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Noble Lords: Where?

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: They are here, my Lords, they are here. They have asked me to make one principal point. However, I shall first allow the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, the fact that there has been a decline in terms of the length and literary merit of Queen's Speeches, although I must confess that his presence in this place long outdates my own and he is in a better position to say that. I also fully accept that if, inadvertently, there has crept into the Speeches a degree of partisanship, that would be unseemly and counterproductive. I am sure that if that were the case the Government would not want it to be.

An improvement which could be made would be no longer to repeat the Speech. The Commons does not go to the trouble of repeating it. It is printed and it

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would be straightforward for this House to follow the same line. We would therefore save time having to repeat the 1,772 words of the Speech and, having read its contents, we would come to the debate, which traditionally begins at 3.30 p.m., and get straight into it. There is some time-wasting in the current conduct of business. That time could be better spent getting straight into the debate.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord would not deny that there is a symbolic importance in the Queen coming here and delivering the Speech, for the reasons that I mentioned.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I absolutely agree. I did not mean to imply that the Queen should never come here to open Parliament, but when she does not come here there is no need for the Lord Chancellor to read the Speech solemnly in her stead. Others may disagree.

The number of Bills may not have increased, but I think that the length of Bills has increased vastly. The Speech will reflect that to an extent. It is surely important that the Speech tells the House and the country in a pithy and informative way what is proposed for the Government's programme. Some detail is needed so that we can get our teeth into the debate.

The Liberal Democrats feel strongly that the current organisation of the debate does not allow sufficient focus. It is too diffuse. Although the days are divided up into policy areas, they are too large. It should not be beyond the wit of those who organise our affairs to sub-divide the days into specific policy areas that are autonomous and consistent. That would allow more specific contributions and would encourage a more informative response from the Minister. Timing arrangements such as those that we are working to in this debate would then be inevitable.

That would have three effects. First, people would be more inclined to contribute to the debate. Secondly, the debate would be better. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it would be more interesting for journalists and those whom we hope would report it to the country and would therefore be more informative and stimulating to the public at large. Much of what passes in this House may be worthy, but it is carried on with little regard for the ultimate impact on the public. I thank the noble Lord for choosing this subject for debate.

7.52 p.m.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, was not surrounded by throngs of Liberal Democrats. I notice that I have something of a throng--or at least a good number--of Conservative Peers behind me. I am sorry to see that the Government Chief Whip does not have a throng behind him.

I welcome the debate. My noble friend Lord Waddington brings a great deal of experience to the debate, having been a Leader of the House and a

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Minister in various departments. I am sure that during his time as Home Secretary he did not introduce the number of Bills that Home Office Ministers have introduced during this Session, some of which the Government Chief Whip might admit have not been as perfectly drafted as they might have been. Better drafting might have avoided some of the great number of government amendments that we have dealt with. I hope that the Government will take on board all my noble friend's wise words.

The most important point in a debate such as this is that Her Majesty is, and will always be, above politics. That is why it is not desirable for words to be drafted for the gracious Speech that are more redolent of a spin doctor's manual or that are too easily identifiable with a particular political party. Like my noble friend, I have examined some past examples. The most striking difference between the Speeches before 1997 and those after is that the Government's domestic agenda is now put before foreign policy. Exception was made in 1997 for references to Her Majesty's state visits and visits anticipated by other Heads of State. However, since 1998, even those references have been relegated to the body of the text, behind the trumpeting of the Government's domestic policy. That is disappointing. References to state visits remind us of the role of the sovereign as the embodiment of the state. That is valued and supported by every Member of this House. It seems proper and appropriate to the occasion to have such references at the outset of the Speech. Instead, in 1998 and 1999, we had dismal and tawdry references to "modernisation"--a new Labour buzz word that is as hollow as it is inappropriate to such a great occasion of state.

I have looked back at the 1989 Queen's Speech--the last year, as it was to prove, of the government of my noble friend Lady Thatcher. That Government was wrongly attacked by many as high-handed and ideological, but there was no evidence of that in the gracious Speech. It opened with the traditional references to state visits and foreign policy. It then turned not so much to the domestic agenda as to the legislative programme, which is the purpose of the Speech. It was a brief, factual Speech, with almost no adjectives or adverbs. I forget who it was who used to strike out almost all the qualifiers from all his first drafts. That might seem an extreme approach at times, but it has advantages. It would be hard to detect from the 1989 Speech which party was in government. The same could be said of the last Speech prepared by the government of my right honourable friend Mr Major, except perhaps for one aspirational phrase about wishing to maintain a strong economy.

How different was last year's Speech. Far from concentrating on legislation alone, as used to be the custom, it contained elements never found in the Speeches to which I have referred. There are self-congratulatory phrases describing the Government's self-proclaimed achievements that could easily have been dropped into a speech made by the Prime Minister or into a Labour Party broadcast. That

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practice should not grow. We may be spared that, as I think that we can all agree that the Government's list of achievements is remarkably short.

Fatuous new Labour-speak comes into too many gracious Speeches, with redundant adjectives and phrases such as the "dynamic, knowledge-based economy" and repeated references to "modernisation". I hope that such undesirable tendencies will not be encouraged and that the Chief Whip will do his bit in the drafting of the next gracious Speech to ensure that they are removed.

