Tue, 15 June 2021

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Lords Diary: Lord Cormack on "how to behave" lessons and the state opening

Lords Diary: Lord Cormack on 'how to behave' lessons and the state opening
3 min read

I was very glad that on the day we prorogued I was able to raise the issue of those 60 or so peers who face censure for failing to complete the compulsory “How to Behave” course before 1 April.

I urged the chair of the Conduct Committee to reflect on the folly of pillorying, among others, one of the most notable parliamentarians of the last 100 years, Baroness Boothroyd, for failing to complete her training not withstanding ill health, and her difficulty in coming to terms with Zoom. I just hope that a sense of moderation will prevail or we will become a laughing stock. And to add insult to injury we seem to have spent around £750,000 on outside consultants who do not appear to understand the Lords and its ways of working.

I spent the week of prorogation in Lincoln. After this most extraordinary of years, the cathedral echoes to the sound of music on at least four days a week. The wonderful singing of a somewhat reduced choir has brought a real solace to the spirit. We ended the week on a rather more mundane and secular note with election results, and a reminder of the volatility of political life.

I had to be driven back to London on Monday to ensure my arrival for the Queen’s Speech because some LNER rolling stock had developed hairline fractures. This had thrown the railway timetable into complete chaos. As I had been successful in the ballot for the State Opening, I dared not risk a Tuesday arrival.

I had drawn a place in the Royal Gallery for this unique State Opening. Where dozens of guests normally assemble, we had groups of around 20 MPs and 20 peers, the Commons sitting beneath the great Daniel Maclise Trafalgar painting, the Lords beneath his companion piece Waterloo. I was opposite the entrance to the Norman Porch where it had been Barry’s intention to have statues of our Norman Kings. Instead marble busts of 19th century prime ministers cluster around the columns. They were a splendid background to the comings and goings: the Cap of Maintenance, the Sword of State, our resplendently dressed chief whip, the captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms and his deputy, the captain of the Yeoman of the Guard. Pared down as it was, the ceremony retained all of the solemnity and dignity of the moving funeral of Prince Philip last month.

As the Queen, escorted by the Prince of Wales, processed in for the 67th, and most unusual State Opening of her reign, she was perhaps more movingly than ever the embodiment of all that is best in our history and constitution. Hers really has been the most remarkable, as well as the longest, of all reigns. As I looked at the statues that flank the Gallery – Henry V and Elizabeth I, Anne and William III, Alfred the Great and William the Conqueror – I did a little mental arithmetic. Between them they had 128 years on the throne. Elizabeth II has already had more than half that span and I devoutly hope and pray that when we come to her 70th platinum anniversary there will be no need for restricted numbers or social distancing. 

And indeed I hope that when we reach the final milestone out of lockdown, on 21 June, we will have no more need for virtual participation and revert to a proper three-dimensional Parliament of real people on real benches, only retaining Zoom for far-off witnesses appearing before select committees.

On Wednesday morning pomp and pageantry had faded. But we were actually able to have a real meeting, and a very domestic one, when Sir Graham Brady presided at the first meeting of our new editorial group of The House.

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