the parts of the gracious Speech that will provoke the most interest will be those to do with the reform and renewal of politics. Fixed-term Parliaments will bring much needed stability to the policy planning process; the reform of this House has taken about 100 years too long, as any Liberal will tell you; and, while my preference is for a partly elected House, elections through proportional representation will give us a far more representative Chamber than we have today. Restoring trust in our political institutions is not something that we can consign to the back burner any longer.
As we on these Benches go into partnership, let me offer a word of advice to my noble friend the Government Chief Whip. She should not be taken in by my noble friend Lord McNally’s northern “can-do-ness”—all male and authoritative, as he comes across. He comes from a long line of Liberal Democrat leaders who quickly realise when they lead those on these Benches that we have at least as many opinions as our numbers. We are ever original, often argumentative, and about as coherent and disciplined as a teenage dorm at St Trinian’s, so she will need to go softly with him when he shuffles up to her with an undertaker’s air to say that we will not do as he tells us.
If the past two weeks have been a long time in politics, five years may well seem like an eternity, but we will learn from each other, too. In Tom Wolfe’s words:
“If a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged, a liberal is a conservative who’s been arrested”.
This Government will bring balance to both points of view.
Today is a sobering day. Today we recognise the heavy burdens of office, but we do so with a spring in our step in our resolve to try to serve our country to the best of our abilities. That is what we have been called upon to do.
My Lords, I rise to move that this debate be adjourned until tomorrow. There were moments during the aftermath of the recent general election when it looked as though the entire government might be adjourned until a good deal later than that. But this was avoided and now we have a Lib-Con—or is it a Con-Lib?—coalition, although it is, as yet, far from clear who conned whom.
We heard today the first results of the coalition in the form of the new Government’s legislative programme set out in the gracious Speech. It is my duty to congratulate the mover and the seconder of the main Motion on their most excellent speeches. Before I do so, perhaps I may make my own position clear: I speak as acting Leader of the Opposition until the elections on my Benches have taken place.
It gives me great pleasure to pay tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, for their speeches today; one Conservative, one Lib-Dem—a very coalitionesque pair. Sadly, I have not yet had the opportunity to discuss the Con-Lib coalition with the noble Earl. I look forward to it over tea. Some might regard the noble Earl as perhaps not a natural coalitioner. Some might think that his long espousal in this House of Conservative beliefs and values might make him less warm than others to the idea of being in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Indeed, some might think that his many remarks, interventions, points and speeches in your Lordships' House over the past 55 years might have let slip the merest glimpse of opposition not just to those of us on these Benches—whether in Government or in Opposition—but to those on what used to be the Liberal and Liberal Democrat Benches during the whole time of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in this House. What absolute chumps those people must feel now that he is happily chained to his noble friends the Liberal Democrats. These heady days of new politics clearly bring change even to the most conservative of Conservatives.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, has told us, she has a wealth of experience to assist the coalition. Raised in Pakistan, where she attended a convent school, she is well used to cultural challenges. Her long-standing interest in international relations and her work in the Middle East will stand her in good stead, for she is no stranger to conflict resolution.
My second duty is to congratulate the noble Lord the Leader of the House who I know will be proud to lead the whole House. I also congratulate all those who serve in this Government. Government is an honour, a privilege and a huge responsibility. It is daunting and difficult, but it is a delight. I am grateful also to the Government for continuing to observe the convention of providing a copy of the text of the gracious Speech to the Opposition in advance.
I am even more grateful to the Sunday Telegraph for providing that service even earlier. Leaking such a major statement is usually a sign in politics that the ship of state is in trouble. But I simply cannot believe that the good ship SS “Coalition” can already be in such choppy and unstable waters, built as it is on the rock-solid stability of the astonishingly close policy fit between the two coalition partners on, admittedly minor, issues, such as the economy, Europe, human rights, the environment, military action, nuclear power and many equally trivial matters.
