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Lord Tyler: My Lords, I have long been conscious of the differences between your Lordships' House and another place along the Corridor. If I had not, I think that I would have been disabused of this illusion by robust conversations with Members—friends—on all sides of this House since I arrived here.

However, I think that I have detected one basic similarity between the two Houses of Parliament: pride of place. At the other end, Members constantly and understandably refer to their constituencies. They have to. But in your Lordships' House, on the other hand, the connection seems both more permanent and more deep-seated. Hereditary titles have centuries-old associations with different parts of the United Kingdom. In their wisdom, the legislators responsible for the Life Peerages Act 1958 retained that need for geographical links in our titles. When the complex negotiations in 1998–99 produced the House of Lords Act and the curious hybrid composition which we enjoy today, no one even suggested that modernisation required the severing of that link.

So, in my view, pride of place is an integral part—the lifeblood—of parliamentary democracy and the lifeblood of our body politic in the United Kingdom. It will therefore come as no surprise to your Lordships that I rejoice in my long connection with the great county of Cornwall, described by Quiller Couch as "The Delectable Duchy". I have been involved there for well over 35 years.

Some noble Lords will know from visiting Cornwall that it has its own unique character and integrity. Indeed, our border with England—the River Tamar—is much better delineated than that with Scotland and Wales. Our history is of a resilient, highly intelligent people with great ingenuity and enterprise, whose inventive and innovative spirit meant that we were a trading nation, and indeed had the first industrial revolution, long before the rest of the British Isles had escaped extreme insularity. I sometimes remind my English friends that when we were trading with the Phoenicians, they were dancing about in woad.
 
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So far as I am aware, my only family connection with your Lordships' House is that my ancestor, Sir Jonathan Trelawny, sat here in the 17th century successively as Bishop of Exeter and then Bishop of Winchester. Trelawny was, and is, something of a folk hero to the people of Cornwall. His family had been deeply involved in the life of the county for many generations. However, when he became the symbol of Cornwall's independent spirit, it was because he, in common with the six other bishops, was locked up in the Tower by King James II for resisting the royal decrees which appeared to undermine the Church of England and strengthen suspicions of a Catholic takeover. The King recalled later that, of all the Bishops, my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather was "the most saucy".

The subsequent trial for seditious libel in Westminster Hall, and eventual acquittal by a London jury, were followed with bated breath in Cornwall. Although not then their diocesan bishop, Trelawny's name quickly achieved fame as the county's champion against the interference and domination of a remote authority. The news of his acquittal, on 30 June 1688, was received with peals of church bells, the firing of town cannons and the consumption of a great deal of beer and sack. That was the beginning of the end for King James II. It laid the foundations for the Bill of Rights on which our constitution is so firmly anchored.

Years later, another remarkable Cornish character, Parson Hawker, in my old constituency of North Cornwall, wrote the national anthem which records these events. The chorus runs:

In the 21st century that song is still sung with raucous enthusiasm on many occasions, not least at Twickenham—win or lose.

That rather lengthy background is intended not just to ensure that your Lordships' House is aware of the arrival of a very modest Cornishman, or indeed to celebrate today's anniversary of the acquittal of the seven bishops, but to demonstrate a number of salient characteristics of our country and the need for our political institutions to reflect and respect them.

The United Kingdom is blessed with a richness of varied communities, traditions, historical roots and present-day concerns and aspirations. As my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury said earlier, diversity in this comparatively small country is a very important thread. British people identify with areas and communities of widely varying size and significance, from the great City of London to the smallest island or parish. It is something that we should rejoice in and recognise politically. It is not just nostalgia for the tourist trade, but a deep-seated human need that is perhaps even more necessary in a technological era when our lifestyle is so affected by international—indeed, global—concerns. I believe that, psychologically, it is beneficial and extremely important to all of us.
 
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In the past half century or so, successive governments have sought to standardise and centralise, very often in the interests of quality control, to the point that we now have the most dirigiste administrative system in the whole of Europe. I acknowledge that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But those good intentions have gone sour in their implementation.

Meanwhile, as has been said, other countries—notably the former command economies of dictatorships of the Right and the Left, right across the Continent—have decentralised, often, ironically of course, with British advice and British assistance. The most obvious example is that of the Federal Republic of Germany. Meanwhile the limited devolution to Scotland, Wales and, intermittently, Northern Ireland has met some needs and expectations, but merely reinforced others.

At least some of the current alarming disengagement of the public from the political process, as my noble friend said, and from the parliamentary and local government elections in particular, can be ascribed to that perception of remote control. Alienation is a feature of perceived distance from and influence on decision making.

Cornwall is just one natural community where history, geography and present-day social integrity seem to be neglected and undermined by our political institutions. The dilution of local government autonomy and obsessive nitpicking by Westminster and Whitehall has reached such a pitch that all noble Lords must realise that it is a feature that is recognised by our neighbours in our own areas.

As long ago as 1968 I co-authored a little booklet entitled Power to the Provinces. We were responding to the creation of appointed regional economic planning boards, which were modelled more on colonial administrations of our imperial past than on democratic agents of devolution. However, the general approach that we advocated was widely relevant then and is still widely relevant today. In essence, we said that "decisions should be taken as close as possible to the people they affect".

Years later, that admirable concept was given the rather ugly title of "subsidiarity" by the Major government. But, despite that title, the concept is still extremely valuable and is at the heart of the debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Phillips. That principle holds good for every level of governance. While I personally have no particular grief for the recent demise of the draft EU constitution, to which reference was made earlier, I very much regret that the commitment to greater subsidiarity seems to have died with it.

Yet there is clearly both an appetite and an opportunity for not only a new commitment, but also a new and more radical programme of devolution. The collapse of the attempts to impose unwieldy regional assemblies, to which reference has been made, which would have mirrored the vast Conservative government regional quangos of yesteryear, and the failure of the attempt to encourage acceptance of elected mayors with centralised powers, has left a vacuum.
 
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Every level of governance needs to be reassessed in that light. There are lessons, I believe, even for your Lordships' House. In the Second Chamber of Parliament Bill, which I and more prominent Members of both Houses prepared and published earlier this year, we were very careful to protect and enhance the links with every part of the United Kingdom.

I have worried and written about these matters for many years and I do not pretend that I have reached a definitive conclusion, but I am convinced that our long-suffering citizens and the very health of our parliamentary democracy require a fresh and more energetic initiative to reverse the centralisation of the past half century. Localism does not mean narrow parochialism. Greater local participation need not lead to national disunity. Bureaucracy need not be a dirty word if its application is much more sensitive to local and personal influence.

There is a moment—just a moment—when the tide turns. I believe that we can catch that incoming tide now. But if we do not, it will not be just "twenty thousand Cornish men" who will want to know the reason why; it will be millions of our fellow citizens from every community throughout the United Kingdom.

1.51 pm


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