HL Deb 24 November 1998 vol 595 cc6-20

The Queen's Speech reported by the LORD CHANCELLOR.

3.50 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I beg to move, That a 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. Perhaps I may, at the outset, express my great appreciation to my noble friends the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip for conferring on me this very great privilege. It is of course a daunting task and it has taken a little time to think about what I shall say. Even now I am not entirely sure. I spent several years on the Benches opposite with my noble friends and then almost 14 rewarding months in this Government. It was a nice change. I served, too, in the government of my noble friend's father whom I am delighted to see here today. Many recall with pleasure the unique situation when my noble friend Lord Callaghan, with justifiable pride, introduced his daughter to this House, little imagining, I suppose, at that time that it would not be so long afterwards that she would become the Leader of the House. In the four months since becoming Leader she has swiftly won the admiration and confidence not only of this side of the House but much more widely. In the extraordinarily difficult period since the Recess she has demonstrated ability and resolve of the highest order, qualities on which she will most certainly need to call repeatedly, I dare say, as we undertake the bold legislative programme contained in the gracious Speech.

As for my noble friend Lord Carter, he, too, with his customary sense of humour—and he certainly needs that—has performed miracles. It is indeed something of a miracle for this side to avoid defeat in a House where we are so heavily outnumbered. It is, I suppose, his farming background that enables him to deploy with such consummate skill his knowledge of shepherding flocks and therefore the task does not come too hard for him. I am sure that there will be more miracles on the way.

Facing the desperate situation of having to make this speech, one has sometimes to resort to desperate measures. I even consulted precedent to discover what other people had said. That is pretty desperate. But then I thought: what about the Yellow Pages? I consulted Yellow Pages. According to BT. advertisements, it is supposed to answer everyone's prayers. But, alas, nothing under Queen's Speech or humble Address! The only humble address was mine: 22 Bracknell Gate, Hampstead, NW3. Then, eureka, I thought I had found something. However, "Speech & drama teachers"— proved no use. "Speakers agents" or "Speech & language therapists". But then I found it, my Lords; a company called "Speeches for all Occasions Limited". Telephoning expectantly, I was met with the following immensely helpful and, in these days, customary voice message: "If you need a speech for a wedding, press one; if you need an encomium for a burial, press two; if you wish to make a more general inquiry, press three; if you wish to access further information after each option, press the star button at any time." None of it worked. No joy. I gave up. I am reinforced, however, by the knowledge that my noble friend Lady Scotland, who is to second the Motion, will have relied far more on her own very skilled resources and will have enjoyed greater success.

I am delighted that my noble friend has been chosen. She is eminently well qualified. Although still very young, at least by my standards, she has been a distinguished Silk, and only recently completed a most complicated inquiry, "The Luke Warm Luke" mental health inquiry, which she conducted with the utmost sensitivity. It addressed major concerns, leading to the ministerial conclusion that care in the community had failed. As a result—this is a notable achievement for her and her colleagues—there is to be a major review of the Mental Health Act. That, indeed, is very rewarding as far as concerns her hard work.

I turn now to the background to the gracious Speech itself. As they promised in their first days, this Government have concentrated on modernising our country—its institutions, its economy, its welfare state and its health and education services, which are so vital to our people. It has been an unprecedentedly demanding task. But the Government have laid down impressive foundations for further advance in this and future parliamentary Sessions. So much that had needed to be done had not been dealt with. Of course, so much will still need to be done at the end of this Session. But the themes established in those first days will remain the principal themes of the new Session.

In this Session, we will see the first Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. And clearly the next stage in institutional reform of significance to this House will be the first instalment of its reform. I beg of the House not to be too introspective about this. There are issues which demand very great attention beyond the affairs of this House, though it is of course important in terms of how we are to accomplish a greater measure of democracy in this country. Our manifesto commitment, endorsed overwhelmingly by the electorate, was clear. It was to make Parliament more democratic. In my submission, it is idle to insist that no reform should take place until the plans for the final edifice are in place. That would be a prescription for massive delay. Who knows, some of your Lordships may even want that delay. But I do not believe that it would be in the best interests of our country. Nor would it be the fulfilment of a very clear manifesto pledge.

