§ Bill, pro forma, read a first time.
§ ADDRESS IN REPLY TO HER MAJESTY'S
MOST GRACIOUS SPEECH
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg)
My Lords, I have to acquaint the House that Her Majesty was pleased this morning to make a most gracious Speech from the Throne to both Houses of Parliament assembled in the House of Lords. Copies of the gracious Speech are available in the Printed Paper Office.
I have, for the convenience of the House, directed that the terms of the gracious Speech be published in the Official Report.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
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 begin by making no apology for following tradition in thanking my noble and very good friends the Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip for affording me this great honour. At the end of a year of outstanding stewardship of the best interests of both this House and of the Government, a year in which they demonstrated their political skills time and time again, they both start the parliamentary year in good standing and in good heart. Both came into your Lordships' House with an impressive array of 5 achievements which rightly earned them a place among their peers, but by that outstanding leadership they now stand on their own feet, based on their service and success in your Lordships' House. Their confidence in affording me this great privilege is deeply appreciated.
In choosing my noble friend Lady Ashton of Upholland to second this Motion, they have pleased many, not least her two children and her three stepchildren. She brings to our deliberations practical and solid experience in the field of health and education, serving as chair of the East and North Hertfordshire Health Authority and as a governor of the school attended by her children. As the director of Business in the Community, she has had her feet firmly on the ground, although she freely confesses that one of her hobbies is retail therapy, which we all know is another term for being a shopaholic.
I see in his place the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who in every sense has grown into his deserved place on the Opposition Front Bench. He and I have crossed swords over the years, never more so than when we both had the privilege and the pleasure of representing our parties as Chief Whips. For my part, those were happy days and I congratulate him sincerely on his upward rise. He looks so comfortable on the Opposition Front Bench that I join with many other noble Lords in wishing him a long and pleasant stay over there.
It is traditional for uniforms and decorations to be proudly worn by those taking part in this splendid ceremony. In 1995, my erstwhile protagonist as Chief Whip, that star among Chief Whips, the noble Lord, Lord Denham, stood erect and proud in his full dress uniform as a Gold Sergeant in the Honourable Artillery Company. That moved my noble friend Lord Richard to reveal in his speech that a visitor to the building espied the uniform of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, under his robes and commented, "Good heavens, are they down to the NCOs now?" Alas, I did not even try to get into my dress uniform, but today I proudly wear the tie of the Royal Marines Parliamentary Group. We are even reduced in rank, for I was but a corporal. But I am as proud of that as if I had been a general.
Esprit de corps is a precious trait, giving the sense that, as others rely on you, you can rely on them. I was proud to serve in the Royal Marines during the war. I bear the scars, both emotional and physical, to this day. And to this day we as a nation owe a great debt to our fighting men and women. Long may we support them as they protect us in our hour of need. We can make a good start by supporting the Armed Forces renewal Bill mentioned in the gracious Speech.
We have a programme which will focus on improving public services and cutting crime, and that is to be applauded. Despite the best endeavours of past administrations, and the present one, they both command the attention of the nation. This House, on all Benches, has the men and the women to give the nation public services of which it can be proud.
6 There can be few who will not welcome steps to improve law enforcement and to cut vehicle crime and other car-related offences. Fraud in its many forms will be vigorously tackled, for at the end of the day it is the taxpayer, the licence payer and the honest citizen who pays more while the fraudster reaps a rich reward.
When I arrived in your Lordships' House in 1983 I owed my passage from the Commons to my then party leader, Michael Foot. To this day, friends ask the question: "Which House—Commons or Lords—do you prefer?". Then my answer could well have been, "The Commons", but very quickly my answer would change. I have happily served for 17 years as a foot soldier in the army of the Lords. Here, whether we march in step, or to glory, it is in our own hands.
A House divided cannot stand, and we neglect putting our own House in order at our peril. Dearly as I love to look at old friends and old faces, the future belongs to the young or the younger generation. They will not wait. They will not stay. They may even not come, and so in welcoming the measures in the gracious Speech I plead for continuing reform in our procedures, the better to bring us out of the 19th century and into the 21st.
I give a warm welcome to the intention to give Parliament an opportunity to debate and, it is to be hoped, resolve the issue of hunting with dogs. In this House there will be more than one voice. We may not expect harmony but we can try to minimise the discord. When I served in the Commons it was explained to me that all carpets and leather Benches in both Houses had an appropriate and distinctive colour: green for the Commons and red for the Lords. Friends told me that it was easy to remember which was which because green was for go and red was for stop; but not any more.
The House of Lords returned from the Recess in September a full four weeks before the Commons and was on a virtual running heavy Whip for eight weeks. We are justified in asking the question: which is the full-time House and which is the part-time House? The quicker we move into the post-Wakeham period, the better, at least for those who are workers and want to work.
I welcome the news that some of the Bills wills start here. Some years ago the Government made the mistake of starting a Bill which they thought was benign in your Lordships' House. The Commons are jealous that Bills which are controversial should start there and not here. That Bill was the Shops Bill 1985, which proved far from uncontroversial. It was subsequently lost at Second Reading when it reached the other place, but not before I helped to engineer a defeat here at Report stage. I then learnt the value of networking. My fellow conspirators were Harold Macmillan and Tom Denning. Together, we affected the course of history. That illustrated the fact that in this place rank counts for little. When a boy from Scotswood Road in Newcastle-on-Tyne can complete a trio with an illustrious Prime Minister and one of the greatest legal luminaries of the age, it shows that egalitarianism is alive and well in the House of Lords.
