HL Deb 14 May 1997 vol 580 cc9-24

The Queen's Speech reported by the LORD CHANCELLOR.

3.55 p.m.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

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 thank my noble friend the Leader of the House, who is an old friend and who cut his political teeth opposing Oswald Mosley in West London 40 years ago (on the streets and not in a television studio), for allowing me the privilege of proposing this Motion. I also thank the Chief Whip, who is an expert on agriculture, although born not a mile from here at the Elephant and Castle, where I now live. I deduced after a while that he did not get his expertise from where he was born.

Parliament has a charm all of its own —politics—although that was difficult to see at the time of the general election through the fog of over-simplification, fanned by the self-importance of the media. During the election campaign there were times when I thought that there might be a coup and journalists would actually take over the running of the country as well. But Parliament has charm. I have learnt that from people on all sides of the House and of all political parties.

One of them is my noble friend Lady Mallalieu, who is to second this Motion. I served in the other place with her father, "Sailor" Mallalieu, who was the MP for Huddersfield. There was also her uncle, the MP for Brigg and a Deputy Speaker, Lance Mallalieu, whom I believe was known as "Curly". I did not know her grandfather, who was the Liberal Member of Parliament for Colne Valley. But a tradition of service is a fine thing. My noble friend's family is in that tradition.

I twice listened carefully to the gracious Speech. I homed in quickly on the words about Northern Ireland. The aims regarding reconciliation and so forth are unexceptionable. But the situation will always be difficult because there are no easy answers. We do not govern Northern Ireland with normal consent. Events can blow us off course. They have done so before, over many years.

My father was a Welsh coalminer and a soldier at the time of the Easter Rising in Dublin. Whatever else, he knew it was not meant, but it changed the course of history. It was not in any manifesto. The Government deserve our support, as did previous governments. Any politician who plays with the subject of Northern Ireland for the sake of cheap popularity deserves nothing. That happened a little during the general election campaign. I was glad to note that the Cabinet Minister who strayed from the narrow was put down by someone or other. However, I leave that alone. He has enough troubles as it is.

I note the parades commission, which follows an idea from the previous Administration. I understand that the Emergency Provisions Act, which is Northern Ireland legislation, is to be reviewed. I recommend the White Paper of Lord Gardiner of 1975, as well as the recent one on terrorism of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick.

With all the problems of Northern Ireland, I learnt the value of devolution for efficiency and good government. Devolution is to be given to Scotland and Wales, and that will buttress the United Kingdom. I notice also that two young Conservative ex-Secretaries of State for Wales have other ambitions. It is obviously good training ground for future long-serving Leaders of the Opposition.

The idea of a mayor for London is interesting. We shall have wide-ranging discussions on that.

My abiding interest has always been education. Birth in a mining village in South Wales ensures that. Higher education matters. I am proud to be Chancellor of the University of Glamorgan, once a school of mines; there are no mines now. It was a polytechnic afterwards; it is a technological university serving the community now. We are not a pale imitation of All Souls trying to be what we are not.

For 30 years I represented an inner-city area of Leeds. Not many people bother about inner-city areas. But it is time that we did. I am glad that the gracious Speech homes in on that aspect; inner-cities are associated also with youth crime. Although in my village we collected university degrees almost like shelling peas, I am interested in inner-city education. It matters a great deal. I believe that it should be given priority over the assisted places scheme.

It is many years since I went to university. The talk then was about a national teaching council. At long last something will be done about that idea.

There is more that I wish to highlight. The legislation on handguns will be interesting. I understand that there will be a free vote. That will also be interesting. Then there is the freeing of capital receipts from the sale of corporation housing, which will be helpful in inner-city areas.

I come now to the role of the Bank of England. Early in my political life I played a not very knowledgeable part in the election of 1923, in the days of real elections on the streets, when one dressed up and sang songs that one made up. Mine went something like this: "Vote, vote, vote, for dear old Mardi; kick old Evans off the field, and I'll buy a penny gun"—and I am running out of words. That does not happen any more.

However, I remember reading about the First World War and the Bank. Mr. Winston Churchill was not very struck with being advised to go back on to the Gold Standard in 1924. In the 1930s there was Montagu Norman. But I note that the Bank is now given freedom as regards its operational role.

