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Queen's Speech — Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:03 pm on 27th May 2010.

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Photo of Lord Hughes of Woodside Lord Hughes of Woodside Labour 4:03 pm, 27th May 2010

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on his appointment. He graces the Front Bench as to the manner born. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, on a very brave speech. She nailed her colours to the mast, and I respect people who speak out for their principles loudly and clearly.

On Tuesday, I especially enjoyed the speech by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. He trenchantly pointed out to us that in 1979 a one-vote majority propelled Mr Callaghan out of government and ushered in Mrs Thatcher for what became 18 years of Conservative government. I take this opportunity to explain a disagreement, perhaps a misconception, between the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern and me. In the House of Commons, the rule is simple: whatever the proposition, a majority of half the Members voting plus one carries the day. What the Government are proposing is 55 per cent of the membership of the House of Commons plus one-at least that is what everyone thinks that they said. It is disappointing that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, could not answer a simple question about which it is. We shall see what happens.

I cannot compete with the 55 years of devoted service to this House of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I spent 27 years in the other place. I came here in 1997, so I have almost 40 years of experience. In all that time, I have never known such flagrant control-freakery-that is the only way to describe what the Dem-Con, or Con-Dem, alliance is up to. I had a vision of the first Cabinet meeting, with Ministers filing through the door and Mr Cameron saying to Mr Clegg: "Quick, nip around with this bottle of superglue and squirt all the seats, so when they sit down and get their legs under the table we cannot get rid of them". What has happened is a sign of weakness.

The proposition that the voting rules should be changed in the House of Commons, and also the reduction in the size of the House of Commons, never appeared in anyone's manifesto, despite the ludicrous proposition expressed this afternoon that the electorate had voted for the coalition. It did no such thing. The coalition did not exist: it was not voted for. In these circumstances, the Salisbury convention does not apply: it cannot, by any stretch of the imagination. Therefore, your Lordships' House is perfectly entitled to vote down this measure. Indeed, it has a right to vote down the proposition, and I hope that it will.

I move on to what is meant by the new rules. At the moment, the numbers may stack up in the coalition's favour. I have no malice towards any individual MP who supports the Government in the other place: I certainly bear them no ill will. However, by-elections happen, and on the present figures, five by-election losses would make the coalition very twitchy. Will they revisit the proposition and say, "When we settled on 55 per cent, the conditions were different. Perhaps we should raise it to 60 or 65 per cent"? There is no end to the ingenuity of those determined to keep power by any means.

We are now told that we will have an increase in the membership of your Lordships' House, under the proposition that the ruling coalition has a right to a share of the membership according to the number of votes that they received. They are rewriting the constitution as they go along. They do not need any extra Members. What is most revealing about this proposition is that we now know the real intentions of the Liberal Democrats. This House, and eventually the House of Commons, will be fully elected on a 100 per cent PR system. The only way to get that is to have a list system. A list system of candidates is the least democratic option available. It is absolute nonsense to say that this is democratic, and they should not be allowed to proceed with it.

I will say two more things. The first is something that has rankled for a number of years. In 1997, when Prime Minister Blair proposed the nomination of additional Peers to this House, they were immediately dubbed "Tony's cronies". I had no problem with that. What are we to call the new coalition peers? What about "Cameron and Cleggy's creepies?" That is what they will be.

Vince Cable apparently said that his in-laws once told him that arranged marriages work much better than conventional marriages. The marriage between the Lib Dems and Tories-I put it that way because the press call it the Lib-Con coalition so that the Conservatives are reduced to being the junior partners-is not even a marriage of convenience. It is a forced marriage-forced by circumstance. A thrusting lust for power has been within the breasts of the Liberal Democrats for many years. They are prepared to do anything to get it and finally they have it.

I am reminded of something that Nye Bevan said many years ago. It was in an entirely different context but none the less is apposite. Despite the dressing up of statesmanship, the nation and all the rest of it, he said, "Call that statesmanship? I call it an emotional spasm", and that is precisely what we have on the other side.