7 One privilege of serving in our Parliament, as I now have for 26 years, is that we are witness to events and we get to know personalities which we could not have imagined. I have been lucky, as indeed, have all of us. One of my first friends here was John Hunt, Lord Hunt, of Everest, who led the expedition that first climbed that great mountain. Who will ever forget listening to Manny Shinwell deliver a corker of a speech in this Chamber on his 100th birthday? Who will ever forget, during the passage of the War Crimes Bill, hearing the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, tell the House that he had been a prisoner of war in Colditz? Who can forget hearing Douglas Houghton gasp "Content" at the passing of his Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill a few days before he died at the age of 96?
All noble Lords, but especially those who were constituency MPs, will give a warm welcome to legislation dealing with buying and selling homes, protecting homeless people and aspects of leasehold tenure. They know, as I do, that more misery is caused by housing conditions than by any other cause. I congratulate my Government on tackling those vexed questions.
The spate of accidents and tragedy in the sphere of transport led to the appointment of Lord Cullen to head an inquiry into our railways. I welcome the news that a Bill will appear providing for safer travel on the railways, in the air, at sea and on the roads, with an emphasis on health and safety at work.
The nation will be truly grateful that, thanks to the sound economic policies of the past three-and-a-half years, there is growth sufficient to increase the resources available for education, health, transport and police services. If this turns out to be the last Queen's Speech of this Parliament, I confidently look forward to the first Queen's Speech of the next Parliament when those policies will have been scrutinised at a forthcoming general election and endorsed.
I especially welcome the intention to introduce a Bill to enable those who commit crimes against humanity to be brought to justice by ratifying the statute of the International Criminal Court.
The record shows that in the past two years we have sat for more days each year than the other place and later into the night, too. We control our conditions. We must be mad to continue to punish ourselves in this way. In the last week of the last Session, there were 20 Divisions. When I was a lad, there was a great song sung by Judy Garland and Gene Kelly entitled, "The Bells are Ringing for Me and My Gal". Ask not,for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee".During those last few days, as I was crossing Central Lobby to get to a Division two ladies impeded my way. I overheard one say to the other, "What does that bell mean? The other said, "I think it means that one of them has escaped". We deserve such ridicule until and unless we make sensible changes to the way we work. 8 There is life outside the Chamber. It is there to be lived and enjoyed. We should stop punishing ourselves in the name of party or Parliament. Change must come.
At the end of the day, this is a friendly place. Battles may rage, Bills may be saved or lost and governments may change, but when I look back over the years, it will not be the issues that I recall. Having served in the Whips' Office for 20 years in both Houses, I could, no doubt, recall moments of high drama, such as the night when Labour lost a vote of confidence by one vote, the day when that brave man Airey Neave was murdered and the night when the Mace was brandished provocatively—I was there. Yet what will stay in my memory is well told in the stunning stanza by Hilaire Belloc, who wrote:From quiet homes and first beginning, Out to the undiscovered ends, There's nothing worth the wear of winning, But laughter and the love of friends".It will be the laughter that I have shared here with political friend and foe alike that I shall treasure. It will be the love of friends all round the House and beyond that will warm me all the days of my life.
We take ourselves far too seriously, not just for our own good, but for the good of the nation. William Morris said:Fellowship is life, and lack of fellowship is death".It is my earnest hope that in the Session ahead we can remember that we are all flesh and blood with families, hopes and aspirations common to us all. I beg to move.
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 Graham of Edmonton.)
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
My Lords, I beg to second my noble friend's Motion for an humble Address.
The sense of honour that I feel standing before your Lordships' House today is immense. It is a privilege tinged with delight that I follow my noble friend Lord Graham. He has served your Lordships' House well and is rightly most proud of the time when he was elected Opposition Chief Whip. He has steered those of us on these Benches with immense skill and great charm in his role as chairman of the Labour group in your Lordships' House.
I shall say little of my noble friend's support for Newcastle United or of my own affiliation, but I cannot resist the temptation of pointing out that it was a former Liverpool player—Kevin Keegan—who restored the Magpies to greatness. Above everything, my noble friend is a firm favourite with me for having the most twinkling eyes in your Lordships' House.
In preparing for today, I downloaded from the Internet the speeches of my most recent predecessors. The realisation that they were made by the noble Lord, 9 Lord Bragg, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, made me pale somewhat. Their forensic and intellectual skills are well renowned in your Lordships' House. Recognising that I was potentially a little out of my depth, I turned to other predecessors. The Earl of Lathom and Lord Monk Bretton, on this same date—6th December—in 1900 performed the same task as my noble friend Lord Graham and myself. Both were addressing the House for the first time. Their speeches were from a different era and not entirely helpful to me, except the Earl's beginning. He said:I shall not, I know, appeal in vain, for that forbearance and indulgence that is always extended to those who speak in this House and which I feel very greatly in need of today".Across exactly 100 years the Earl and I share the same sentiments.
I fear that I must report a decline in standards in your Lordships' House that came to my attention as I read the details of how my noble friend the Chief Whip had invited my recent predecessors to take on this task. The noble Lord, Lord Bragg, was brought to my noble friend's office and told of the privilege of the occasion. The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, was given the benefit of sweet winning smiles from my noble friend the Chief Whip and my noble friend the Leader of the House. I got 20 seconds in the corridor between votes. "We would like you to second the Motion", said my noble friend the Chief Whip. "Fine", I said. "Fine" is a word that I reserve almost exclusively for my dealings with my noble friend the Chief Whip. It indicated in one word that I did not have the faintest idea of what I was being asked to do. That was not lost on my noble friend, who, with a jangle of his pockets and a gleam in his eye, mentioned that I was to tell no one, thus ensuring that I was not likely to find out what I had agreed to do until vanity, the passage of time or possibly stupidity prevented me from withdrawing.
