§ Bill,pro forma, read a first time.
§ ADDRESS IN REPLY TO HER MAJESTY'S MOST GRACIOUS SPEECH
§ The Queen's Speech reported by the LORD CHANCELLOR.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, I beg to move, 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.
I would like to say how grateful I am to my noble friends the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip for giving me the privilege of proposing the Motion for a humble Address. Having in past years advised successive leaders on who should stand where I am standing now, I feel the honour particularly keenly. I may also say that I feel more than a little nervous, rather like being a new boy again. No doubt it serves me right that, having put others in this position in the past, I should now have to pass the test myself.
But it is certainly a comfort to be supported in this by my noble friend Lord Mancroft, who is rapidly coming to fill the place his late father had in your Lordships' hearts.
5 During my time in your Lordships' House I have seen many changes, but these have served only to enhance and not to alter the essential character of the House. I may yet live to see even more fundamental change. But surely the sole criterion for that must be: will a reformed Chamber, through the functions allotted to it, through its powers or indeed through its composition, be better equipped to serve the nation than the present one? If not, we would do well to heed the words of the forbear of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, from more than three-and-a-half centuries ago:When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change".
At the risk of trespassing too much on the noble Viscount's family history, it was that same Viscount of Falkland who finally found the duties attaching to the Secretary of State so burdensome that, at the first Battle of Newbury, he deliberately rode into murderous musket fire. One can be nostalgic for the past and still feel grateful that there is nothing in the gracious Speech that is likely to put my noble friend the Leader of the House in quite such desperate straits as that. We no doubt have our battles but, equally, they will be conducted with your Lordships' habitual courtesy.
One of our tasks will be the quinquennial renewal of the Armed Forces Acts. This is of course a routine but essential measure, without which the powers of discipline necessary to maintaining the Armed Forces would lapse. Perhaps, while I am in historical vein, I might recall the origin of those renewable Acts 300 years ago. They were to prevent the maintenance of a standing Army which might have proved a threat to our young parliamentary system of government. We needed an Army, and powers of discipline were essential, but those powers were only ever granted for a limited period. In that way Parliament kept and keeps a close watch on them.
Another measure in the gracious Speech renewing powers is the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill. All your Lordships will join me in wishing Her Majesty's Government well in continuing the peace process. It is slow and tough work to remove and resolve the conflicts of many years. There is room for disagreement over exactly how the objective ought to be pursued at any particular moment. It cannot be wrong, however, to renew powers that are needed to combat terrorism, even in the light of the blessed relief which Northern Ireland is enjoying. But there is no need for the powers to be used, and Parliament stands here to ensure that they are not used when they should not be; and their periodic renewal also ensures that we can get rid of them completely as soon as it is safe to do so.
I know that many people distrust those who wish to be cautious over these matters; who would wish to see something done about the Prevention of Terrorism Act immediately; who distrust the Armed Forces' role in Northern Ireland and, for that matter, distrust parliamentarians. I think that they are wrong. No one wants these powers to go on longer than they need to and, as I hope I have shown, the historic mechanism of the renewal of powers, whether in relation to terrorism 6 or the Armed Forces, is a real guarantee against their abuse. And let us have a real debate about the matter, to fulfil our duty to keep these matters under review.
One thing we do not need to debate is the fact that our Armed Forces today are a guarantee of our liberties. Their role now includes peacekeeping in accordance with our United Nations obligations, and the humanitarian objective of disaster relief.
I am therefore glad that mention was made in the gracious Speech of the Reserve Forces Bill. As the world changes, the role played by the Reserve Forces will change also. They need to be available for peacekeeping and humanitarian work, and this requires some adjustment.
Paradoxically, there is a need for some Reserve Forces to be in greater readiness than before—to be, as it were, nearer the front line. This in turn requires safeguards for those undertaking these obligations, and for their employers. All this is to be welcomed.
