Sunday, 23 June 2013

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie


I first met Peter Fraser when I joined the Front Bench in 1995. At that July reshuffle Michael Forsyth was given the Scottish Office and his predecessor, Ian Lang moved from Dover House to become President of the Board of Trade taking Peter with him as one of his Ministers of State. 

He travelled much promoting UK Plc overseas, but one particular event that I remember well was his handling of the debate in the Lords on the Scott Report. A simultaneous debate was also happening in the Commons and in fact was made a matter of Confidence by the Prime Minister, John Major. But Peter handled our debate with all his great skill that he had learnt in the Commons as well as from his time as a Barrister and  QC in the Scottish Courts. In his earlier career he had been the Solicitor General and started off in the Lords as The Lord Advocate.


Peter is second from the left between Lord Strathclyde and another absent friend Lord Mackay of Ardbreknish. Missing from this picture are Lord Mackay of Clashfern, Earl Ferrers, Baroness Chalker and Baroness Cumberledge. Sadly with Peter's loss we have now lost five of the Front Bench of 1996.

I will always remember though the time our then leader Viscount Cranborne had his moment with William Hague. Everything got a little hectic on the Opposition Front Bench, with meetings amongst ourselves, with shadow cabinet members and anybody else who had anything to add. Peter as Deputy Leader in the Lords was brilliant. Steady and calm but in his customary way said something along the lines of "I don't know what the rest of you are doing but I'm resigning". So in fact the entire Front Bench resigned. But the two Peters, Fraser and Pilkington, great men of principle would not return to the Front Bench as the rest of us did.

Politically astute and part of that great generation of Scotsmen, who have provided so many politicians to all parties, yesterday was a day of remembering Peter, the fun, the wise words and not to be forgotten his sometimes very mischievous sense of humour. He would have probably commented "For goodness sake get over it and I don't know about you but I'm off for a drink!"


Monday, 10 June 2013

The (Same Sex) Marriage Bill

I found last week to be one of the most tiring and emotional weeks that I had ever experienced in Parliament. It started with the first day of the Second Reading of the Marriage Bill where I found that, to my great pleasure, I was the last but three speakers to the end of business on that day.

I had been warned on numerous occasions by our two eldest children not to go "off piste", to speak slowly and to speak clearly. The result I felt was probably the best speech that I had ever made in Parliament. This is not being self congratulatory but expresses what I felt about this extremely emotional subject. People who know me will realise that I do not get worked up on issues on a regular basis. As somebody whose natural environment is the whips office in one form or other, my most basic principle is that the Government must get its business.

So along comes this Bill and how do I react? A couple of years ago I discussed it with my New Zealand cousin who had been, I think, on the Board of Stonewall and ended up with a gong in the New Years Honours for her work there. My response to this bill was at best luke warm and at worst  negative.

So what has changed my view? It was probably what the younger generation think. That generation that is so important and far more relaxed about such issues than people of my own age group.  So here is my contribution and what I feel about this Bill and how my two eldest, Rosanna and Richard, helped me craft my speech.

10.12 pm
The Earl of Courtown: As many noble Lords have pointed out, the marriage Bill is highly emotive and induces strong feelings. I make no attempt to synthesize the varying views of this House; I rise to make one simple point. By voting in favour of the Bill we would be gaining something while losing nothing. That is to say, it would be a net gain.

What would we be losing? I urge noble Lords to consider, for a moment, the proposition that some who oppose the Bill have put forward. They say that the institution of marriage would be undermined. They say that by allowing two gay people to marry marriage would somehow no longer be sacrosanct. They infer that their marriage would no longer mean what it once did. I ask noble Lords to consider how their marriage would be undermined, subverted or devalued simply by allowing two members of the same sex the privilege that they themselves enjoy. I have come to the conclusion that my marriage would be just as special the day before this Bill is passed as it would be on the day after it was passed. I suggest that as I was married in the eyes of the Lord, I would remain thus. To reiterate the point, those of us married in traditional marriages would not lose anything at all.

I would like to consider what the country would gain by passing the Bill. As a Conservative, I believe passionately in the institution of marriage. Would we not want to encourage as many people as possible to enter into such a stable institution? Bruce Anderson, on Conservative Home, describes the family as “social penicillin” and an establishment that can,

“cure so many social diseases”.
In a crude comparison of married people and their single counterparts, we can see lower levels of disease, morbidity and mortality, healthier lifestyle choices and lower levels of crime and anti-social behaviour. The more people who seek to take this social penicillin, straight or gay, the better. Put simply, gay people would gain something that was previously denied them, and society would lose nothing.