My noble friend the Chief Whip is responsible for many subtle changes in your Lordships' House. No longer can it be claimed that we are obsessed only with being whipped. We are now at the mercy of vibrating objects as well. The tyranny of the pager has reached this most offshore of all islands—pagers that dance across the bedside table when some poor noble Lord has forgotten to switch it off; pagers that disappear into the deep recesses of bags and briefcases, never to be found, but ever to vibrate.
My pager went off in the middle of a school meeting when my noble friend Lord Bach was responsible for shepherding me. That aroused some interest among the children and the teachers until my 10 year-old son, with a bored expression, looked up and said, "It's not very interesting. It's only Willie the Whip".
What affection I feel for the Chief Whip when the magic words, "Whip off. Good night and thank you. Denis" appear on my pager—or rather, "Good night and thank you. Denise". I often speculate on the flights of fancy that might be taken by those intercepting such a message.
10 The pager has brought its own world of control. How long before messages move on from the gentle, "Division called", through the occasional, "Come immediately", to more sinister things? I have an apocryphal tale of a newly created government Peer who went to the barber for his annual haircut. The barber noticed a wire connecting his brand new pager to an earpiece. The barber asked him to remove it so that he would not accidentally damage it. The agitated Peer refused. The barber did his best, but accidentally sliced through the wire, at which point the Peer collapsed dead on the floor. The barber went to his aid and, picking up the earpiece, heard the gentle tones of my noble friend the Chief Whip, "Breathe in. Breathe out".
I have learned a great deal in your Lordships' House over the past year and I have felt every passion and emotion run through it. I have bitterly lamented some decisions that we have taken and cheered others to the rafters. I have watched impassioned debate, rapier-like argument, oratory to make my heart sing and occasional flashes of brilliance. I have been riveted to my seat, occasionally bored and sometimes totally bewildered by the technical details, but at every step I have felt a sense of wonderment that I am here at all.
I am not content that everything is right in your Lordships' House. I wish to see changes, but they should be made within a spirit of preservation, not disruption. There is much more to cherish than to alter, and I would play my part in ensuring that that balance is never lost.
When I joined your Lordships' House to support a Government that I had longed for, my concern was to see joined-up implementation to match joined-up thinking. As chairman of a health authority, I know that health affects and is affected by every other aspect of our lives—housing, diet, employment, poverty and crime. Whether the NHS copes well this winter will depend to some extent on the success of our policies to keep people, especially the elderly, safe and well. Keeping them warm, well fed and properly housed and ensuring that they have company and nursing home care if they need it will play its part in keeping them from our accident and emergency departments and our intensive care beds over the coming months. I am therefore delighted to see in the gracious Speech legislation that will build on the solid foundation of the NHS plan. I trust that it will improve the ability of healthcare to work alongside its partners in social services, housing, the voluntary sector and the private sector to develop preventive measures alongside cures.
I look forward to our debates on that legislation, knowing the vast experience and expertise that exists in your Lordships' House on these matters. I hope that support will be forthcoming from all sides of the House for improving and modernising our services.
I also hope that there will be support for measures to ban tobacco advertising. Your Lordships have spent many hours reflecting on issues that concern the health particularly of our young people. The legislation aimed at reducing the number of people, especially the young, who smoke should therefore command great support.
11 Many schools now have 25 per cent or more children on their special educational needs register. Certainly, the school attended by my children of which I am chairman of governors is in that category. Support for these children, their teachers and schools is vital if they are to succeed, and I strongly welcome legislation to that end. I hope that it will recognise the excellent work of many schools and provide a framework in which measurement of this work is adequately rewarded, especially those schools that are willing to work with children with complex educational and behavioural needs.
I also welcome support for people with disabilities to access learning. I helped to establish the Employers Forum on Disability when at Business in the Community. I learnt many lessons in doing so, not least that integration in education is a powerful tool to combat ignorance and prejudice. Appropriate facilities enable all people to benefit from the richness of those who bring differences to our lives. My own school has links with a school for children who are deaf, and it is a great delight to see my eight year-old daughter converse with friends in sign language at the integrated youth club that she attends.
As my son approaches secondary transfer I am particularly pleased to see the focus on the early years of secondary education. It is then that truancy rates begin to rise and children are in greatest danger of exclusion. Improved teaching linked to creative ways to provide education must form part of the solution.
My background is in community development. Therefore, the measure of the success of the legislation in the gracious Speech rests in part on how much people and communities are empowered to succeed. For me, the perfect third way is development from the bottom up which meets support from the top down.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I beg to move that this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
It is always a pleasure to move this Motion safe in the knowledge that no one will disagree with it. It is also a particular pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland. The noble Lord is an institution in this House. He was a very great Opposition Chief Whip and, even in retirement from the Front Bench, a tireless shop steward for Back-Benchers in this House. He lost no opportunity to make his views known once more this afternoon.
I was the noble Lord's opposite number when my party was in office. I owe him all too many early morning calls to No. 10 to explain the unreliability of your Lordships' House. But the noble Lord is a classic example of the good relations in usual channels that must always be the mark of this House. Our government had to work double time to keep the noble Lord at bay. He played many a clever trick on us, but never a deceitful or an underhand one. I pay tribute to his service to his party and the House. My greatest 12 regret at seeing him on the Government Benches is that he no longer harries government Ministers with the familiar cry, "Answer that!".