In that regard I cite the autobiography of my noble friend Lord Callaghan of Cardiff. Writing about the first day that he was in office as Chancellor, he says: Next morning"— I think that it would have been a Saturday; I was his PPS at the time— I was sitting at what had been Reggie Maudling's desk in the ground-floor study at 11 Downing Street. While I was reading the briefs which Treasury officials had prepared against the possibility of a Labour victory. he was in the upstairs flat with his wife, packing their belongings. On his way out, he put his head round the door, carrying a pile of suits over his arm. His comment was typical: `Sorry, old cock, to leave it in this shape. I suggested to Alec this morning that perhaps we should put up the bank rate but he thought that he ought to leave it all to you—. So much for politics! It may have been better had it been done earlier on the say-so of the Bank.

Finally, the main aims reflected in the gracious Speech are the reform of the welfare system and full employment—and about time. I judge European policy, too, by whether it creates full employment. I know that it is easy to say that that is no longer possible; that we live in a global economy. But people thought that it was impossible in the 1930s. It took a war to provide full employment. The situation is man-made; and man can do something about it.

We are a long way from Beveridge but I offer words from a debate which I may have quoted previously in this House or in another place. In the debate on employment policy on 21st June 1944, Mr. Ernest Bevin introduced a White Paper on employment policy. He rehearsed the learning processes of the inter-war years. He then said that, The Government welcome the fact that Parliament is—... irrespective of party, and with widespread agreement—at last facing this problem as a fundamental issue … uppermost in the minds of those who are defending the country … at home". He referred to a visit to Portsmouth just before D-Day with the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill. He went among the ranks of men who were going to die. They asked, "Ernie, when we have done this job for you, are we gong back to the dole?". Some clever nark in the Commons quipped, "For you?"; and he replied, yes, because they knew him personally and were members of his trade union.

We were determined to do something about it. All sides were determined to do something about it. I say this to the House. Until all sides are concerned about full employment nothing will be done. The subject is not worthy of narrow political partisanship. There is something very wrong with unemployment. It eats into the body politic. Something has to be done about it. Parliament has a role to play in the implementation of the Queen's Speech. We must work for the good of all, as clearly stated in the introduction.

I conclude with two questions. The Queen's Speech states that business will be programmed, to ensure more effective scrutiny of Bills and better use of the time of Members". A new Select Committee on Procedure will be set up. That is in another place. We are all right in this House, are we? We do not have to do anything. The other place has to pull its socks up. Are our socks all right? Perhaps we should do the same.

The House will have noted that there is no mention of reform of the Lords. I wonder why. We may have to wait for the dog that did not bark in the night. The response may be to await events. Reform will come, but how is up to us.

As regards the state visits received by Her Majesty, those she is about to make to Canada and Pakistan and the many internal visits. I am conscious that last week she visited Aberfan. It is the next village up from where I was born. My young cousin was a teacher in the school the morning of the great accident; she was late for school. The Queen bothered to go there. What the Queen does matters. She is like a beacon of light for the Royal Family. The visit mattered.

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 Merlyn-Rees.)

4.7 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, I beg to second my noble friend's Motion for an humble Address in reply to Her Majesty's most gracious Speech.

My noble friends the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip, both of whom I congratulate on their new roles, have done me a great honour in asking me to speak, and in so doing to follow my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees. I am confident that as he has spoken first this will be a happier occasion than the first one on which we spoke in tandem. The place was Colne Valley in the West Riding. The time was 1964 during the general election. The candidate had spoken and my role was to address the meeting and to keep going until the main speaker—the noble Lord as he now is—arrived to deliver the main message. In my youthful ignorance I did not know what the noble Lord looked like. With his customary reticence, modesty and lack of assumption, no fanfare announced his arrival. He did not stride boldly to the platform but slipped in and sat down

unnoticed at the back. I do not know exactly how long I spoke for that night. But the electors of Colne Valley must have thought it interminable. Eventually someone passed me a note. Yet when he eventually spoke, then, as now, the noble Lord delivered a speech of force, wit and plain common sense, and, extraordinarily, one without any trace whatever of irritation.

