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Apprenticeships are important rites of passage, whether in this House or in the wider world. I am really delighted that the issue of apprenticeship has been placed right at the heart of the gracious Speech. I sincerely hope that the legislation that emerges makes

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it far easier for both employers and potential apprentices to get together and train a new generation for the challenges of the modern world. Over the years, we have made apprenticeship, which ought to be a straightforward contract, needlessly complicated. Let us simplify it. University education is hugely important, but that route is simply not for everyone, and we need to place again a genuine premium on the value of a good-quality apprenticeship.

I grew up in the west of Scotland, and my title is taken from Cunninghame, the ancient name for North Ayrshire, the area where I was born, brought up and educated. Generations of my family have prospered there in trade, in commerce and in education. My grandmother was a pupil teacher throughout the Great War and kept many village schools going, and my mother was an eminent head teacher. My father and his before him were engineers, and my father trained scores of apprentices throughout his career in the nuclear power industry. He built many nuclear power stations; that might be back in fashion soon.

I did not come to your Lordships’ House via a traditional political route, because my career has largely been made in business and in finance. I have voluntarily worked in social housing and regeneration for most of my adult life. Those are my passions, because the kind of environment where children grow up profoundly affects their self-worth and their aspiration. A decent home is the most basic building block of all.

I have the privilege of chairing the Irvine Bay Regeneration Company, which focuses on the economic renewal of the area where I grew up and where I have returned to live. Battered by the recession of the early 1980s, we have never recovered the levels of very high employment that the area boasted right up until that time, when really seismic shifts in the world economy meant that textiles, shipbuilding and chemicals, which were major sources of employment in our area, closed down. Twenty-five years later, we still continue to work really hard to attract new industries and new employment to our towns.

But Ayrshire is a resilient place; it is a gorgeous county and of course it is the home of Robert Burns. We know how to enjoy ourselves, and we love to laugh. Our humour can be particularly surreal. I recall sitting on the train from Glasgow, which was headed for Ardrossan to meet the Belfast ferry. A greyhound—an especially frisky greyhound—was put into the freight van and, at a station near Ardrossan, the dog escaped and bounded along the platform. The guard then ran after it the whole way down the platform, hollering the immortal words, “Stop that dog, it’s a parcel!”.

Motion to Adjourn

Moved by Lord Strathclyde

3.58 pm

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am delighted 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 most

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excellent speeches. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, made a typically elegant speech. He did so this time out of some pretty thin gruel, given the size of the gracious Speech. He spoke as a man free of the cares of office and clearly enjoying it. But you never know, this could have been the great comeback speech. After all, in this day and age, you can be cruising on a luxury yacht off a Greek island one day, only to discover that switch at No. 10 has got your number. The noble and learned Lord’s support for the former Prime Minister, Mr Blair, will do him no harm either. We have always seen the noble and learned Lord as a Blairite down to the pancetta and eggs baveuse for breakfast back in the old flat.

Over the years we of course grew to know and acknowledge his ability to argue a case for the preposterous—like abolishing the great office he had just taken on, or even limiting the right to trial by jury. He should be careful, though, because his skills are much needed: a Cabinet role putting the preposterous case that the Prime Minister had nothing to do with the recession might indeed be tailor-made for the noble and learned Lord.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ford, does not need to nurture a hope of a coming back, because it is clear from her contribution today that the only direction in which she is coming is forwards. The noble Baroness spoke with warmth and humour, which are qualities that this House much admires. The House has already taken to her manner and good sense, and she underlined that today. And should we be surprised, given that, like me, she is a native of the finest county in the British Isles—the noble soil of Ayrshire? As far as I can see, the more Scots who play a part in English Partnerships, the more that is to be admired.

This is the 12th gracious Speech since the 1997 election. The next would be the 13th—unlucky for our country, which after a decade of debt-fuelled boom is now completely and utterly bust. The gracious Speech, like the pre-Budget Statement, both copiously leaked to the press, incidentally, is all about the short-term prospects of the Prime Minister and not the long-term future of the country. The Government are embarked on a race against being rumbled. When I see a speech like this, I do not expect a long Session. When we hear a nationalised bank being ordered to stop repossessions for six months, many will conclude that the cunning plan is this: repossessions in June, elections in May; tax rises next year, tax cuts today. They must think that the British people are very simple indeed. But I must signal to the noble Baroness that if the Government call an early election, they cannot count on our letting these Bills into law without scrutiny. We made that mistake before with the Gambling Act. What followed was the scandal of trying to regenerate poverty by building casinos. We will not go there twice.

