HC Deb 10 April 1981 vol 2 cc1213-77

9.36 am.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

I beg to move, That this House believes in preserving the unity of the United Kingdom and all the great institutions of the realm, namely, the Monarchy, the Church, the Houses of Parliament, the judiciary, the Armed Services of the Crown and the police; and deplores the attacks on these institutions by those who ought to know better. We are all delighted that the Minister of State is here to listen to our proceedings and we look forward very much to his contribution on behalf of the Home Office.

The British constitution shares few characteristics with other constitutions. For instance, it has no written Bill of Rights, no elected Upper House, no system of election by Proportional Representation, and no elected Head of State. It also possesses other characteristics that distinguish it further—an Upper House of which a large number of Members are there by virtue of the hereditary principle or by membership of the Established Church, senior judges who are appointed from the ranks of distinguished advocates rather than from the ranks of career judges, a Lord Chancellor, who defies every canon of the separation of powers by combining each of them and, finally, a long-established system of legal precedent. Thus distinguished, our constitution is the envy of the world.

Nowithstanding that, on each of its distinguishing characteristics there are those who argue for a change, a realignment, or the adoption of principles often described as more rational. The United Kingdom is a nation that has developed in stages, like a family. It has done so in accordance with no rational scheme and no central blueprint. It has retained its cohesion precisely because of its capacity to adapt. Its organic growth, centred around certain fundamental institutions, such as the Crown and the Church, has encouraged stability and cohesion where in other countries there have been revolution, civil disobedience and political instability. Therefore, my fundamental point is as the uniqueness of the British constitution, which is not readily susceptible to analysis on continental models.

I should therefore need to be strongly convinced of the need for specific changes in the constitutional sphere before I could assent to them. I should certainly reject as a reason for accepting them the fact that they failed to correspond with norms prevailing in other, less fortunate parts of the world.

Of course, matters change. It is part of the strength of the British constitution that such change partly reflects and partly shapes the views of the man in the street. His views are never to be despised. We ignore the ordinary citizen at our peril. Without his assent or acquiescence, social, civic and private life become intolerable, the rule of law is belittled, and part of our civilisation is thereby undermined. It is, indeed, acceptance by the ordinary subject of the rule of law and respect for his views by the legislator that ensure the continuing vitality of the British constitution; for no legislator, if he is wise, presents a man or a group of people with the choice of obeying his conscience or breaking the law. If Parliament is wise, as, on the whole, it has been in the past, that dilemma will not occur. At present, the closed shop is a disturbing exception.

By their composition all constitutions reflect changing patterns of power. The more formalised the constitution the less adaptable it may incline to be in the face of severe shifts of power. The more adaptable it is, the more easily may such transitions be made. So we have seen the well-known historical shift from Crown to barons to Parliament being achieved without too great a constitutional disturbance.

Foreseeing problems for the individual, many distinguished figures have advanced the need, particularly recently, for a Bill of Rights in the United Kingdom—a permanent, binding entrenchment of certain fundamental rights that are regarded as sacrosanct. Such a proposal, indeed, has its attractions, not least that it may safeguard individual liberties already secured, but I believe that it has two defects that may be thought to be fatal. The first is that even fundamental rights change. We should be forever amending the Bill so as, perhaps, to cast doubt on just how fundamental those rights were. The second is, as Burke said, that "Tyrants seldom want pretexts." The point at which a Bill of Rights would be most needed is exactly the point when it would be least effective. A Bill of Rights would be no obstacle to a single-minded tyrant. The remedy is not a Bill of Rights. It is a vigilant people.

Disraeli, the centenary of whose death falls this month, contemplated a unified people: one nation, allied with Church and Crown. Today the Church unfortunately has lost much of its appeal, whereas popular affection for the Crown seems unparalleled. We are a unified people, and we shall remain so if we retain our identity, buttressed by a strong constitution and protected by its guardians.

It is always a good principle in life to count one's blessings. The same can apply to a nation. As a nation, we have had a rough ride since the end of our military victories in 1945. We have lost status as a world power, and we have been bedevilled by economic crises. Those difficulties are even exaggerated by the media. However, I still believe that the heart of the nation is sound, and the bedrock for my belief is the strength of our national character.

We are also supported by institutions, many of 'which have grown and developed over the centuries from the distant past—institutions that have become part of the fabric of the nation to such an extent that we almost take them for granted. But we should never do that. Those institutions are an expression of our civilisation.

I start my motion with mention of the unity of the United Kingdom. When I was a young man, everyone took that for granted, but when the previous Government weakly gave way to pressures and introduced the Scotland and Wales Bills, the good sense of this House asserted itself. Through all the long and agonising debates in which I took part, I always felt that the collective wisdom of the House would in the end reject them. Looking back, we see what a nightmare we have escaped by not having, for instance, another Parliament in Scotland, constantly at loggerheads with the United Kingdom Parliament at Westminster, and with Scottish Members here kicking their heels with nothing to do. How wise Wales was to reject the motion in a downright manner. The future form of government in Northern Ireland is still to be decided, but one thing is certain—neither the people of Northern Ireland nor this House will give way to the demands of terrorists.

In rejecting devolution in such a forthright manner I would, nevertheless, wish to see much less law-making in this Parliament, fewer statutory instruments, and less interference generally with the life and liberty of the citizen. A whole generation has grown up with the idea that all things can be put right or made better by Act of Parliament, whereas it is often better, as Walpole said, to "let sleeping dogs lie".

The head of our constitution is our ancient monarchy, going back to Saxon times. Only once in our history, and for a brief period, did we reject the monarchy, but we soon realised our mistake, and 29 May 1660, when the King returned, was probably the happiest day that England and Scotland have ever had. The Crown is the central pivot of the nation, the focus of loyalty and the expression of our unity and cohesion as a people. In a democracy such as ours, with Government and Opposition almost always in conflict, it is vital that there should be an institution far above party, which remains impartial and expresses stability and continuity.

