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Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:59 pm on 8th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 6:59 pm, 8th January 2020

My Lords, the noble Baroness speaks, as she always does, with passion and sincerity. I begin my brief contribution by adding my congratulations to those of others to my noble friends Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay and Lord Davies of Gower.

I do not suppose I was alone in inwardly rejoicing when in his first statement as Prime Minister, and echoed in his new year speech, the Prime Minister talked about the need to come together and for unity—he even touched on the importance of Parliament. That is all good and I applaud it; I hope it will be the hallmark of his period of office. However, I am concerned, as many of your Lordships are, by a fundamental flaw in the wording of the gracious Speech.

I remember the words of the late, great Harold Macmillan, who said:

“Quiet, calm deliberation disentangles every knot.”

Quietness and calmness are qualities that we need. Juxtaposed in the gracious Speech are the royal commission on criminal justice, which we all welcome and applaud, and the commission on constitution, democracy and rights. That indicates that this will not be looked at objectively, in a balanced, calm and deliberate way.

I echo the plea of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who talked about the importance of recognising the balance in our constitution. Parliament is not, never has been and never can be, if we are a democracy, the creature of government. We need a judicial system that, although it will make mistakes occasionally, is unafraid. I am concerned about rushing headlong into a commission that would have to look at so many important aspects of our democratic and constitutional life. My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham referred to many of these in a most admirable speech earlier in the debate. Will my noble friend who is winding up please talk to the Prime Minister and tell him there is concern in this House—not that these issues should be looked at but about the manner in which we fear they might be looked at?

The problem could be solved immediately in one or two ways. We could either have a royal commission on the constitution, as referred to by one or two noble Lords, or—something that has not been touched on—we could have a Speakers’ conference, chaired jointly by both Speakers. In the old days when I first entered the other place, almost exactly 50 years ago, that was the way things were done, and it was a sensible way of doing things. Now that we have a Lord Speaker in our House, we have two Speakers in whom both Houses have total faith and confidence. A Speakers’ conference or commission, chaired jointly by two men whom we all respect, consisting of Members of both Houses and distinguished outsiders—I would not be against them sitting on such a body—could take time on this. I am not talking about kicking things into the long grass for ever, but it could look at things with the calm deliberation I referred to earlier. It would help enormously in many respects.

The noble Lord, Lord Reid, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, talked passionately about the threat to the union. That cannot be mitigated by gimmick and slogan. However, by calm deliberation, perhaps we can protect the one aspect of our constitution that means more to me, with half my family in Scotland, than any other thing. We are at a crossroads and we must take a road that leads to calmness and unity. We have time to do it because of the disarray of the Opposition and the big majority that the Prime Minister enjoys. Will he please not neglect that opportunity?