Will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House confirm the total number of Bills? Given the tight timetable, a balanced programme is vital. We have much work to do on the Banking Bill over the next few weeks, regarding which we have already agreed to co-operate on timing. Will the noble Baroness say what other Bills will start in your Lordships’ House? Will they include the marine Bill, on which there is great expertise in this Chamber?

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The gracious Speech was Delphic on constitutional renewal. Some of us, like the drunk at midnight, feel that we have had one-too-many constitutional renewals lately and are a little under the weather as a result. Indeed, it is with great sadness that I reflect that this may be the last Session in which the Law Lords will be Members of this House. We have benefited from their advice since time immemorial. The costs of building and running an unnecessary Supreme Court and replacement courts are making their contribution to the doubling national debt. If this folly is not stopped—I suspect it will not be—it would be wrong to let this occasion pass without an expression of the deepest gratitude for the role of the justices and Law Lords over so many centuries in making this Chamber what it is. Will the noble Baroness say whether there will be a constitutional renewal Bill? To keep the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, happy, will she confirm that the Government will be supporting no more proposals this Session that affect this House or its composition?

There is a related issue that should concern your Lordships, which is the privileges of your Lordships’ House. I must say bluntly that this House is being taken for granted far too much. At the end of the last Session, as powerfully expressed by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding, privilege was cited to block Lords amendments in the most tenuous of circumstances. Long ago, in 1702, this House found itself on the receiving end of a practice known as tacking, whereby non-financial matters were attached to Finance Bills to stop your Lordships amending them. Your Lordships’ forebears were wise enough to pass a resolution—still our Standing Order 53—declaring that this practice was unparliamentary and tended to the destruction of constitutional government. The resolve of this House was effective and tacking stopped. If privilege is cited where none really exists, we may need to renew that resolution of 1702.

Then there are other matters: the packaging of unrelated Lords amendments in the other place, which still continues; and the ignoring of recommendations of your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Merits Committees, and the exclusion of your Lordships from any say in certain regulations. There is a pattern of if not contempt then certainly carelessness. Now, we have the heavy-handed arrest of a Front-Bench opposition spokesman, who published facts that Ministers wanted to cover up, and the invasion of police to rifle through the private records of a parliamentarian’s office without even a warrant. I saw comments made earlier by a Cabinet Minister in which he made insinuations about a threat to national security. What tosh, my Lords. This was simply bad news that Labour Ministers wanted buried.

As long ago as 1626, this House, in the Earl of Arundel’s case, held that no parliamentarian could be arrested by the Executive to prevent him going about his parliamentary business. Peers on both sides of the House—on all sides, indeed—have said that they are concerned at how this threat may affect their duties if they are sent undisclosed information. Can the noble Baroness, who serves us all on these matters, help us? What would happen if a request came in to raid an

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office here? Who would be told? I should like to think that the House’s authorities would not so lightly have allowed such an invasion of this House to occur. Will the noble Baroness, when she responds, give the House assurances on this, perhaps by undertaking to bring a paper to the Committee for Privileges laying out what safeguards Members of this House should expect?

Of course, there are things in the Speech with which we agree. Many seem to have been borrowed from our own policy papers. Of those that were not, a savings gateway is fine, but is not the sadness that under this Government savings have vanished? Too little, too late, my Lords. Reform of welfare is something that we have been advocating for years. It would have been achieved long ago if the Prime Minister had not plunged his dagger into the back of Mr Frank Field. However, it is hardly a propitious time to force disabled people into a jobs market which is contracting faster than at any time in recent memory. If only, as in so many things, this Government had done the right thing as the sun was shining, we would not be in the same mess today.

Can the noble Baroness say whether reports are true that the Government intend powers to stop people in the street and ask them for their ID cards? I warn her that this House will be very sceptical of that. Can it be true that there are yet more Home Office and justice Bills, while in the real world violent crime continues to rise? We hear that there will be another education Bill and another health Bill. Will we be better taught and better cared for as a result? I doubt it.

That this is a shorter Speech is welcome but, even to this Government’s dying day, Ministers do not clock the basic fact that government is about far more than passing laws. The whole Speech—as mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, although he came to a different conclusion from mine—is overshadowed by the disastrous results of the mismanagement of our economy. On this occasion in 1997, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead said, with his customary modesty, that the new Labour Government had inherited a stronger economic legacy than any Government of modern times, except of course the one that succeeded Lord Jenkins’ tenure of No. 11. Not even the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, would try that one today. The claim that it is all the fault of foreigners would not convince Alf Garnett at his most jingoistic. The idea that Britain, with its homemade manufacturing recession and its ransacked capacity to sustain public spending, is in a better state to face global problems is a cloud-cuckoo-land.