In this connection I should mention the Honourable Artillery Company, whose full dress uniform, as a former Gold Sergeant, I am proud to be wearing this afternoon. Although of far earlier origin, the HAC received its charter of incorporation from King Henry VIII in 1537, and is the oldest fighting regiment in the British Army, and probably in the world. Today it has an operational role in support of the ACE Rapid Reaction Corps. Long may it flourish.
Perhaps I might enter here a plea to my noble friends on the Front Bench. The Reserve Forces Bill may have as its object, or one of its objects, the making of public expenditure savings, something that is not unknown in government measures. Can we ensure that those economies are not false ones, and that our Reserve Forces are maintained at a proper level?
Her Majesty's Government are also setting their hand—very bravely, to my mind—to further reforms of criminal procedure and to family law. When I say that they are brave, I speak as an old business manager. As a Member of your Lordships' House, I can look forward to the fierce debates that will no doubt carry us through many a night; but as a former Chief Whip, I will feel for my noble friend Lord Strathclyde.
With regard to the Family Law Bill, we will have the inestimable advantage of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to guide us through the maze.
One of the things which has changed in the years since I have been in your Lordships' House is that some measures are widely, if not always accurately, discussed in advance of their appearance in the gracious Speech. I have to say that this is not a development which I welcome, even though it is probably inevitable in a world of instantaneous media comment on every thought that flits through a Minister's mind.
We would do well, however, to wait until a Bill is actually published before becoming too exercised about it. In this case, my noble and learned friend has published a White Paper and consulted widely since then. The Bill will no doubt reflect that.
7 I would only add that I do not believe that there is one of your Lordships who wishes the family harm, or would agree to having one word on the statute book which would make the break-up of a marriage more likely. That is not, however, what my noble and learned friend is about. As I understand it, he seeks, as a good Minister and a good lawyer, to provide the best possible legal framework for inevitable human events. So let our debates on this matter at least acknowledge that we all agree on ends, even if we fight fiercely over means.
Much the same considerations apply to the subject of asylum seekers and immigration. I know that successive Home Secretaries have wrestled with the world of mass travel which has made it so much easier for many people to cross fences in search of greener grass. I know too—if my image is not becoming absurd—that for many people in the world, their side of the fence may be an arid waste.
We are a haven for refugees. We always have been. I trust we always shall be, and I have no doubt that in essentials the Government's plans will do nothing to change that. Nevertheless, we have to balance this with our duty to our own people—and by that I mean the diverse society which we enjoy in this country, and not some myth of Anglo-Saxonry. Apart from anything else, those of your Lordships who can boast of Norman blood would be out for mine.
Again, I make a plea that the heat of debate, whether within this House or outside, should always be a means to an end, an end of realistic law, and not itself a cause of evil divisions.
My Lords, there is nothing wrong with heated debate; and there is nothing wrong with agreement, when it is genuine. To that end, I noted the inclusion of the Chemical Weapons Convention Bill in the gracious Speech, and welcome the fact that it has already been given full support by Her Majesty's Opposition. It is so much better and more courteous, particularly on this day, to give noble Lords opposite their full title, rather than referring to them as "the Opposition". These weapons should be banned and we will play our part in ridding the world of them.
My Lords, the gracious Speech opened with the highlights of Her Majesty's own arduous programme, and that of His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, during the months covered by this parliamentary Session. I have deliberately left them until the end of what I have to say. This programme includes the State Visits to this country of their Excellencies the Presidents of France and South Africa, and the State Visits of Her Majesty and His Royal Highness to Poland and the Czech Republic in March, and to Thailand in October next year.
My Lords, it must seem strange to somebody unacquainted with our constitution that the gracious Speech from the Throne should otherwise largely consist of the partisan political aspirations of whichever Administration happens to be in power at the moment. But surely this is symbolic of the constitution itself. I never cease to wonder at how fortunate we are to possess a monarchy that is above party politics and other 8 factional differences, and that while governments may change, and policies may change, this one unifying influence remains constant as an inspiration to the country as a whole. May we truly wish Her Majesty victory, happiness and glory throughout this Session and in the years to come.