Brutally ignoring both these minor differences and their own manifestos, the new coalition has moved with impressive speed from the moment when, the day after the election, the soon-to-be Deputy Prime Minister began to deliver to the Leader of the Conservative Party the election result he could not deliver himself, despite only a few months ago being 24 points ahead in the opinion polls. The Liberal Democrats have driven for Downing Street with a ruthlessness which is familiar to those of us who have fought them at a local level, but which appears to sit oddly with the woolliness with which they are still characterised by some.
We in this House have long known the noble Lord, Lord McNally, as a cheery fellow, the sage of St Albans, full of jokes and cracks, which were mainly, over the years, as the noble Baroness pointed out, at the expense of the Conservative Party. Little could the noble Lord have thought that when the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, said more than a quarter of a century ago that the Liberal Democrats should return to their constituencies and prepare for government it would turn out to be the Liberal Democrats preparing for a Conservative Government.
We feel that this Government business will not be easy for them. You can see from their enthusiastic faces, free of all trace of shame, how fully and joyously they have abandoned their proud and principled history for power, for the warm embrace of government and the many government jobs that Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and Chris Huhne have been given. And why should they not be? The Benches opposite are full of bedfellows as completely natural as those of David Cameron and Nick Clegg themselves. Think of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, or the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. What closer colleagues with more completely congruent attitudes could be imagined?
The noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Strathclyde, were once compared to a well-known make of satnav, but at least TomTom sends you on only one route at a time. The Lib-Con coalition is already showing signs of being all over the place, but if David Cameron and Nick Clegg can be likened to the great Morecambe and Wise, perhaps Tom and Tom could be likened to another great 1970s comic double act, that of Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett—although in the case of Tom and Tom, not so much the Two Ronnies as the Two Tommies.
But while I might jest today, governing this country is a serious business. None of us involved in politics could or should ignore the message we were all given in the result of the general election: no party won and the outcome gave no party a mandate to govern our country. It produced a hung Parliament that is taking and will take a considerable amount of adjustment to get used to. The Conservative Party has long considered itself to be the natural party of government. We shall see how natural the Conservatives feel it to be now that they are in government with a party setting out, on behalf of both parties, the kind of programme of constitutional reform already mapped out by the Deputy Prime Minister. Perhaps the new shared enthusiasm derives from the fact that the constitutional changes can be relatively inexpensive in monetary terms.
We shall see, too, how natural the Liberal Democrats find it to be a party of government. I suspect that this will be at least as large a cultural change for them as it will be for the Conservatives, sitting alongside a party which in many ways is considerably further to the left than the left of the Labour Party. But the Liberal Democrats will have to realise that they cannot be fish and fowl; they cannot be in government and in opposition. The attitude they have tried to take on the issue of Short money in the Commons and its equivalent in this House shows that they have not yet made that leap.
Government is a serious business, and so too is opposition. Good government benefits from strong opposition. We will be a principled and reasonable Opposition; we will be a confident Opposition; we will be a rigorous and vigorous Opposition, and we will hold this Government to account. But in this House politics, although important, is not everything. Much of what we do and how we work crosses party boundaries and the boundaries of those not in political parties at all. I am sure that there will continue to be issues in relation to this House which will best be dealt with by the political parties and the Cross Benches working together. So, as well as opposing the Government when we believe that they are not acting in the interests of the country, we will work with them and the Cross Benches on these issues.
We look forward to dealing with the range of issues in the Government’s legislative programme as set out in the gracious Speech. I would be grateful if, in his reply, the Leader of the House will indicate how many and which Bills are likely to be Lords starters. There will be big issues to tackle, such as some of the cuts announced yesterday by the coalition—seen until a few short weeks ago by the Liberal Democrats as wholly wrong, but seen by these Benches as wrong then and wrong now. They are wrong for the economy, wrong for the recovery and wrong for the country. For example, up to 80,000 youth jobs could go as a result of cuts in the future jobs fund. This is somewhat at odds with the proposals on welfare reform announced in the gracious Speech, which is supposed to be about getting people back to work.