The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, has fast made her mark on the House, with experience won in a varied career in public service. The noble Baroness has demonstrated some of her skills and expertise this afternoon. But the noble Baroness brings something else to this House. A year or so ago I was intrigued to notice a sudden increase in the attention given to your Lordships' House by the Evening Standard: it even commented on the long evenings that Members had to spend here. I could not understand why it should have done so, but then I discovered that the noble Baroness was married to the columnist Peter Kellner; and the secret was out. After all, the extra coverage was nothing to do with my own PR skills as Leader of the Opposition. We can look forward to continuing coverage, in which I predict that the noble Baroness will feature in her own right as she joins the Government Front Bench, as with her talents she surely will.
This will be the last Session of this Parliament, and we can all agree that it will almost certainly be the shortest. Increasingly, the burden of legislating falls on your Lordships' House. In the first Session your Lordships sat for 228 days. which was the longest Session since the 17th century. In the second Session we sat for 154 days, longer than another place; and last Session we sat for 177 days, much longer than another place. I have a small leaflet that is given to visitors to the House which I particularly commend, except for the strange lack of a photograph of the Leader of the House. This is an omission that should be put right at once. However, the leaflet contains an excellent photograph of the Lord Chancellor above a typically gracious article in which he says that, among parliamentary chambers of the world, your Lordships' House is second only to the House of Commons in the number of sitting days. After all that the House has been through in the past three years, perhaps it should be replaced by an article saying that the House of Commons is second only to your Lordships' House in the number of days that it sits.
I am sure that one matter which unites the House—I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton—is that the past three Sessions, particularly the end of the last one, have been very wearing for Members, not least because of the pressure exerted by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, night after night. Perhaps I may gently suggest to the noble Lord that it was overkill.
Quite remarkably, we have heard the gracious Speech on 6th December, which is the latest time in the year since 1921. There are three main reasons for this. The first is the sheer weight of legislation. In the last Session we debated a total of about 11,000 amendments. Over 4,500 amendments were made to government Bills, which was 40 to 50 per cent more than in previous Sessions, with a long-term average of under 3,000. Today, we see Bills of astonishing complexity and regulatory implications. We as a House can improve Bills, but only rarely can we 13 restrain the departmental legislative sausage machine. Somehow governments must rediscover the virtue of self-restraint. Every government should try to legislate a little less and achieve a little more, and that is as true of this one as any other.
The second factor that puts a strain on the House is the ill-drafted nature of many recent Bills. Once again, the scale of amendments made to Bills reinforces this case. Dare I breathe the name of such horrors as the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act or the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act? I do not blame parliamentary counsel but poor instructions from Ministers and their Bill teams. Having been Government Chief Whip, I have every sympathy for the predicament of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who must see government Bills through.
We in opposition accept the duty to see that the Queen's business is carried on. I am grateful for the generous and unequivocal remarks put on the record in the previous Session by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, about the co-operation given by the usual channels in this House. But we need much greater clarity and consistency from Ministers in charge of Bills—and I hope that that will be heard also by Permanent Secretaries across Whitehall, especially in the Home Office, from whom we are to be sent a whole rash of new Bills. The House is entitled to expect officials of high calibre to be here at all hours to assist Ministers. who in turn assist the House and enable it to carry out its revising function; otherwise, things inevitably take longer than they need.
The third factor which adds to the work of this House is also a long-term one. In some ways, another place is losing the skill of how to legislate and scrutinise. A small committee off the Floor with a government majority is not a good way to improve a Bill. In the Lords the Committee of the Whole House, with freedom of all Peers to table an amendment, is a precious safeguard against bad law. We have agreed to take some Bills in the Moses Room; no doubt we shall do so again this Session. But I should hate to see that slide from being the exception to being the rule. We all know, too, that with increasing use of the guillotine many Bills come to us from another place ill digested and often not debated. Use of the guillotine does not remove the need to scrutinise but simply transfers it to your Lordships' House and forces it to do much of the other place's work for it.
I hope that in this Session we may look at procedures to free up a little more time in the week for some Members. But that cannot be at the expense of Back-Bench freedoms in this House, or at the expense of the rights of this House to do its duty. I hope that those kind of changes in procedure will not be proposed. We shall be implacably opposed to them if they are. The role of this House will continue to change, often in unpredictable ways, as a result of the House of Lords Act. That is why it is essential that we set up a joint committee of both Houses to look at the future composition of this House and its role and functions. That was promised in the Labour Party manifesto in 1997. Time is running out for that to be done. I was surprised to read that the noble Baroness 14 the Leader of the House intends to set out a unilateral Labour position for further change to this House in her party manifesto.
But Parliament does not belong to one party. Lasting constitutional reform can he achieved only by open cross-party discussion in a search for consensus. Differences about the future of this place run across parties, within parties and between the Houses. We should not shy away from the challenge of long-term reform. It is high time that Parliament and Back-Benchers were given the chance to discuss all factors, including composition. That is the right and proper course to follow. Many in this House will not be bound to accept a few lines in the Labour Party manifesto on such an important and far-reaching decision.
We have four days ahead in which to debate the details of the programme in the gracious Speech. That will be the proper place for political give and take about its content.