This occasion is, I think, one for looking back to the past as well as forward to the new Parliament. In 1945 after the great Labour victory, it was in this Chamber that the other place moved this Motion on the King's Speech. It was midsummer. The war in Europe had just ended. The sun, I understand, poured that afternoon through these windows, perhaps not then with the benefit of this kind of lighting, and illuminated the polished buttons of a recently demobbed soldier, a new MP, who moved that Address. On that afternoon there was an overwhelming feeling in the House both of relief and of hope. I was not yet born. But I know those things because my father, then a very new Labour MP, was present that day. In 1976 he had the honour of moving the humble Address in another place and he used those words to describe that occasion.

At long last there was a Labour Government in power, with an overwhelming majority, about to carry out proposals for which many of those present had been fighting and arguing for so long. Now, in 1997, here we are once again: the same hope, the same high expectations and throughout the nation, I think, the same kind of excitement.

This gracious Speech contains so many urgently needed measures that in the short time that I have it is necessary for me to be ruthlessly and personally selective about those which I find overwhelmingly exciting. As the mother of two school-age children, I know very well that if you do not manage to teach them in the early years the nuts and bolts, how to do the tables and how to read, then not merely is the rest of their education blighted but so are their future careers; and what a waste to the nation. I am quite sure that it is perfectly right to put that at the top of the agenda of any new government.

With a family of both young and old people, the proposals for the changes in the National Health Service are ones which I embrace with the greatest enthusiasm. Need, and not where you live, should surely dictate the speed and the quality of the care that you receive.

As a practising criminal lawyer, I am glad to see that reforms in the criminal law, particularly those to deal with young people, are high on the list. Too many of our citizens today do not enjoy the freedom to feel secure in their own homes or to go out, particularly at night, without fear. There is so much to be done in relation to crime and so much that I believe this Government will do.

Why should our citizens not be able to seek redress under the European Convention on Human Rights in their own country instead of having to take their cases to Europe? I am glad that that is about to change.

As a small farmer and someone who loves the countryside, I am particularly glad to see that there are moves towards setting up a food standards agency to try to set about restoring some of the consumer confidence whose absence has so badly damaged our agricultural industry. I am particularly glad that there is a resolution to seek further reform of the common agricultural policy, linking it with support for the rural economy and the environment. The countryside of the future in this country must be a living workplace for those who live there. or I am afraid it could become little more than an urban recreation ground.

But underlying all these proposals is one which I see as absolutely key. It is this Government's determination to restore the confidence of the nation in the integrity of our Parliament and our politicians. What is said in the gracious Speech about looking at the way in which our political parties are funded and the White Paper on the Freedom of Information Bill go to the heart of what I believe needs to be tackled. Parliament is changing. It needs to change. It is about time that it did.

I cannot let this opportunity go without saying a little about the increase in the number of women who are now Members. I hope that all noble Lords will agree with me that there should be many more women in this House too. That is not, of course, to say that there are not already here fine examples who are more than able, unaided, to stand up for themselves and for others in a male dominated House. Indeed, shortly after I came into this House that was brought home forcefully to me. As I was having tea in the Peers Dining Room, a senior and distinguished noble Baroness, whom I shall not identify, was bemoaning her advancing years. "All the men I have ever slept with", she said, "are now dead". In the silence that followed, a lone voice piped up from the end of a long table, "Hang on a minute! What about me?" The noble Baroness reached for her handbag. She took out her glasses. She put them on and for a full two or three minutes studied the speaker before announcing, "I thought you were dead". Let us hope that among the many new faces in another place there are others with her spirit.

Her Majesty began the gracious Speech by saying that her Government intended to govern for the benefit of the whole nation. Times of change are times of great hope and expectation, but for some they are also times of fear. Change is sometimes frightening. I hope that by the manner of their governing, this Government, despite their vast majority, understand those fears, address them and resolve them with both understanding and tolerance. We have been promised one nation. There is a massive task of regeneration ahead of us, in some ways every bit as daunting and as exciting as that faced in 1945. This Government by their actions and we in Parliament by our guidance have a major role to play in that. I hope that we shall get on with it, I hope that we will get it right and, above all, I hope that we shall not let the nation down.

I beg to second my noble friend's Motion for an humble Address in reply to Her Majesty's most gracious Speech.

