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Viscount Cranborne: It is traditional on this occasion to make a reasonably light-hearted intervention from these Benches and a brief one. But this year I confess that I find it particularly difficult to do so. It is true that, as usual, I shall leave the more considered reaction to the gracious Speech to my contribution tomorrow and to the contributions of my noble friends during the five whole days of debate to come.
I shall return to this subject tomorrow and, I fear, many times over the coming months. However, I cannot but record my own additional sadness that the Government have chosen to proceed with a two-stage reform in the way that they have, instead of trying to build a consensus for reform in public and then implementing it as a whole. I fear that in spite of all the talk of a Royal Commission--an announcement that I greatly welcome--the likelihood now is that we shall never proceed to stage two, or at least for another 87 years.
I hope that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will allow me to say how glad I am that she presently occupies that distinguished position. As I have already observed, it will inevitably be a difficult time for all of us. Emotions will run high, and the measured judgment in great matters that the public have come to expect of this House will require an extra effort of will on the part of all of us to impose. I am sure that the House can look forward to the noble Baroness acting as Leader of the whole House in all matters except those of Government policy. Knowing that she is her father's daughter, and having witnessed the formidable and undiminished skills of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, in action in this House only last week, I am sure that we can look forward to a faultless exhibition of statesmanship from the noble Baroness.
For our part, your Lordships would expect me to promise to give that particular Bill an especially rigorous examination when it reaches this House. I have to confess that we have not lost hope of persuading the Government to accept some form of compromise on this transitional phase and will play our part accordingly.
As for the rest of the gracious Speech, I confess to a feeling of regret that its contents were so predictable. It is notable for its repetition of the word "modern"--if I am not mistaken, 11 times. Characterising a proposed measure as modern is apparently excuse enough to introduce it, whether the Government have begun to think through its consequences or not. The Prime Minister is becoming the "Thoroughly Modern Millie" of British politics--although in this instance I hope he stops short of donning a cloche hat and a short skirt and dancing the black bottom.
We hope that the welfare reform Bill will attack an important question radically and sensibly. If so, we shall support it. If, as we fear, it does not, we shall attempt to improve it. The same will apply to all pieces of legislation, particularly to what will undoubtedly be a complex financial services Bill.
For the rest, this seems to me a gracious Speech built in the very image of this Government. They want to reform the constitution; they want to improve education, health and welfare; they want to improve public services. Like motherhood and apple pie, we can all agree with that. But it is not clear to me that they know
I hope, too, that the House will note the marked reluctance of some members of the Government to report to Parliament. It is perhaps a symptom of the low priority that Parliament enjoys in their perception of their responsibilities. It is, I know, not a perception that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House shares. So it must have been particularly galling for her not to be allowed to report to your Lordships on what was discussed at the recent so-called informal summit in Austria. Instead, we had to rely on press reports--notoriously accurate as they are--and were no doubt deeply relieved to find that only such minor matters as a future European defence force with British participation, harmonisation of taxes and the relationship between politicians and the European Central Bank were discussed. I have to ask: how important do matters have to be before Parliament is told? In the coming Session we shall do our best to support the noble Baroness in her struggle with her colleagues to allow her to keep Parliament informed.
I hope that during the course of her reply the noble Baroness will tell us which Bills will begin their parliamentary journey in this House. I regret to say that last year, in spite of our warnings, the Government got the balance wrong. I hope, too--more pleasurably--that they will be able to give us the dates of the Recesses in good time. All of us, I know, would find that useful.
Finally, I welcome the fact that the Government are at least planning to use a Select Committee procedure for some Bills--although, I fear, not enough, in view of the avalanche of legislation which unfortunately increasingly characterises the careers of governments of both persuasions. Perhaps I may ask what mechanism the Government have in mind for such a procedure and whether it would not be appropriate for this House to play a prominent part.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, perhaps I may join the noble Viscount in congratulating the proposer and seconder of the humble Address on their elegant and comprehensive contributions to our proceedings. I have a particularly soft spot for the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. His is the comfort of an old and familiar face. When I first knew the noble Lord in the other place in the early 1970s, he was on the opposite side of the European argument and was opposed to the whole idea of Britain's membership of the European Community. However, having reconciled himself to the inevitable, he popped up as a commissioner in Brussels and is one of six former
I was very surprised when the noble Lord's name disappeared last summer from the ministerial list. But Prime Ministers move in mysterious ways and who knows what future may still lie before the noble Lord? He is, as ever, a loyal support to his party in his own characteristic way. It was a pleasure to hear him speak today. I hope that we shall hear him on many other occasions, and also that our personal friendship will long continue.