However, I must comment on one astonishing constitutional development. I am sorry to see the addition of that reprehensible little measure—the mode of trial Bill. No other Bill has united the House in such utter condemnation of its purpose. lt was not in the Labour Party manifesto; indeed it promised the opposite. The Bill was defeated in this House by an all-party majority, petulantly reintroduced by the Home Secretary and then defeated again by an all-party majority. But have the Government listened to your Lordships as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House promised? No, they have not. The Parliament Acts were not intended as a legislative guillotine to ensure that the executive could have every last ounce of parliamentary flesh. To step up their use in this way on such a measure would be a misuse of Parliament and another sign of executive arrogance.
The programme we have before us is one that we shall have to weigh carefully. Some of it—for example, elements of the proposed criminal justice legislation—look a little populist, even, dare I say, opportunistic. I wonder why? I fear that there are few fresh ideas in the Bill, though no doubt the speech writers of the noble Baroness will favour us with a few old slogans, something from which the gracious Speech was this year mercifully and properly free.
Nothing is more stale than the old-fashioned hostility to the country way of life enshrined in the hunting Bill. What a pity the opportunity has not been taken to heal that deep rift that now exists between those who live and work in the countryside and those who wish to dictate how that land is used. For all the oft-quoted remarks of the Prime Minister, blaming your Lordships for defending the country way of life, we have never had an opportunity in recent times to discuss the issues surrounding hunting. If and when another place passes a Bill, we look forward to so doing.
It is customary for the Leader of the Opposition to ask some business management Questions of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. Can she tell us whether this Session a Bill will be presented for the ratification of any treaty that may be signed at Nice? 15 Can the noble Baroness tell us also which Bills announced today in the gracious Speech will start in your Lordships' House?
One of the problems in recent years has been the imbalance in legislation between the two Houses. Such an imbalance could have particularly serious consequences given the potential shortness of the coming Session. This House will not take kindly to being blamed for so-called "delay" if legislation is not presented in good time and in an acceptable form. I hope that time will be found in the weeks ahead for the more deliberative aspects of the House. We need debates on human cloning, on the increasingly worrying strains on our Armed Forces, on developments in the EU and on policy in Sierra Leone, among a number of others.
The Government have given us a Queen's Speech with a significant number of Bills. But, however many Bills one passes, that is no virtue if one returns to the office, as Ministers in the Government sadly too often do, to a tale of crime soaring, police numbers falling, hospitals under pressure, a countryside in crisis, a nation grinding to a halt, and families unable to plan their travel for Christmas. That is the reality behind the spin: what people have to live with day-by-day. It is on that that they will be judged at the next general election.
The Government have fiddled and faddled with their pet ideas on constitutional meddling. They have frittered away the parliamentary timetable with advancing political correctness while taxes have soared, businesses have been ground down by a record number of regulations they now want to reverse, and public services have fallen apart. They have chosen the wrong priorities and they have missed historic opportunities. That, and not anything in the speech today, is why the next gracious Speech will be written not by the Prime Minister, but by my right honourable friend Mr William Hague.
Moved, That this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.—(Lord Strathclyde.)
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, we have had an entertaining and, at the end, imaginative speech from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I wish we could continue for the rest of the afternoon in that realm of fantasy. But the only comfort I can bring to noble Lords is the knowledge that, after our contributions today, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and myself will fall silent during the rest of the debate on the Address.
However, this is a change from our proceedings last year and a change from proceedings in previous years. Last year we had a debate of this kind, thanking the movers and seconders of the humble Address. Then on the second day both the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and myself spoke to the substantive debate on the issues in the Queen's Speech. But in a sense those occasions have been merged. I find myself in a 16 somewhat schizophrenic state. I am more than half inclined to live in the traditions of ceremonies, formalities and with the good will of our proceedings today. I enjoyed this morning. I had an extremely good lunch. I am trying very hard to restore my critical faculties.
However, because of the way in which we have judged that we should conduct our business, this is my only opportunity to waltz with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and not only to take part in the cheerful, ebullient part of our procedures but to say something about the Queen's Speech.
There is still much we could do to change our procedures for debating the Queen's Speech. We all know what happens. We debate farming and schools on the same day. We debate science and technology together with pensions. We have unrelated speeches and the Minister who winds up cannot be expected to deal in substance with half the speeches that have been made. We have looked at this matter before. We have not yet found a successful formula. That is one of the issues of procedure to which the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, referred and which the House might look at again to get a more orderly conduct of proceedings. I believe that the Leader of the House and, I am sure, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and myself are open to persuasion, if indeed there can be a degree of unanimity on the part of Members of the House, about how we should proceed.
I referred to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. I have known him for more than 30 years. During the whole of that time he has been a soldier in the parliamentary wars. Long ago I learnt to shrink from his glance of weary disapproval and to wonder what I had done wrong. More recently, as other noble Lords have said, he has been a shop steward on behalf of the whole House in dealing with problems of allowances and conditions of work. The noble Lord has brought a quality and integrity to the political scene that has been a credit to Parliament in every way. For that reason it gives me very special pleasure to find myself able to congratulate him on his remarks today.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, pleased me when she referred, as I understood she did, to being a Liverpool supporter. Liverpool are perhaps lucky to find themselves in fifth place in the Premier Division, but the noble Baroness and I will be together in hoping that, in the end, Manchester United will be defeated. I met the noble Baroness some 15 years ago when she was working for Business in the Community. She is one of the new wave of professional men and women in their middle years who are hoping to make your Lordships' House a better informed, more representative and wiser place. Everything she said today showed the confidence which we should have in that development.
