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When I first entered this House, I encountered great kindness on all sides, and I received a number of letters. One that particularly caught my attention was a request from a Scottish football fan, who asked me to include in my territorial title the name Midlothian, so that in the Divisions of this House, recorded in Hansard, there would be constant references to his team, Heart of Midlothian. In the event, with the arrival of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, there was no such need. Instead, at the request of my local parish council in Suffolk, I adopted the name of Chilton, where I live some 10 miles away from the fields where my great-great-grandfather and his father worked as agricultural labourers. I spent the whole of my childhood and adolescence with great happiness in Ipswich in that county, one of whose famous sons was Cardinal Wolsey. I often wondered whether that fact had anything to do with my selection as an adviser to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine.

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At school, I wondered about a career in the law, so I went to see the lawyer member of the Foot family, Dingle Foot, who was then the Member of the other place for the constituency of Ipswich. “Go to the courts”, he said, “and soak up the atmosphere”. So I went to the Suffolk assizes. To my astonishment, the first case involved a boy from my class at school. He entered the dock. He was charged with arson in that, on Guy Fawkes night, he had set light to a duck hut in the local park, sending a number of ducks into oblivion. He told us that he had been going on holiday. Of course in a way that proved to be the case because he was convicted, but he went away for a rather longer time than he had led us to believe.

Having soaked up the atmosphere of the court, I decided as a precautionary measure to become a solicitor. For 35 years of my life, dealing with planning and the environment, I was lucky enough to promote some extraordinary projects, and sometimes I sought to stop others. I toured England and Wales in the company of various distinguished and expensive Queen’s Counsel whose presence certainly prolonged the proceedings quite considerably. As one said to me one night in the hotel bar after we had been going at an inquiry for more than two months, “You know, the planning inquiry has been invented to give the public some idea of eternity”.

What did I learn? Throughout my professional career there has been any number of attempts to make the planning system more efficient, more speedy and less costly. There is still a very long way to go but the Queen’s Speech contains further proposals and I wish them well. Speeding up the process must not exclude proper public participation and communities must not feel alienated by an over-legalistic system. Many are baffled and defeated by the jargon used by planners. Please follow this example from the London Docklands development brief carefully. It states:

I can see that some of your Lordships, like me, are also now in the edge situation. So let me immediately beg to second the Motion, repeat what an honour it has been to do so, and say how delighted I am, after all the years that I have spent admiring your Lordships' House in silence, to be taking part in the proceedings of the House for the first time today.

4.03 pm

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am delighted to beg to move that this debate be adjourned until tomorrow. In doing so, it is my welcome duty to congratulate the mover and seconder of the main Motion on their excellent speeches; in particular, we had the remarkable maiden speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Hart. Before I say anything more on both those speakers, perhaps your Lordships will support me if I say something about the first person who addressed us today; that is, Her Majesty the Queen.

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Her Majesty has now opened Parliament 54 times, far more times than any of her predecessors. Even Queen Victoria did so only 30 times. Nothing could speak more of the unparalleled and lifelong sense of public duty Her Majesty has always held before us as an example. I am sure that with the passing of the years the crown gets no lighter, and certainly the speeches regularly fall short of the Shakespearean. In this splendid and deeply symbolic ceremony, which calls to mind the unity of our nation, of which Parliament is only the servant, Her Majesty has never flinched. In a fortnight’s time, she and Prince Philip will mark 60 years of married life. I am sure that I speak for the whole House in wishing them the heartiest good wishes and congratulations for a very special diamond wedding.

The noble Baroness, Lady Corston, charmed the House. We knew her already as a person of great heart and humanity, and as one deeply committed to the cause of the weak and those without basic rights in their own countries. In that, she has many friends in this House, as she has in her work for disabled people. I am sure that we will find ourselves on the same side of the argument on some of the legislation foreshadowed today. The noble Baroness can be proud of her record of public service and of loyalty to her party, and the House looks forward to hearing from her on many more occasions.

If the noble Baroness has been a public face of Labour, old and new, the noble Lord, Lord Hart of Chilton, has been the quiet man of your Lordships’ House for far too long. He has been a private voice in the ear of two of the titans of new Labour—the noble and learned Lords, Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Falconer of Thoroton. Both those mighty battleships have now been mothballed, but we still hear the occasional rumble of 16-inch guns in the media and who knows where else in the future. Now, at last, the noble Lord has broken his silence to share his wisdom with an expectant nation. I have found out that he is a person of the highest authority in the field of planning, and he has demonstrated that knowledge today. No doubt we will be hearing from him on the controversial legislation laid before us.

