First Day

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 2:40 pm on 6th May 1992.

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Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley 2:40 pm, 6th May 1992

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 Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament. Those hon. Members who were in the House back in 1979 may have a short and lingering memory of the Loyal Address on that occasion. It was the first speech that was sound broadcast in the House of Commons, which shows the extent of the changes that have occurred during the past 13 years. On that occasion, I had the great honour on behalf of my constituents in Mole Valley to second the motion on the Loyal Address, and now, some 13 years later, I have been given the extra honour of proposing the motion.

Much has happened in the past 13 years to us all and I must not make this a habit. I suspect that one of the reasons that I was invited to make this speech was that my speech some 13 years ago was followed by 13 years of uninterrupted Conservative rule. Before my hon. Friends are too triumphalist, they should remember that, after 18 months, Mrs. Thatcher's Government had become the most unpopular Government of recent history; she was a one-term Prime Minister of a one-term Government and, according to the opinion polls, which in those days we respected, we were 20 points behind. At that very nadir of the Government's fortunes, Mrs. Thatcher asked me to become a Minister and from then on things looked up, so my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) should watch out.

I begin by congratulating—as I did 13 years ago—my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his success in the general election. Some four weeks ago hon. Members on both sides of the House were candidates and, as we ran up to polling day, there were not many who believed that the eventual outcome would take place. [Interruption.] I was one who did, but there were many who did not. The political journalists and the political commentators who now look down upon our proceedings almost to a man and a woman had decided on the Sunday and Monday that we were finished. They wrote our political obituaries; they summoned the mourners; they invited the people to the wake; they even dug the grave. But my right hon. Friend refused to die, and a funeral without a corpse is a glum affair.

All new hon. Members will get to know many political journalists during the course of their political lives in the House, and they will discover that political journalists have no appetite for humble pie, even if it is served at their proprietors' cost in the best restaurants.

One of the things that new hon. Members will come to terms with is the political lobby. As you know, Madam Speaker, that takes place not in the Chamber but in the corridors and other parts of the House. The political lobby consists of Members of Parliament who gossip to other Members of Parliament, who gossip to journalists, who gossip to other journalists, who then go back to their editors, where they gossip again. Then they write their articles which are read by journalists and Members of Parliament as if they were written on tablets of stone. It is the most perfect system yet devised by man for the recycling of rubbish.

Before I come to the Queen's Speech, I have one thing to say to the Leader of the Opposition. We have both been in the House for approximately the same number of years. I was elected in 1968, he in 1970, and our paths have crossed several times, as Back Benchers and Front-Bench spokesmen and in other capacities. Since 1973, he has been the leader of the Labour party and he has conducted himself in that position with great courage and determination and has salvaged the fortunes of his party. I believe that history will be a great deal kinder and more generous to him than many current commentators. I do not know whether he will join us on the Back Benches, but I suspect that whatever role he has will be significant for the future of the Labour party.

The Opposition are going through the process of finding a new leader. I have been through that process on three occasions during my life in the House. It is never an easy process; it is always a bit difficult. But the process that the Labour party has adopted is not so much an election as an exercise in collective group therapy. The purpose of group therapy is to admit guilt and rectify the fault, and I wish the Opposition luck.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats must be a disappointed man at this moment. He hoped to have the balance of power, but he has finished one Member of Parliament down. [Interruption.] I am told that he is one up— small choice in rotten apples". He does not have the balance of seats in the House, but no doubt he will argue that he has the balance of votes in the country. [Interruption.] The Liberal Democrats are at it already. They will no doubt be strongly advocating proportional representation during the lifetime of this Parliament. If the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) tries to persuade the British people that that is a better system, I hope that he will explain how it will avoid the problems of Italy which, as a result of proportional representation, has no Prime Minister and no President; or the problems of Belgium, which has had no Government for 12 weeks; or the problems of the local assemblies in Germany where fascists have been elected; or the problems of the German Government where the new Foreign Secretary, as a result of being a member of a minority party, has acquired that office without standing for elective office. Therefore, if the leader of the Liberal party advocates proportional representation, he will find many on the Conservative Benches and, I suspect, some on the Opposition Benches strongly defending our present electoral system.