I will conclude on a point made by my friend Daniel Hannan. He reminds us of the issues that have come before this House over the past 20 years: Section 28, lowering the age of consent, gay adoption and civil partnerships, among others. These issues, bitterly opposed by some at the time, have become widely accepted today. At those difficult moments, we as a House recognised the need for change. We accepted that our understandings of tradition no longer resonated with the modern world. We therefore voted to change those understandings to better reflect the generations growing up beneath us. As we did so, the new settlement became the new tradition. That is to say, the necessities of one generation became the traditions of the next.

It is right that we pay particular attention to what is being said outside this Chamber. We should listen especially to the young, the next generation. We should listen to their opinions and views about same-sex marriage. The young support the Bill in overwhelming
3 Jun 2013 : Column 1042
numbers. I urge noble Lords to bear this in mind in the Division Lobbies tomorrow and allow the next generation not to reject the traditions of yesteryear but to build the traditions of the future. In doing so, we would be voting to allow the gay community—here I echo the Prime Minister—to walk that little bit taller in the world.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Right Hon. Baroness Thatcher LG OM PC FRS


So another chapter is closed in the history of this island race. Tomorrow, Parliament is recalled; a solemn day but also perhaps a celebration of the life of our greatest peacetime leader.

Sometimes this type of day can end up being a bit of a damp squib in the Lords, but I suspect this will not be the case tomorrow. I have just done a rough count up of former Secretaries of State and ministers/whips in the Lords who served under Margaret Thatcher - 27 Secretaries of state and 45 ministers/whips one of whom now sits on the labour benches.

I never really knew her, though our paths crossed twice. The first time was when both Houses of Parliament debated the Scott Report in February 1996. Ian Lang was putting the governments case in the Commons where the Prime Minister had made the vote a matter of confidence. In the Lords, Peter Fraser was leading and having some sport over public interest immunity certificates with Roy Jenkins who was critising us for using them - in fact he introduced them in the first place as Home Secretary! But anyway, as a very junior Government whip, The Chief Whip asked me to help entertain Lady Thatcher and Sir Denis in his office. The Chief Whip's office in the Lords did have a certain reputation as a place where you met interesting people and were usually entertained with conversation and also a drop of whisky. Apart from the fact that the government won both votes that night, I wont forget, when watching the Commons' vote on the monitor, Lady Thatcher saying how strange it was after all those years, actually watching the vote as opposed to taking part! Sir Denis' response was along the lines of it was hardly a new experience for him!

On another occasion after 1997, now as an opposition whip, we were debating Commons' reasons for not agreeing to opposition amendments to a certain bill. This might appear quite straight forward to the uninitiated, but sometimes voting on commons amendments can be confusing and Lady Thatcher asked me which lobby we would be voting in. With great confidence, I suggested she made her way up to the content lobby to prepare for the vote. Unfortunately this was not the correct information and luckily she was saved from voting in the wrong lobby by, I think, Lord Forsyth.

It will be one of those House of Lords days when seeing who chooses to speak will be as fascinating as the contributions themselves. As an aside to illustrate just how important this day is, one conservative peer is travelling half way round the world to attend the Recall of Parliament on April 10th 2013

Monday, 8 April 2013

Beer and who pays for the visit to the pub.

I have always been partial to a pint of ale and I particularly welcomed the action of My Right Honourable Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he reduced the tax on beer. Something I hope will allow moderate enjoyment for many and also help the pubs and inns that are finding life tricky at the moment. The piece below, with thanks to Professor David K Kamerschen Phd and Professor of Economics, links beer drinking with higher rate tax payers.

THE TAX SYSTEM EXPLAINED IN BEER

Suppose that once a week, ten men go out for beer and the
bill for all ten comes to £100.

If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would
go something like this..
The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay £1.
The sixth would pay £3.
The seventh would pay £7.
The eighth would pay £12.
The ninth would pay £18
And the tenth man (the richest) would pay £59.

So, that's what they decided to do.

The ten men drank in the bar every week and seemed quite
happy with the arrangement until, one day, the owner caused
them a little problem. "Since you are all such good
customers," he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your
weekly beer by £20.” Drinks for the ten men would now cost just £80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our
taxes. So the first four men were unaffected. They would
still drink for free but what about the other six men? The
paying customers? How could they divide the £20 windfall so
that everyone would get his fair share? They realised that
£20 divided by six is £3.33 but if they subtracted that from
everybody's share then not only would the first four men still be
drinking for free but the fifth  and sixth man would each end up
being paid to drink his beer.

