Rt Hon Lord Lilley




    Wednesday May 26th 2010



    Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, said it was an honour to his constituency to be given the privilege of moving the motion to accept the Queen’s Speech.     This meant that he gave the opening speech in the new Parliament which was greeted by both the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the Labour Leader, Harriet Harman, as “a superb speech”.

    Below is the text of Peter Lilley’s speech:

    Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I beg to move,

    That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:

    Most Gracious Sovereign,

    We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.

    It is a great privilege to move the motion. I accepted the task, because it is an honour to my constituency, a rare chance to address a full Chamber and an historic opportunity to welcome the first peacetime coalition for 80 years. However, I hope that I was not as over-eager as one of our legendary colleagues, who languished unnoticed on the Back Benches for 20 years before receiving an invitation from the BBC to take part in a television debate. The invitation said that there would be a fee of £25, and he wrote back saying that he would be delighted to take part, enclosing a cheque for £25.

    I confess that when the Chief Whip asked me to do this task, my immediate reaction was to say, “But surely it is traditionally shared by a genial old codger on the way out and an oily young man on the way up.” When he assured me that this year, the criteria were different, I assumed that he was referring to the fact that I am still mid-career, until he added that instead of an oily young man, we have got a Lib Dem. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster) who, I am sure, will do this brilliantly, is certainly not oily-like all Lib Dems, he abhors hydrocarbons-and like me, he is only young for his age, but I am sure that he is on the way up.

    This coalition throws up difficult problems of parliamentary etiquette, and I am the first to have to tackle them. Should I refer to my Liberal Democrat colleague as “my hon. Friend,” but that is a term reserved for members of our own parties? How about “my honourable partner”? The word “partner”, however, nowadays implies an even greater degree of intimacy than friendship, which is clearly what the Daily Mail fears, so I will stick to “my honourable ally.”

    My constituency of Hitchin and Harpenden is unique in many ways, not least because it was tailor-made to my design. In my maiden speech in 1983, I said with more prescience than I realised that my only remaining territorial ambition was that a future boundary commission should extend the boundary to the north to include the village of Lilley from which my Saxon ancestors must have come. In 1997, it did just that. Given the promised Bill to

    “create fewer and more equal sized”

    seats, new Members may want to follow my example and use their maiden speeches to lay claim to neighbouring territory.

    After annexing the village of Lilley, I agreed to do a TV interview in the local pub, The Lilley Arms. Someone who saw the programme told my mother that her son must be extremely popular, as they had already named a pub after him. However, I do not rely exclusively on my personal charisma to win elections. During one particularly difficult campaign, one of my supporters, who lives next door to a funeral parlour, plastered his house with my posters, and next to “Vote Lilley” some wag helpfully scrawled across the undertaker’s window, “Or die.” It did the trick.

    Another issue in my maiden speech-still a key local priority-was the defence of the green belt, so my constituents will be delighted that the Gracious Speech promises a Bill to

    “give local communities control over housing and planning decisions.”

    The Gracious Speech is the first instalment of the coalition’s programme. I congratulate the Prime Minister on recognising that the inconclusive election result meant that the only way to provide strong and stable government was to form a coalition with the Liberals- [ Interruption. ]-the Liberal Democrats, I hasten to add. Some of my closest friends find coalition difficult to stomach, but if anyone imagines that, like King David, we could have hidden in the cave of Adullam, refusing to take up the mantle of government until all challenges to our authority disappear, they are mistaken. A coalition of the losers would have been a monstrosity; to govern alone, an impossibility; and a loose agreement falling short of a coalition, an absurdity. It would have left all the other parties free to dissociate themselves from the difficult decisions that we now know are inevitable.