As a special adviser, the noble Lord occupied a role in which he could not take a strong public position, but I know from my dealings with him of the constructive line that he always took on difficult issues. We had some insight into his good sense and outstanding sense of humour today. In Dod’s, he gives his recreation as “talking”. He talked a good talk today, and we look forward to him yakking a bit more in the Session ahead. I sound a warning to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. The House may remember that it was only seven years ago when she herself seconded the Motion for an humble Address. A few more speeches like that from the noble Lord, Lord Hart, and—who knows?—a place in the Whips’ Office at least for him. As I did the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, I congratulate him warmly.

It is now nine years since I became Leader of the Opposition. This morning, as I sought inspiration for my speech, I recalled the words of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s ninth husband, who said, “I know what to do, but I’m

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not sure I can still make it very interesting”. I shall do my best. A few months ago, I was waiting to leave a plane at Glasgow Airport, when one of my fellow passengers turned to me and discussed various matters regarding the role of government. After a couple of minutes, seeing a vague look in my eyes, he said accusingly, “You are that Digby Jones, aren’t you, my Lord?”. I still do not know which of us should feel more flattered.

Here we are—the first Session of a new Prime Minister. No more Tony Blair, no more cool Britannia, stakeholderism or contestability. At least then, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, reminded us last year, we had the third way. Now there seems no sense of any way in which to lead this country. Of course, it was supposed to be so different. This should have been the first day of a new Government, not just another day in the death of an old one.

A month ago the Prime Minister marched party and country boldly up to the top of the hill and then led us all down again. Even the Grand Old Duke of York had a bit more vision than that. The Prime Minister said that he delayed the election to set out his vision. Some of us thought that we knew pretty well what his vision was—to tax, to regulate, to see spending as the solution to every problem and to put your faith in the state and trust no one. These are the stars by which we all know Mr Brown has navigated in these past 10 years.

Many of your Lordships will recall that just before the Summer Recess we were asked to have a debate on an early look at the Queen’s Speech—a “Prime Minister’s Speech”, no less. I thought that it was a little absurd then and I have seen no reason to change my mind. When I look back on that Statement, the Prime Minister promised what he called region-by-region deliberation and responses. I hope that when the noble Baroness replies she will be able to tell us if they were dancing down in Devon when they heard that a planning Bill would weaken powers to stop developers concreting over our gardens and countryside. Was there a rumble in the Ribble Valley when they heard of a coroners Act coming their way? Did they start crooning in Croydon when they heard that the local council might get more powers to charge and fine drivers? Where is the vision in all this mishmash?

The Climate Change Bill is welcome, but it has been announced for the sixth time—or is it the seventh? Just how many criminal justice Acts have we had since 1997? Why, despite all of them, is gun and knife crime soaring? We have a Bill to force young people to stay in education until they are 18. That may have benefits, but surely the scandal is not that many students spend two years too few in school but that they have learnt too little in the previous 11. Treating the symptoms is one thing; we need to tackle the causes. We have a Bill for cleaner hospitals; but surely, to make our hospitals safe, it is not a Bill we need, but the will and the way. Once again this is legislating about the symptoms, not the cause.

Then we are promised another Bill on deregulation. I hope that might start in your Lordships’ House, so that the noble Lord, Lord Jones

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of Birmingham, can shape it, as I know British business would want. Can the noble Baroness say if that will be the case? And is she is able to say how many other Bills will be starting here? I counted 18 Bills in the gracious Speech. I am sure that there must be more. Can the noble Baroness say how many there are and how heavy this Session will be?

There was talk in the Speech of “renewing the constitutional settlement”. That ought to mean tackling the West Lothian question and offering English votes for English laws. I see nothing on that. There is talk of ratifying the European treaty. But where is the provision for the referendum that was unequivocally promised in the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos?