4.12 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I beg to move that this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.

I have a number of agreeable duties to perform this afternoon. The first is to congratulate the Government on their overwhelming victory on 1st May. I hope for all our sakes, like the noble Baroness who has just sat down, that they will govern wisely, although I have to say, judging by some of the Bills announced in the gracious Speech, that that aspiration may turn out to be a triumph of hope over experience. Many of the aspirations are entirely unexceptionable but, equally, the means forecast for fulfilling them are perhaps a little more questionable.

Nevertheless, I recognise some of the measures and some of the policies as old friends from the last Government. They are old friends which we also espoused and I take some comfort from that. We indeed will take considerable pleasure in being able to support the Government in those measures with which we agree and on which we can support them.

So in congratulating the Government, I indeed wish them all a good supply both of wisdom and of judgment and, like the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, especially in fulfilling the aspiration in the second paragraph of the gracious Speech, the one which reads: My Government intend to govern for the benefit of the whole nation". In particular, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Richard. on his occupation of what I am absolutely convinced from experience is the finest room in the Palace and also on the most agreeable job by far available to any Government Minister. If your Lordships will allow me to say so, I shall miss that room—purely on a temporary basis.

I shall also miss the able and delightful officials in the Cabinet Office, where, like me, the noble Lord will, I suspect, spend at least half his time. Both here and in Whitehall he will be extraordinarily well served, and in those circumstances even drudgery, which government sometimes is, becomes most pleasurable. I also take some comfort, in the midst of my party's defeat, from the fact that the noble Lord knows this House well. He will, I am absolutely convinced, make an admirable Leader of the whole House. My noble friends and I will of course do whatever we can to support him when he is acting in that capacity.

I now turn to the proposer and seconder of the humble Address. The noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, needs absolutely no introduction from me to your Lordships nor indeed to anyone else. His distinguished career in government, notably as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and as Home Secretary, is well known. I am sure your Lordships will agree with me that he used his experience in those great offices of state and indeed in other fields to speak with great authority this afternoon. I hope the noble Lord will allow me to say however that I noticed that he gave a less than ringing endorsement to one aspect of the gracious Speech. I may have misinterpreted what he said although he is notable for the clarity of his delivery. I thought that perhaps he pulled his punches a little in his support of the Government's revised role for the Bank of England. If that is true, I hope that Mr. Mandelson does not notice that he was at least in that small respect a little "off message". Your Lordships will also know that he is listened to with considerable respect on all sides in your Lordships' House, whether in the Chamber or as a member of the Select Committee on the Civil Service. It will also be obvious that he is a member of that shadowy organisation—if I may take your Lordships into my confidence for a moment—that runs your Lordships' House.

I have always suspected that another place was run by the Scots; certainly the present Government are. This election is perhaps in that respect the ultimate example of a reverse takeover. However, I note with equal interest that now that they have taken over the poor old English, it is extraordinarily generous of them immediately to introduce a devolution Bill and go back off to Scotland again. By contrast, this House is, of course, run by the Welsh, as the noble Lord, Lord Parry—I do not think he is present today—reminds us so gently over lunch every St. David's Day. I say that with the greatest of respect to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor whom I also congratulate on his distinguished office. It is not generally known that I myself had to be vetted by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, the leader of the Welsh camarilla in this House—if I may put it that way—before being allowed to become Leader of your Lordships' House in my turn. I was able, luckily, to satisfy the noble Lord that I at least had some Welsh antecedents. I am told that he entered a nil obstat as a result. That tradition has, of course, been continued with our present Leader. It would have been curious indeed if he had not chosen to make the real position doubly clear by choosing at least one Welshman to propose or second the humble Address.