The monarchy also appeals to our sense of history, tradition and pageantry. There is no spectacle in the world to surpass the ceremony of the Queen opening Parliament. I love to see foreigners less fortunate than ourselves—say, Republicans from France or America—envying our monarchy and its prestige. At this ceremony there is no mention of a general election having been held. It is almost all as it was in mediaeval times: the Queen, her Council and the barons, and the Commons as well, meeting together. Long may those marvellous ceremonies remain.

How fortunate we in this House are in Mr. Speaker, with his respect for this place and love for its traditions.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

And Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Stokes

And Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We start our proceedings here every day with prayers and we have the Lords Spiritual in the other place to show that we are a Christian country with an Estabished Church. Few people now talk of disestablishment of the Church of England, and I would utterly deplore it. The Church now has virtual self-government, but we still have some residual powers in this place, including the Prime Minister's voice in the choice of bishops.

I confess that some aspects of the Church today sadden me. I was born in a country rectory, and love for the Church of England flows through my veins. However, I regret that in recent years the Church seems, at any rate in part, to have lost its way. Church leaders seldom speak on the great issues of Christianity—of life and death, of why we are in this world, of sin and redemption. Instead, one sometimes gets the impression that the modern Church is a sort of welfare department or a branch of the Department of Health and Social Security. Clergy hesitate to speak of sin, which is an unfashionable concept in these days of psychology. They seem frightened to speak even of virtues, such as chastity, which is not given the respect that it is due in an increasingly licentious age.

The obsession of the Church with the Third world makes it neglect real problems at home, such as, for instance, the effect of immigration on the indigenous population. The Church still supports missionary activity abroad, but seems hesitant at home about whether to try to convert the immigrants to Christianity. Worse still, in supporting so-called freedom movements in Africa and elsewhere the Church seems at times to be giving aid and comfort to terrorists. The World Council of Churches and the British Council of Churches are a cause of offence to many Christians in Britain. There is a gap in the Church between the bishops and the people in the pew that the General Synod certainly does not fill. Indeed, I sometimes regard the Synod as I regard the European Assembly—as an unnecessary institution.

It seems incredible that the bishops and clergy of the Church of England have allowed the Book of Common Prayer to be pushed aside by doubtful new versions. It is almost the eleventh hour, but I hope that there is still time for congregations to insist on the use of the 1660 book for one service on every Sunday. Parliament fired a warning shot over the bows of the Synod on this issue only two days ago. In spite of these strictures, I know that there are many parish priests, especially in the country, who, like George Herbert, still lead exemplary lives and still do their Christian duty. They deserve all the backing that we laymen in the House can give them.

If the nation has to some extent lost its way, it is partly because it has neglected its spiritual heritage. In this age of the mass media, the discotheque, the supermarket and the football crowds, the Church still has the message of eternal truth, as it did in quieter and simpler days of long ago.

I approach my next topic with relish—the Upper House of Parliament. Of all the absurd criticisms of today against our institutions, those made against the Upper House are the least well founded and the least popular. For instance, no constituent has ever asked me to reform the House of Lords, whereas many frequently ask me to reform the trade unions.

In the House of Lords the hereditary peers are an essential element. Their behaviour is impeccable, as millions now hear from the broadcasting of their proceedings. They are trained for the job from youth upwards, and they are truly independent, being answerable to no constituents. They also buttress the principle of hereditary monarchy and occupy a vital place in our society, emphasising the importance of continuity and social duty. I regard the life peers as being very much in the second division. I believe that their numbers should be subject to some limitation. I am horrified when some of the more earnest Members of my party express the desire to reform the other place.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

Will my hon. Friend indicate in his admirable and eloquent discourse in which division he would place peers such as Lord Home and Lord Hailsham, who have figured in both categories?

Mr. Stokes

My admiration for them is unbounded. I am only sorry that they have temporarily fallen from grace.

Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)

May I make a Scottish suggestion, namely, that we have a Premier League?

Mr. Stokes

As I have said, I am horrified when some of the more earnest members of my party express a desire to reform the other place. It works extremely well, and I say that we should leave well alone. The attacks on the Lords by the Leader of the Opposition carry no weight with the public. Still less do the attacks of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), who is so widely distrusted and feared by ordinary people.

When Labour Members are elevated along the Corridor, as I believe more soon will be, they quickly get used to the place and tend to adopt a pragmatic if not conservative approach. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who never lacks courage, will have the courage to begin again with the creation of new hereditary peers, who, unfortunately, have not been created since 1964. I have several names to suggest.

I would make few changes in our own House. I constantly marvel at the fact that I am here. I am proud of every day that I spend here. When I first arrived I tended to think that some of those here were perhaps showmen, who were inclined to exaggerate and who sometimes were even gasbags. Time has taught me to appreciate the virtues of almost everyone here. Every Member is different, as every constituency is different, and everyone has something to contribute. We are a microcosm of the nation.

Most Members work hard and wish sincerely to serve the country and their constituents. Unfortunately, we have a few revolutionaries, but some of them are charming people even though they have horrible views. At least it is a safety valve having them here in this place as it keeps them from demonstrating at street corners.

I support the first-past-the-post electoral system that We have always had in England. Proportional representation tends to make for jockeying between parties and weak government. As I have said, I am opposed to a written constitution or to a Bill of Rights. I have a far too strongly developed sense of history to think that such a foreign conception could be successful here. The great strength of our constitution is that it has developed slowly over the centuries according to our needs and is not a written document full of theories and vague indefinable rights. Of course, our constitution will work only if we have government by gentlemen and not by cads, but I believe and hope that there will always be enough gentlemen here to prevent the cads from getting away with it.

Our job here is to check the Executive, to watch public expenditure, and only from time to time to pass laws. I agree that we fail to watch expenditure sufficiently well, but I wish this to be done by the whole House in this Chamber, and not by Committee. I am unenthusiastic about the new Committees. They empty the Chamber and the Smoking Room, and some people engaged on the new Committees have tended to become a little pompous and self-important. The Committees also produce far too many reports, which have made for a great deal of work and expense but are not widely read.

I am glad that I have so far succesfully resisted the televising of our proceedings. That would ruin the character of this place and turn our proceedings into a branch of show business. Television, after all, must always entertain, but the business here is usually too important for entertainment.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Sometimes it is entertaining rather than important.