    I hope that my Liberal Democrat allies will not take it amiss if I say of them what John Major, not realising that his microphone was still on, said when he was asked why he kept certain Ministers in his Cabinet-including, now I come to think of it, me: “I’d rather have the bastards inside the tent, pi…”-relieving themselves-“outwards, rather than outside the tent, aiming in.” As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s more elegant phrase has it, “We’re all in it together.” We are in the same boat, so we had better row in harmony. I welcome the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to working together with us for a full Parliament.

    Coalition requires compromise. Neither party can achieve all that it promised in its manifesto and many of us are receiving letters from constituents upset that measures they voted for are not included in the coalition programme. There is a simple reason for that. The Conservative party did not win enough votes or seats to deliver all our manifesto pledges. The solution is not to blame coalition but to win more support next time.

    Meanwhile I believe the Gracious Speech represents not the lowest common denominator but the highest common factor between our two parties. Nevertheless, the dismay that many people feel about not getting what they thought they were voting for is a salutary warning about the dangers of coalitions. Should they become the norm rather than the exception, they could give parties an easy excuse for abandoning manifesto pledges and a temptation to make pledges they had little intention of keeping. Nothing could do more to undermine the accountability of parties to the electorate. I support this coalition because a hung Parliament makes it necessary, but I would not support changes to our voting system that would make hung Parliaments the norm, so although I will loyally vote to hold a referendum on changing the voting system, I will campaign vigorously against the alternative vote.

    I welcome the fact that the Gracious Speech makes reducing the deficit a priority, starting with yesterday’s £6 billion cuts. The reason for starting early is not because we are indifferent to public sector workers’ concerns about their jobs but precisely because we want to minimise the impact on them. Tackling a deficit is like treating an illness: the longer we put it off, the more drastic the surgery we need. By starting now, more of the necessary savings can be made by freezing recruitment rather than by imposing redundancies, and by voluntary redundancies rather than compulsory redundancies, and the sooner private sector growth can offset the slimming of the public sector.

    I particularly welcome the inclusion in the Gracious Speech of plans to introduce an annual limit on immigration. That was the issue raised most frequently on the doorstep. Concern about immigration itself was coupled with a dangerous feeling of resentment towards the political class who had overridden public opposition while silencing debate. As Gillian Duffy discovered, anyone who raises the issue is liable to be dismissed as a bigot.

    Why is it that when Prime Ministers leave their microphones on they reveal that they think anyone who raises contentious issues such as immigration or Europe is either a bigot or a bastard? The lesson my right hon. Friend should learn is not that he should take care to turn his microphone off, but that he should keep his receiver switch on to hear people’s legitimate concerns, however unfashionable their views may be among the metropolitan intelligentsia.

    The Gracious Speech rightly makes Afghanistan our top foreign priority. When Tony Blair started paying tribute at Question Time to British soldiers killed in Afghanistan, he probably expected it to be a rare ritual. Instead it has become a weekly litany of heroism and sacrifice, made all the more moving by its repetition-so much so that I for one can barely stop myself crying out, “Enough. No more. Bring them home.” I know that we cannot overnight abandon commitments to allies and the Afghans themselves, but I urge my right hon. Friends to scale back our aims realistically and bring our young soldiers home with all due speed.

    One issue the coalition has apparently not yet been able to reach agreement on is whether marriage should be encouraged. That is strange, as the coalition itself has been portrayed by the media as a marriage, albeit one that began as an arranged marriage but blossomed into romance. Last night, the Prime Minister celebrated this happy union with a reception at No. 10 for all his Ministers, and kindly invited the seconder-my honourable ally, the hon. Member for Bath-and me, since by tradition the Gracious Speech is read out for the benefit of Ministers who do not take The Sunday Telegraph. When my wife came to extract me from the reception, the policeman refused her entry. Forgetting my diminished status, she pleaded that she was one of the Ministers’ wives and should be let in. “Madam,” he replied, “I couldn’t let you in even if you were the Minister’s only wife.” I hope that the current situation implies no resiling from support for marriage, particularly as today is my wedding anniversary.

    I commend the motion to the House.


     Further information from John Allen