My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bichard; I much agree with what he has just said. I also associate myself with the remarks of my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, about the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. As a vice-chairman of the Local Government Association, I know how true that its.
I welcome the gracious Speech, its measures on crime and the victims of crime outside and inside the home, on good education and a clean environment, and its strong tone of humane concern for those who are sick and old. This is anything but a programme for an extreme Government.
But, of course, when one listens to a gracious Speech, nothing strikes one more than the voice that reads it—that unique, unforgettable voice; how I dread the day when that should be stilled. It is the voice of serenity above turmoil, dignity above conniving, duty above self-interest, healing above rancour. It is the voice of stability, the voice of the United Kingdom.
The bedrock of our constitution is the Queen in Parliament. For my part, I have been sad in these last days to see the expressed will of the Queen in Parliament impeached and overturned. These are matters to which we must return, the fall-out from past legislation and recent decisions which we must review, but I do not want to dwell on them today.
I am deeply troubled by the tone and conduct of this Parliament. Each passing week, the problem seems more acute and the reputation of Parliament sinks lower, and the gulf between Parliament and much of the public grows wider. Was it not sad that on the one day that many of us had longed for, when people for once took some interest in the proceedings of Parliament when they were televised live to millions, a too-clever-by-half procedural device in the Commons denied the nation resolution and prolonged the agony that has surely rent our social fabric for far too long?
There are aspects of this deal that noble Lords will know I do not much care for, but enough—enough. The Spartans have sheathed their swords; let those on the other side show the same spirit of compromise. Let Fabius the Delayer come down from his high place and lay down his sword. Es ist genug. Let us move on.
Today, for the first time since May 1641 and profoundly mistakenly, we have a law that the House of Commons cannot be dissolved except by its own volition. Untouchability in the Commons did not serve us too well in the 1640s. That House avowed very high ideals, but it executed Ministers without trial, beheaded the Archbishop of Canterbury, committed regicide, abolished your Lordships’ House and dissolved into military dictatorship. I do not of course say that the House protected by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act—in my view, a written antidote to any cry for a written constitution—is capable of such excesses, but a sense of inviolability inevitably has a behavioural effect. The fixed-term Act protects a Commons reckless of past promises and the popular will. That is a view I know some contest, yet, unequivocally, as proved by its own votes, that inviolable House is unwilling to face the general election that Mr Johnson has offered and test the verdict of the people as to whom they trust to carry the nation forward.
Bad cases do not make good laws. The profound crisis provoked by this Parliament’s failure to do what the people by lawful majority asked should not stampede us to more incautious constitutional change. Before that—and how much I agreed with the wise speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge—we should examine the harm and conflict flowing from some recent innovations thrust into our long-standing constitutional law and conventions. I do not exclude from that referendums, first or second.
I am an optimist. I believe that we can rebuild conventions, and the common sense and flexibility that convention both encourages and requires. We can treat our opponents with more respect. That should begin with a Prime Minister who backed Mrs May’s compromise and now offers us another, and who has been subjected to a campaign of personal vilification and who is no would-be dictator. Rather, he is a widely read, deeply civil, good humoured, humane and liberal-minded person, whose optimism appealed across all divides as a twice-elected Mayor of London and wishes to do so again.
We politicians cannot heal this nation without seeing in others opposite the sense of duty, decency, principle and concern for the common weal that motivates almost all who turn their hands to the hard, high vocation of public service. Healing cannot come without respect. Agreement cannot come without compromise. Conflict cannot be ended without permitting a 12 year- old boy to walk home with his father without a police escort.
“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion”.
I beg that we should hear and heed the tone of the gracious voice of the United Kingdom.