Mr. Stokes

This House still has immense prestige. It is still the object of many to come here. In the Tory Party we now have too few knights of the shires and landed interests, and perhaps, with respect, too many lawyers, advertising executives, PR men and merchant bankers. But in the last 1979 intake at least we received many with wide business and other backgrounds, including a number who were self-employed, and that should strengthen us.

I shall not entertain the House by speculating on the future of the Social Democratic Party—or, as I prefer to call it, the Democratic Socialist Party—except to say that none of them is here today and that I do not expect to see many of them here in the next Parliament.

We must never forget how much both Houses of Parliament are respected abroad. There is nothing equivalent to them anywhere else. We must not lightly cast away what others regard so highly.

I now come to the judges—the "lions under the throne". I suppose that there is no other appointment that has so upheld its prestige as that of a judge. At a time when many professions no longer stand as high as they once did, the judge still stands supreme. He is the guardian of our laws and our liberties, and without his independence we should be at the mercy of arbitrary acts of Government.

The attacks on the judges by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition were appalling and show how little he understands the feelings of ordinary men and women on this matter. The last thing that they want is a people's court, or a committee of public safety.

We are fortunate, in this peace-loving country, in our Armed Forces. Never has their training been better than now, or their dedication to duty. In their emphasis on leadership they supply an element that has been lacking in other walks of life. Their straightforward ideals of loyalty and service are badly needed in many other occupations. They carry out countless different and difficult tasks with ease and efficiency. Without them we should he at the mercy of the Russians and the terrorists. Whatever we do here, we must give the Armed Forces our fullest support.

In days when crime, including violent crime, has become so common, we depend more and more on our police. In spite of occasional failures in the Metropolitan Police and a few other police forces, the police maintain a very high standard and the "bobby" is everywhere respected. Not here do we have the knock on the door at night, or the secret police.

I am not complacent about the future of our institutions. I know that there are those who are working night and day to destroy them and to put in their place the sort of constitution that we see behind the Iron Curtain. I hope that those people's activities are being watched.

As Lord Chalfont said in a recent article in The Times, there is a fashionable contempt for anything which contains a suggestion of patriotism, authority, tradition, or dignity. The police, the judiciary, the monarchy and Parliament have become objects of derision and the target of third-rate comedians aspiring to be satirists. I do, however, trust the people at large. In spite of the media, in spite of all the brain-washing that is done by the progressives and the trendy, and in spite of the feelings of guilt and shame of some who are rich and well-born, the average man and woman remains obstinately proud of his country, its history and its institutions.

Time and time again, after a weary week here, when I am perhaps feeling a little low and dispirited about my country, I go down to my constituency in the Midlands on a Friday, and there I see the ordinary people of England. There is nothing at all wrong with them. All that they need is good leadership. I am proud to represent them.

10.6 am

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

As I made an intervention a little earlier complimenting Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I put it on record that the fact that I am the first to be called from the Opposition Benches is not proof that flattery has enabled me to be called earlier than other hon. Members. However, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as it did me no harm on this occasion, perhaps I shall be tempted to do so again.

I commend and congratulate the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) on his choice of subject today—British Constitution—and on the forthright and patriotic manner in which he made his contribution. He has convinced me that I ought to be a member of the "Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge Preservation Society". I say that in the best way that I possibly can. His brand of honesty and patriotism is too rare in the country today. Some might say that it is a little old-fashioned, and some might criticise it, but the country is the better for the fact that his voice and those of others like him can be raised in this place and outside. The country will be the poorer if there are not people like him to say what they think openly and honestly.

That does not mean that I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said, either today or since he came to this place some time ago. I was a little concerned about how he managed to get the closed shop into his arguments. I was a little concerned about whether he was under the impression that Parliament had rejected the devolution Bills, when in fact, in spite of all our opposition, on each side, it was the House of Commons that eventually agreed with them and the people outside who rejected them. They were our safeguard.

The hon. Gentleman stands for what is good. He is of the Right politically and for the good non-politically. I had the impression, when I read his motion that he was under the impression that our constitution and our institutions had the personal approval of the Lord God Almighty who, in the hon. Gentleman's opinion, was undoubtedly not just British but English; not just English, but High Tory; and not just High Tory, but Anglo-Saxon Protestant as well. The impression that I gained was that it would not only be folly to oppose any changes in the constitution but almost sinful to suggest them.

I was a little disappointed, because the hon. Gentleman, in his way, has been in favour of some change—perhaps more than he indicated in his speech. I think that we can agree at least that change is not necessarily reform, and that reform is not necessarily improvement. My comments will be related to the parliamentary and the constitutional aspects rather than to the other aspects that the hon. Gentleman raised in his speech.

The British Estates of the Realm consist of the Sovereign, the other place—I think that I can call it the "H of L", although I would break a convention if I were to give it its full title—and this House. Change and reform should be made in each of those three Estates. Like the Labour Party, I am in favour of a constitutional monarchy. I am not a Republican, nor is my party. I make no harsh criticism of Her Majesty the Queen. I much admire her dedication, character, family life and most of the things that she has done. My criticism is not of what she has done during her good reign, but of how much more she could do. She could widen the knowledge and understanding of her family about the lives, hopes, needs and fears of the ordinary people. Those people include both my constituents and those of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge. I think of those in Glasgow, the North-East, the North-West and in London. They look to the Queen, admire her and hope for great things from her.

The Queen is the Duke of Lancaster. As a Lancastrian and Merseysider, I am proud of that, just as I am proud that Leaders of the House have been Chancellors of the Duchy of Lancaster. In my part of the United Kingdom that is no mean status to hold. However, I fear that Her Majesty is surrounded by a group of people who have less in common with the real world than has any hon. Member. Indeed, that group has less in common with the world than have many of those in the other place. It is a self-selective corporate body, which must limit her knowledge of 99.9 per cent. of those in her realm. No matter how hard working she may be, and no matter how many Royal tours, visits and walkabouts she undertakes, they cannot be a substitute for real contact.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) is in the Chamber. If Her Majesty would but listen a little to his advice she might realise that he is a better and truer friend of the monarchy and of the Royal Family than are some of the more sycophantic people who continually say "Yes". I hope that that does not discourage my hon. Friend. I commend the opening remarks in my hon. Friend's book. This is not a commercial. The book was written in 1975 and might be a little outdated. It contains an open letter to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second. It begins: Your Majesty, you know me solely by ill-repute. Yet I cannot recollect that I have ever said a cruel or critical word against you personally. Time may have altered the truth of that. Nevertheless, that book gives great constructive criticism and support. It outlines a better frame for a system of monarchy than he may have realised.