My noble friend has drawn attention to a matter that may seem less important than some of the great issues that come before the House, but on consideration it is of very great importance. In the absence of the Leader of the House, I hope that the Chief Whip will be able to reassure us that we will return to the simpler style of Speeches of the past.

Perhaps I may end by asking the noble Lord for a reassurance. In due course we shall have a speech on the Prorogation of this Parliament. I hope that the noble Lord can give an assurance that that Prorogation speech will be similarly short.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, before my noble friend replies to the debate, perhaps I may make one comment as regards the quality of the Queen's Speech. I realise that my noble friend cannot give the House guarantees lasting into the distant future, but can he at least give an assurance that in this year's Speech Her Majesty the Queen will not be required to utter grammatical solecisms? In particular, I hope that she will not need to deliver herself--as was the case last year--of a split infinitive.

8.1 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, for giving us the opportunity to revisit the fundamentals of our constitution. As he will be well aware, Erskine May reminds us that the Queen's Speech details the "causes of summons". The reasons why the Monarch feels it necessary to call a Parliament to meet make it improper to speculate in advance why Her Majesty the Queen might wish to call Parliament, in what style and at what length. However, I certainly agree with the noble Lord that it is an occasion of deep constitutional significance.

I assume that noble Lords neither wish nor would expect me to pre-empt Her Majesty's speech in December. Furthermore, I shall not comment on the length and style of previous Speeches, apart from remarking on the aim of this Government, where possible, to publish Bills in draft in order to help to secure an improvement in the final legislation. The Queen's Speech now includes an announcement of a number of Bills to be published in draft. Those are then considered by all interested parties and are sent out for consultation. They are also considered by Members of this House. I can recall the Joint Select Committee which met to consider the Financial Services and Markets Bill. I shall return to that measure in due course because it serves well as an example of what may happen to a Bill when it is first published in draft.

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I hope that the noble Lord would agree that the practice of announcing Bills in draft has been a welcome addition to the content of the Queen's Speech. The Financial Services and Markets Bill was foreshadowed in one Queen's Speech and was the first and only Bill to be carried over in the House of Commons from one Session to the next. It was then reintroduced in this Session. Because it was also considered by a Joint Select Committee, the whole process attracted an enormous number of amendments by the time the legislation finally reached this House. I believe that we encounter a no-win situation here. I agree that that Bill needed a great many amendments, but that was necessary in order to respond to the wide consultation which had taken place over two Sessions.

The Queen's Speech needs to strike a balance between providing full and proper information as regards the intentions of her Government against not becoming overly long for Her Majesty's listeners and, indeed, for Her Majesty. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, criticised recent Queen's Speeches for being rather too political. I find it rather odd that Members on the Benches opposite often criticise the Government for being obsessed with presentation, but then proceed to discuss endlessly the way in which a speech has been written rather than its contents.

Hindsight can be a terrible thing. However, I cannot help but wonder whether some of us would have benefited from a little more detail and information in previous Queen's Speeches. Let us consider, for example, one line from the Speech delivered in June 1987:


    "A Bill will be introduced to abolish domestic rates in England and Wales".

In October 1991, only 12 months before the ERM debacle, the Speech stated that:


    "My Government will pursue, within the framework of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, firm financial policies".

Because I have a deep personal regard for the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, I have chosen not to research into what was said in a Queen's Speech by the previous government about the privatisation of the railways. I am happy to draw a veil over such matters.

This Government have made progress on a number of serious and important issues. I make no apology for the fact that those past events have been mentioned in a number of Queen's Speeches. Members of this House, Members of another place and the wider public would want to be informed of such matters. I shall take as an example the report made on the progress of the peace process in Northern Ireland. That was definitely worth mentioning in last year's Queen's Speech. Similarly, in 1998 the introduction of proposals for devolution in Scotland and Wales was a valuable statement because it introduced a matter of major constitutional change. I am sure that noble Lords, Members of another place and, indeed, the people of this country would wish to hear more about such issues. I believe that it was important that we should all be reminded of the settlement of the nation before we turned our attention to the business for the coming year.

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Recent speeches have introduced new policies of the highest importance. For example, in 1997 mention was made of the responsibility put on the Bank of England to set interest rates, as well as mention of the intention to set a national minimum wage. In 1998 mention was made of plans to reform the NHS and to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit in the House of Lords, while in 1999 the modernisation of the welfare state was covered, along with the establishment of the Strategic Rail Authority.

The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, made mention of the number of Bills that have been passed after Queen's Speeches. In 1981-82, during the third Session of that administration, 46 Bills were passed. During the following Session, the figure was 41. In 1985-86, during the third Session of the next administration, 49 government Bills were passed. In the fourth Session of that administration, when the noble Lord was in the Cabinet, a further 49 Bills were passed. Finally, in the fourth Session of the next administration, 43 government Bills were passed. We have introduced 41 government Bills during this Session. Thus the number of Bills currently being passed compares favourably with previous third Sessions of Parliament.


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