If we are looking for vision, I see only two Bills that were not in July’s speech. There is a Bill on party finance that reflects no party consensus. Can the noble Baroness say if it will include a provision to cap spending and funding of the Labour Party by the trade unions? We are told there is a Bill to ensure confidence in the banking system. Where is the vision in that? It will be an epitaph of new Labour that it took two of the granite pillars of British confidence and integrity—the voting system and the banking system—and left them mired in doubt.

We will have difficult work in the coming months, not least on the crucial question of balancing ancient liberties and domestic security. I hope that the Government really mean what the Speech says, that they will seek consensus and not play politics with people’s freedoms. We will face hard debates on nuclear power, where the Government’s long failure to grasp this issue has put our energy security at risk. We will face agonising choices, too, on the human embryology Bill.

I know that your Lordships will be at your best in this difficult work, which will shape the lives of future generations. As an Opposition, we will play our part constructively. The errors of the past 10 years have thrown up great challenges that need to be tackled in our schools and hospitals and cities. I look forward, as does my Front Bench, to working with Peers from all parties and from none in scrutinising and improving the legislation put before us. It is my very pleasant duty to beg to move.

Moved, That this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.—(Lord Strathclyde.)

4.15 pm

Lord McNally: My Lords, Harold Wilson’s old dictum that a week is a long time in politics is even more true when it applies to a year. The last gracious Speech, delivered on 15 November 2006, now seems to belong to a different age. Since then we have had a new Leader of this House, a new Lord Chancellor and a new Prime Minister, and of course my own party is in the process of choosing a new leader to replace Sir Menzies Campbell—or “Young Ming” as he was known here in the House of Lords.

As for our new Prime Minister, he has already established a reputation for kleptomania. First of all he raids these Benches for advice and talent. Then he

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steals policies from the Conservatives, some of which they had already stolen from us. On top of that he costs the Labour Party £1 million by bottling the decision on the general election. In the circumstances I have some sympathy for Mr Douglas Alexander, his chief election aide. Is it really possible that a Prime Minister would defer the date of a general election without telling his closest aide, who was busy preparing for a different and earlier date? Well, perhaps it has happened before. But enough of memory lane.

My first task is to congratulate the mover and the seconder of the humble Address for the gracious Speech. I know the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, only by reputation. She has long been a champion of the rights of the child and we look forward to her expert view in the year ahead on the Bill,

As a former chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and indeed in this House, she has a reputation as a loyalist without ever allowing it to be of Foulkesian proportions. The internet site puts her in the “Never rebels against their party” column. I hope we can entice her into a little rebelliousness in the year ahead.

For me the noble Lord, Lord Hart of Chilton, is a different matter. I have known him for over 40 years. When I went to University College, London, in 1962 he was already established as the star of the debating society. Whenever the buzz went round college that Garry Hart was to speak, young students would flock to hear the great man orate. He would enter the debating chamber like the toreador from “Carmen”, with undergraduates swooning at his feet. So when I again consulted, I was—until I heard his explanation today—surprised. Number of questions: nil. Number of speeches: nil. Did those years toiling as Sancho Panza to Lord Irvine’s legal Don Quixote drain him completely? Was Garry Hart a burnt-out star? A dead supernova? Our answer came today in a speech of wit and brilliance that transported me back 40 years.

There is one other bright spot about today’s speech. offers a service where they will instantly send a subscriber any speech or question made by a noble Lord. On their site they log the number of people who have registered for each Peer. I can tell the House that two people had registered for this service in relation to the noble Lord, Lord Hart. Can you imagine the joy in those homes today when the machine in the corner that had long been silent and gathering dust suddenly chattered into life? Garry had spoken. We hope that those machines will be kept increasingly busy in the months and years ahead.

Over the next week, we shall have the opportunity to debate the gracious Speech in detail and I will not delay the House today by mentioning our attitude to each Bill. But on a personal level, as a vice-president of Shelter, I welcome the commitment in the gracious Speech to provide more social and affordable housing. As Shelter has pointed out, nearly 1 million children still live in sub-standard housing. Given that we have come through a decade of growth and prosperity, the Government's record in this sector is

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lamentable. For much of the past decade barely 20,000 to 25,000 social rented homes have been built each year compared with around 100,000 a year, on a regular basis, in the 1960s and 1970s. Even what is promised in the gracious Speech may be too little, too late, with not enough use made of council capabilities, not enough social housing to meet population growth, not enough affordability and not enough sustainability in the Government’s plans. The blunt fact is that 40 years after she shocked the nation, Cathy has yet to come home.