Then there is the constitutional programme claimed by the Deputy Prime Minister to be the greatest piece of democratic reform since the great Reform Act of 1832. Over half of the population of this country who secured the franchise in the period since then—women, they are called—might take a different view, but after a pretty much all-male election and with the coalition Government being run pretty much as a boys’ club, women in this country might just prefer to differ, just as they might prefer to differ over the recent announcements in respect of rape and anonymity, which is a truly retrograde step for abused women.
I would mention two further specific issues, the first of which is the appointment of Peers. The coalition says that “in the interim”, appointments will be made to this House,
“with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election”.
All political parties? Although the BNP did not win a single seat in the election we have just had, it won more votes than a number of other parties which did secure parliamentary representation. Perhaps this is merely a self-interested way of upping the numbers of the Lib Dems in this House.
There is a serious constitutional matter lurking in this point. The working assumption of this House is that the Government of the day should not have a majority. For the House to carry out its proper function of scrutinising and revising legislation brought forward by the Government of the day, the Government of the day cannot and must not command a majority in this House. That should be and has been the case on the Floor of the Chamber and in Committee. Today the coalition already has a large majority in this House. That, I know, is already causing concern in a number of areas, in the House and beyond. The concern would be deeper and wider if the coalition pursued, through the appointment of Peers, a House which would see that already large majority increased still further.
Like the coalition’s proposals for boundary changes and constituency reorganisation in the Commons, these proposals are not the new politics. They are, in fact, pretty old politics, pretty discredited politics, and smack to many of a political fix to benefit those in power. We will oppose them. The convention that the Government should not have a majority in this House is an important—a fundamental—part of the way in which this House works.
So, too, is another convention—the Salisbury convention. Like all such conventions, the definition of the Salisbury/Addison convention is not necessarily clear or agreed but its purpose and effect are unquestionably both—for this unelected House eventually to give the Government of the day, whatever their political complexion, their business. For the purposes of the convention, the definition of the Government’s business is equally clear: it is the programme of the Government as set out in their manifesto.
Where does that now stand? The process of negotiation of which the two parties opposite are so proud has seen the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties not take a scalpel to their manifestos but take great swingeing lunges at them with political machetes. The two parties talk of new circumstances, new politics and a new age. If new circumstances, new politics and a new age mean that the manifestos of the parties opposite are no longer worth the paper they were printed on, what does this mean for the Salisbury convention? These and many other issues are matters for the future, not for this day, but they are important. I give the Benches opposite fair warning: we on these Benches will not allow you to trample over these matters for your own political benefit, your own political gain.
The Labour Party is now the only Opposition in this Parliament to the new coalition Government. We did not seek this role—we wanted the outcome of the election to be very different, as the noble Earl said—but we will not shirk it either; we will carry it out properly. We will be an effective Opposition but we will not oppose for the sake of it; that is not what the public want. Opinion polls showed that many people wanted a hung Parliament and the electorate duly delivered it. But polls showed, too, that people want a strong, decisive Government and the coalition is the answer of the parties opposite. We will wait to see if the two conflicting positions can be bridged.
For our part, as the Opposition, we will seek to illuminate, expose, criticise and harry and, where appropriate, to co-operate, help and support. We believe that, sooner or later, this coalition will not hold despite the efforts to fix the Commons. Its differences are all too palpable; its divisions are fundamental. In this House, where the coalition is led by the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally, sooner or later—just like the two Ronnies—the two Tommies will have to part; they will have to pursue solo careers and solo programmes. The Government have said that they stand for freedom, fairness and responsibility. These are principles with which the whole country would agree. We will play our full part in ensuring that they live up to them.
I beg to move that this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to support the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. Your Lordships, I hope, will understand if I begin by saying that the noble Baroness is someone for whom I, like so many others in the House, have the utmost affection and respect. She was, and I know will continue to be, a tough political opponent. That is good, for every Government is much the better for robust scrutiny in your Lordships’ House. But she was, and is, far more than a gifted leader of her party. She was an outstanding Leader of this House; it is a great challenge, as well as a privilege, to have been asked to follow her.
