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The Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): 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.
"Most Gracious SovereignWe, 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".
It is a great honour to be asked to move this Motion, although I must confess that I approached this task with more trepidationdare I say, nervousness?than I have approached any other speech that I have made in either House. Your Lordships are a truly formidable audience.
First, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Amos. I was delighted to see that she continues as our Leader in this new Parliament. Her abilities are always matched by the ease with which she can be approached. She has led us well and I hope that she continues to do so for a long time.
I now turn to the Chief Whip. It is conventional wisdom that he or she should be a stern disciplinarian and should not be likedat least by the Back-Benchers. However, despite the toughness of my noble friend Lord Grocott, we all like him and, again, I hope that he will be in his post for a long time.
For the past five years or so, I have been chair of the Labour Peers. I want to thank my colleagues for their support and helpfulness in enabling me to exercise what I suppose on our side of the Floor is properly called a "shop steward" function. I shall stop doing that job and one of my colleagues will be elected to take the post in my place.
On a slightly more sombre note, we cannot forget colleagues from the other place who lost their seats in the election. Many of them were friends and colleagues of ours. Democracy can be painful for the losers, and I know only too well from personal experience what it feels like.
I recall the American politician who, when asked how he felt after losing an election, said, "Oh, it's all right. I went home and slept like a babyI woke up every hour and cried". But, having had the privilege of being appointed to this House, I suppose I can say that there can be life after political death, and I say that to all the colleagues of all parties who experienced political death the week before last.
But then we in this House have not had to go through the strains and stresses of seeking re-election, although many of us helped and worked in the campaigns for our respective parties. In the House of Commons the Government now have 356 seats, compared with 198 for the next largest party. That seems pretty good to me, whatever the press say, but I can only comment, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?".
However, I have a niggle about general elections. It is a very small point but why cannot Members of this House have the right to vote? I admit that this is hardly the biggest issue and not a single person mentioned it
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to me on any doorstep. I do not see Trafalgar Square, or perhaps I should say Parliament Square, packed with protestors on our behalf. But I think that there is something wrong. Democracy is a fundamental principle and having a vote is important. Why should we, other than prisonersand I think that will be sortedand the insane, be the only ones denied the right to vote? It seems absurd.
Perhaps I may mention some thoughts on other matters which struck me as I knocked on many doorsteps from Bethnal Green to Battersea. They are small points but they irritated me, and anyone who canvassed will have shared my irritation. Why are so many letter boxes just a few inches off the floor? As we get on in age, bending over is more difficult. And what about the letter boxes that I call "knuckle-scrapers", which remove the skin from one's fingers as one tries to put a leaflet through them?
Then there are the numbering systems at many blocks of council flats. Their Byzantine complexity makes the theory of relativity seem simple in comparison. Many of us have chased up and down corridors and stairs looking for that odd number which did not appear where it should have done. On behalf of everyone who canvasses in elections, I express my solidarity with the postmen and postwomen of this country, who have to wrestle with these complexities day in and day out.
However, that is as nothing compared to the comment made to me in a previous election many years ago when I was supporting my local council candidates. I was not a Member of Parliament then. I rang the doorbell to be confronted by a woman with a child of about four years old. When I said that I was canvassing, the door was slammed shut before I could even say the words, "Labour Party". Rebuffed, I wondered what to dowhether I should move on and try another bellwhen the door opened again. The woman and child were still standing there and she said to her son, in words that I can never forget, "There's nothing to see, it's only a politician". That applies to each and every one of us. We should pause for reflection, because I suspect that those sentiments are still there, even if the four year-old is now much older.
I now turn to some of the details in the gracious Speech. It is clear that we shall be very busy dealing with a full programme of legislationone of the fullest that we have ever had, I think. I welcome the commitment to Lords reform. I am not sure whether in this speech I am allowed to be the tiniest bit contentious.