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty.
Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty in the following terms:
"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".—(Lord Denham.)
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Lord Mancroft
My Lords, I beg to second my noble friend's Motion for a humble Address in reply to Her Majesty's most gracious Speech.
My noble friends the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip have done me a great honour in asking me to follow my noble friend Lord Denham. I can only hope that it will not become too obvious that his silvery words are the lining to which my cloud is attached.
One of the few lessons that has always stuck in my head is that it is extremely unwise to take your own line in an unknown country, and it goes without saying that today I find myself in just such country. But I also learnt that the best way to cross such a country is to find a stout looking fellow with lots of local knowledge to act as your pilot, and then to stick to him like glue. Thus, my Lords, you find me following my noble friend Lord Denham. If, incidentally, your pilot should happen to knock some holes in the rather more formidable fences along the way, so much the better.
Perhaps it was his local knowledge or his great experience that led my noble friend to cover foreign affairs so concisely, while leaving the subject of Europe to me, knowing that the next two speakers, the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, are not entirely unfamiliar with that subject. I make no apology for my lack of understanding of a subject which is clearly bread and butter, if not indeed meat and two veg, to both those noble Lords. With their distinguished records of service in Europe, the noble Lords will understand the issue far better than I do, but I hope that they can understand those of us who, while believing firmly in the desirability of a trading partnership, still view the prospect of closer political union with dread.
I take great comfort from the reference in the gracious Speech to continued implementation of the principle of subsidiarity, for it is the perception of European interference in domestic matters that causes so much mistrust and anger. Equally, I am delighted to hear that the Inter-Governmental Conference of 1996 is to be used to prepare the European Union for enlargement, for it is by the inclusion of more eastern European nations that the continued peace and further prosperity of Europe will be assured more than any other factor.
9 The commitment to a flexible and low-cost labour market is, I know, a cause of concern to some; but surely the increased employment and growth that emanate from it must enjoy the support of all of us. This last point of European policy dovetails neatly into the economic programme that was laid out this morning. This policy rests on the most solid of foundations, described in those tremendous words in the gracious Speech, "permanently low inflation". No previous gracious Speech in my lifetime could have included such words, particularly when coupled, as they were, with the aims of continued rising employment and increasing economic growth.
It is worth reflecting on these points for a moment. While the fight to control inflation has been hard fought and not without casualties, we now have the best prospects of any country in the European Union, which is presumably why Britain is now attracting more inward investment than any other European country.
I am delighted too to see that small businesses will continue to receive the support that they need, and that we shall progress further along the route towards increased deregulation. Dismantling the petty rules that restrict economic movement and frustrate the nation's wealth creators will receive universal support, as will the pledge to reduce public sector expenditure. We have surely all now learnt that government can never spend the nation's wealth as well as those who have created it through their own initiative and ingenuity and the sweat of their brow, and that the best place for a man or woman's hard earned money is in his or her pocket and not in the Treasury's coffers. The recognition of this fact in today's gracious Speech must be a challenge to any who believe that they can spend what they have not themselves earned. Such sentiments serve only to empower the individual and place responsibility back where it rightfully belongs.
Those of your Lordships who have stumbled into the odd health debate—and let us face it, we have had some odd health debates over the years—may have noticed that I have a passing interest in community care issues. am therefore more than happy to welcome the forthcoming Community Care Bill. The health service has undergone a huge period of change over the past few years, not all of it as popular as it might have been, although clearly change was inevitable, and perhaps a period of consolidation is now called for. However, the Bill which will come before the House is an enabling Bill and ushers in a sensible and I believe a popular development. I have long been a champion of forms of care that local authorities are for a whole variety of reasons unable to provide adequately, and yet are often desirable. This measure will allow those who are entitled to local authority care to choose the type of care that they consider suits their needs best, within certain guidelines, thus encouraging individuals and families to accept responsibility for the care of themselves and their families, instead of relying on the state to provide. The principle is sound both on economic and clinical grounds, but I suspect that it is the kind of measure that will require your Lordships' most careful attention in order to render it workable in practice.