I believe that the whole House will wish His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and his lady well. I thought that it was time that he made up his mind. He was a little late in coming to the aid of a young lady who was under great pressure from both the public and the media. However, if she can forgive him, so we should. I make one suggestion to His Royal Highness. At one time, members of the Royal Household, including the King, the princes and most certainly the Prince Regent, had friends amongst Members of Parliament. Some of them were reputable, but many were less reputable. If His Royal Highness were to follow at least one of the examples of the Prince Regent—and perhaps only one—and if he were to get to know some hon. Members he would probably have a better understanding of what happens here and would not have to rely solely on letters that are passed by our eminent Whips.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I have listened with great interest to the hon. Member's remarks about the monarchy. I was particularly interested when he called upon the Crown to open up the circle that surrounds the monarchy. Is not the problem that the Crown might become associated with a political party? The hon. Gentleman suggested that the Prince of Wales should become friendly with hon. Members. I should have thought that extremely undesirable. The public would assume that he was advocating a political view, when he might only be speaking his own mind. There are dangers in that course.

Mr. Ogden

Any change brings dangers. At present, I understand that His Royal Highness has no direct contact with Members of Parliament. I do not know what private contacts he may have. I do not say that he should become friendly with hon. Members. God forbid. There are many hon. Members with whom I do not wish to become friendly. I should not want His Royal Highness to become friendly with them. However, it would do him no harm if he occasionally spoke to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) or to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). He would find out what Back Benchers thought. I do not say that he should become committed to one side or the other. That would be unconstitutional and wrong. However, he should make his own inquiries. In the same way, recruitment to the position of being an adviser to Her Majesty could be wider.

Hon. Members do not refer to the other place by name. Therefore, I must ask: should we reform or abolish the other place? The manifesto on the basis of which I and all my Labour Party colleagues were elected in 1979 did not commit us to its preservation, reformation or abolition. At that time the situation was neutral. Since the publication of that manifesto a Labour Party conference has proposed the abolition of the other place. To some, that means a one-House Parliament. We may discover later whether it means that to those of my hon. Friends who are in the Chamber. However, to others and to me it means the replacement of that House by another, reformed House. The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge does not want the other place to be reformed, but I am in favour of a reformed Second Chamber and the retention of a two-Chamber Parliament. I am not in favour of one-party Government or of one-party legislative procedures.

I have a practical reason for opposing a one-Chamber Parliament. In 17 years here I have seen too many examples of legislative mistakes being made in this House that would have been disastrous if they had not been corrected before being placed on the statute book. In 1968 there were attempts, by night and by day, to bring about a limited reform of the other place. Hon. Members know who prevented that limited reform. The other place is neither the greatest strength nor the greatest threat to British parliamentary democracy.

During the next Session, I hope that the Government will introduce legislative proposals for a degree of reform in the composition of the other place. If we leave that too late, someone may come along and impose a solution, or its abolition. I would accept a progressive reform. I want a House that will contain partly hereditary—I concede that principle to some extent—and partly appointed Members. There should be representatives of the arts, science, industry and commerce. The Members should he partly elected—in the form of a senate—and partly based on regional government.

I want the other House to reflect a wider "constituency". An elected element would inevitably increase its strength and power. Some bishops of the Anglican Church can sit in the other place because of their office. That means that a principle exists on which an extension of the other place can be made. As a Methodist, I can say that if there are to be Anglican bishops and archbishops in the other place there is no reason why there should not be Catholic bishops and archbishops, such as the Archbishop of Westminster and the Archbishop of Liverpool. In addition, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland and the President of the Methodist Conference could also be Members. If one group has a right based on office the other group should have it. Therefore, there is a basis for change.

If reform is ignored for too long we shall find ourselves in great danger. I suggest that in the 1980s and 1990s the time limit for the life of a Parliament is much too short. A five-year limit on one life of the Session is too short for any Government to operate effectively whether that Government consist of Conservative Members—wet or dry—or of the old Labour or new Labour Members. It is too short a time in which to change economic policy, with any result.

After three years there is a temptation to change the economic policies on which the Government of the day were elected, in order to create a more responsive and attractive climate as the next election approaches. I am in favour of a maximum seven-year Parliament. That can be done only if we make the membership of the House more representative. In that I differ from the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge. I am in favour of proportional representation for the election of Members of this House.

I do not favour the French system of changing Governments and constant alliances. I do not want a multiplicity of parties—we have more than enough of them, but we should have a system of proportional representation. We could then ask for a longer term, and the Government of the day could implement economic policies within a reasonable time and would not be able to make the excuse that they did not have time.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

I have listened with care to the argument. Is the hon. Gentleman talking about a seven-year fixed term?

Mr. Ogden

No. I do not believe in a fixed term I am talking of a maximum term of seven years. The maximum term now is five years. That should be increased to seven years, but it could be less. The price that we would have to pay for trust for that long period is proportional representation.

Some people believe that the dangers and threats to the constitution can be defeated only by a Bill of Rights. I do not agree with a Bill of Rights. We cannot have both a Bill of Rights and parliamentary sovereignty. The two are incompatible. Those who say that a Bill of Rights will enhance and guarantee my rights are wrong. A Bill of Rights will limit my rights. The rights of a British citizen are without limit. They are boundless except where an Act of Parliament has limited them. If the citizen has only the rights that are written into a Bill of Rights, his rights will be limited. I do not want a Bill of Rights, even if it could be changed from time to time.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the argument in favour of a Bill of Rights. The suggestion is not that the rights should be limited to those enshrined in a Bill of Rights, but that Parliament, exercising its sovereign capacity, should not be able to infringe the rights in a Bill of Rights. Parliament can extend other rights as much as it likes, but there must be some rights which even Parliament cannot take away. That is the argument.

