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Lord Richard: I beg your Lordships' pardon. I see that the noble Lord is indeed present in the Chamber. However, he is dressed in grey and therefore seems to fade into the background. I cannot help recalling the occasion when he stood up to speak dressed in a resplendent scarlet Sergeant's uniform. Indeed, it is one of the sights of this House that I long remember. Many noble Lords may also remember that, on the last occasion when the roles of government and opposition were reversed, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, intervened from what were then the Liberal Benches alone. He inquired in that puckish spirit of conciliation that we have come to respect and receive from him whether it was in order and in the best interests of safety
I turn now to my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees. I can only echo the words of congratulation expressed by others. However, today is truly a great day, not least for my party. I believe that the House has been well served by my noble friend. He is a man of great parliamentary experience. He was a Member of the other place for almost 30 years before joining your Lordships' House. My noble friend is also a man of very considerable experience of government, having served in a number of ministerial offices "doing time"--if that is not a wholly inappropriate phrase--as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and later as Home Secretary in the Government of my noble friend Lord Callaghan, whom I am delighted to see in his place this afternoon. We have had to wait 18 long years for another Labour Prime Minister and I am delighted that my noble friend is here to see it.
My own friendship with my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees, goes back many years. The first time that we met was in the late 1950s when he was fighting a by-election in Harrow East. The first sight that I ever had of my noble friend was at a large meeting of the Labour Party when he was complaining bitterly that the Daily Herald was supporting A. P. Herbert, who was thinking of standing in that by-election, rather than supporting my noble friend. It did not really matter in the end because A. P. Herbert did not stand and my noble friend was not elected. I also recall that we both attended and spoke at the memorable--if only because of its awfulness--Labour Party conference of 1959, just after we had lost the election of that year. For years a devotee of his adopted City of Leeds, in particular Hunslet, my noble friend, as the noble Viscount pointed out, nevertheless remains a Welshman who is conscious of and true to his roots in the Glamorgan valleys. In this day and age when Scotland seems to be providing so many of our government Ministers, it is perhaps refreshing to have the balance so successfully redressed.
However, lest it be thought that I was being somewhat unaccommodating and unkind to the Conservative Party, I should point out that my noble friend Lady Mallalieu today represents the one part of the United Kingdom which still has some Conservative representation; namely, England. As one would expect, my noble friend performed admirably. She has been active on both the Front and Back-Benches of this House and combines that activity very ably with her work at the Bar. I remember once arriving in court with my noble friend at the beginning of what promised to be a long trial at the Old Bailey. She came into court, set her brief down and smiled at the judge. The judge smiled back at her and promptly discharged her clients. The rest of us sat there in court for two months, at the end of which all the other defendants went to prison for a very long time.
However, one should never be deceived by my noble friend's gentle exterior. I believe that beneath it there beats a hunter's heart, although I must say that I am most grateful to her today because she made a speech
Before I return to the gracious Speech, perhaps I may reflect a little on a significant date which occurred while we were away from the House. I do not actually refer to 1st May but rather to 15th April. I am told that the latter was the 150th anniversary of the occupation of this Chamber after the Great Fire. Whatever view one holds on the House of Lords as an institution, I am sure that we can all agree that we are privileged to serve in such a fine historical workplace as the Chamber of your Lordships' House. I should like to use this opportunity to pay a public tribute to all those craftsmen and workmen who have laboured so hard over many years to ensure that this place retains its historic dignity and grandeur, while functioning as part of a working Parliament.
I shall not detain your Lordships for very long today on the contents of the gracious Speech. I fear that the House will have to suffer a further and perhaps longer speech from me tomorrow at the start of our substantive debate. It seemed to me to be sensible for me to open the debate on the Queen's Speech rather than merely conclude it at the end of the fourth day, especially as we have both a new Parliament and a new Government.
I believe it is fairly obvious now that Her Majesty's Government have a heavy programme. It is clearly designed to fulfil the pledges and promises that our party made and for which we were elected to government less than two weeks ago. The Session will last until the autumn of 1998 and, during that time, your Lordships will have to consider some major pieces of legislation. At this point it is customary for the Leader of the House to indicate which of the measures will start in your Lordships' House. However, as was the case when the late Lord Soames addressed the House in parallel circumstances in 1979, I hope that the House will allow me the indulgence of not making any very detailed comments today on the timetable for the Session which lies ahead.
Nevertheless, I can identify one measure which will be introduced in your Lordships' House tomorrow; namely, a Bill concerned with the private financing of hospitals. In the spirit of co-operation which has always been so evident in your Lordships' House, and to which this Government are totally committed, I am sure that that particular measure will find support on all sides of the House especially as we inherited the draft Bill from the last Government.
In addition, your Lordships will be asked to deal with a number of other legislative proposals before the Summer Recess, not the least of which is a Bill to provide for referenda on devolution in Scotland and Wales and a Bill to abolish the assisted places scheme in schools.
I should add at this point that steps are of course being taken to secure debates early in the Session on a number of reports from your Lordships' Select Committees which have been carried over from the last Parliament. There will also be the usual opportunities for party and Back-Bench debates on Wednesdays during the Session.
I began my speech by expressing the hope that the House will soon grow accustomed to looking at itself from another perspective. It is not only the Chamber that will have to be looked at from another perspective: it is the politics of the United Kingdom which also requires to be looked at from a totally different perspective.
My reflections on our seating arrangements should not be taken as comfort for those noble Lords who are here through accident of birth. They should not read too much into the absence of any reference in the gracious Speech to the subject of reform of your Lordships' House. A commitment to end the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House was in my party's manifesto and it remains a firm commitment of Her Majesty's Government. I am sure that the House will allow me to recall--I believe that I caught an echo of this in the speech of the noble Viscount--that it is your Lordships' normal general practice to allow Her Majesty's Government to secure their business. I repeat my own conviction that the House will continue to behave in accordance with its conventions and best traditions. I am sure that it will.
I conclude by assuring the House that I am very conscious of the particular, and in some ways the peculiar, position of Leader of your Lordships' House. It is a great honour which I accept with humility. I recognise that I have responsibility for the House as a whole and not merely as my party's leader in this branch of the legislature. It is indicative of the way in which this House works that a member of the Government has a special duty to act on behalf of all your Lordships and to protect our joint interests during the course of our
Stoppages in the Streets--Ordered, That the Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis do take care that during the Session of Parliament the passages through the streets leading to this House be kept free and open; and that no obstruction be permitted to hinder the passage of the Lords to and from this House; and that no disorder be allowed in Westminster Hall, or in the passages leading to this House, during sitting of Parliament; and that there be no annoyance therein or thereabouts; and that the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod attending this House do communicate this order to the Commissioner aforesaid.
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