As for the Queen's Speech itself, from these Benches we welcome legislation to regulate the private security industry. It is long overdue. But we shall certainly look carefully at any extension to curfews and we shall need to be persuaded about fixed penalty notices, if such there are to be, for disorderly conduct. We look 17 forward to proposals for dealing with money laundering but we are sceptical about excessive claims made by either the Government or the Conservative Party about making much impact on benefit fraud. It goes without saying—on this point I support everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—that we remain opposed to a Bill which reduces the availability of trial by jury. In addition, we welcome improved facilities for special educational needs and more help for the homeless. Both of those proposals are good news. But this is not a Queen's Speech to cause much excitement and it is hard to see that much legislation will reach the statute book in the 12 or 13 weeks that the Session may last.
For all the virtues and shortcomings of the Queen's Speech, on which, the House will be glad to know, I do not intend to dwell, we all know that it will do far less to determine the fate of the Government than the Chancellor's public expenditure Statement of July or his pre-Budget Report of a month ago. It will also do much less than the Government's perceived competence in running the country day-to-day between now and April or May. One of the fascinating aspects of this Parliament, one of which I think it will be possible to take an historical view, has been the role as never before of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as the arbiter of priorities for public expenditure. Ministers have come to treat the Treasury like a private merchant bank, almost detached from government, at whose door they must respectfully knock. The Chancellor has not seen his role as limited to overall economic management and the quantum of public expenditure. He has reached right down into departments to determine the internal distribution of resources. I do not believe that in the long run that makes for good government. I hope that in the remaining months of this Parliament, in the period covered by the Queen's Speech, departmental Ministers will begin to reassert themselves. There is a lot to be said for proper Cabinet government.
A major test of the competence of Ministers in the coming months must be transport. Nothing has gone quite right for the Government and public confidence is at its lowest. Ministers have blown hot and cold about the road programme. They have been torn between environmental concerns and growing congestion and angry motorists. They were caught unawares by the protest movement against the rising price of fuel, which threatened a winter of discontent as destructive as the events of 20 years ago. Now they are to entrust safety in the air to an expensive, wholly untried public/private partnership system of traffic control. There is a good deal of curiosity to know precisely what it means when we read in the Queen's Speech of a Bill to provide for safer travel in the air. In the light of our most recent experience with legislation, what can that possibly mean? Above all, the railways are in a mess just when efficient and affordable public transport is what is most needed. The Government inherited a railway system that should never have been privatised, least of all in the way it was done. But they have had three-and-a-half years to put it right, and three-and-a-half years have been largely wasted.
18 We shall return to these and other matters, like the fate of the once proud London Underground and growing anxiety about a major breakdown, later in the debate on the Address. At this stage I have just two short messages—one for transport Ministers and the other for the Prime Minister himself. My message to transport Ministers is a warning. Do not get drawn into trying to run the railways yourselves and do not start telling others how to do their jobs. I am wary about the new rail recovery group, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald. If it is window-dressing and public relations, fine; it may do no harm. But it should not weaken the professional authority of those who have statutory duties or commercial obligations to run the railways, including the Strategic Rail Authority, the rail regulator and, for that matter, Railtrack. Interfering Ministers get their fingers burnt and eventually get the blame. Nothing is better as a result.
My message to the Prime Minister is simple; noble Lords may have guessed it in advance. Take transport away from the Deputy Prime Minister and recreate a separate department with its own Secretary of State in the Cabinet. I personally would be very happy if the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, were chosen. Those of us who live and work in this place could hardly complain if we found that we had another Cabinet Minister in our company.
There is much else I might refer to in terms not only of what is in the Queen's Speech but of what is missing; what is successful about the Government's term of office and where there has been failure. One failure—I have referred to it during debates on four successive Queen's Speeches—is the unglamorous area of our prison population. It is a shameful commentary on short-term illiberal populism that when the Government came to office in May 1997 60,421 men and women were behind bars. Today the figure is 63,985. I never believed that under a Labour Government our prison population would increase. I do not believe that anyone thinks that that is a measure of the success of the Government's law and order policy.
In 1997 the Government inherited a uniquely favourable economic prospect. It owed a great deal to Mr Kenneth Clarke. Perhaps the Government should not forget it, even if those on these Benches are trying to forget it as quickly as possible. The governments of 1945, 1964 and 1974—all Labour governments—did not have such good fortune. However, the Government may reasonably claim, as they do in the Queen's Speech, that they have presided over economic stability and steady growth, even though they have cruelly neglected the public services.
They also had the good fortune—and here, I express my sadness to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, who in this House leads his party with such ebullience and strength of character—of being faced by an incompetent and divided Conservative Party. Never in the political lives of most of us has there been such a shambles on the Opposition side.
19 I doubt whether the Queen's Speech will make the slightest bit of difference to the outcome of the election. Indeed, if the Labour Party is to win the election again it has probably done so already.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)
My Lords, it is my pleasant duty this afternoon, as I am told by the Clerks, to support the Motion proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and seconded by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. It is a splendid start to what I am sure will be a splendid Session; all three Front Benches in agreement. Long may it continue! I am, however, well aware that there are noble Lords in all parts of the House who are sometimes extremely wary of apparent co-operation between Government and Opposition. They harbour deep suspicions of too many unhealthy deals and manipulative arrangements made by party leaders. That is perhaps not surprising after this last year when the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and I found ourselves not only sharing a table at a charity event sponsored by the Sun newspaper but featured in The Times as part of a cosy series on the first meal we shared together.