I pay tribute particularly to the grace and patience and the unfailing charm and courtesy with which she discharged her duties as Leader under the most difficult circumstances. The whole House owes her a special debt of gratitude for her clarity and resilience in representing and defending its views and interests, and for the dexterity with which she steered us through testing and often-painful times for this House.
The way in which this House operates, by consent and agreement, is the way in which I hope it will always work. That system inevitably brings a Leader of the House and a Leader of the Opposition into the closest daily contact; a spirit of candour and trust is essential. I was not alone in this House in trusting the noble Baroness instinctively. She was always straight, always fair and always as good as her word. As the Leader of the House now, I can only hope to try to be the same, and I thank her most sincerely for all that she did.
I echo my noble friends in conveying our very best wishes to Black Rod, who has provided such splendid service to this House since taking up his post, and in recording our thanks to the Yeoman Usher for the professionalism with which he has stepped into the breach.
It is my happiest duty to join the noble Baroness in congratulating my noble friends Lord Ferrers and Lady Falkner of Margravine on their superb speeches. They are the living embodiment of the coalition which now graces these government Benches. Having heard my noble friend Lord Ferrers, I really cannot imagine why it took my predecessors so long to invite him to propose the humble Address. The noble Earl was a Member of Your Lordships’ House well before my noble friend Lady Falkner of Margravine and I were born. He was in Government when I was a rather chubby little toddler—has anything changed?
Even now, when I hear him speak as ever with such wit and ease, it is hard not to feel still a little wet behind the ears. My noble friend carries four score years with striking grace. He is everyone’s image of what a noble Earl should be like, only better. They say that his views do not please everyone; I doubt that my noble friend worries too much about that. He has never been a dull conformist, but his speeches are always worth listening to very carefully. They sparkle with originality, good humour, independence of mind and—I hope he will not mind my saying so, for he tries hard to hide it—deep wisdom. My goodness, if all of us served Parliament and country for more than half a century with the same dedication, dignity and decency as my noble friend, what a House this would be.
My new noble friend Lady Falkner has been a Member of your Lordships’ House for only six years, but, having heard her again today, your Lordships will understand how she has carved out a highly respected role speaking, until recently, from the Liberal Democrat Benches on matters of justice. Indeed, it is said that even the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, sits in silence when she speaks. I am sure that, on that count alone, the whole House is in awe of her ability.
I am told that, among the noble Baroness’s many charitable activities, she has toured British universities on behalf of the Coexistence Trust. Its mission is to promote mutual understanding between Jewish and Muslim communities worldwide. I wonder whether she had considered conducting a parallel exercise for the benefit of the party groups now co-existing on the government Benches. In that, I wish her the very best of luck. Today, my noble friend Lady Falkner has made a profound and thoughtful speech, and I very much hope that we shall hear more of her in the months ahead.
As this Parliament assembles, we have a very different Government in place. My noble friend Lord Ferrers said that it was unthinkable but, as in the 1890s, in 1916-22 and in the 1930s and 1940s, Liberals and Conservatives sit together in government. Who, as the cliché goes, would have predicted that?
When I spoke last year on this great occasion, I ventured to suggest that I might deliver my speech from a different place this year, and there was a good deal of friendly scoffing from the Liberal Democrat Benches over there. This year, I am relying on my noble friend Lord Shutt of Greetland’s so that today there will be a fair bit of friendly cheering from the Liberal Democrats sitting over here—I hope. When we moved across the House, they simply could not bear to see us go. I am delighted, of course, that we have been able to arrange a reunion here on the government Benches in a new political partnership to provide the stable and lasting Government that this country needs.
Now, a note of regret. I am sorry that coalition government means that your Lordships have been deprived of my noble friend Lord McNally’s customary speech on this occasion. But good news: come Thursday, he will address the House in his new role as Deputy Leader of the House and a Minister of the Crown. I welcome him and many other colleagues, new and old, here for a new Parliament on the government Benches today.