The noble Baroness was hardly more than a toddler when the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, had already started his career as a member of Hackney Council. However, she has been catching up very fast in her remarkable legal career. I believe that the whole House was disappointed that it had to wait until last week to hear the noble Baroness's maiden speech. However, we now all greatly look forward to her playing a full and active part in the business of the House. Her contribution this afternoon was delightful and entertaining.
The noble Viscount suggested that we might hear the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, sooner rather than later from the Dispatch Box. Perhaps I may suggest a different future for her in the interim and say to her that there is never any harm in throwing a small pebble of protest, and occasionally a large one, at her own Front Bench. This House is noted for the independence of its Members and I hope that, at least for a while, she can contribute her independence to our discussions and not become an inevitably conforming member of the Government, whatever virtues they might have.
Perhaps I may say as we reflect on the Queen's Speech, as we do today, I for one will bear a particular thought for the Captain of the Honourable Corps of the Gentlemen-at-Arms. I feel that on this occasion I must call him the Government Chief Whip. In the past year he must occasionally have longed for the easy life of dealing with beef on the bone and the farming crisis rather than the task of bringing his Members to this place. He has instead been obliged to educate them on the need for the Government to keep a House, to vote in sufficient numbers and not to regard membership as an easy retirement option or attendance as something to be fitted in occasionally with professional interests elsewhere. I should not have liked his task. It has not been painless, and he has something less than a painless task ahead of him, dealing with the items of legislation which we find in the Queen's Speech.
The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I am delighted to rise today to support the Motion moved by the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition, That this House do now adjourn. If my memory serves me correctly, this is the first time in my short tenure of this position that I have had the pleasure of supporting a Motion moved by the noble Viscount. Perhaps it is a harbinger of a co-operative future. However, I suspect that there may not be much substantial business on which the noble Viscount and I will be able to see completely eye to eye as we do today, on a day of ceremonial and courtesy, as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, has just remarked. However, I note the points that the noble Viscount made about the rigorous expectations of my conduct and the conduct of these Benches. I am sure he will give similar messages to his own Benches.
Today I am delighted to join both noble Lords in congratulating my noble friends Lord Clinton-Davis and Lady Scotland on the way in which they moved and seconded the Motion for a humble Address. Both my noble friends have, as is only to be expected, succeeded in both entertaining your Lordships this afternoon and setting out with great enthusiasm a number of key themes of the gracious Speech and the programme of Her Majesty's Government for the forthcoming Session. I am sure that the whole House will have listened, as I did, with great interest to what they said.
I should first congratulate my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis on the way in which he moved the Motion and thank him for the kind words he spoke about me personally. He is a great parliamentarian and a greatly respected Member of your Lordships' House. As has already been noted, he has had a distinguished career in the law, in local government and in both Houses of Parliament. He was a Minister under the last Labour administration and, as he explained, he served as Minister of State in the Department of Trade and Industry under the present Government. There are few Members of your Lordships' House or of another place who can claim the rare distinction of having served both the present Labour Government and its predecessor, as my noble friend has done.
He piloted a number of Bills through your Lordships' House during the last Session of Parliament: a Bill on the late payment of commercial debts; a Bill on wireless telegraphy; and, perhaps most importantly, legislation which set out the national minimum wage. This implemented a key government manifesto commitment, and my noble friend can rightly feel proud of the contribution he has made to the work of the Government in improving the lot of the low paid.
As many noble Lords will know, my noble friend is also a distinguished international figure who travelled widely during his time promoting exports for this country. But he is also particularly well known for his environmental work at the United Nations. He has the rare distinction of being honoured with the Grand Cross of the Order of Leopold II of Belgium for his services to the European Communities, following his work as a commissioner. I am sure that the House will agree that his contribution this afternoon more than adequately reflected his distinguished and varied career. With all his friends, I was personally delighted when this distinction was recognised, as he was appointed a Privy Counsellor earlier this year.
