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Queen's Speech — Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:34 pm on 27th May 2010.

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Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Conservative 5:34 pm, 27th May 2010

My Lords, perhaps I may ask your Lordships to put the following date in your diaries: 3 July 2012. There is a tiny thing going on at the East End of London-I think that they are opening the Olympic Games, or something-but the important event on that occasion is the 50th anniversary of my taking my seat in your Lordships' House. I had hoped that my noble friend Lord Coe would have me carry the flame up the last few hundred steps, but his office has been silent on that matter up till now.

I very much welcome and appreciate the gracious Speech which we are discussing today-the more so because it was significantly crafted by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister; of course the right honourable gentleman the Deputy Prime Minister made an important contribution as well, and I welcome that. I guess that I would have liked the gracious Speech even more if it had been solely crafted by my right honourable friend, but sadly, that was not to be.

Seriously, I would like to comment on one aspect of the gracious Speech which I very much appreciated. It was the language of the Speech which, this year, was so much better than in previous years. I am never quite certain who puts the gracious Speech into the language which Her Majesty reads out. Once, I ventured to table a Question on who had crafted the language. I was told that it is entirely lese-majeste to do such a thing and to remove my Question at once, which of course I did. This year, the Speech was in much better language than previously, and I greatly welcome that.

Thinking forward about the composition of your Lordships' House and the position of hereditary Peers like myself, of course I accept that, in the fullness of time, when reform is complete by whatever means we eventually decide, hereditary Peers such as me will inevitably disappear. I am naturally sorry about that, but it is the way it is. Back in 1999, the House of Lords Act passed with the concurrence of the majority of the hereditary Peers, who went thereafter in an orderly manner, following the agreement between my then noble friend Lord Cranborne and the then Lord Chancellor.

I suppose that it is worth commenting en passant that in any other country, if the Government of the day had forced through legislation to remove two-thirds of the opposition of one House of Parliament there would probably have been tanks on the streets. Not here, my Lords. As I said, noble Lords went in an orderly and dignified manner following the agreement to which I referred.

Looking forward, I am not wholly opposed to the principle of a largely or partially elected House. I am not in favour of a wholly elected House because I think that there would be an important role for a number of appointed Peers within an elected House, so I adhere to the 80:20 per cent formula, which I hope will find some favour in due course. I believe that we should keep a place for, for example, the leaders of the churches. Today, we introduced the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. I have to speak carefully; I live in his diocese. I rather fear that in any formula that I may suggest, the Bishop of Guildford might not continue to find a place in your Lordships' House. However, I think that the present formula, where there are 26 bishops from the Church of England in your Lordships' House, is a bit one-sided. I would welcome an arrangement where there were leaders of all the significant faiths represented in your Lordships' House. I suppose that that would naturally mean a reduction in the number of bishops from the Church of England. Noble Lords may then ask whether that challenges the position of the established Church. I suggest that that is a matter for another day.

I also want the retired service chiefs to continue to have a place in your Lordships' House. I emphasise that they should be retired service chiefs. The serving ones, of course, serve all different Administrations with enthusiasm and equal loyalty, but when they come here as a retired Marshal of the Royal Air Force or whatever, they render a considerable service. I like, too, to see one or two retired police chiefs; I see the noble Lord, Lord Dear, in his place. That is an excellent arrangement, and perhaps other senior figures in our society could come to the House.

There are disadvantages to an elected Chamber, not in principle perhaps but in practicality. I have no doubt whatever that a largely elected House would exercise the present powers of the House right up to the limit, and I have no doubt that when they got to the limit the House would argue for more powers. I can well see that our honourable and right honourable friends in another place would not much care for that, but if there were to be any increase in powers in your Lordships' House, there is only one place from which those powers could come-the other place-which would cause inevitable difficulty.

It is said that a second Chamber that was elected largely through proportional representation, as has been suggested, would create tensions between the two Houses that would be difficult to resolve. However, those difficulties are resolved quite satisfactorily in other countries such as the United States, so I do not believe that those things are insuperable. I therefore welcome and support the proposition that a significant number of Members of this House be selected by an election of one kind or another.