The national crisis that we face may not be as grave as some of those that our two parties confronted together in the past, but it is grave indeed. We face almost unparalleled challenges in the modern era, at home and abroad. Our nation is at war. Our national treasure at home is utterly exhausted. Our social fabric is torn. Our politics has never sunk so low in public esteem. Many, particularly older people, have come to feel that the good times were in the distant past. Cynicism, mistrust and bureaucracy have seemed our nation’s only growth industries. As more and more families have struggled to preserve the lives and the standards that they wish for, the state has grown bigger and bigger and ever more dominant, intrusive and desperately wasteful. If ever there was a time for new approaches, rooted in old values, it is now. That is what this coalition will offer.
I will not insult noble Lords by belittling the scale of the problems that we face or the compromises and sacrifices that will be needed to dig this country out of debt and despond, but it must and can and will be done. Our parties have joined with the utmost conviction to deliver the common programme that this country needs. This fresh undertaking of coalition will not fail from any fault of ours. Of course, our parties have differing perspectives, but our joint resolve is stronger for having discussed those differences frankly and come together with the common purpose set out in the gracious Speech: restoring freedom, fairness and responsibility.
My party and the Liberal Democrats have taken many notable stands together in this House over the past 13 years. We protected the right to trial by jury, limited the most draconian emergency powers to terrorist crimes, prevented the imposition of compulsory ID cards and stopped 90-day detention without trial—not a bad record for this House. So I am delighted that the new coalition will be reversing the erosion of the individual freedoms and liberties that this House has worked so hard to defend. We will abolish the ID card scheme, the National Identity Register and the ContactPoint database. We will protect trial by jury, introduce safeguards against misuse of antiterrorism legislation and restore rights to non-violent protest.
I can give the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition the answer to her question on Bills starting in the Lords. A number of Bills will begin their passage in this House, which will include, imminently, the local government Bill and the important academies Bill, which builds on the work of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, to which I am sure the party opposite will give a fair wind.
The business of this House has never been to stop legislation but to improve it, and I look forward to working together on the work of scrutiny and revision. Of course, the Salisbury Convention will apply. There is no difficulty there. [Laughter.] We shall recognise where it applies, and when we see it we shall use our common sense to make it so.
I am acutely conscious of the great honour bestowed upon me in being appointed Leader of your Lordships’ House. I can think of no higher privilege and will never forget my duty to the House as a whole. But I take office at a time of challenge and change, change that your Lordships cannot ignore. A new code of conduct comes into effect today. I can also announce that a new Commissioner for Standards, Mr Paul Kernaghan, former chief constable of Hampshire, will take up post shortly.
We must also deal swiftly with the issue of expenses. We have an opportunity to get this right. I want a system that will be transparent, easily understood and which provides no opportunity or temptation for evasion. We owe it to the reputation of the House to put that in place and, in consultation with your Lordships I will enable that to be done, once my noble friend Lord Wakeham and his committee have reported.
The powers and duties of the House will not change, but its shape cannot be fixed forever. We recognised that in 1958, 1968 and, indeed, in 1999. I know that, though there are some who bring forward Bills year after year to change this House, many of you will have heard with some disappointment words in the gracious Speech about reform. But if there is a demand for change, it must be addressed in a comprehensive way. Let me assure the House that proposals will be put before your Lordships at a formative stage and there will be plenty of opportunities ahead for the House to discuss this before we move forward.
I also believe that we should look afresh at our working practices. I do not think we should lose sight of the remarkable privileges that Peers already enjoy, such as the right, not given to Back-Bench Members in another place, to table amendments at three stages of a Bill, and to have each one heard and replied to. We should always keep our working practices up to date, and I shall discuss how best to do that with the Leader of the Opposition and the Convenor in the near future. Whatever we do, our aim should be to build on the strengths of this House. This Government will respect it as a central part of the legislative process. For my own part as your Leader, I will always endeavour to ensure that your Lordships’ voice is listened to, as well as recorded.
We have a long and busy Session ahead. Our country’s needs are great and its expectations of us high. I know that this great House will not fail to rise to the changing and evolving challenges before us. I support the Motion.
Debate adjourned until tomorrow.