Of course, I rarely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, says, particularly party political pronouncements like those we have heard today. But, importantly, I agree with him and believe strongly that the usual channels in this House must continue to co-operate closely and cordially if we are to counter the powerful arguments that are often expressed to abandon the principle of self-regulation in this House and to adopt completely different methods of conducting our business. Like all noble Lords who have spoken today, I very much hope that we can seriously examine the issues of effective self-regulation in this next Session can do it collaboratively to achieve proper procedural change.
I said that I rarely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, but I am enthusiastic in joining him and the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, to congratulate the mover and seconder of the Motion for an humble Address. My noble friend Lord Graham has already been referred to as an "institution" at Westminster and I am sure that that is to suggest nothing but praise. We have all known him for his vigorous speeches, his successful campaigns on areas of special concern, for instance, the tourist industry, and recently and successfully the health of air travellers.
We on this side of the House know him as well for his hearty "shouts" as Divisions are called and—dare I say?—for his shameless use of puns! But behind the robust and extrovert persona of what of course has been described as a splendid Chief Whip, we also know my noble friend Lord Graham as someone of enormous kindness. He is the colleague who looks after us all, who always keeps in touch with those who are unwell and who marks the milestones with personal remembrance. With characteristic thoughtfulness, my noble friend has just stepped down as chairman of the Labour Peers' 20 group, partly in order to spend more time at home with his wife, Margaret. In thanking my noble friend for moving the humble Address today, I know that I speak for everyone in hoping that we continue to hear him regularly in your Lordships' House.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Ashton is a recent and very welcome new Member; one of the rather "dazzling class", as I would describe it, of '99. She has already made her mark in the Chamber with authoritative speeches such as the one we have just heard. As Minister for Women, I especially admire my noble friend as someone who very successfully achieves that elusive goal of balancing her professional life with deep commitment to her family life. Like my noble friend Lord Graham, my noble friend Lady Ashton is active "behind the scenes" in your Lordships' House and in another place and has already established a wide network of friends and colleagues who share her goals of better schools, better healthcare and better support for everyone trying to raise families in today's complicated society. I thank my noble friend for seconding the Motion today and look forward to her further important contributions to the work of this House.
Last year, there was some concern, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, about the structure of the debate on the gracious Speech. I agree with him that perhaps we have not yet reached the most perfect solution to the issue. But I hope the House will agree that the slight rearrangement that has been agreed this year will enable coherent deliberations on the main themes of the Government's policy and the Bills to be introduced.
I welcome in particular the decision of the Procedure Committee that the gracious Speech should not be repeated verbatim this afternoon because it means that we can begin the substantive debate immediately. However, in those circumstances, and particularly in response to the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, it is probably especially important that I outline at least some of the Bills which will start in your Lordships' House.
In the near future, I expect your Lordships to be considering the following Bills. First, a Bill to ensure that children with special educational needs are properly catered for in our education system and to extend the Disability Discrimination Act to education providers and authorities. Secondly, a Bill to regulate the private security industry to ensure that it really does provide security and not a backdoor route for further crime or harassment. Thirdly, a Bill to extend the deregulation powers we already have, so that we can reach a balance between regulation and enterprise.
Looking slightly further ahead, I expect your Lordships to be the first to deal with a number of other Bills, including a Bill to take forward the fight against benefit fraud by improving information flows and increasing penalties for those convicted of this crime which hurts the honest claimant; a Bill making the 21 United Kingdom a party to the International Criminal Court, with the improvements to international law enforcement that that will bring; and a Bill to make important changes to a number of our cultural, heritage, sporting and tourism bodies.
It may also help your Lordships to know the order of our debate on the gracious Speech. Tomorrow, we will focus on social and economic affairs and on industry; and on Monday, the themes will be education, the environment and agriculture. Tuesday's debate will cover foreign affairs, international development and defence; and on the last day, Wednesday, we shall be concentrating on health and home affairs.
Your Lordships will already have noted that fewer Bills appear in today's gracious Speech than in last year's—but not an unusually small number. Before there are deep sighs of relief about easy times ahead, perhaps I may remind your Lordships that the graciouus Speech focuses on the Government's flagship Bills; others will be introduced during the course of the Session.
Now, of course, we know how this programme will be judged, especially in the more excitable parts of the media, which these days seem to be the entire media. Every aspect of this programme and the gracious Speech itself will be microscopically analysed, every entrail examined and every tea-leaf read for any signs about a general election. "How long is the speech? Ah, that means a general election in—whenever." "How many Bills are mentioned in the gracious Speech? Ah, well, that must mean a general election in—whenever." "Which Bills we expected to be included are not mentioned in the Speech? Ah, well, that must mean a general election in—whenever."
I must tell your Lordships, who I know are not excitable, that, frankly, this is not a worthwhile exercise. What we have before us is a full programme of legislation; a vital programme of legislation; and a programme of legislation aimed at offering help to people in the areas which matter most to them. Therefore, I want to begin the debate today by drawing your Lordships' attention to the principal concerns that underlie the Government's proposals.
At the centre of the gracious Speech is an emphasis on fighting crime together and on improving the National Health Service. Why do we put these at the heart of our programme, alongside our continuing priorities of education and a stable, opportunity economy? All the evidence we have, and I am sure that it is shared by your Lordships, shows that the insecurity people feel about their lives often centres on fear of crime and fear of ill health and the treatment they will receive. "Will the police come quickly if I am burgled?" "Will a hospital bed be available if my child is suddenly sick?"
The Government are not apologetic about our record in these areas. We have begun to make real differences, to make people's lives more secure. That is as true in the falling burglary numbers and the shorter hospital waiting lists as it is in the higher literacy scores of our children and the lowest inflation rates for 30 years.