So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fairer to
reduce each man's bill by a higher percentage. They decided
to follow the principle of the tax system they had been
using and he proceeded to work out the amounts he suggested
that each should now pay.
And so, the fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (a 100% saving).
The sixth man now paid £2 instead of £3 (a 33% saving).
The seventh man now paid £5 instead of £7 (a 28% saving).
The eighth man now paid £9 instead of £12 (a 25% saving).
The ninth man now paid £14 instead of £18 (a 22% saving).
And the tenth man now paid £49 instead of £59 (a 16% saving).
Each of the last six was better off than before with the
first four continuing to drink for free.

But, once outside the bar, the men began to compare their
savings. "I only got £1 out of the £20 saving," declared the
sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man, "but he got £10"

"Yes, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved
£1 too. It's unfair that he got ten times more benefit than me"

"That's true" shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get
£10 back, when I only got £2? The wealthy get all the
breaks"

"Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison, "we
didn't get anything at all. This new tax system exploits the
poor" The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next week the tenth man didn't show up for drinks, so
the nine sat down and had their beers without him. But when
it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something
important - they didn't have enough money between all of
them to pay for even half of the bill.

And that, boys and girls, journalists and government
ministers, is how our tax system works. The people who
already pay the highest taxes will naturally get the most
benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them
for being wealthy and they just might not show up anymore. In fact,
they might start drinking overseas, where the atmosphere is
somewhat friendlier.

David R. Kamerschen, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics.
For those who understand, no explanation is needed.
For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Frustration in the Chamber

Thursdays with the House sitting at 11.00am means a slightly earlier setting off time from the Cotswolds, but today there were two questions that I felt moved to contribute to.

The second question on the Order Paper was about the proposed Severn Barrage and it soon became apparent that the promoters of this project had been doing some briefing on the Opposition Benches. With exMPs from the Principality keen to make their points I was unable to get my question in, not helped either by some rather lengthy questions from other Peers. I think without exception all the questions were centred on Wales, I may be wrong but mile for mile I am pretty sure that England has a longer coastline on the Estuary than Wales.

Anyway my major beef about the proposed Barrage is environmental, though I was sent a useful brief by John Stevenson of Bristol Port which amongst other matters pointed out the possible detrimental effect of the Barrage on business's in Gloucester, Sharpness and Bristol. Throughout the questions on Thursday on this issue peers were going on about environmental mitigation.  But how on earth do you carry out works on such a scale to mitigate the proposed vandalism of such an important environmental area. The last thing I heard we were still signatories to the Berne Convention, there are also a number of SSSIs in this area as well as Slimbridge one of the worlds most important wildfowl research stations.

So this is meant to provide 5% of the UK's energy needs from a renewable source. Great intentions, but do we have the technology to do this? And before the proposers go on about jobs and how good for the environment this will be, How many tonnes of concrete will have to be poured to construct this project bearing in mind that cement industry is one of our more power hungry activities and also releases 5% of mankind's carbon dioxide emissions. This industry to quote the Guardian, a paper I do not usually read, is not about to go carbon neutral.

As I live in Gloucestershire the Severn Estuary is a very special place for me and it worries me enormously that this area of such environmental importance could be vandalised.

The last question on the Order Paper was on food waste, something that at home we have been trying to cut down on. I had noticed though that the big supermarkets were now selling food in slightly smaller portions something I am pleased to see. But this does mean that we have additional packaging to deal with, and I despair with the amount of plastic and other materials that we have in our recycling bins and also going to landfill.

Monday, 7 January 2013

End of one era and start of another

For the last 18 years The House of Lords has debatably been dominated by either a Cecil or a Galbraith. If this is not so for the whole House, it certainly is true for the Conservative benches.

I am of course referring to the former Lord Privy Seal. now the Marquis of Salisbury and the former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Lord Strathclyde, whose retirement from front bench duty was announced today. Robert and Tom were an unbeatable duo in the mid 90s from 1994 when Robert became leader of the House until his sacking by William Hague in 1999. Robert came to the Lords in 1992 by a method called a writ of acceleration, something that seems to be only ever done for a Cecil such is their family's influence on British politics over hundreds of years. As leader, he charmed his opponents and was given unquestioned loyalty by his front bench colleagues. I am immensely proud to have served under him. Thomas was on the front bench for much longer from 1988 through to 2013 a long spell in anybodies book. He was made Chief Whip in 1994 and was quite an operator and always good fun to be around. He was a great judge of what was important and what in his own words were 'minor potatoes'.

We, of course, lost the election in 1997 and went into opposition. The double act stayed in the same positions but from the other side of the chamber. Political life continued with the Conservative party not making a great deal of headway though we did have some opportunities. As expected we eventually had Lords reform in the Queens Speech and a bill was produced. I can't quite remember whether it was committee stage or report when we had that day of exposure when the Deal over reform was announced, but in the afternoon after PMQs Robert Cranborne decided to sell the idea to the ACP - the Lords equivalent of the 1922. The ACP had though agreed to let the Leader of the Opposition address the ACP after Robert had had his opportunity, and this is when it all started to go a bit wrong. Robert had hardly got into the swing of it when William Hague and his senior Shadow Cabinet Colleagues strode into the Moses Room half an hour early. At this point Thomas looked at me and said "we're f---ed now" and of course the rest of it is quite well documented.

