By Jonathan Isaby
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I picked out the highlights of the first day's debate on the Government's plans for the second chamber on Wednesday. Here are extracts from some of the speeches from the Tory benches during the second and final day's debate on the topic (for now)...
The Marquess of Lothian (Michael Ancram)
"It could be said that the proposal on which we are asked to take note must rank among the most inappropriate political events since Nero fiddled while Rome burned. That is not to criticise the quality of this debate, which, at least until now, has been superb, although for all I know the melody played by Nero might also have been superb. The simple fact is that this proposal is the wrong answer to the wrong question at the wrong time and, in my view, is being addressed in the wrong way. Its proponents seem to challenge the doubters, such as me, to show why it should not be adopted. That approach is perverse. Surely it is for the proponents to show why these proposals should be adopted-something that they have so far singularly failed to do. I was taught many years ago that constitutional propositions should be tested against basic criteria.
"First, are these proposals wanted? Like many others here, in over 40 years in active politics I have never met anyone outside the refined and elitist quarters of the political class who has ever even remotely raised the question of House of Lords reform with me. Anyway, it is not for us to show that it is wanted; it is for its proponents to show that it is wanted. So far they have failed to do so, because they cannot.
"Secondly, will these proposals repair something that is not working? Even the paper that we are debating accepts that your Lordships' House is currently working well and it contains no apparent proposals for making it work better. Indeed, the only proposals for that are those advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, in his Bill, which I strongly support.
"Thirdly, will these proposals improve the governance of this country? Given that the role and powers of the second Chamber are to remain unchanged, even its most ardent proponents are not arguing that reform will improve the governance of this country; they are arguing only that it will be more democratically authoritative, whatever that is meant to mean in this context. I have yet to hear a remotely convincing explanation of that.
Conservative peers shone during questions on the economy yesterday. They sparred with Lord Myners, who was made Financial Services Secretary in October 2008. To his credit, he has a varied CV - having been a teacher, journalist, business leader, banker and academic.
The Earl of Caithness put an elegant boot into the Government:
"My Lords, given the complete mess that the Treasury made of last year’s forecasts—it expected a budget deficit of 2 per cent of GDP when it is more likely to be 10 per cent, and expected economic growth of at least 2.5 per cent when in fact it is likely to be minus 3.5 per cent—would the Minister agree with the OECD that half of our problems were structural and related to government policy and nothing to do with the worldwide recession? What are the Government going to do about that?
Lord Myners: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will give a detailed analysis of the situation in the world and domestic economies when he makes his Budget presentation tomorrow. We are in the midst of a truly extraordinary global recession. For the first time in 60 years, the IMF has forecast a net reduction in added value for global economic activity. This problem is not confined to one country; it is a global problem. That is why the Prime Minister, in his chairmanship of the G20, led a global solution."
Former Chancellor Lord Lawson of Blaby (above right) did the same:
"My Lords, will the Minister explain to simple-minded folk like me how it is that when the British economy was expanding, at a time when the whole world economy was expanding, that was entirely to do with the success of the British Government; but now that the British economy is contracting rather faster than most of the world in a contracting world economy, it is nothing to do with us but is entirely to do with the world?
Lord Myners: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, knows that I am new to the world of politics, so it is perhaps harder for me to find an easy answer to that question than it would be for many others who have come to this House from the other place. But let us look at the facts. Over the 10 years to 1996, GDP per capita in the UK was the lowest in the G7. Over the following 10 years, it was the second highest in the G7. Since 1997, which was an important year, as no doubt the noble Lord remembers, UK real GDP per capita has increased by more than any other G7 economy. That was a tribute to the masterful management of the economy by my right honourable friend who was the Chancellor in those days, who is now our Prime Minister."
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