10 The same principle is carried on into the educational arena. The subject of nursery schools, or pre-school education, has been debated much of late, and at a temperature that only our friends in the press can generate. Because I spent most of my school years trying, with some degree of success, to avoid being educated, I have, during my time in your Lordships' House, tended to steer clear of debates on the subject of education. But now that my daughter is approaching the relevant age, I find the prospect of being interviewed by her prospective headmistress so utterly, utterly terrifying that I am obliged to pay attention.
But I have to say to your Lordships that a scheme whereby parents of all four year-olds will receive vouchers to spend as they choose is desirable in that it meets both the state's duty to provide for such education, while placing the responsibility fairly and squarely with the parents where it belongs. Parents will have a choice of nursery class, playgroup or reception classes, and I daresay when I finally find out what the difference between them all is, I too will exercise my true democratic freedom to choose—and then do exactly what my wife tells me. I have little doubt that, later on, I shall take the blame, too.
This is probably not the most exciting gracious Speech that your Lordships have ever heard but for that, I, at any rate, am grateful. It continues a pattern of policies that have been well conceived and firmly implemented, although clearly they will not be to everyone's taste. The objects of the economic policy have not changed and nor should they. The measures to be introduced in health and education are sensible developments from the policies of previous years. If one theme, however, winds through every strand of policy, it is one with which I heartily concur. The empowering of the individual over the state; the enabling of the citizen to take responsibility for his health, wealth and education, as well as that of his family, and the sloughing off of the overwhelming and suffocating weight of state interference shine through the measures as the lights shine from our homes on a November evening.
And the embodiment of personal responsibility, both accepted and embraced, comes to us from Her Majesty in her selfless example of duty done in this the 43rd year of her reign. When Her Majesty first came down to your Lordships' House to deliver the gracious Speech five years before I was born, the Motion for a humble Address was moved by my father, who was then exactly the same age as I am now. In his speech he looked forward to a new Elizabethan Age, but he also looked back and contrasted the dawn of that age to the last time that a Queen had read a gracious Speech from the Throne in 1861.
My father used the occasion of Her Majesty's first gracious Speech to emphasise the importance of continuity. I now use the occasion of Her Majesty's 43rd gracious Speech to couple continuity with responsibility as the bedrock of policy. From my father I inherited my peerage, and from him I learnt a little of its privileges and a great deal more of its responsibilities.
11 Two weeks ago my son and heir was christened in the Crypt Chapel beneath your Lordships' House. By the time he comes to inherit my peerage, I hope that, possibly with the help of nursery school vouchers, he will have learnt as I have, that responsibility can never be abdicated, nor should continuity be sacrificed. I also hope that the Lord Denham of the day gives him as good a lead as my noble friend has given me today.
I beg to second my noble friend's Motion for a humble Address in reply to Her Majesty's most gracious Speech.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, I beg to move that this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
My first task this afternoon is a very pleasurable one indeed. It is to congratulate both the mover and the seconder of the Address. I believe that everyone will agree that they have made speeches of quality which we shall treasure. It is not only what they said, but the way they said it and the way that they have looked that is important this afternoon. In the course of this morning's festivities, a visitor to the building espied the uniform of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, under his robes. I have to tell the noble Lord that the visitor turned to me and said, "Good heavens! are they down to the NCOs now?". I was able to explain to him that he was a very special kind of sergeant. I was also able to tell him that he may look like an RSM, and sound and behave like one, but beneath the scarlet cloth across that ample bosom—I of all people in this House am entitled to talk about ample bosoms—there beats the heart of at least a major-general.
