Lords completes Queen's Speech debates

18 May 2012

The House of Lords completed discussions on the government’s programme of legislation and policies outlined in Queen’s Speech yesterday (Thursday 17 May).

Different subject areas were debated each day following the Queen’s Speech over the course of five days.

Members of the Lords examined the government's proposed policies and legislation outlined in the Queen's Speech and aired their views. 

Thursday 17 May: defence, foreign affairs, international development

The members examined the UK's involvement in the Middle East, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya during the course of the debate.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Conservative) opened discussions and looked back at the Arab spring and developments over the last 18 months. He said there is still much to do in the region: 'The government will continue to support the process of reform that is under way in the Middle East and North Africa.'

Lord Cameron of Dillington (Crossbench) turned the focus to the developing world and spoke of how agriculture can help the rural economy in Sub-Saharan areas. 'The potential for successful African agriculture is huge. Agriculture and agribusinesses already represent nearly 50 per cent of the GDP of Africa,' he said.

Lord Empey (Ulster Unionist Party) looked back at events in Libya and the country's future. He said: 'I want an assurance that Her Majesty's government will lead the main negotiation with the new government of Libya ... It needs to be led from the front by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.'

Wednesday 16 May: Agriculture, business, economy, energy, environment, local government, transport

Baroness Wilcox (Conservative) opened the day's debate, with 58 scheduled speakers, with an overview of the economy, including the banking sector, small businesses, a greener economy and fairer market competition.

Lord Bishop of Durham gave his first (maiden) speech as a new member of the Lords during the debate. He addressed the north-east economy, including youth unemployment. He said: 'Even though the north-east is the only part of the country to have a balance of trade surplus, what is making matters worse there is that engineering manufacturers are finding a shortage of skills'.

The Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill came under scrutiny throughout the debate. Baroness Randerson (Liberal Democrat) said: 'During the passage of the bill, I look forward to having the time to debate the place of financial penalties and the need for a third-party complaints process. I am glad that the bill encompasses both of those.' 

Tuesday 15 May: Education, culture, home affairs, health, law and justice, welfare

Lord McNally (Liberal Democrat) opened the fourth day of debate following the Queen's Speech. He spoke proudly of the Defamation Bill that started as a private members' bill in the House of Lords which aims 'to include the creation of new statutory defences of truth, honest opinion and responsible publication on matters of public interest', and the extension of defence of privilege including peer-reviewed material in scientific and academic journals. He also spoke of the Trusts (Capital and Income ) Bill which aims to 'simplify and modernise the law...by abolishing antiquated rules and removing administrative burdens for charity trustees'.

Beyond the two specific Ministry of Justice measures he explained the debate would cover 'helping vulnerable children by removing barriers to them getting support; continuing with structural reform of our state pension system to ensure that people can rely on it while taxpayers can afford it; and protecting the public through reforms to security and justice, without sacrificing our freedoms.'

Baroness Hughes of Stretford (Labour) argued the gracious speech offered 'little hope to small businesses, families and elderly people'. She said: 'I truly believe that we are risking a lost generation of young people, repeating the legacy of the 1980s and 1990s, with all the same long-term consequences for young people, their families and communities, and indeed for the whole of society.'

Lord Ramsbotham (Cross Bench) concentrated on imprisonment and the costs of imprisonment. 'If you have, as was the position last week, 87,212 people in prison, at a cost of £37,573 per prison place, the total cost is well in excess of £3 billion.'

The Bishop of Oxford welcomed the proposal for children with special educational needs but queried why higher education was not addressed. Referring to the 'Students at the Heart of the System' white paper he argued that seeing universities as a place for students to get jobs and as somewhere that serves the economy was instrumentalist. He argued :'There is nothing about the excitement of learning, nothing about feeding the human spirit, nothing about a community of learning at the heart of society, nothing about the university as a place where society can reflect on its values and goals.' He asked: 'Is the House to be denied the opportunity to debate what is happening in our universities?'

Monday 14 May: Constitutional affairs

The second debate, focusing on constitutional affairs, was opened by Lord Trimble (Conservative) who spoke on the Lords Reform Bill and the recommendations of the Joint Committee. He appealed to the government: ' Treat this bill as constitutional bills were once treated in the past. Let it be considered without a timetable.'

Lord Grocott (Labour) followed, echoing Lord Norton's words from Thursday's debate. '...our democratic system depends on the people electing the Commons, the Commons determining the government and the people being able to "throw out" the government in a general election. To have a directly elected second Chamber would be an immediate and obvious threat to that core of the democratic legitimacy of our constitution,' he said.

The debate continued with members, including Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean (Labour) and Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon (Liberal Democrat), discussing whether a written constitution should be put in place to resolve the relationship between the two Houses. 

Thursday 10 May: Constitutional affairs

Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Conservative) made a statement outlining business '...the debate on the Motion of my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley that an humble address be presented to her Majesty in reply to the gracious speech will continue until the end of Thursday 17 May - one day more than usual.' Thereafter in following weeks the Lords will debate the Olympics, a number of second readings, back-bench balloted debates and one day for one hour of questions for short debate.

Lord Strathclyde (Conservative), Leader of the House, opened the second day of the Queen's Speech debate. He spoke of the proposed reform to rules governing royal succession, legislation to tackle election fraud and Lords reform.

Lord Wills (Labour) welcomed the government's review of royal succession and expected electoral registration to not feature much in the forthcoming debate. He voiced concern over individual registration and electoral fraud. He highlighted that individual registration carries 'severe risk' as 'people who are eligible to vote will disappear from the register and so be unable to vote' and expects 'The fall-off in registration is likely to be particularly marked among young people and students, people with learning disabilities, people with disabilities more generally and those living in areas of high social deprivation.'

Lord Luce (Cross Bench) spoke of Lords reform and the need for a 'substantially reformed appointed House'. He was glad that the coalition reiterated its priority 'to put the economy of this country straight' but argued that it was '...dangerous to divert and dissipate its efforts on issues such as an elected House of Lords, for which there is no consensus.'

Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Conservative) restricted remarks specifically to the House of Lords proposals and composition of the House. He argued that should the second chamber become a fully elected House then it too should have the 'same authority as the other House'.

Wednesday 9 May (after the State Opening): Motion for a humble address

The first debate was a motion for a humble address moved by Lord Cope of Berkeley (Conservative), thanking the Queen for her earlier speech saying: 'Most Gracious Sovereign - We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.'

Lord Cope then went on to address some of the work challenges that lay ahead in the new session, referring to bills carried over such as the Civil Aviation Bill, Financial Services Bill and the Local Government Finance Bill.

Baroness Jolly (Liberal Democrat) followed by welcoming the new Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill. She said: 'Supermarkets want fine produce on their shelves, but they drive hard bargains and sometimes cut rough. They try to pass risk and costs from themselves to providers. Farmers' margins are squeezed, keeping wages low, which reflects in our economy.'

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Labour) addressed the Lords Reform Bill, saying that 'it can barely muster enough energy to be a bill'. 

She spoke of the new legislative session saying: 'We will look carefully at the bills that the government are proposing to bring forward on adult care; on family-friendly work flexibility; on arrangements for children with special educational needs; on pensions; on a green investment bank; on a groceries code adjudicator; on public sector pensions; and others. We will support them where possible.'

Further information

Image: Roger Harris

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