What is perhaps not so generally known about the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, is that I once had the opportunity to accompany him on an official visit to the south of France. I remember his company on that occasion with the greatest of pleasure. I think the whole House will remember with equal pleasure his contribution to our debate this afternoon, particularly—if I may enter a personal remark—his entirely apposite remarks about the media.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, also delighted us. She has the reputation already of being one of the most effective debaters in your Lordships' House. I was pleased to find that the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, was able to remind us, reviewing her case, that the hereditary principle is indeed alive and well on the Government Benches. I take further comfort from that. I ought therefore to pay a personal debt of gratitude to the noble Baroness because I entirely ascribe to her the fact that we have no House of Lords reform Bill in this Chamber; otherwise, one has to ask oneself what she is doing here at all. After all, her contribution this afternoon will not have surprised your Lordships. It was indeed a great advertisement for the status of women in your Lordships' House which I think is almost universally distinguished and appreciated. It is often thought that to be asked to second the humble Address is the prelude to preferment in your Lordships' House. I hope that in her case—if she will allow me to say so—that turns out to be

so and that her courage both in the hunting field and in supporting her sport in the field of politics will not prove an impediment to that advancement.

I turn briefly to the contents of the gracious Speech. We will, I hope, have ample opportunity to debate the measures and the policies set out. I hope the noble Lord the Leader of the House will be able to advise us this afternoon which Bills will be introduced into your Lordships' House. I hope too that he will ensure—just as he used to advocate to me—that the minimum intervals will be observed and that the Government will not be seduced by their vast majority in another place into ignoring or trampling the rights of Parliament. I have to confess that the announcement of the change in the role of the Bank of England does not augur well in that respect, as clearly it was not thought sensible to make the announcement to Parliament. It appears that the media was the new parliament. I often think that in 200 years' time a new ceremonial will be the extraordinarily important Royal progress across the green outside your Lordships' House in which due obeisance will be made to the power of the media. The speech will be read outside and this Chamber will be confined to Stonehenge or an equivalent monument.

I hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will also be able to follow his own advice in another matter; namely, that the Government will always act promptly, as we did, to accept the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. I know that the noble Lord has many utterances on that subject on the record, as indeed do a number of his noble friends.

I shall also be interested to see whether the noble Lord approves, when in government, of ignoring non-fatal government defeats in this House, should the House choose to inflict them. For our part we shall treat every Bill on its merits. I hear that there is a school of thought in certain new Labour circles which suggests that the prospect of House of Lords reform should be used as a sword of Damocles to railroad legislation through this House—a sort of guarantee of good behaviour, if I may put it that way. I have to confess that I am not at all impressed by that argument or indeed that threat. Within the confines of convention we shall endeavour to act as a constructive but vigorous Opposition. We shall play our part in helping this House to fulfil its obligations as a second Chamber, to scrutinise and improve legislation and, when—and only when—judgment dictates, to ask another place to think again. I hope I may once again congratulate the mover and seconder of the humble Address and indeed the noble Lord on his appointment as Leader of the House. I look forward with keen anticipation to the battles to come.

Moved, That this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.—(Viscount Cranborne.)

4.28 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead:

My Lords, it is a pleasure to me at any rate to see the House as it were through the looking glass. Among my predecessors as a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, the only one who also had the opportunity to see his erstwhile colleagues from across the Floor of a House of Parliament was Philip Snowden. He somewhat ungraciously poured out bile and said that it was to him a devastating revelation to do so. I am bound to say that I feel exactly the reverse. I am glad that I have remained in this place long enough to see the House turned round. I am happy to gaze at the beaming faces—mostly beaming, at any rate—of the Labour Party opposite and in office.

I say that in no spirit of Utopian confidence—I am sure that the Government will make many mistakes and no doubt there will be much to criticise in their performance—or of vindictiveness towards the noble Viscount and his colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench. As I hope he realises, when the noble Viscount was Leader of the House, I greatly enjoyed debating with him.

I also warmly congratulate the mover and the seconder of the Motion. The noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, followed me after my second term as Home Secretary in 1976. Whether he regarded that as a good inheritance—buying at the bottom of the market—or not I am not sure. I know that, when he became convinced that there had been some serious miscarriages of justice among Irish cases around that time, he became a fearless fighter for truth and justice in the committee which Cardinal—now Archbishop--Hume set up.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalicu, was also extremely eloquent. She recalled a day in 1945 in this Chamber—the Chamber in which I made my maiden speech three years later as a Member of the House of Commons. She introduced a little—what is the right word?—bathetic fallacy with the sun shining through, glinting on the buttons of, I think it must have been, Mr. John Freeman, who announced, Today is D-Day in the battle of the new Britain". I am not sure that either the mover or the seconder used quite such a grandiloquent phrase as that today, but the noble Baroness struck a chord of memory. I too, like the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, knew her father and her uncle in the House of Commons. Arguably, I knew them slightly better than did the noble Lord; it was in fact her father, not her uncle, who was called "Curly". However, that is not of great importance.