It was indeed, as the Government will recognise, something of an innovation to have the noble Lord, Lord Denham, moving the Address. Usually those speeches are reserved for Back-Benchers on the Government side. Although the noble Lord is technically a Back-Bencher, the noble Lord's political experience hardly qualifies him for the role of a parliamentary tyro. And what an experience! A Whip of one kind or another for 30 years from 1961 to 1991. That is 30 years of persuading other people to do what he wanted them to do even (or perhaps especially) when they did not want to do it. The noble Lord knows more secrets from more sources than any man in this building, apart possibly from MI5 and the Special Branch. I trust, on behalf of many Members opposite, that he never feels the necessity to write his memoirs.
Always courteous and gentle in manner, I have no doubt that the noble Lord shepherded his flocks with quiet confidence and wholly rational argument. Never, I am sure, was he known to raise his voice or to become irate with one of his flock. It is said, however, that the noble Lord once observed that he could get them into the building, but that if he did, he had to make sure that they stayed out of the Chamber lest they were infected by argument. We heard the noble Lord's speech with great delight, and were indeed pleased to listen to it.
I turn now to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. I had a word with him this morning about 12 what he was going to wear. I said that I hoped that he would wear a uniform at least as refulgent as that of his noble friend Lord Denham. I said that he should put on hunting pink. The noble Lord said that he had only two uniforms—one was hunting pink and the other was that of a lance corporal in the Eton College cadet corps, and that he did not think that that would do. The noble Lord's speech had a certain amount of political content and I am sure that he would not expect me to agree with all that he said, as I clearly did not. On the other hand, it was a speech of humour and elegance, and we listened to it with great delight, and we thank him for it.
Perhaps I may now turn to the gracious Speech itself. It is not a document upon which I propose to spend a great deal of time. It is thin to the point of anorexia, and I do not think that it requires a great deal of comment from me. Naturally, we shall examine each of the proposals with the care and attention which they deserve. However, perhaps one result of the new Budget procedure has been the commensurate down-grading of the importance of the gracious Speech as a prelude to the significant events of the coming Session. It now sets out the Government's intentions with varying degrees of piety and veracity. It refers to some of the pieces of legislation to be introduced (perhaps) and, as always, concludes on the stirring note:Other measures, including other measures of law reform, will be laid before you".
This year the "other measures" will be infinitely more interesting than those referred to in the gracious Speech itself.
I commend to the House what Mr. Peter Riddell wrote in The Times this morning. He said:The Queen's Speech to Parliament this morning will be largely irrelevant either to the state of Britain or to the fortunes of the Tory party. Even more than usual, it will be about departmental pride and political symbolism. The Prime Minister and his advisers will argue that the whole is more than the sum of the parts: that there is a coherent theme demonstrating the Government's vitality and a sharply different approach from Labour.Such propaganda will no doubt be forgotten as soon as it is uttered".
The fact is that the speech is dominated by two desires on the part of the Government: first, to do everything that they can to avoid even the threat of internal dissension within the Conservative Party; and, secondly, to try to embarrass the Labour Party. The spin-doctors of Central Office were clearly working hard yesterday. The gracious Speech, we were led to believe, is part of a cleverly planned offensive by the Government. As an offensive, it has all the hallmarks of the careful preparation exhibited by the Grand Old Duke of York, except that in this case they have not been up and down the hill once; it is now becoming a regular—almost an annual—pastime.
Dr. Mawhinney gave the game away when he said:The Government programme would challenge and expose the gap between rhetoric and reality in the Labour Party".
Is that what the gracious Speech is supposed to be about? Where is the vision?
§ Lord Richard
I read those words yesterday and again today, and I listened again to the speech read by 13 the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor; but I still ask the question. Where is the vision to inspire the nation as we approach the 21st century? Where is the declaration by the Government of their wishes for the good governance of Britain for the remainder of this decade? What can anyone glean from this piece of overt politicking except that the Government are now prepared to use any mechanism available, including even the gracious Speech, to try to gain some party political points. The carefully planned offensive has been so carefully planned that its objectives, its strategy and even its tactics are obvious even before it begins. This is a trivial political programme by a tired Government. In the interests of the country, I hope that it will be their last.