Mr. Ogden

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I have heard his father arguing the same case on more than one occasion. A Bill of Rights states "These are your rights". They can be added to or taken away, but they are the rights of a British citizen on paper. I say that my rights as a British citizen cannot be set down, because they are so large, so wide and so limitless, except where they are limited by an Act of Parliament. We cannot have a Bill of Rights and retain the sovereignty of Parliament.

If we have a Bill of Rights, we must have a Supreme Court. To me, Parliament is the supreme court—the High Court of Parliament, Queen, Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled. Some people say that sovereignty resides in this Chamber. Some people would put sovereignty in a chalice and place it over the Speaker's Chair for our veneration. But sovereignty does not belong to this Chamber. Hon. Members are its trustees. Sovereignty belongs to the people outside. I am in favour of sharing that sovereignty with people from Holland, France, Germany and Italy—that is the European dimension.

I am constantly amazed when my hon. Friends argue that sovereignty is the be-all and the end-all and that we must retain it. Sovereignty and nationalism have been the enemies of working people for generations. I want to share British sovereignty with people in Europe, just as I share Lancastrian, Mercian and Strathclyde sovereignty with the rest of the United Kingdom. We cannot preserve society by a Bill of Rights or sovereignty.

The danger is that we assume in this Chamber that by an Act or constitutional procedures we can protect sovereignty. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. There are difficulties inside the Labour Party. They will not be decided by Members of Parliament, party conferences, constitutional procedures or talks with trade union leaders. They will be decided by people who take the trouble to go to where the decisions are taken, in the wards, in the constituencies and in the trade unions. The same applies to the Conservative Party. I could take 100 Labour Party members to the West Derby Conservative party headquarters and take it over.

Often people who complain about the state of the constitution do not go to party political meetings or trade union gatherings. The constitution, our rights, our inheritance, our present and our hope for the future can be protected only if people take the time and trouble to go to the places where the decisions are taken. That is the hope of the future. That is the safeguard for the constitution.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the activists make the British parliamentary system work?

Mr. Ogden

I agree. I have my own problems with activists, but I never complained when they were on my side. If we think that we can solve other people's problems in the trade unions or safeguard the constitution of the House of Commons we delude ourselves. We can do that only if people outside, who are capable of doing things for themselves, do them instead of expecting us to act for them. We will do our part here; others must do no less outside this place.

10.27 am
Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

It is a pleasure to follow two such interesting, stimulating and thoughtful speeches. I associate myself with the tribute, so fittingly and felicitously paid by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), to my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes). I congratulate my hon. Friend both on his good fortune in the ballot and on the presentation of his case. He is a popular and respected figure in the House. Traditionally the House loves a personality; one who is bold or even idiosyncratic in his views, provided that they are put forward courteously, with good humour, honestly and clearly, as is always the case with my hon. Friend. I congratulate him on his choice of subject. It is welcome to discuss so wide, enduring and important a topic as the British constitution.

I shall make some general observations on the British constitution, its evolution, position today and problems with some particular observations on two aspects which have figured in both speeches so far—the entrenchment of rights and second-Chamber government, or House of Lords reform.

Perhaps the main characteristic of the British constitution is its evolutionary character. Nobody made it; it grew. Almost as important is its flexibility, which it enjoys from not being a written constitution. This has enabled it to adapt to changing circumstances and new requirements in a way that is not possible with a written constitution. We have been fortunate historically, because we have been able to exercise a choice. We have been able to exercise a choice because the United Kingdom, despite its name, is a unitary State.

A federal State has no such option. With a federal State a written constitution is a sine qua non, because it is necessary to regulate and apportion powers between the federal Government at the centre and the States or Provinces comprising that federation. It is also necessary to entrench the provisions giving effect to such apportionment. On the other hand, we have had to deal only with the problems of a unitary State.

In the event, historically free from the imperatives of a written constitution, the British constitution remains a much admired and workmanlike constitution, and something that we coud not do without. As Voltaire said: If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. If the British constitution did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it. But just as any invention of Voltaire's would have been but a pale imitation of the Almighty, so any invented constitution would be a poor thing compared with that which we have had the good fortune to inherit.

We have achieved an interdependent relationship between the Executive and the legislature—a balanced relationship, capable of continuing processes of adjustment, refinement and improvement.

Montesquiou, as is well known, mistook the basic workings of our constitution and derived therefrom the theory of the separation of powers—the separation of the Executive and the legislature—which provided the principal model for the constitution of the United States and thereby inflicted on that great sister nation a rigidity that we, fortunately, have escaped. Montesquiou, in his esprit des lois, had an ingenious theory to explain the motive forces behind the British constitution and its practice of democracy. He wrote: In a nation so distempered by the climate as to have a disrelish of everything, nay even of life, it is plain that the Government most suitable to the inhabitants is that in which they cannot lay their uneasiness to any single person's charge. Having quoted that perhaps less than enthusiastic view of our nation, it is fair to say that other foreigners have taken a kindly view of the British climate and its influence on political and constitutional affairs, as in this passage: The Englishman carries his English weather in his heart wherever he goes, and it becomes a cool spot in the desert, and a steady and sane oracle among all the deliriums of mankind. That is a nice tribute, but we should not become complacent about it.

It is because we have an unwritten and flexible constitution that entrenchment of rights in this country is difficult. Entrenchment provisions are the normal concomitant and characteristic of countries with written constitutions, and they are indispensable in federal States. But today, as the debate has already shown, circumstances are provoking consideration of the question whether we either can or should regard entrenched provisions in written form as permanently and absolutely out of the question in this country.

The barrier to safeguarding rights by entrenched written provisions is the sovereignty of Parliament and its exercise. Dicey identified the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law as the twin pillars of the British constitution—and firm foundations they have proved to be over the years.

The omnipotence of Parliament used to be illustrated in the old saying that Parliament can do anything except make a man a woman or woman a man—though it is fair to say that the marvels of modern surgery have somewhat overtaken the contemporary application of this example of omnipotence. The sovereignty of Parliament is still a cherished concept, but we must have regard to the impact of events.