There is a sense of utter detachment from reality in the spin that world leaders are gagging to touch the hem of the Prime Minister and that he can puff himself up as a saviour of the world when people here are losing homes, jobs, savings and pensions. The failure to accept any responsibility or to offer any apology for boom and bust can only spread cynicism about politics today.

Nothing in the gracious Speech can or will repair the damage done by the Government’s policies since 1997. The harsh reality is that nothing will avert the fact that Britain, with public and personal debt mushrooming and future taxes and liabilities piled selfishly on our children, faces the worst economic

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legacy left by any Government. It is a nightmare cocktail of a plunging pound, mass redundancies, business bankruptcies, and lording over us all, an arrogant bureaucracy that is high on privilege and utterly divorced from the problems of the high street, unemployment, repossessions, vanishing pensions and savings, and record regulation and tax.

Was it for that that they thronged so eagerly to the Bar to hear that first gracious Speech when Labour was new? Let them bring on the election that the Speech prefigures. We are ready. The sooner a new Government can get to work to repair the damage done by this one, the better. I beg to move that this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.

4.12 pm

Lord McNally: My Lords, it is a real honour for me to second that proposition and to open the Queen’s Speech debate from these Benches. I know that within the next few days the galaxy of talent at my disposal will be using its experience and expertise to comment on the details of the gracious Speech.

My first task is to pay tribute to the mover and seconder of the Loyal Address. Let me say first to the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, that she has an impressive record in both business and public service. One of the internet biographies that I consulted listed her skills simply as “management”. She has certainly managed her task today with skill, humour and eloquence. Given her long-standing concern for the need for a vigorous and imaginative housing policy, I wonder that she does not share my surprise that the words “housing” and “homelessness” do not appear anywhere in the gracious Speech. Surely keeping people who are under threat of eviction in their homes and providing new supplies of social housing for those in need must be a priority in the coming year. I declare my interest as a vice-president of Shelter. As I have reminded the House in the past, 40 years after she disturbed the conscience of the nation, Cathy has not yet come home.

Secondly, I must say what a pleasure it was to see that Beau Brummell of Lord Chancellors, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, back in the front line. I confess that I had a certain concern about his employability after his departure from office. I note that he has reinvented himself as an expert in litigation likely to arise from the credit crunch. He recently predicted a boom in post-credit-crunch litigation, which, in his words, will be on a scale that we have not seen before. As we used to say in Lancashire when I was a lad, “If he fell in the Co-op he’d come out with the divi”.

Whatever the prospects for lawyers, things are not going well for economists. I saw the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in the Corridor the other day. He was complaining that, in spite of being a professor of economics, a former adviser to government and a member of the economics committee of this House, the only question that he gets asked these days is, “Are you Robert Peston’s dad?”.

Although my degree is in economics, I have never claimed to be an economist. However, I have detected from the Government in recent months what I would call the boing effect in determining economic policy.

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Let me explain what I mean. If you go down to the Terrace of the House of Commons and stand opposite St Thomas’s Hospital just as Big Ben is about to chime, you hear first the sound of Big Ben, then a delay and then a boing from across the river.

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister said that he had cured boom and bust. Dr Vince Cable said that you could not build an economy on runaway debt and a housing price bubble. Boing—a little while later, the Prime Minister is reaching for the biography of Keynes written by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. The Prime Minister says that there is no case for nationalising Northern Rock. Dr Vince Cable says that that is the only way—boing—and Northern Rock is in public ownership. The Prime Minister derides the Liberal Democrats earlier in the summer when they call for tax cuts for middle-income and low-income families—boing—and by the autumn we are all tax cutters. If you really want to know what the Government are likely to do next, listen to the Liberal Democrats and wait for the boing.

The Government have recently strengthened their economics team by two star signings. First, there is the noble Lord, Lord Myners. The House is equally divided about the noble Lord. Half is dazzled that he seems to know every detail of government economic policy without any reference to a briefing book, while the other half suspects that he is making it up as he goes along. Then there is the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, of Hartlepool and Foy. Each day, like other noble Lords, I get a digest of press cuttings about the House of Lords from the Library. Until a few months ago, it was slim—a few pages recording Peers supporting a worthy cause here or a campaign there, or the occasional sensational headline, such as “Baroness Kennedy to vote with the Government”—but now the press brief thuds on to my desk with page after page about what Peter did and what Peter did next. One day he is Mephistopheles, the next day he is John Travolta. So many stories, so many headlines, and I am told that some of them are even true.