I was delighted that she was chosen for this task today because she is not, as the noble Viscount hinted at, entirely "on message"—to use the fashionable phrase—on all issues. I do not share her enthusiasm for the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable. However, although she may not entirely like the way in which I put it, I do share her view that, if the unspeakable wish to pursue the uneatable, they should not be prevented from doing so—by law, at any rate. We should enforce more effectively the existing laws rather than create new criminal offences.

The same thought in relation to the gracious Speech makes me less than enthusiastic about yet another criminal justice Bill—for such it will be—and its child-curfew provisions. If criminal justice Bills could have solved the crime problem, Mr Michael Howard would be more universally acclaimed today than he appears to be by some of his colleagues.

However, in general I congratulate the new Government on a very good start. The election result undoubtedly released a pent-up spirit of desire for a change. The Labour Party received 44.5 per cent. of the vote, yet one has met very few people in the last 12 days—many of them well outside that 44.5 per cent. and outside, too, the Liberal Democrat 17 per cent.—who are not somewhat exhilarated by the prospect of a new beginning rather than yet another instalment of that band of happy brothers with which the Conservative Party is currently entertaining us.

In my view, the new Government have, on the whole, ridden the wind of desire for a change with panache and even with grace. They had already, before today, begun to implement a programme of change. That change, in my view, is none the worse for the fact that it has to a remarkable extent followed a Liberal Democrat rather than a Labour programme.

Independence of the Bank of England: not only was that not in the Labour Party manifesto—although I do not complain about that because I do not believe in excessive "manifesto-itis"—but I have often heard my noble friend Lord Ezra advocate it from these Benches. Regulation of the funding of political parties: I have myself moved two Motions in your Lordships' House from these Benches in the last 18 months alone.

Reform of Prime Minister's Question Time: we made a party political broadcast around the Punch-and-Judy nature of the twice-weekly festivity. In my view, if that reform was to be undertaken, it had to be undertaken quickly before the Session got under way, before one side was up and the other side was down, because that is never the time to act. I am sorry that Mr. Major, who is himself in favour of some change, should have given such a knee-jerk reaction. I strongly support that change, in the interests both of the other place not further degrading itself, for such it has certainly done by Prime Minister's Question Time, and of Prime Ministers, to whatever party they may belong, not being distracted, even obsessed, on two of the most important days of the political week by thinking not about the future of the country or of the world but about how they are going to handle the cock fight in the afternoon.

However, some of the great innovations presented are not in fact innovations. In the second Wilson Government, as the noble Lord, Lord Prentice, pointed out in a short letter in the Daily Telegraph, we started. on the initiative of the Prime Minister, to call each other by our Christian names, though it was not announced to the press. In the first Wilson Government we used our elaborate titles, but I am bound to say that, when we began to use Christian names, on the whole we got on much worse than when we were more formal. That may or may not have been a direct result of what was then done.

Since I have to address noble Lords again tomorrow—though I promise I shall not worry you too much after that—I shall now stop. I hope I have indicated the attitude of those on these Benches of general good will towards the new Government, of selective support, accompanied by a willingness to criticise and to oppose when necessary but never for the sake of opposition.

4.38 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, this is the first time that I have had the opportunity of addressing your Lordships' House from these Benches. I am sure that noble Lords will recognise that it is for me, as for many other noble Lords, an unaccustomed view of the geography of your Lordships' House. I cannot help but observe that it is the first time that I have seen the Liberal Democrat Party en masse from the front. It is a fairly awesome sight, too, if I may say so. I was delighted to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, said. If it is a Liberal Democrat agenda that we are putting into practice, no doubt we shall receive Liberal Democrat support, and I look forward to that in the lobbies of this House.