First, as a Parliament we have provided written constitutions with entrenched provisions as to rights as parting gifts to numerous Commonwealth countries on achieving independence. In my professional capacity as a Queen's Counsel I have been concerned in advising on the interpretation and application of these written constitutions and entrenched provisions in more than one such country.

Secondly, the position is affected by our adherence to various conventions on human rights—notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. We subscribe to these conventions by treaty procedures and as a sovereign Power. Nevertheless, they are written provisions and binding on us, and to that extent a derogation from the sovereignty of Parliament.

I followed with interest the observations on sovereignty by the hon. Member for West Derby but, as a constitutional concept, I must say that sovereignty is indivisible. As a further complication, these conventions, which bind us in law because they are treaty provisions to which we have solemnly adhered, are enforceable, in so far as they are enforceable, only in international courts, and not our domestic courts—or by what international lawyers call the municipal law of this country.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

My right hon. and learned Friend may be about to deal with the point that I want to put to him. Is there not a great deal of force in the argument that we should incorporate the European Convention in our municipal law?

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

I was going to deal with that point. My hon. Friend adds accurate prophecy to his other distinguished gifts.

Mr. Hogg

I agree with that.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

Without claiming to share my hon. Friend's expertise in prophecy, had I ventured a prophecy I would have prophesied that that was certainly one asseveration to which my hon. Friend would give his unqualified and instant assent.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

indicated assent.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

I thank him for so doing. I shall be coming to that point. However, I think that it would be better for me to deal with it when I deal with the question of a Bill of Rights and entrenchment in more detail later.

I should mention the other great derogation. The greatest derogation from the sovereignty of Parliament was our adherence to the European Economic Community on the terms enshrined in the Treaty of Rome. In effect, that made us subject, over a large range of the economic and social life of the nation, to a written constitution—the written provisions of the Treaty and the vast mass of secondary legislation spawned by the regulations and directives that bind us willy-nilly.

I patiently and persistently drew attention to the constitutional consequences during long days and laborious nights in the House in the 1960s and 1970s—my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) will remember them—but to no avail. So we are left with the inescapable dilemma and dichotomy, on the one hand, of the dangers of the sacrifice of the sovereignty of Parliament and, on the other, of breaches of international law through repudiation of treaty obligations solemnly entered into.

At that time business and commercial interests were less concerned with these great constitutional matters than with the hope of expanded markets and enhanced profits. I therefore found a certain irony in the situation when in later years I was striving to do my modest best to improve the workings and institutions of the Community as chairman of the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, when those self-same quondam enthusiasts complained to me about the effect of this or that regulation. I reminded them that I had warned them how it would be, that regulations would be directly applicable under article 189, and they took no notice. I could say to them "Vous l'avez voulu Georges Dandin", or in the English idiom, "That is the way you wanted it, chum". But the past is past.

Mr. Ogden

The fundamental point is whether by joining the European Community or any treaty we are giving away part of our sovereignty that we can never get back, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman can at least confirm that the history of these islands is of treaties made and treaties unmade. At this time what we have joined this sovereign Parliament can decide, if it is foolish enough to do so, to unjoin. In those circumstances, the ultimate sovereignty is still in trust here. That is why I say that joining any organisation has not surrendered sovereignty. It has loaned it for a little while. If we are foolish enough to take it back we can do so, but ultimately the sovereignty remains in the United Kingdom, if we decide at any time, for good or bad reasons, that we require that to be the case.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

The hon. Gentleman makes that point attractively and persuasively. I do not want to turn the debate into a seminar on international and constitutional law, though there are probably worse ways for the House to spend its time. This is the dilemma to which I refer and to which I have referred more than once in the past. The constitutional position in this country is that the sovereignty of Parliament would enable us to repeal the European Communities Act. That is one side of the picture. The other side of the picture is the obligation that we have entered into in international law by an adherence to a treaty in perpetuity. The difference between the Treaty of Rome and the normal treaties in the past, to which the hon. Gentleman refers, is that normal treaties have a period of limitation expressed in them. The Treaty of Rome is unique in that it is a treaty expressed to be without limitation on time, and in perpetuity.

I have spoken and written a good deal on this subject for 20 years and if any hon. Member is sufficiently interested and diligent he will find it all on the record without my repeating it now. I want to take a moment or two to refer to two specific matters which have correctly engaged the interest and attention of the House—the Bill of Rights and the second-Chamber reform.

What I have been saying is relevant to the Bill of Rights point, because we are, in effect, subject already to a variety of written or entrenched provisions, and the sovereignty of Parliament in the strict constitutional sense of that word is thereby to that extent already eroded. It is, therefore, being fairly asked why we should not also devise written safeguards or entrenched provisions in a Bill of Rights, or whatever, to suit our own needs and for the further protection of our citizens.

That is a question that deserves to be considered and answered in the light of the realities of the day and the needs of our times. It was a matter recently raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon)—whom I am glad to see here today—in an early-day motion that has attracted a considerable volume of support. My right hon. and learned Friend's motion properly refrains from prejudging the issue and asks that the matter be considered and debated by the House.

It surely should be considered in depth. It should not be hurried, since our constitutional arrangements have always been the result of slow evolution. I therefore counsel the setting up of a Royal Commission, with expert and authoritative membership and with wide terms of reference, to consider, advise and recommend on this great matter.

The question of House of Lords reform is, in my view, more accurately described as a consideration of the ways and means of providing the best and most effective second Chamber that we can. I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge—it is a poor return for his admirable speech—but that question is not connected, or not necessarily connected, with the perpetuation or prolongation of the hereditary principle in our legislative system. The first question is, is it necessary or desirable to have a second Chamber? In my view, it is certainly desirable, because all history shows the value of bicameral government and the dangers of unicameral government. It is not a coincidence that the sole experiment of a single-Chamber Government in our history led to the suspension even of that Chamber and the substitution of a mercifully short-lived authoritarian regime.

