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Strathclyde: Party Conference Speech 2000

Lord Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to open this session by thanking all my colleagues in the House of Lords for the work they do. I know of no group of people more committed to our country or our party.

Not just those still working there, but all those dedicated, long-serving members so gracelessly tossed out by Margaret Jay last year.

"I know you`ll pay them the tribute they so richly deserve.

"You know - has it ever struck you as strange how New Labour call themselves a 'people`s government.' Yet time and again it`s been the House of Lords that have spoken for the people.

"Jack Straw wanted to curb the ancient English right to trial by jury. We stopped him dead in his tracks.

Labour refused to let war widows who remarried keep their pensions. We made them back down.

And, of course, it was only the Lords who thwarted Tony Blair`s personal obsession to abolish Section 28 and allow promotion of homosexuality to schoolchildren.

"What a remarkable part Janet Young played in leading that fight.

"You may, though, be wondering where my friends from the Lords are today - well they`re working at Westminster clearing up Labour`s legislative mess. So in their absence can I pay tribute to members of my front bench team especially Oliver Henley the Chief Whip and John Mackay, my deputy. Can I also thank Christopher Fraser my PPS who bears the brunt of communicating with our colleagues in the Commons? And in welcoming Angela Browning as the new Opposition Leader of the Commons, can I thank her predecessor, Sir George Young who has given such unstinting service to the Conservative Party, and personal support to me.

"New Labour has given our great old country some heavy blows. Tony Blair and his friends - those titans of management who masterminded the triumph of the Millennium Dome - turned to their next trick. They took our constitution, evolved over the wisdom of centuries, and tore it to shreds. They hadn`t time for anything that might stand in their way.

They set out with one aim in mind - to throw over the old checks and balances, belittle our Parliament, hand its responsibilities to others, but making sure all along that No.10 had a handle on everything.

"Yes - you can have a Welsh Assembly, so long as Tony`s boyo`s in charge.

Yes - you can have a Mayor of London, so long as it`s Tony`s man.

Yes - you can even keep a House of Lords, so long as it`s full of Tony`s friends.

The Project wasn`t about principle. It was about power, peppered with a corrosive hatred of everything that was part of the old British constitution.

Beginning with Parliament.

"The Prime Minister doesn`t care about Parliament. He doesn`t answer to Parliament. He rarely even goes to Parliament. That`s why he`s been so free and easy with handing the responsibilities of Parliament to others. That`s why he`s undermined the supremacy of Parliament and increasingly put us under politically correct judges sitting in Europe. That`s why, purring like a tame kitten, he`s handed over powers that Tory governments fought like tigers to keep in British hands.

"Whoever thought we would see the day when jobsworths in Town Halls were hounding traders for selling fruit to pensioners in pounds and ounces, while fat-cat lawyers were rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of the Human Rights bonanza coming their way?

"That`s the shameful reality of Blair`s Brave New Britain.

"Labour`s assault and battery on the constitution has been a monumental disaster.

It makes the Dome look like a triumph of planning and foresight.

But the sad thing is, it`s far, far more important.

And it`ll take a far longer time to put right.

You can`t solve the problems of a constitution by flying in a Frenchman from Disneyland.

"When we form a government we will have to build anew what Labour have so capriciously destroyed. Some things, like Scotland`s new Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, we will continue to support. Tony Blair`s failed attempts at fixes from London, crippled the new bodies from the outset. Scotland and Wales need grown-up politics again. And with more Scottish and Welsh Conservatives, these bodies will work better. In whatever we do we will never give up trying to hold our country together.

"For Conservatives - only Conservatives - truly believe in the Union. One United Kingdom. And in defence of the Union - I promise you - this Conservative and Unionist Party will always stand firm.

"Other things we will reject out of hand. We will make no shabby deals with those Liberal Democrats. We won`t go cap in hand, like Tony Blair, to the Ashdowns and Kennedys, begging their permission to do what`s right for Britain. PR would mean a permanent stranglehold on power for the Liberal lunatic fringe.

We will never, ever agree to PR for Westminster.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, no part of our constitution has been more brutally vandalised than the House of Lords.

To act - as it should - as a check on government -

To protect us - as only it can - from badly drafted law - it must be independent of any government. That`s the difference between the parties. We want a strong and independent House of Lords in a strong Parliament. Tony Blair wants a weak and submissive House of Lords in a weak Parliament. Tony Blair wants a House of Lords that makes it easier for Tony Blair to get his way. A House he can treat just as arrogantly as he does the Commons. A House that knows its place, a House that`s seen and not heard, a House he can safely ignore.