22 However, it would be stupid to pretend that everything has improved out of all recognition. Ten days ago, less than five miles from Parliament, where we debate all these issues, a 10 year-old child was murdered on a housing estate that has certainly not been reached by change. Of course, that murder was not the first of its kind; nor, sadly, may it be the last. It has caused great shock and sadness because it symbolises the waste of lives, often young lives, that crime brings in its wake. That is why our programme this Session will put in place further measures to help us tackle crime and, very importantly, to improve police performance. There will be legislation to help the police deal with disorderly conduct, to crack down on what is rightly known as the yob culture and to improve law enforcement in general. There will be special measures to combat vehicle crime, because that is a particular problem of modern living.
We want every police force to reach the standards of the best in preventing and detecting crime. By fighting crime together, we can make Britain a safe and decent place; the kind of country that everybody wants. We ask that people should take responsibility for that society in return for the economic opportunities and security that the Government can provide.
That is equally true of our attention to healthcare and people's experience of the NHS, and also, importantly, the security that they should have in knowing what long-term care will eventually be provided for them. The NHS national plan, which was published in the summer, and the extra investment announced at that time, have for the first time given the health service the financial stability to plan a long-term strategy. The legislation to be introduced will enact some important parts of that strategy and will lead to a radical reshaping of the health services.
The NHS is already making progress. A huge amount of work is being done, but, as the Prime Minister acknowledged this week, winter is bound to bring extra pressures. However, the NHS is in far better shape to meet those pressures than it was this time last year. We should recognise the positive changes. There are 6,000 more nurses and 445 additional critical care beds. NHS Direct is available nationwide to give advice to people 24 hours a day and a deal has been made with the private sector that should provide thousands more operations. There is much to do as the 10-year strategy unfolds, but the glass is half full, not half empty.
As well as the key priorities of health and crime, there will be legislation on the other central concerns that affect people in their everyday life. Welfare fraud, which has scarred our benefit system for decades, will be tackled. We all know that buying a house is most people's ambition. This programme includes measures that will make easier the often difficult and over-complicated process of purchasing a home. In short, we are looking to increase speed arid reduce gazumping.
23 We shall also renew and update the legislation governing the Armed Forces and we shall bring forward a Bill setting out options on hunting with dogs. As promised, there will be a free vote on the Bill.
Overall, the legislative programme complements the wide-ranging economic programme set out by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Pre-Budget Report last month. Much has been done since the Government have been in office, but we know that there is a great deal more to do. We are renewing action to tackle crime and improve public services, taking new steps to help people with finding a home and helping business to succeed. All those measures are to do with security and safety and enabling people to plan their lives. That is what today's gracious Speech and the Government's overall programme are about.
Sadly, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I suspect that that is not what the Opposition will be about. They do not seem to have much, if anything, to say on those key issues facing Britain now. Today we have seen the usual lot of bandwagons parked round Parliament Square waiting to be leapt on as the latest headline develops. The core of the Opposition's position is either a policy vacuum or a policy conflict. Yesterday we saw unveiled the third—or perhaps the fourth—tax guarantee, which seemed to suggest yet again that billions of pounds of cuts in services would be necessary. This week we have also heard again the conflicting strong views of senior Conservatives speaking about Europe: on one side, distinguished Members of your Lordships' House such as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, and the noble Lord, Lord Brittan; on the other side, the present Conservative leadership in another place. No wonder Mr Hague has tried to clarify matters by saying, "Not all the policies that we pursue in the future will be exactly the same as the ones we had before".
In contrast, this Government came to office with a clear strategy and direction, which we have put into place. We know that people want even more change and improvement. The programme presented to Parliament today takes us further along that path. It is an unfolding programme of reform that shows a government for the long term acting for the whole country.
One reform that continues to unfold and on which we are determined to act is long-term reform of your Lordships' House. We have now seen one Session of the so-called transitional House. At times, it seemed that this would become a House of opposition rather than a revising Chamber, but in the end, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, the Government got their programme. That is as it should be. However, we should remember that the greater legitimacy of the transitional House still does not make us equal to the elected Chamber. The Government have made it clear many times that we firmly believe that the second Chamber should be just that—subordinate to the elected Chamber, the result of whose general election 24 determines which party forms the government. That is one of the most important principles that will underlie our programme of further reform.
Your Lordships will know that the Government are in discussion with the other political parties in both Houses about a joint committee on the parliamentary aspects of further reform. I hope that those discussions will soon lead to the establishment of that joint committee to take the issues forward. We are anxious to press on. The Government are examining the detailed recommendations of the Royal Commission. We plan to bring forward proposals for further legislation in time for the next election, whenever that may be.
I return finally to the gracious Speech and its underlying policies. It may be viewed wholly in the light that commentators prefer—that it tells them when the next general election might be and what it might be fought over. That is a matter for them. However, in one respect the fixation on election timing is right, because the measures set out in the gracious Speech underline the big choices that face Britain now: the choice between our approach and that pursued by the Opposition. Those choices can be simply expressed: a choice between economic stability and boom and bust; between investment in our public services and billions of pounds of cuts; between a modern health service and a privatised one; between rising police resources and rising crime; between leadership in foreign policy and isolation in the world; and between a government with a long-term strategy and a party that seems to be based solely on exploiting every opportunity. Those are the choices that lie behind the programme of legislation in today's gracious Speech. I commend the programme to the House.
On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until tomorrow.