Moved, That this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.—(Lord Richard.)
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Hillhead
My Lords, my first and pleasant duty on this day of ceremony and courtesy is to comment on the speeches of the mover and the seconder of the Address. Those are roles which I have never been called upon to perform—obviously not in this House, but not in the other place either—but they have always struck me as being pretty testing roles and they were excellently performed today. Indeed, in the happy choice of word of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, the Address was refulgently moved by the noble Lord, Lord Denham.
However, I must not talk about the noble Lord as though he were an ingénu making his début. He looks a little more like a Chelsea Pensioner. He is in a real sense almost the most experienced and the most weathered among us. He spent 12 years as Government Chief Whip, seeing out five or six Leaders of your Lordships' House, and making the brief tenure of his immediate successor as Chief Whip seem but an evening gone. Frequently when someone makes as successful a speech as that which we heard from the noble Lord this afternoon, after a few months we read of his being promoted to be an assistant Whip and making a tentative but promising appearance at the Government Dispatch Box. Somehow I do not think that we shall see that with the noble Lord, Lord Denham, this Session.
Turning to the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, I noticed one odd connection between him and the noble Lord, Lord Denham. Both their peerages date from what might be called the roseate sunset of the Baldwin era—in other words, the early months of 1937. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in this respect—but only in this respect—is somewhat senior, for his peerage came in the New Year's Honours List whereas that of the first Lord Denham appeared in the Coronation Honours List of that year. Today the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has necessarily occupied the junior role, but he has discharged it very well. It may well be that he, not the noble Lord, Lord Denham, will be on the Front Bench before the close of another perhaps less roseate era. The noble Lord's father, who was well known as one of the most brilliant after-dinner speakers in London, would, I 14 think, have appreciated several of the noble Lord's touches this afternoon. I warmly congratulate both the mover and the seconder.
I turn to what there is in the gracious Speech. It hardly amounts to a very resounding programme, but when I think of what might have been in it if it were a resounding programme, that is perhaps as well. A Judiciary (Abolition of) Bill from the Home Office might not be entirely beyond the bounds of Mr. Howard's imagination. But what I find very extraordinary is that this Government, through their briefing machine which was reflected unanimously in the whole press this morning, stressed the political nature of the 15 Bills proposed and the fact that they are designed primarily to wrong-foot the opposition parties. I am sufficiently old-fashioned to believe that the Government ought at the very least to pretend that their measures are designed for the public interest rather than for party tactics. Furthermore, such an attitude to the briefing put out yesterday shows a most humiliating defensiveness, as well as partisan irresponsibility, for Her Majesty's Government to announce that it is the Opposition which set the agenda.
To move to a conclusion on a more agreeable note, I am very glad to see that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has at least partially won his battle and has provided one of the few beneficial measures in the gracious Speech. In that battle, every move from day to day—almost hour to hour—was reported in the press. What a change there has been during a generation, going back almost exactly to the time graphically described by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, when his father moved the humble Address in the first Session of the present Queen's reign. In 1953—I happened to be reading about it only the other day—there was a tremendous Cabinet dispute over something called "Operation Robot"; whether the pound should be floated. Positions were taken up by civil servants, economic advisers and Cabinet Ministers. All Session long the noise of battle rolled. But not a word got out. I was only a young Back Bencher with close Treasury and economic contacts and not a word did I hear of it. What a contrast with what happens today.
I suppose that the issue can be argued both ways and that it is desirable that Members of the Cabinet should live in a goldfish bowl of their own choosing shining their own lights onto it. However, as someone with a certain belief in collective Cabinet government and Executive authority within its proper limits, I find such total incontinence faintly shocking. And I am sure that it makes total nonsense of Official Secrets Acts, leaks inquiries and still more of occasional prosecutions. This Government betray their own secrets before anyone else can have a chance to do so.
It is part of the general atmosphere of a government at once decaying and flailing with increasing bad temper against any criticism of their own worsening performance. The best news in the national interest, as well as giving an unusual impact to his speech, would be if the noble Lord, the Lord Privy Seal would announce today that this will be the last Queen's Speech before a general election.