He took over as leader and did this continually through opposition until the Coalition was formed and the Prime Minister appointed him Leader and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He had some tricky bits to deal with, not least being Leader of a House that was much changed but also leading a coalition in the Lords and having to promote Lords Reform, a subject not dear to many of his Tory colleagues. He did this very well, not showing the House what he actually thought of the whole affair. He did not have the light touch of a Cecil but was still a much respected politician.

He was not everyones cup of tea but he has served the House well for many years. I will miss his air of confidence and I always felt the House was in good hands with him as its Leader.

Having mulled over Thomas's retirement overnight, two things really come to mind. Firstly, what a great job he has done over the years he has represented both the Conservatives and the House as a whole through arguably its most turbulent modern history. This included two attempts at reforming the House, one of which had to be abandoned, the change of the House in the last say five years from one that concentrated on line by line scrutiny of Bills to a House that has become more overtly political, and leading a Coalition with one party having a different agenda to the other. It has not been the easiest of times and having watched Thomas from my position on the Back benches I can quite understand why he has decided to call it a day. The second matter that got me thinking last night was the enormous loss of experience that has left government. I would say that without doubt, he is the most politically experienced member of the House and his retirement will leave an enormous gap on the front bench and, sorry Thomas, that is both literally and metaphorically.

So we now have a new Leader, Lord Hill of Oareford, somebody I am afraid I don't know very well. He has done a great job in Education, and just to see the Oppositions reaction when he stood in the House as leader for the first time, shows that they respect him as well. He is quieter than Thomas and we will have to wait and see if he has the required hard edge as well. He has a long political history, having been in No. 10 in the early 90s, so as well as having the experience, he also knows many colleagues from that era, a number of whom are now in the House.

So there has also been a bit of a mini reshuffle in the Lords. Lord Sassoon's planned retirement from the Front Bench is now complete with Lord Deighton, ex LOCOG taking over his role at the Treasury. Lord Marland has also decided to call it a day and his place has been taken by Lord Younger, who moves from the Whips Office to Bis. We have a new peer, John Nash, coming to be a minister in Education and Lord Popat has left his role as a Party Whip to become a Government Whip.  And finally, blow me over with a feather, the powers that be, eg the Chief Whip, has asked me to become a Party Whip. Somewhat surprised, as I was pretty sure the rest of my career in the Lords would be destined to be Committees and back bench speeches. This is pretty low down the pecking order, in fact there is nothing lower, but it's all about communication with other Tory Peers like myself on the back benches - something I was always quite good at and it's great to help, if only in a very minor way.




Wednesday, 19 December 2012

House of Lords Freedom of Information requests

I received one of those emails from the House Authorities headed FoI request. Immediate thoughts were along the lines of Ohh dear what's going on now? (Or words to that affect) Anyway, having opened the message and found out that it referred to peers who had received iPads from our IT allowance I felt it would be good to explain a bit how it all works.

We are able to have two items of electrical equipment. I have a lap top that stays on my desk in Millbank (I chose this instead of a desk top) and now I have an iPad. The House also lets me have a blackberry with a set usage allowance, over which I pay for myself.

So am I playing Angry Birds in Committee or in the Chamber? No I'm not. Do I play Patience on the train home? Yes I do. The real benefit of the iPad is for my committee work. I'm a member of EU Sub Committee D which scrutinises items from the EU or to put it simply matters affecting Defra and Decc. We receive every week around 150 pages of briefing which also includes stuff for our present investigation into EU Energy policy: Decarbonisation and economic competitiveness. An excellent subject with the report being published next year.

My main point, is that there are 12 members of our committee plus clerks and advisers etc. For this one committee alone, the tax payer is picking up the bill for about 20 sets of papers (each 150 pages in length) for every week the House sits (not including the price of ink, copier and maintenance costs). So say the House sits for 20 weeks that is in the region of 60,000 sheets of paper a year, a conservative estimate in my view. With the iPad, or similar portable technology, the need for such vast quantities of paper is almost eliminated. Across industries, research has been done on this very area. The iPad has consistently been associated with overall cost savings and reductions in waste.

As someone who does care about the environment I think that everything the individual can do to reduce ones carbon footprint has to be a win win situation. In my view, the more members who actually take up the offer of iPads the better, so we can stop cutting down forests and also reduce the manufacturing of paper to a minimum.