What the Government propose is a staged approach—a new system for appointing life Peers and then a Royal Commission to examine further reform. That is an eminently sensible way ahead and one can only hope that the threats of which we read in the press of applying a scorched earth policy to the Government's legislative programme will be discarded. That would reduce real democracy to rubble. The fact is that this House, even unreformed, continues to have a clear role. But it is surely not a role to go on defying the will of the elected majority.

This Queen's Speech plainly signifies what is really at stake. My noble friend Lady Scotland will concentrate on educational, health, welfare and legal aid issues and reform of the youth courts—all vital elements of our substantial programme of reform and modernisation and all long overdue.

I wish to touch on other aspects of the Speech concerning domestic and foreign affairs. This Government, as it says in the Queen's Speech, have reduced borrowing in a very short period of time—barely 18 months—by no less than £20 billion despite a deepening world recession. We provided greater job opportunities, especially for the young, and the Government will continue to buttress Britain's economy in the best way possible by ensuring that the talents and abilities of our people, too often in the past allowed to lie dormant, will be effectively harnessed so that our nation becomes more competitive; and that we promote partnership as a part of that increasing competitiveness in the workplace. That is a priority for us. Fairness at work, including recognition of trade unions on the basis set out in our manifesto, is part and parcel of that operation, as indeed is the improvement of relations between business and the trade unions.

Last Session we made a significant start to the whole process. We rectified initially the unjustifiable denial of civil liberties at GCHQ. We passed legislation introducing a national minimum wage. I am glad to say that I played some part in that. We shall continue in our quest for a better balance of rights and responsibilities in the workplace. I earnestly hope that following the consultation on which the Government are to embark on the impact of employee stakeholding we shall witness a British version of what has been achieved with marked success in the heartland of capitalism—the United States. Through employee stakeholding they have enjoyed improved productivity. They have seen a far greater involvement of the workforce in their enterprises, and they have seen, too, the improved performance of their companies so far as concerns their shareholders. Those are important gains. They can be reflected in the economy of this country too.

As regards institutional changes, beyond this House, we shall be establishing a new greater London authority, different from the old Greater London Council, which in my submission was capriciously and irresponsibly abolished as a result of a demonstration of political pique by a previous government. The people of London have made it unmistakably clear that they do not wish to be the only major capital city in the world without its own elected local government. They want a directly elected mayor, an elected assembly with sufficient powers, especially concerning transport, to bring London into the millennium as a properly governed capital city of which Londoners and the nation as a whole can be proud. At the same time, as is stated in the gracious Speech, rural Britain must be helped and the Regional Development Corporation will have a crucial role in that regard.

Our people are entitled to be better informed about decisions that affect their daily lives. They are concerned about the opinions of too many experts regarding the people's environment, the people's safety. Too often their confidence in those experts has been eroded by what they perceive to be a somewhat condescending approach—rather like the old-fashioned general medical practitioner who would come into the home, pat the patient on the head, and say, "Leave it all to me. It will be all right". That will not do today. People demand to know more. They have been misled. When I was Commissioner for the Environment in Europe, I am afraid that people were not told the truth about the effects of acid rain. They were not told the truth by their governments about pollution. And although we tried very hard to impart the information to them, the experts often got in the way to disguise the real truth of the matter.

We are to have a draft freedom of information Bill. I think that that is the right way to proceed. We shall have full debate on the basis of precise proposals. We have waited years for the Bill, and consequently one Session's further delay—if that indeed is what is at stake; it may not be—would not, in my view, seem to be fatal to the whole project.

Similarly, the White Paper on a food standards agency will lead to early action to establish that agency; and that can only be in the interests of consumers.

Another major Bill touching on civil liberties will be introduced dealing with asylum and immigration. I declare my interest as a former chairman of the Refugee Council. These measures are again long overdue. This Government have inherited a flawed system involving unconscionable delays and a flagrant denial of basic rights to far too many genuine asylum-seekers. They suffered for too long. Reform is essential, while recognising that those who are not genuine gravely imperil the rights of those who are. It is high time, too—I hope that it will be embraced in the action we take—to expose those so-called advisers who, through their cupidity, ruthlessly exploit those unfortunate and vulnerable people. They should be exposed for what they are.