§ 4.23 p.m.
The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne)
My Lords, I believe that it was a Liberal Prime Minister who, in answer to a similar inquiry—indeed, to almost any inquiry of the kind made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, in his usual elegant way—always answered, "We had better wait and see".
As usual, it gives me the greatest of pleasure to support the Motion of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that this debate be adjourned. Perhaps the noble Lord was a little more combative in his remarks than has been customary on this occasion in years gone by but I make no complaint about that. The Motion to adjourn is one issue upon which we are in complete agreement. However, I can assure your Lordships that next week when I reply for the Government on the last day of debate on the gracious Speech, it is all too unlikely that we will be of one mind. Therefore, I shall content myself with revelling in this happy concatenation today.
The noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, were characteristically generous in their words of congratulation to the proposer and seconder of the Motion for a humble Address. However, I am sure your Lordships will agree that this year perhaps more than in many years even of extremely distinguished contributions, such congratulations have rarely, rarely been better deserved.
My noble friend Lord Denham bestrode our narrow world in this place as Government Chief Whip for many years. As a result, his contributions to our debates were all too rare. However, I am sure that today the whole House was reminded of what his office deprived us during those years. It would be fair to say that the magnificence of his oratory was matched only by the magnificence of his apparel. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that in dressing properly for the occasion he was practising merely what he has always preached. I believe that in his days as Chief Whip he invariably issued the most detailed sartorial instructions to the proposer of the humble Address.
My noble friend is a distinguished and popular Member of your Lordships' House and I believe that it was wholly appropriate that he should have undertaken the task that he has performed so elegantly today. It is appropriate too because my noble friend will know that the hereditary peerage, unlike himself as a distinguished member of it, has all too often been known for the utilitarian nature of its clothes rather than their elegance. I am told that the most notorious example of that regrettable tendency occurred not many years ago, I suspect in the Bishops' Bar of your Lordships' House, when one of your Lordships overheard two of his fellow Peers in an extremely serious conversation. It went something like this: "Jolly cold, isn't it?". "Yes, old boy, it certainly is. It's so cold I've got my combinations on. And I'll tell you something else—they were my grandfather's! ". My noble friend turned to his neighbour and observed, "That's what I like about this place. Every time you come into it you hear something damned 16 interesting". My noble friend told us much that was interesting today, as well as setting us an example sartorially.
My noble friend Lord Mancroft has had two hard acts to follow, as he acknowledged. The first, of course, was my noble friend Lord Denham. The other, who I suppose is always with him, was his father who, sadly, I never met but always understood was one of the finest and wittiest speakers of his day. In seconding the Motion for a humble Address, my noble friend showed once again that there must be something in the hereditary principle.
My noble friend brings to our debates knowledge of a number of areas as well as an elegant turn of phrase. However, his work in the area of drug addiction is particularly admired in your Lordships' House and I hope that he will long continue to grace our debates. It is with the greatest of pleasure that I yield yet another job to the many held by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and I yield it with pleasure; it is the responsibility that in future he should personally recommend to the Prime Minister the names of those who should grace the Government Front Bench.
The legislative programme which was announced by Her Majesty in the gracious Speech is, contrary to what was said by both noble Lords who have since spoken on the Motion, to give effect to the central themes that have characterised Her Majesty's Government's legislative programmes since 1979. That is, as my noble friend Lord Mancroft most clearly pointed out, the liberation of the energies of the British people within a United Kingdom as the surest way of building prosperity and success in a rapidly changing world. The programme will give the House an interesting and varied diet in the weeks ahead. In particular, the Bills which will begin their passage in this House are substantial and a number will be introduced very shortly.