I have no complaint about the Government sending big beasts into our Chamber, but I regret the lack of any mention in the gracious Speech of any further reform of this House. It was 100 years ago last Monday that this House rejected Lloyd George’s people’s Budget and paved the way for the first attempt to reform the House of Lords.

A noble Lord: Boing.

Lord McNally: I think that I am going to regret that, my Lords. It is better when you are doing it on your own.

One of the most spirited warnings to the Tory Peers about the follies of their ways came from the then Archbishop of York—so that is a tradition that is alive and well. As we are moving towards the centenary of that House of Lords reform, I sincerely hope that we will have an exhibition and other reminders of that great piece of radical legislation. The absence of a hint of reform to this House in the gracious Speech is an opportunity missed unless—perhaps the Lord President can explain—the references to constitutional renewal

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and strengthening the role of Parliament include reform of this House. I am sorry if they do not, because I have enjoyed going into battle shoulder to shoulder with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on those matters. I hope that that helps, Tom. Some of the protestations of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the vigour of opposition would ring a little more true if the Conservative voting record in the Lobby matched that of the Liberal Democrats.

It is true that the public in the main approve of the work of this House, but I must say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, that there is no softer option in speechmaking than telling this House how wonderful it is. If there is no immediate prospect of change, the reputation of this House will suffer. During the past 10 years, more than 300 Peers have been created. Most of them have made excellent contributions, but during the next year that intake will be getting older and not retiring. The result could well be a House more than 800-strong, with half its Members making little or no contribution to the work. That will make us fall into disrepute. If the Government refuse to do anything, I encourage my noble friends Lords Steel, Oakeshott and Avebury to persevere with their Private Members’ Bills on Lords reform. Indeed, I understand that my noble friend Lord Steel has already submitted his Bill to the Public Bill Office.

I referred just now to the commitment in the gracious Speech to the strengthening of the role of Parliament. Such a commitment jars on a day when another place has been discussing parliamentary privilege. I associate myself with the call of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for a report from the Clerk of the Parliaments about how the issues raised affect the rights, protections and privileges as they apply to Members of the House of Lords. I must say, when I hear the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, bandying about precedents from 1625 and so on, how I miss Conrad Russell. Conrad would have known the precedent instantly.

Parliamentary privilege aside, this is surely the moment to introduce the long-promised Civil Service Bill, for which the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, and I have long campaigned. Such an Act would give statutory protection to civil servants who are genuine whistleblowers and at the same time set out clear responsibilities, including duties of confidentiality, for those who work in the public service. The independence and neutrality of the Civil Service and parliamentary privilege are both issues that transcend party politics. Indeed, parliamentary privilege was won by blood and should not be surrendered lightly in a parliamentary democracy.

I said in opening that my colleagues will deal in detail with our attitudes to the proposals in the gracious Speech during the next few days, so let me close with a final thought. In a time of recession, it would be easy to slip into fractious bitterness, which, in turn, would play into the hands of extremists in our society. This House is particularly well qualified to examine the proposals before us with rigour, while at the same time reminding ourselves and the country of the values that unite us in the tough times that we face. That will certainly be the mindset on these Benches as we approach this gracious Speech and the work of the year ahead.

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4.23 pm

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, it is indeed a huge pleasure and privilege for me to follow the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally, two Peers who, with their great experience and wisdom, are remarkable leaders for their parties in this House and, beyond that, for the House as a whole. In my short time so far as Leader of the House, I have already learnt enormously from them and plan to go on drawing on their abilities for free for as long as they will allow me.

I was struck yet again last week, as we carried out the ceremony to prorogue Parliament, by the disparity between the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. For those who, unaccountably, missed it, at one point, the presence in the Chamber of the members of the royal commission for prorogation is indicated by their full names being read out. So we had McNally, Tom for the one and Strathclyde, Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, for the other. Tom though he may be to each of us here, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has always seemed to me to be a touch under-endowed with names, while the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, seems to be very generously provided for. That may be the difference between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party.

It is a huge and humbling privilege for me to serve the whole of your Lordships’ House as Leader. I have a list of distinguished predecessors to live up to—a list a good deal longer than my arm—and I intend to do my best to follow in their footsteps. My job is to serve the House—a job that I will fulfil to the maximum of my ability.

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