I turn now to matters affecting international trade, the European Union and foreign affairs. This Government believe in the rule of law in international trade and, as the Speech makes clear, this must be accompanied by reform of the international financial institutions. It is critical to sustainable development and I believe that this Government are entitled to be congratulated on their role at the Buenos Aires conference on the environment in producing agreements when just hours before people were predicting disaster.

I spent 14 months as Minister for Trade. It was a greatly rewarding experience. I visited a large number of countries and I wish to pay tribute to the co-operation of our business community. That was always forthcoming and it was essential. One of my grandchildren, then aged six, was watching television just after the election. Her mum asked who she was watching. "Tony Blair", she replied. Very good. "And who's he?" She replied, "He's king of the Government". Very good. "Do you know anyone else in the Government?" she was asked. "Oh, yes, grandpa", she replied. "And what is he?" She replied, "He's lord of the universe". That was an unequivocal and true reply!

Especially in time of economic difficulty, we must work for the success of the World Trade Organisation, and its dispute resolution processes. But we must constantly re-examine to make sure that they answer the needs of all people throughout the globe.

The EU faces its greatest challenges as it moves inexorably towards European monetary union. The Government are right to do what they can to facilitate its success. In or out, Britain will be affected; and it is interesting at this stage to observe that public opinion, and commercial opinion in particular, are coming round to welcoming the idea.

The other challenge is enlargement. It will be immensely difficult. It is essential that those countries, burgeoning democracies, which have recently thrown off the thraldom of totalitarianism, who want to be in the European Union, must accept the acquis communautaire, the laws and practices of the European Union. But I hope that, notwithstanding the fact that the negotiations will be long and difficult, they will be in the end successful. A condition precedent for that success is reform of the agricultural policy.

Britain has become a much more positive and influential member of the European Union. Gone are the days when, as the President of the NFU said yesterday, threats and insults were preferred to persuasion and information. Yesterday was the answer to that with the successful negotiation on BSE. I think that the House will wish to congratulate my right honourable friend, Nick Brown, and his predecessor, Jack Cunningham, on the successful and adroit way in which they conducted those negotiations.

We continue to face many difficult situations. I refer to Ireland, where we can only pray that the successful negotiations so far will be brought to a final fruition. I refer also to Iraq, a situation still full of uncertainty. But here at home we have before us a demanding, relevant and significant series of legislative proposals. This Session of Parliament will clearly be eventful.

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty.

Moved, That a 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 Clinton-Davis.)

4.10 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I beg to second my noble friend's Motion for an humble Address.

First, I should say that today, I too am in need of my prop. It is a great honour to have been invited by my noble friends the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip to second this Motion and to follow my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. I must confess to your Lordships now that it is an honour which fills me with some trepidation.

It was bestowed in such dulcet tones by my noble friends the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip and with such sweet, winning smiles that I scarcely appreciated the enormity of what I had been asked to undertake. I have since come to appreciate more fully why both my noble friends are rightly considered such models of their office and worthy of emulation. I congratulate them both on their advocacy and I defy any Member of this House to deny them once they have set their minds to persuade.

When making my maiden speech last Tuesday, I comforted myself that for once, I was neither the youngest nor the first Caribbean nor the first woman to fulfil my task. I revelled in my relative normality. I had broken with precedent and laid to rest my family's fear that I would forever be to the fore. Well, my Lords, a week is a long time in Parliament.

However, so tenacious was my desire to savour those brief moments within the outer fringes of the norm that I began to wonder whether my noble friends the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip had made a mistake. After all, when my noble friend Lady Kennedy QC and I took silk in 1991 it was said among our friends that the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern—whom I see secreted at the back—had appointed her because he knew she was a Scot and me because he believed I was a Scot. Could not the same have happened again? Lynda Clark QC, a notable and veritable Scot, is to second the Motion for a humble Address in reply to Her Majesty's most gracious Speech in the other place. Could there not be some confusion? A glint in the Chief Whip's eye tells me that there is no escape on those grounds.

I am, regrettably, no longer fleet of foot and thus thoughts of a quick 400 metre dash of the type which peppered my youth have melted away. A raging temperature, the flu and an almost total loss of voice have in the last few days replaced any such thoughts. Unkind rumours of psychosomatic illnesses abound. Where is Scotland the Brave, I hear them say, or has a poor timorous wee beastie replaced her? At last ringing in my ears came the advice given to me as a pupil by my then senior, much revered, and gender-blind clerk, "Well, Sir, you have to remember that there is only one reason which can justify your non-attendance at court and that is that you died the night before, and then, Sir, I will be checking the coffin to make sure they've got the right one".