My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will introduce a Bill to reform the law of divorce which will also contain in large part the provisions of the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill which your Lordships considered during the last Session. I am particularly pleased that it will be possible to reintroduce the provisions to which your Lordships gave such thoughtful scrutiny and that the protection that they will provide for victims of domestic violence need not now be forgone for much longer. In that context, I am especially grateful for the assurance of support—because that is what I thought it was—that the House heard from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, during his remarks this afternoon.
My noble friend Lord Howe will introduce a Bill to govern the Reserve Forces about which my noble friend Lord Denham spoke with such authority. The provisions of that Bill have previously been published in draft and have been subject to extensive consultation. Therefore, I particularly hope that the passage of the Bill will demonstrate how valuable such an exercise can be in improving the quality of legislation. I hope that it will be an earnest of the Government's good intentions in that respect in the years to come.
17 My noble friend Lady Blatch will introduce a Bill to reform the procedure for disclosure of information in criminal cases and to implement certain recommendations of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice. My noble friend Lady Cumberlege will introduce a Bill to allow local authorities to make cash payments to disabled people so that they can purchase the care services which they need, and so exercise greater autonomy over their day-to-day lives. In due course other important Bills will be introduced in your Lordships' House. I also look forward to them.
Last year the noble Lord, Lord Richard, thought that the legislative programme of the 1994–95 Session seemed a little thin. In retrospect, the noble Lord may feel, to some degree, that the wish was father to the thought and even, perhaps, that his diagnosis turned out to be a little faultier than he might have wished. Today, the noble Lord said something of the same sort about this year's programme. All I can say is that we shall see whether his diagnosis proves any more accurate this year. If it does, I look forward to a late June rising rather than anything later.
On this occasion last year I also spoke briefly about the procedural experiments which had recently been recommended by the Group on Sittings of the House. During the last Session, we pursued those recommendations. For example, we considered a Bill in a Committee of the Whole House off the Floor; we held an informal meeting on a Bill between Second Reading and Committee; and we committed a number of Bills to Special Public Bill Committees.
In due course, I have no doubt that the Procedure Committee will wish to consider how successful those experimental procedures have been. I would not wish to pre-empt its consideration, but, in the meantime, perhaps I may say that the general sense of the comments that I have received clearly suggests that the House would wish to continue and, perhaps, build upon those developments.
One particular refinement which suggests itself to me concerns our handling of Scottish legislation. I am sure that your Lordships will have watched with the keenest of interest the enhanced role of the Scottish Grand Committee in another place. Some of your Lordships will know by now how much the Children (Scotland) Bill of last Session benefited from the taking of evidence from interested parties in Scotland before its detailed consideration in either House.
If a Scottish Bill were to start in your Lordships' House in this Session it might, I suggest, conceivably benefit from similar attention. Therefore, I hope that it may be possible to discuss with the usual channels in the first instance whether it might be desirable and indeed practicable that, by way of experiment, a Scottish Bill might be committed to a committee with power to meet and take evidence in Scotland. I would be most interested, of course, in any more general reaction from noble Lords to that idea before we took it further.
18 It may also be for the convenience of the House if I conclude as usual by outlining the arrangements which have been made for the remaining days of the debate on the Address. Tomorrow, the debate will focus on foreign affairs, on overseas aid and on defence. My noble friend Lady Chalker of Wallasey will open the debate and my noble friend Lord Howe will wind up. On Monday next, the debate will continue with law and home and social affairs. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will open and my noble friend Lady Blatch will wind up. On Tuesday, my noble friend Lord Ferrers will open the debate on the environment, agriculture, local government and education and my noble friend Lord Henley will wind up. The final day of debate on Wednesday will concentrate on industry and economic affairs. My noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie will open the debate and I shall attempt to wind up.
I look forward to the debate and to the opportunity that it will provide for my noble friends to set out the Government's policies and to expose the approach of our opponents. Until then, I shall merely reiterate my thanks and my most respectful congratulations to the proposer and seconder of the Motion for a humble Address. I can only add that I have never seen a better advertisement for the desirability of foxhunting men to enter politics. I commend the Motion that the debate on the Address be adjourned.
On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.