Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Queen's Speech — Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:07 pm on 27th May 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative 5:07 pm, 27th May 2010

My Lords, all Members of the House of Commons are elected on the Burkean principle: not as delegates but as representatives. I always have to think here, but the House knows what I mean. They are elected for their judgment. Thereby, when certain circumstances arise, as they did after this election, they had to make judgments on the facts as they were. The two leaders have taken a thoroughly great and statesmanlike decision.

I listened with great interest to the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Grocott and Lord Elystan-Morgan. I agreed essentially with them on fixed parliaments and the 55. If you say, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, did, that the aim of the Government is to return power to the people, making sure that they cannot have an election seems a very odd way to do that. But then I did not go to university, so perhaps I do not understand that.

In 1923, as the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, said, Bonar Law was elected on a programme of free trade. When he died, Baldwin succeeded him and felt that he had to go to the country to get a mandate for a basic change in policy. I see nothing immoral or wrong about that. In fact, I see morality and right about that. The concept of 55-I do not know whether it is 55 seats or 55 per cent; and nor do the Government who will have a consultation on that-seems absolutely wrong. If the Government have lost power in a vote of no confidence, then they must be allowed to recommend a dissolution.

In France in the 1870s, the Government were defeated. I am not sure of my exact historical facts, but the President either could not, or would not, grant a dissolution. So what did they say? They said the French equivalent of "Yippee! What we can do is swap about being in government and we do not have to go to the people and give them any choice". From then until 1940, when Pétain brought an end to the system-although it was reintroduced in 1945-the French had a Government every six weeks or months. If you have fixed-term Parliaments and an enormous trigger for a dissolution, together with an element of proportional representation, we will turn into the Third and Fourth Republics as sure as night follows day. Do we really want to bring Mendès-France, Daladier and all those other interminable French politicians back into the Palace of Westminster as new Franglais politicians, or something like that?

This is not the way to go about it. If a Government lose command of the House of Commons, that represents the basis of our constitution. Only the House of Commons can raise the money for the King or Queen's Government to continue. If the Prime Minister loses the confidence of the House of Commons, he has to go-it is as simple as that-because he cannot raise the money to run the country, and that is why the House of Commons is, and has been for 300 years, the senior of the two Houses. This House, very wisely, gave up the right to raise tax some time in the 1340s. It did not give up the right to say, "No, you don't raise tax"-which is a different issue. That was what brought about 1911.

I shall briefly comment on some of the other things. Between 1999 and the election, I thought that this House worked better than at any time that I have been in it, and I have been in it since 1971. That is not as long as my noble friend Lord Ferrers, but that is impossible. We used to combine in odd coalitions all over the place when the Government made mistakes. I know that as night follows day, however good this Government are, they will do silly things. All Governments do. I thought of calling my new Liberal Whig noble friends noble acquaintances. The independent Tories, of whom my noble friend Lord Lucas is certainly one, used regularly to vote with the Liberals against the Conservatives during the previous Session. I did that on the American extradition treaty and on control orders, and I do not resile from that for one moment. It seems to me that as a Back Bencher on a big government side, it is your duty to be constructively disloyal, and I promise my noble friends on the Front Bench, both Liberal and Tory, that I will be constructively disloyal because that is the duty of somebody who is here and who paid their debt to their political masters some time in 1801, or it may have been 1717, I do not know. That is how I hope that this Government will go on. I wish them the most enormous success because they are full of good ideas and represent the greatest section of the voting public since universal adult male suffrage.