My noble friend Lady Scotland has, as she explained, only recently joined your Lordships' House. But, as has already been noted, she has had a long and distinguished career outside Parliament at the Bar. Her brilliance as an advocate is shown--and this may irritate her because she will say it is ageist, but I think it is relevant--by her being the youngest woman to take Silk at the age of 35 and also the youngest person to be elected as a Bencher of the Middle Temple. She is now head of Chambers at Grays Inn Square and, as well as her distinguished career at the Bar, my noble friend has served on a number of important commissions, such as the Commission for Racial Equality and the Millennium Commission. All those experiences bring her great distinction which is of relevance to her work and her wise contributions to your Lordships' House. I am sure that noble Lords will benefit from the professional qualities which my noble friend has clearly developed and exhibited when they are brought to bear on your Lordships' proceedings in these and in the forthcoming Sessions. I can also say, as there is no danger of my being described as sexist, that I know she will bring the grace and elegance to all our proceedings that she brought to the formal business today.
We shall have a full and long debate on the gracious Speech. I shall not delay your Lordships long today, not least because I have the privilege of opening the debate tomorrow. I look forward to describing the Government's programme of modernising--I use the word with pride, despite the noble Viscount's attempts to suggest that it was frivolous--the country, its institutions, its public services and its economy. I shall deal with those matters fully tomorrow.
However, it is traditional for me to outline at least some of the Bills which will start in your Lordships' House. I have great pleasure in announcing that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will introduce his Bill to modernise legal aid and the criminal justice system. My noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey will introduce a Bill to convert the Commonwealth Development Corporation to a public-private partnership with a view to increasing investment in developing countries.
My noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham will introduce a Bill to transfer the Contributions Agency to the Inland Revenue, to prepare the way for better and simpler collection of national insurance contributions and of tax.
A number of other significant measures will be introduced into your Lordships' House as the Session proceeds. I shall, as my predecessors have all done, ensure a balanced distribution of Bills between the two Houses. We believe that that will both help to deliver the effective management of the Government's programme and allow thorough and proper parliamentary scrutiny of the Government's proposed legislation.
To that effect, the gracious Speech referred to proposals for pre-legislative scrutiny in both Houses. It is envisaged that the Government will present a number of draft Bills to Parliament for scrutiny before introduction. The gracious Speech makes specific reference to our proposal that a draft freedom of information Bill should receive pre-legislative scrutiny in both Houses. My right honourable friend the Leader of another place and I are firmly of the view that pre-legislative scrutiny of this kind will improve the quality of our legislation. I hope that many Members of this House will support that approach to achieving better laws. The Government believe that your Lordships have an important role to play in any such pre-legislative scrutiny and I will, accordingly, be presenting a paper to your Lordships' Liaison Committee as soon as possible setting out the Government's intentions in this area. I do hope that many of your Lordships will find themselves willing and able to serve on any new committees of this kind which are appointed.
I have not so far mentioned a particular item in the gracious Speech that I know is of particular concern to your Lordships; that is the Bill to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in your Lordships' House, which will be introduced as a first stage-- I emphasise again "as a first stage"--in a process of reform to make your Lordships' House more democratic and representative. I will of course deal with this Bill in greater detail in my speech tomorrow. All I will say today is that I hope your Lordships will, while considering the Bill with your normal due care and attention--to which the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition has already referred--not depart from the adherence to long established customs and conventions which have successfully characterised this House for many generations. I am afraid that I cannot, however, give a cast-iron guarantee that the Government will introduce the Bill into your Lordships' House.
Your Lordships will be aware that the gracious Speech contains a substantial programme. I would just say, however, that the Government hope that the period up to the Christmas Recess will be relatively quiet. Your Lordships will be engaged on the Second Reading of the Bills I have outlined and of other important measures which will be introduced into your Lordships' House. There are also a number of Select Committee reports awaiting debate, not least the report from the ad hoc Select Committee on the Public Service and a report from the Science and Technology Committee on the medicinal use of cannabis. Before Christmas, and indeed subsequently, the usual Wednesday debates of a party and balloted nature will be held. I think we have before us a busy and interesting Session.
Stoppages in the Streets--Ordered, That the Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis do take care that during the Session of Parliament the passages through the streets leading to this House be kept free and open; and that no obstruction be permitted to hinder the passage of the Lords to and from this House; and that no disorder be allowed in Westminster Hall, or in the passages leading to this House, during sitting of Parliament; and that there be no annoyance therein or thereabouts; and that the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod attending this House do communicate this order to the Commissioner aforesaid.
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