The essential contribution of a second Chamber is that of revision and, up to a point, delay with a view to further consideration, but always taking care not to set up a second Chamber that can be a rival or competitor to the First Chamber, directly elected as is this House on the basis of universal suffrage. If a second Chamber is to exercise those powers, and to exercise them adequately, its composition must be such as to warrant it. In the twentieth century it cannot exercise those powers without a proper democratic accountability. It may be a matter of sentimental regret, but there can be no question of an indefinite continuation of the sort of Chamber, as part of our legislative processes, of which Augustine Birell wrote: The Lords represent nobody but themselves, and enjoy the unqualified confidence of all their constituents. Three years ago I sat, under the distinguished chairmanship of Lord Home, on the Conservative review committee set up by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to consider this subject. The conclusion that we came to was that: It is essential to retain in Parliament a revising Second Chamber, particularly in the light of the continually increasing pressures on the time of the House of Commons. There is room for improving the effectiveness of the revising role of the Second Chamber, chiefly by strengthening its composition in order to enhance its legitimacy. If this were done there is a strong case for reversion to the delaying power of two years. As the House knows, that is the power originally given by the Parliament Act 1911 and changed by the 1949 Act.

We considered that the best way to strengthen the composition to give the necessary legitimacy was to have, rather as the hon. Gentleman has suggested, a mixed second Chamber, partly directly elected but not elected on such a basis as to challenge comparison with the House of Commons, and partly nominated, with appropriate safeguarding procedures.

We issued our report in March 1978. Four of the signatories are members of the present Administration, so unless some action follows before long we shall feel entitled to ask the melancholy question put over 100 years ago by the then Morning Herald to Sir Robert Peel, in the context of the great issue of Protection: He has convinced others by his arguments: how come that he has not convinced himself? So perhaps my hon. Friend will give us an encouraging word today.

In conclusion, I point out that we have today great issues before us—the constitution, a Bill of Rights, and reform of the Second Chamber. They are far removed from the bread-and-butter matters that correctly and necessarily take up most of the time of the House, but they lie much at the heart of the matter. I am grateful for having the opportunity of contributing to the debate, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me that opportunity.

10.49 am
Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

The whole House listened with great pleasure to the splendid speech of the honourable, gallant and surely soon to be hereditarily ennobled Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes).

If there was any cause for regret it was perhaps the absence of accompanying music by the herald angles. We heard the hissing of the escape mechanism from the House of Commons Kitchen during the hon. Gentleman's speech, but it should have been the "Trumpet Voluntary", which would have suited the occasion.

I am not sure that optimism generally does not come better from the consumer than the legislator. I felt that the hon. Gentleman's speech was conceptually not unlike the apochryphal story of the Etonian writing about poverty "There was this very poor father and this very poor mother and this very poor butler".

I welcome the motion enormously because of its width and because it allows all hon. Members to identify with parts of it. It concludes: and deplores the attacks …by those who ought to know better. The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge will know that "those who ought to know better" is a phrase close to my own heart, because I have spent much of my time in Parliament trying to ensure that people know better. There is no way that people are enabled to know better than by being told by the Government, who know what it is all about.

We are still bound by the Official Secrets Act 1911, which stipulates that everything in an official file shall be secret. Despite many attempts in the House, most recently by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), that is still so. One is still not allowed to ask a Royal gardener when he grows the petunias and begonias. It is an official secret.

We who have supported the demand for official information have steadily tried to get the Government to accept the concept that everything should be open unless they have a decent claim for secrecy, instead of the other way round, where everything is secret and we have to prove that it should be open.

I know that the Minister of State, Home Office is aware of the many reports in the Home Office that have not been published because the findings did not suit the Government of the day. For example, a report on the incidence of marijuana smoking in this country was not released, because the figures were too high. They were leaked, and we all know that information by leak is almost as accurate as, though probably a little more expensive than, information by right. There are reports of which we should like details, but we have no right to find out what they say.

In Keighley, two months ago, the DHSS inspectorate sent out young men and women to quiz single-parent claimants who had applied for benefit. I have a copy of the form given to those young inspectors. It states that a statement should be taken from the mother in narrative form … which should include the following points: (1) Her full name and date of birth. (2) Her present address. (3) The name and date of birth of the child. That is fine. It goes on: The name of the APF". That is presumably the alleged putative father. I do not quarrel with that. The form continues: When and where she first met the APF of her child and in what circumstances, e.g. was he a childhood friend, did they meet casually or were they introduced and if so, by whom? That is getting into the realms of an unacceptable intrusion into privacy, but it gets worse: When and where sexual intercourse first took place and how often thereafter and during what period. (7) Whether contraceptives were used by either of them. That is the sort of document which, if it were available to Parliament, would be regarded as unacceptable by both sides of the House. It bears no relationship to the rights or merits of a claim. I put it to the Government that secrecy in the names of official Departments is deplored by the whole House. I hope that the issuing of that DHSS form will be looked into and that some reason for it will be given.

Going back to the constitution, we are probably the most over-governed nation in the world, and we are also among the most inefficiently governed from a cost-effective point of view. Statistics show that, including all who represent us at parish, district, county, parliamentary and European parliamentary level, one in 189 of us is a representative, with attendance allowances, transport allowances and all that goes with being a representative.

If it is felt that quantitively that is a frightening statistic, I should point out that as most representatives are elected only after some sort of fight or campaign, the fact is probably that one in 63 of us wishes to represent us at some level. I suggest that if we are looking for the best of all possible worlds a cut in the number of people who represent us would be no bad thing.

It will come as no great surprise to the House if, on the question of representation, I speak, probably for the rest of my short contribution, about the proportional kind.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth)

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of over-representation will he comment on members of the European Parliament, whose presence seems to some people to be totally unnecessary and whose duties are so ill defined that after two years I and some other hon. Members are still unable to ascertain precisely what is their job?

Mr. Freud

I agree that Members of the European Parliament are trying to find a role. They have had quite a long time, though not quite two years, to do that, and we are all looking anxiously to find exactly what they are doing. Many of us wish them well in their search.

I have always felt that one of the ugliest statistics in politics was that of the second election in 1974, in which, of all the people who had a vote in this country, just under 29 per cent. voted Labour and that as a result we got a Labour Government. As if that were not bad enough, that Labour Government put through a great deal of contentious legislation on the basis that they had the right and mandate to do so. That was said in the full knowledge that when the Prime Minister of the day looked at a representative 100 of his people he knew that more than 71 of them had not voted for him. Therefore, my plea for proportional representation is not only so as to introduce a new system of elections but to lend a new dignity to the process of electing representatives.