"So let me be clear. We reject totally the idea of any further reduction in the powers of the Lords. Indeed, it should do more. We should, where necessary, throw out some of the crazy regulations that increasingly dominate our lives. We should set up a constitutional Committee in the Lords to act as a watchdog on ill-thought out change. And we want a House of independent minds and real authority. That`s why we`re likely to want more elected peers than proposed by the Royal Commission - and certainly more than Labour would ever dream of giving.

"But ideally we believe that further reform should be achieved by consensus, by wide-ranging discussions, free to consider composition as well. That ought to come now in a Joint committee of both Houses of Parliament. Surely it is there in Parliament that the future of Parliament should be decided - not backstairs in No.10 or in the backrooms of the Labour Party Conference. That is what we ask of the government.

"You don`t need a crystal ball to imagine what Tony Blair`s ideal House would be.

We can see it in the making. Month after month in the Lords we see new appointees complain the hours are too long, They have to be there to vote when the curtain`s up or the restaurant`s closing. They can`t use Parliament as a modern business centre. They don`t get paid. We`ve seen distinguished public servants and war veterans ousted to make way for celebrity favourites, pop barons and wives of friends. Sometimes it`s as though we`re in the Dome. There`s the Crony zone, The Flatmate zone and even New Labour`s money zone.

"In three years Tony Blair has created as many peers as Margaret Thatcher did in eleven.

He`s the uncrowned King of Ermine. If only his record on health, schools, crime or pensions was a fraction as good.

"75 pence a week for the pensioners who made our country. What an insult when a Blair peer digs in the ratepayers` pockets for £300 a 9 week for taxi fares alone. When Tony Blair`s literary hero Melvyn Bragg has sat scarcely two years in the Lords before he`s demanding £10,000 a year for the privilege. £10,000? Is he so hard up?

Surely one television programme most of Tony`s crony peers wouldn`t need to go on is "Who wants to be a Millionaire?" For most of them the millionaires are the people buying the smaller houses down the hill.

"I don`t want to knock them all. Think of the contribution Lord Falconer has made. Charlie to his friends - a right Charlie to the taxpayers. Frankly, if he had a sense of honour he would have gone, long ago.

"When I compare the dignified and impeccable behaviour of Lord Carrington at the time of the Falklands, then I say to myself the old House of Lords could teach Tony Blair`s friends a lesson or two.

"Tony Blair said that the Dome was going to be the first line of the next Labour manifesto. Well if that`s the first line I can`t wait to see the rest!

"You`ll find seams of British decency yards deep among old Labour voters up and down this land. People who`ve given a lifetime of service to Britain - in hospitals, in the factories, in schools or in the home, bringing up their children with values that stretch back for generations. They must be staggered to find their party has been hijacked by a politically correct agenda, run by the Islington few. And that`s why they`re turning away from Labour.

"But now the Prime Minister tells us they`re listening again. They even say they`re listening to the countryside - but, as usual, John Prescott`s the last to get the message. And who exactly has emerged as the key link between Labour and the countryside? None other than Margaret Jay. Apparently, she has a little cottage in the countryside which she visits most weekends.

That must make struggling farmers and desperate rural motorists feel a whole lot better.

It`s a bit like saying Peter Mandelson understands poverty in inner cities because he lived in a £700,000 flat in Notting Hill.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, you have to laugh. Or you would have to cry out in anger at what these people have made of our country. But don`t despair. The clock is running out on New Labour. It was a late `90s fad. And it`s fast becoming yesterday`s fashion.

"It will fall to us to rebuild our constitution and strengthen our Parliament. As we do, we will defend this country`s democratic inheritance, our national sovereignty, the rights of individuals and the unique character of these islands. We want to see a second chamber not rivalling the Commons but strengthening the place of parliament in our nation`s life. Parliament doesn`t belong to a particular political party. Its job is not to flatter ministers but to question, to probe, to hold to account, to be the nation`s voice. And we will listen to Parliament in a way this government never has.

"And that is our pledge to you. To return Parliament to centre stage in our national life.

But until that day comes, we will stand firm, in Parliament, and for Parliament.

For the rights of Parliament are the rights of the people. They are the freedoms our forbears fought for. We believe in Parliament. Our nation`s Parliament. And we shall not allow Tony Blair to trash the authority of that Parliament, which so many generations of British people battled, to build.

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