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Queen's Speech — Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:26 pm on 27th May 2010.

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Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative 12:26 pm, 27th May 2010

My Lords, I consider it a great privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, and I agree with many of the things that he said, particularly about the idea of having a large number of additional Members of your Lordships' House. I do not know to what extent that is more than speculation, but I certainly hope that what he and others have said will be taken into careful consideration.

I begin by thanking the Labour Ministers for their kindness to me during their term of office. Unfortunately they did not always agree with me, but I hope that the voice of individual conscience will continue to be respected in our country, as it was in the past.

I particularly congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, on his appointment as Advocate-General for Scotland. I am glad that the Government have recognised the importance of having Law Officers who have a deep understanding of the political considerations and yet who at the same time are able to give independent and reliable legal advice.

My noble and learned friend is unique in a number of ways. I think that he is the only person to have served in a Scottish Administration and now serve in the Government of the United Kingdom. He is unique in another respect. As a Member of the Scottish Parliament, he formed with his colleagues a coalition with the Labour Party in Scotland. Now, of course, he has taken part in a coalition with the Conservatives here. That shows that a person of fundamentally Liberal Democratic principle can work well and in coalition with those who are willing to work with him. His career also underlines the danger of the advice that was given by one Cabinet Minister in the election campaign, that people should vote tactically. Another Cabinet Minister, more patronisingly, referred to the same idea as "intelligent" voting. I am glad to say that that principled Scot, the then Prime Minister, said that he wanted people to vote for what they believed in.

The principal thing I want to speak about is the proposal for fixed-term Parliaments. A fixed term for Parliament undoubtedly has the advantage of removing a great deal of opportunity for speculation. It also has the advantage of removing from a Prime Minister the temptation to go for an election when the party that he leads happens to be high in the opinion polls-or, occasionally, when he feels that there is a disaster around the corner and is anxious that the election take place before it comes. A fixed-term Parliament has an advantage in that respect. It also has the advantage of eliminating the situation already referred to when the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, appeared to stimulate speculation that an election would be held shortly after he took office but it then did not happen. I gather from the newspapers-although I have no other way of knowing-that one result of that was abortive expenditure of fairly high sums by the Labour Party, which I am sure that it would like to have avoided.

Five years has been selected. I can see arguments for different lengths, but I can see a great deal of argument in favour of having fixed-term Parliaments. A matter that has attracted a lot of attention is the proposal for 55 per cent. As I understand it, because there is only a shorthand statement of it in the coalition agreement, the proposal is in no way to interfere with the rule that a Government lose their mandate to govern if they lose a no-confidence Motion in the House of Commons by 50 per cent plus one-of those voting, to go back to the point raised this morning. Fifty per cent of those voting plus one brings down the Government.