I believe that it is sensible, as the Government propose, to set a limit of 60 days on the length of time for which we should consider a Bill. I am certain that that will prove as much a discipline on government as on anyone else. None of the real conflicts, the passionate debates that we have had in recent yearsof which the anti-terrorism legislation was just the most recentwould have been caught by a 60-day
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limit. Anyone who suggests that it would stifle debate in your Lordships' House is surely wrong, but the Government would have to prepare Bills better before presenting them to Parliament and that must be desirable.
Any fair-minded person would say that education, especially in primary schools, has improved markedly in recent years and that Sure Start has been widely acclaimed. Of course, more needs to be done and the gracious Speech acknowledges that.
The NHS has also shown similar improvements both at the general practitioner level and in hospitals. Many others, myself included, have been beneficiaries of improvements in healthcare. I welcome the proposed ban on smoking in most public places and look forward to it being implemented quickly.
As regards ID cards, many years ago, I was unhappy about them, but I feel that there is no longer an objection in principle to them. We shall obviously consider the details to see how they can be effectively applied. I am also pleased, although the issue is contentious, by the Government's plans to introduce legislation to deal with incitement to religious hatred.
I welcome the commitments in the gracious Speech to tackling world poverty, especially in Africa. Establishing fair trade opportunities for the world's poorest countries is an essential element of that policy.
The Government have also indicated that they will use their presidency of the G8 to further policies to tackle climate change. Some time ago, the Government circulated a booklet to all households giving guidance in case of terrorist attacks. I am sure that we all received it through our letter-boxes. Would the Government consider a similar booklet giving advice to householders about energy-saving, waste and other measures to help to deal with climate change? I am sure that that would be welcomed and I suggest it to my noble friends on the Front Bench.
Your Lordships will be aware that I have a continuing interest in Northern Ireland. I am confident that the new Secretary of State will do everything in his power to get the peace process back on track. The local politicians and especially the paramilitaries in Northern Ireland know what they have to do. The prize is enormous and anyone who stands in the way is to be totally condemned. I also pay tribute to my right honourable friend Paul Murphy for the great contribution that he has made to peace and progress in Northern Ireland during his time in Belfast, first as Minister of State and more recently as Secretary of State.
I also welcome the Government's commitment to getting the Olympics to this country and I hope that we shall hear good news about the Olympics during the next two or three months.
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I wish the Government well in their forthcoming presidency of the European Union. I hope that the proposed accession of Bulgaria and Romania will proceed smoothly and that Turkey will continue to progress along the path toward membership.
Shortly after I was elected to the other place, something happened that has stayed firmly in my consciousness and to which I may have referred previously in the presence of some of my friends. As your Lordships will recall, in those days, the Commons often used to sit rather late. We have now taken over that mantle. The occasion to which I referred was not whipped, but some of us engineered a debate on London matters that was to take place between 2 am and 6 am. I had just been elected and that was my first chance to be up all night. I suppose that in those far-off days, some of us believed that insomnia was a necessary precondition for socialism.
I arrived at the Members' Entrance about midnight. The policewoman at the door said, "Good evening, sir", and, with all the pomposity that only a newly elected MP can muster, I replied, "Good evening. I am hoping to speak tonight". "Yes, sir" she said. "Will it make any difference?" I picked myself up off the floor a humbler and, I hope, wiser person.
I believe that this Queen's Speech and the next four years will make a difference to millions of ordinary people in the country. I know that this is a very committed Government, and the Ministers show a high level of enthusiasm for their responsibilities.
Finally, let me say this, on a personal note: I came to this country at the age of six as a refugee. English is my third language, so whenever anyone says that my speeches are not great, I defend myself by saying, "Well, it is in my third language. How good a speech could you make in your third language?"
This country has given me the most fantastic opportunities, for which I am enormously grateful. Therefore, I am very enthusiastic about the Government's commitment to improving opportunities for all our people. I beg to move.
"Most Gracious SovereignWe, 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".(Lord Dubs.)
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