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Queen's Speech — Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:46 pm on 27th May 2010.

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Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative 2:46 pm, 27th May 2010

My Lords, I have been wondering how on earth to open this speech. For the first time in many years I really do not know how to do it because I do not know where I stand. What the noble Lord-now my noble friend-Lord Tyler, said just now was right: we cannot deal with constitutional change other than through the parliamentary process, and that involves pre-legislative scrutiny of Bills. He and I, who have quarrelled over many things, at least agree on that today. One simply may not foretell or forestall the democratic process. That is how I start.

The horses of the three main parties are all there groomed in their stables. Her Majesty's Opposition have in a sense-thank heavens-been restructured. We heard a magnificent speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, on the adjournment debate; we have been spoken to by the right honourable gentleman Jack Straw; and we have two spokesmen on the opposition Front Bench-I do not ask them to move-who are, frankly, totally respected on all sides of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, is one of them, and that will provide great support for the House in the future.

From there, I suppose that we start with the main problem of legal and constitutional affairs. As I said, I have no speech; I have a lot of illegible notes. I shall do the best that I can in eight minutes and sit down. The main concern is to change the whole system of government. That was spoken about in the rose garden, elsewhere and all over the place, but not in the gracious Speech. That is crucial. The gracious Speech has a handful of evolutionary Bills dealing with aspects of parliamentary and political reform, but they do not deal with the fundamental commitment spoken about in the rose garden. Where are we? Where do we stand? What can a Back-Bencher like me know? You cannot even pick this up in the Bishops' Robing Room. There it is; the parliamentary process and procedures would, as a practical reality, inhibit Royal Assent to a constitutional Bill within five years. I shall deal with those in a moment.

In the previous gracious Speech we had two constitutional Bills, one of which was withdrawn and the other bundled into the washtub. That cannot happen again. As the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, wrote in his prophetic article in the Times on 14 April, which proved Professor Bogdanor's contribution to the debate:

"There is much work to be done".

There is indeed, but not only on this Bill. There are always events, such as the euro crisis, and other crises, on which the stand of our Prime Minister is highly to be commended, as well as on other matters naturally not referred to in government business. I want to deal with the practical realities if there is time, but looking at the clock, there will not be.

The ship of state, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, in her truly remarkable speech is not yet in trouble. On the gracious Speech, has it not already dropped anchor at the fringe of an uncharted water as to the change of the whole system of government? If those on the bridge of the ship are agreeable to be subservient to the democratic process there would be no trouble, of the kind that worried the noble Baroness, but we do not know at the moment where we stand.

I have one minute left so I cannot deal with the realities of the situation which would restrain within five years a constitutional Bill. I cannot really deal with the reform of your Lordships' House-it is all very odd as it is not your Lordships' House but a second House or an upper Chamber. I am beginning to wonder what will happen. I am not a technical lawyer but an ordinary person. Whichever Government are in power, our mailbags bulge when there is trouble. Now and then we do our stuff. We table amendments. Speeches are made-there was one on casinos recently from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury that won the day against my party. I went with the Archbishop. That can happen. Is that all going to go? Will that relationship be put into another washtub? I hope not.