Conscious that I have no such legitimate excuse, I invite your Lordships' indulgence in helping me to discharge this most honourable task. I have listened with awe and gratitude to the erudite exposition of the issues by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. He is an able and gifted practitioner with a long and distinguished record of public service, first as a Hackney councillor, then as mayor, a European Commissioner and Minister of State at the Department of Trade and Industry. His kindness and warmth is well known in this House and I am privileged to follow him and intend to tuck safely between his experienced wings. I had hoped that he might have thought it right to extend his kindness a little further and provide a poor hard-pressed, ailing member of the Bar with a brief fit for delivery. But things have changed and solicitors are now doing it for themselves. I am left briefless but not without instructions. Last night I received from my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis an instruction in the following form: Counsel is asked to attend the House at 3.30 p.m. and address the issues outlined orally by those instructing her. Counsel will refrain from coughing, sneezing or otherwise infecting those instructing her as the same are desirous of enjoying a much deserved sojourn in ‖. The remainder is illegible.

In truth, I accept my instructions with great pride and am conscious of the singular honour which has been paid me. During the last year I have watched as the great modernising thrust of the legislation generated by this Government has forged ahead, touching virtually every sphere of the lives of the people of this country. I have sat at times spellbound as logic and reason have tussled with feeling, sentiment and heart as the issues fundamental to good governance have been debated; observing Members of this House locked in debate, intent on fashioning a seamless garment fit to clothe the nation. It has been a fascinating and rewarding sight and one which I have relished and at times filled me with great pride.

In Her Majesty's most gracious Speech, we have been provided with meat fit for your Lordships' table, and, although the reformation of your Lordships' House will be part of the challenge with which your Lordships will have to grapple in the coming months, it is by no means the centrepiece of the work entrusted to us. We have come a long way since the start of this Administration and the milestones along the path to modernisation have not been easy to achieve. At its core has been the belief that it is possible to create a better life for the majority, without sacrificing the needs of the minority, be they disadvantaged or advantaged, and that it is possible to create a multifaceted, multi-cultural partnership for change. enabling all our people to take advantage of the new opportunities that are available as we welcome the next millennium.

We are a wealthy nation and if the modernisation of our financial institutions continues to be a success we will grow in wealth. But our main wealth lies not in our financial worth but in the richness and variety of our people. Exploiting that richness, taking advantage of the skills which are brought to us from the four corners of the globe by peoples who are entitled and proud to count themselves as British, is part of the challenge. Making sure that each individual has the opportunity and support necessary to enable him or her to achieve his or her full potential and crafting a system of modern provision capable of delivering a just and equitable response to perceived need constitute the purpose which drives much of the proposed legislation.

I rejoice in the holistic approach adopted towards health, education, and the provision of care and assistance. This has been evidenced in part by the new proposed single gateway benefit system, or the one-stop-shop, which should do so much to lighten the burden placed upon those who struggle to understand the level of their entitlement to benefit. The changes proposed in the form of working families tax credit, the disabled persons tax credit and the introduction of the disability rights commission are welcome. The recognition of the pressing need to raise standards and enhance the esteem in which the teaching profession should rightly be held so as to equip our young people to meet the challenge presented to them by the new realities of their world is welcome also. I confess that as a mother of two young boys aged four and six currently wending their way through the school stage system I have a vested interest in seeking to ensure that our educational provision is the very best that can be devised and an acute wish for these proposals to breed success.

The modernisation of the National Health Service must play its part and I hope that the theme of partnership which echoes throughout the proposed legislative changes will find its voice here too, so that we may see those who provide education, health, housing and social services working in partnership to provide a full spectrum of care for our children and their families, each becoming part of the continuum of care into which people will be entitled to dip at times of need.

Children need our particular attention. In my 21 years at the family Bar 1 have seen many changes to the way in which the problems of youth are addressed. I await with keen interest the proposals which are being made to modernise youth courts and the legal aid system. Practitioners are currently doing valiant work in the field and I am confident that such reform will excite the informed interest of all whose practice touches the lives of children or who undertake legal aid work.