It is a great personal pleasure for me to find myself in the position occupied by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, in October of last year; namely, that of being able to agree with the Leader of the Opposition that the debate be adjourned until tomorrow. I hope that the noble Viscount and I shall often find ourselves in the future in such perfect and harmonious accord as we are on the Motion this afternoon. We may not have always agreed in the past, and I suspect that we may not always agree in the future. However, perhaps I may thank the noble Viscount publicly for the courtesy and consideration that he showed to me when he occupied this position on this side of the House and I occupied the one in which he now finds himself. I am grateful to him.

It is also a great pleasure to be able to join the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, in their congratulations to my noble friends Lord Merlyn-Rees and Lady Mallalieu. I believe that they have both done us proud this afternoon. They have certainly entertained the House and instructed us in the manner to which your Lordships are accustomed. My noble friends both avoided some of the more extravagant and decorative customs that we have seen in the past on such occasions. I saw the noble Lord, Lord Denham, in his place earlier but I do not believe he is here at present.

Noble Lords:


Lord Richard

I beg your Lordships' pardon. I see that the noble Lord is indeed present in the Chamber. However, he is dressed in grey and therefore seems to fade into the background. I cannot help recalling the occasion when he stood up to speak dressed in a resplendent scarlet Sergeant's uniform. Indeed. it is one of the sights of this House that I long remember. Many noble Lords may also remember that, on the last occasion when the roles of government and opposition were reversed, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, intervened from what were then the Liberal Benches alone. He inquired in that puckish spirit of conciliation that we have come to respect and receive from him whether it was in order and in the best interests of safety

for swords to be worn in your Lordships' Chamber. In these more modern times, I believe that the only rapiers to be found are those of wit and argument. I fear that I shall suffer from both of them in abundance over the coming months.

I turn now to my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees. I can only echo the words of congratulation expressed by others. However, today is truly a great day, not least for my party. I believe that the House has been well served by my noble friend. He is a man of great parliamentary experience. He was a Member of the other place for almost 30 years before joining your Lordships' House. My noble friend is also a man of very considerable experience of government, having served in a number of ministerial offices "doing time"—if that is not a wholly inappropriate phrase—as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and later as Home Secretary in the Government of my noble friend Lord Callaghan, whom I am delighted to see in his place this afternoon. We have had to wait 18 long years for another Labour Prime Minister and I am delighted that my noble friend is here to see it.

My own friendship with my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees, goes back many years. The first time that we met was in the late 1950s when he was fighting a by-election in Harrow East. The first sight that I ever had of my noble friend was at a large meeting of the Labour Party when he was complaining bitterly that the Daily Herald was supporting A. P. Herbert, who was thinking of standing in that by-election, rather than supporting my noble friend. It did not really matter in the end because A. P. Herbert did not stand and my noble friend was not elected. I also recall that we both attended and spoke at the memorable—if only because of its awfulness—Labour Party conference of 1959, just after we had lost the election of that year. For years a devotee of his adopted City of Leeds, in particular Hunslet, my noble friend, as the noble Viscount pointed out, nevertheless remains a Welshman who is conscious of and true to his roots in the Glamorgan valleys. In this day and age when Scotland seems to be providing so many of our government Ministers, it is perhaps refreshing to have the balance so successfully redressed.

However, lest it be thought that I was being somewhat unaccommodating and unkind to the Conservative Party, I should point out that my noble friend Lady Mallalieu today represents the one part of the United Kingdom which still has some Conservative representation; namely, England. As one would expect, my noble friend performed admirably. She has been active on both the Front and Back-Benches of this House and combines that activity very ably with her work at the Bar. I remember once arriving in court with my noble friend at the beginning of what promised to be a long trial at the Old Bailey. She came into court, set her brief down and smiled at the judge. The judge smiled back at her and promptly discharged her clients. The rest of us sat there in court for two months, at the end of which all the other defendants went to prison for a very long time.

However, one should never be deceived by my noble friend's gentle exterior. I believe that beneath it there beats a hunter's heart, although I must say that I am most grateful to her today because she made a speech which made no mention of field sports. We have on many occasions benefited from my noble friend's wisdom as regards legal affairs. I am sure that the whole House will join me when I say that I am looking forward to hearing many further contributions from my noble friend.