We welcome the invitation in the gracious Speech to broader consultation on constitutional reform. There is no doubt that the Government were much more sure-footed on matters of constitutional reform when operating from the blueprint provided by the Cook/Maclennan committee than when responsibility was passed over to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and Mr John Prescott. There is a need for us all to commit ourselves to an entrenched framework of rights where the Human Rights Act is seen as a minimum standard—not something to be watered down or dismantled.

On measures to combat both crime and terrorism, we give second place to no one in our determination to combat both. But the threats and challenges that this generation faces do not change the name of the game when defending the essentials of rights and freedoms which make up a liberal democracy. I believe passionately that, when the state seeks new powers over the citizen, Parliament has a duty to make the Executive clear the highest hurdles before such powers are granted, if at all. If every atrocity or threat of atrocity produces a further ratcheting-up of security measures, we are in danger of creating a permanent state of emergency which would be counterproductive, both in providing security and in preserving our democracy. The warning issued yesterday by the head of MI5 about the nature of the threat facing us calls into question once again the wisdom of diverting billions of pounds into a costly and unproven ID cards system when the real need is for more, better trained officers and more conventional programmes targeted at counterterrorism.

I referred a moment ago to the responsibilities of Parliament in regard to civil liberties. I believe that Parliament should accept similar responsibilities for the amending treaty to be brought before us relating to the European Union. I have made it clear from these Benches that the Government will have our votes if the Bill clears the House of Commons and is presented in a way that explains and extols the positive benefits of our continuing membership of the European Union.

We have a busy year ahead. So let me give the Lord President and the Government Chief Whip a rough rule of thumb by which they can assess whether they can rely on these Benches for any particular measure. If the Government make a reality of their commitment to consensus and consultation on constitutional and related matters, they will find us willing participants. If they seek to reform our system of governance so that power and decision-making come closer to the people, they will have our enthusiastic support. We will not hesitate to give our

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support when national security demands it, but neither will we shirk from opposing measures which are authoritarian and undermine hard-won liberties. We will certainly demand actions, not just words, on matters concerning the environment and global warming.

The gracious Speech sets out a programme. What remains to be probed is whether this Prime Minister and this Government have a philosophy and a strategy to meet the challenges of our time. Sooner or later they will have to face the judgment of the people. In the mean time, it is against the criteria that I have set out that we on these Benches will test this programme in the year ahead.

4.24 pm

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally, and to begin my first full Session as Leader of your Lordships’ House. It is a great honour and privilege to serve the whole of your Lordships’ House as its Leader. I do so with humility, respect and real affection for your Lordships’ House, for all it does and for your Lordships—some of you especially; you know who you are. I am especially proud to serve your Lordships from these Benches and pay tribute to the government ministerial team here, who work so hard to serve this House, this Government and, most importantly, this country.

I am delighted to congratulate my noble friend Lady Corston on moving the Motion on the gracious Speech. My noble friend now has considerable experience of both Houses of our Parliament, and her speech reflected that experience and the wisdom behind it. She was, as noble Lords will know, chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party—the first woman to hold that position, at which she excelled. The rare blend of no-nonsense political good sense combined with a willingness to speak truth unto power made her a real asset to the party, the Government and, perhaps most of all, to the Prime Minister. Woe betide Back-Bench MPs who behaved improperly, and woe betide government Ministers who failed to listen to the wise words of the Back-Benchers. She is, I know, sorely missed in the other place for her considerable abilities, and we are honoured to have her here.

I feel particularly privileged to be responding to my noble friend’s moving the Motion on the gracious Speech because of our shared interest in equalities and human rights. My noble friend’s record on these and other issues in which she has specialised is second to none. I pay tribute to her work over many years, not least as the chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, where she won the respect of all those who had the privilege of working with her. If I might pick out, from her long career, one piece from many outstanding pieces of work, it is her recently published report on women in prison. As a former Minister in the Ministry of Justice, I know how well her work in this area is viewed: a template for how this country should and must handle this sensitive and important area in the years to come. I thank my noble friend for her speech, and am particularly

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pleased that she was able to make it. I know that she had a bout of severe viral pneumonia this summer, but, fortunately, it did not prevent her being with us today.

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