There is much for us to do. I hope that the spirit of unity and accord that was so evident in my early months in your Lordships' House will sustain us so as to enable each of us to discharge our duty, with the interest of the diverse people of this nation, whom we serve, foremost in our hearts and minds.

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

4.25 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne

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

The coming Session is likely to prove even more controversial than the last, particularly, I fear, in your Lordships' House. It therefore gives me more than usual pleasure to begin my brief remarks on a note of enthusiastic harmony by congratulating the mover and seconder of the loyal Address. Their task, for obvious reasons, was perhaps more than usually difficult this year and I am sure that your Lordships will agree that they acquitted themselves nobly.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, is well known as a seamless exponent of the art of oratory from the Dispatch Box in both Houses. It is perhaps alarming to members of my party that his skill from the Back-Benches is at least as great as it was then, for your Lordships will know that in this House the discipline of the Whips is far less inhibiting than in another place. I have no doubt that the noble Lord will take full advantage of that freedom to exercise his silken skills— occasionally perhaps on the Government—but I fear far more frequently on the Opposition.

Those skills were honed during the course of what has so far—I emphasise "so far"—been a long and distinguished career in many fields in public life. I believe I am right in saying that he is an academic and a solicitor. He was a Member of the other place, has served as a Minister in both Houses, and also served in local government in London—a task which some of us feel is even more demanding than a career at Westminster. Also, he spent four years as a member of the European Commission, as he reminded us. His personal interests are wide, including, I understand, a passion for the game of golf. I know that he is a courageous player for one specific reason. My noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie confessed last year to your Lordships that he had played against the noble Lord, and anyone who takes on my noble and learned friend at anything commands my admiration for their courage.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, is a relative newcomer to your Lordships' House, as she made clear. Your Lordships will be aware that she was preceded here by her reputation not only for charm, but also for intellectual brilliance. 1 say in a spirit of abject admiration and in no remotely patronising sense that she more than amply justified that reputation today. The noble Baroness is a barrister of great distinction who is an ornament to this House, adding to our gravitas. She has a wide range of interests, particularly in the areas of the mentally disordered and child abduction, which feature among some of the subjects of most constant concern in your Lordships' House.

The task of seconding the loyal Address is often given to a Peer marked for preferment. I hope that the noble Baroness will not be offended or will consider that I risk blighting her prospects when I say that part of me hopes that she will shortly be addressing us from the Dispatch Box; the other part of me views that prospect with deep trepidation. The noble Baroness spoke, as your Lordships will acknowledge, with enormous charm and wit. Unusually for her, she may not have been either the youngest or the first, but as someone who springs from a hereditary peerage I can say with absolute authority of intermittent attendance of these occasions since my earliest years that she was certainly one of the very best.

Noble Lords

Hear, Hear!

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.

However, I know that the House will realise that, for some of us, today was an emotional occasion tinged with great sadness, hearing as we did the news of the Government's expected intention to abolish the right of hereditary Peers to sit in this House. For some, it was clearly also a moment of high emotion tinged with uncontainable joy—but perhaps the less said about that particular episode the better.

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 how to achieve those aims, particularly if it means doing something unpopular. We shall give examples of all these things over the coming five days and express our fear that the Government's measures will all too often produce exactly the opposite effect of what they intend.

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.

In congratulating the mover and seconder, I look forward to the coming Session with some trepidation. I hope, however, that it is with less trepidation than in the case of the Government.

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

4.38 p.m.

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 commissioners who now sit in this House. Last year, he was back again in government with ministerial responsibility based on experience spanning a quarter of a century. That is a very long time. I believe that only the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, with a break in the middle of 18 years, has served for such a distinctive and unusual period.

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.

I say on behalf of these Benches that the Government have a hard year ahead of them, but when it comes to late or all-night sittings they may count on these Benches if the cause is good.

I remain unconvinced that the debate on the Address serves much purpose, except as a short breathing space for the Government. Subjects are inevitably grouped together on the same day, and speeches are made without continuity. I greatly prefer a single day's debate on the merits of the Queen's Speech as a whole and then resumption of normal business. But that is for the future. Nor do I intend to dwell, as the noble Viscount did, on the substance of the Queen's Speech. This is essentially a day of ceremony and ritual, of courtesy and good will. Let us enjoy it while we may.

4.42 p.m.

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.

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