Before I return to the gracious Speech, perhaps I may reflect a little on a significant date which occurred while we were away from the House. I do not actually refer to 1st May but rather to 15th April. I am told that the latter was the 150th anniversary of the occupation of this Chamber after the Great Fire. Whatever view one holds on the House of Lords as an institution. I am sure that we can all agree that we are privileged to serve in such a fine historical workplace as the Chamber of your Lordships' House. I should like to use this opportunity to pay a public tribute to all those craftsmen and workmen who have laboured so hard over many years to ensure that this place retains its historic dignity and grandeur. while functioning as part of a working Parliament.

I shall not detain your Lordships for very long today on the contents of the gracious Speech. I fear that the House will have to suffer a further and perhaps longer speech from me tomorrow at the start of our substantive debate. It seemed to me to be sensible for me to open the debate on the Queen's Speech rather than merely conclude it at the end of the fourth day, especially as we have both a new Parliament and a new Government.

I believe it is fairly obvious now that Her Majesty's Government have a heavy programme. It is clearly designed to fulfil the pledges and promises that our party made and for which we were elected to government less than two weeks ago. The Session will last until the autumn of 1998 and, during that time, your Lordships will have to consider some major pieces of legislation. At this point it is customary for the Leader of the House to indicate which of the measures will start in your Lordships' House. However, as was the case when the late Lord Soames addressed the House in parallel circumstances in 1979, I hope that the House will allow me the indulgence of not making any very detailed comments today on the timetable for the Session which lies ahead.

Nevertheless, I can identify one measure which will be introduced in your Lordships' House tomorrow; namely, a Bill concerned with the private financing of hospitals. In the spirit of co-operation which has always been so evident in your Lordships' House, and to which this Government are totally committed, I am sure that that particular measure will find support on all sides of the House especially as we inherited the draft Bill from the last Government.

In addition, your Lordships will be asked to deal with a number of other legislative proposals before the Summer Recess, not the least of which is a Bill to provide for referenda on devolution in Scotland and Wales and a Bill to abolish the assisted places scheme in schools.

I fear that that is all I can say about the timing of the legislative programme for the moment. However, perhaps I may assure the House that, given the position

that I now occupy,I consider it one of my highest priorities within the Government to ensure that sufficient measures are introduced in this House in good time to guarantee a balanced flow of legislation throughout the parliamentary Session. Although I indicated that there will be business to complete before the Summer Recess, I am sure that it will not come as any surprise to your Lordships if I say that I expect this House to be busier towards the end of the Session next year than we are likely to be now at the beginning.

I should add at this point that steps are of course being taken to secure debates early in the Session on a number of reports from your Lordships' Select Committees which have been carried over from the last Parliament. There will also be the usual opportunities for party and Back-Bench debates on Wednesdays during the Session.

I began my speech by expressing the hope that the House will soon grow accustomed to looking at itself from another perspective. It is not only the Chamber that will have to be looked at from another perspective: it is the politics of the United Kingdom which also requires to be looked at from a totally different perspective.

My reflections on our seating arrangements should not be taken as comfort for those noble Lords who are here through accident of birth. They should not read too much into the absence of any reference in the gracious Speech to the subject of reform of your Lordships' House. A commitment to end the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House was in my party's manifesto and it remains a firm commitment of Her Majesty's Government. I am sure that the House will allow me to recall—I believe that I caught an echo of this in the speech of the noble Viscount—that it is your Lordships' normal general practice to allow Her Majesty's Government to secure their business. I repeat my own conviction that the House will continue to behave in accordance with its conventions and best traditions. I am sure that it will.

I conclude by assuring the House that I am very conscious of the particular, and in some ways the peculiar, position of Leader of your Lordships' House. It is a great honour which I accept with humility.I recognise that I have responsibility for the House as a whole and not merely as my party's leader in this branch of the legislature. It is indicative of the way in which this House works that a member of the Government has a special duty to act on behalf of all your Lordships and to protect our joint interests during the course of our debates. I assure the House that I shall do my utmost to ensure that I carry out the duties of this position with at least some of the objectivity, charm and firm courtesy exhibited by my distinguished predecessors. In the many debates to come I hope that the whole House will feel able to do as I at least aim to do, which is to try to follow the fine examples set for us today by the noble Lord, the mover of the humble Address and by the noble Lady who seconded the Motion.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.