In 1979, at the last election, which caused all of us to be here, there was a 76 per cent. turnout. Forty-four per cent. voted Tory, but that still means that only 33 per cent. of the electorate voted for the Government that now rule us. Since the Second World War no party has had more than 50 per cent. of the popular vote.

I should like to put some interesting statistics to the House. For all the hon. Members on the Conservative side, it took 40,000 votes to get one in. It took 43,000 votes to get a Labour Member into Parliament, and it took 390,000 votes to get a Liberal Member into Parliament. If that is not unfair I should be pleased to know from the sponsor of the motion praising our excellent constitution why he is so opposed to a system whereby one vote is not the same as any other.

The hon. Gentleman will know that in this country it is a waste of a vote to go for a Conservative in Ebbw Vale, a Socialist in Bournemouth, or, regrettably, a Liberal at present almost anywhere. Until we have a system whereby people genuinely feel that their vote matters, that wherever they live a vote for whomever it is who has their political allegiance will somewhere help someone of that same political allegiance to achieve something—

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Freud

I am in the middle of a sentence.

Mr. Hogg

I am sorry. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will give way at a convenient time.

Mr. Freud

I find this reasonably convenient—for the middle of a sentence.

Mr. Hogg

I am not unsympathetic to the points that the hon. Gentleman is making about proportional representation, but will the Liberal Party try to ensure, when promoting that cause, that there will always remain a close relationship between a Member of Parliament and a constituency, and that no system of proportional representation that the Liberal Party brings forward will damage that relationship?

Mr. Freud

That is the single most helpful and sane intervention by the hon. Gentleman that I have had since he came to Parliament. That is of course the most difficult concept of the whole matter of proportional representation. It has been said—I do not know how rightly—that the only sane people who are against proportional representation in this country are those of us in this House who have beaten the system and are here.

It is true that it will not be possible to have proportional representation and retain 635 constituencies and 635 MPs each of whom will have received the most votes in his or her constituency. But, of course, in achieving a measure of proportional representation we must do our damnedest to preserve the present system of constituency representation.

I should like to talk briefly about Parliament. I am not as sold on the excellence of this institution as some other hon. Members may be. I listened with care to the contention of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) that five years was too short a time for a Government, and that it should be seven years. But on being asked whether that should be a fixed term he replied "No". I remind the House that the longer a Government stay in power, the worse they seem to be. History over the years has shown that a strong Government who pursued the right policies were able to go to the electorate in their third or fourth year and ask for a mandate to continue, and that, by and large, Governments stayed on to the full extent of their incompetence. The worse things were, the longer they hung on. I am opposed to Governments being allowed to stay in, as the present Government will be allowed to stay in, when by common consent the people want something else.

I admit that in 1986, by some quirk of fortune or nature, something just might come along to persuade people who are presently disenchanted to give the Government another chance. That something might be the break-up of the Opposition or some special quality that will have emerged by then from the Government of today.

I am unsold on the excellence of Parliament, because there is so much that is wrong with the way in which we work. For example, there is the lunacy of Committee work. The Minister will recall that a few weeks ago he was privileged to sit on a Committee, on a day when he had many important things to do, and listen for two and a half hours to Members discussing the relative merits of sitting on a Wednesday morning or a Tuesday afternoon, or of breaking for 20 minutes because the Library might or might not have a certain book. There must be a better way than having Committees that allow Members to go on filibustering for the mere sake of knowing that the longer one keeps them at it the slimmer their chances of achieving certain aims.

In this sober House—and I have listened with care to Mr. Speaker's ruling about sobriety—there is the lunacy of having a Refreshment Department subsidised by the public losing substantial, six-figure sums every year and closing the public parts of the building, so that when our constituents come here we cannot even buy them a cup of tea or point them in the direction of a canteen meal. Parliament does not sit in the Summer Recess. Visitors come, but never is a visitor allowed to sit down and have tea in a marquee on the Terrace. We are told that the majesty of Parliament would in some way be diminished if that happened. Is it not diminished by losing public money?

Many hon. Members do a vast amount of work that by rights, if one had any idea about the cost-effectiveness of representation, would be done by paid researchers and paid secretaries. My secretarial grant does not quite pay my secretarial salary. It certainly pays for no one in my constituency. It does not pay for my researcher. All of us would be able to operate infinitely more efficiently if instead of receiving inflated sums for mileage, which many of us are embarrassed to claim, we had realistic compensation for the staff that we employ.

I have always been a great enemy of the two-party system. I have not questioned the right of the Government to govern. I have constantly criticised the apparently divine right of an Opposition to oppose whatever the measure. Those are the matters that I think are most wrong with Parliament. They could best be improved by changing the constitution.

The whole House will be grateful for the not only entertaining but thoughtful speech of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge, who must be congratulated on raising the subject and on his good fortune in the ballot.

11.8 am

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I join the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) on giving the House the opportunity to discuss the motion. The subject is very important. My only regret is that my hon. Friend was unable to move his motion at a more propitious time, when the House was better attended and there were more hon. Members on the Front Benches.

It is extraordinary that no representative of the Social Democratic Party—if it be a party—is present. SDP Members belly-ache about the constitution. They make suggestions and recommendations, and yet today, when we have a major constitutional motion before us, no representatives of that party are present.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his initiative. However, having listened to his speech I must tell him that I do not agree with anything that he said on the substantive part of the motion, except on two points. I agree with what he said about the judiciary, and I agree with what he said about the Crown, but, I disagree profoundly with the main thrust of his argument.

In his motion my hon. Friend deplores the attack on the existing constitution and institutions by those who, he says, ought to know better. I have to tell my hon. Friend that there will be attacks from both sides of the House today on the constitution, and there is support for such attacks elsewhere in Britain. I cannot help but note that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor has expressed some disquiet, as have my right hon. and noble Friends Lord Home and the Foreign Secretary. So to suppose that all those who are experienced in public affairs share my hon. Friend's views is to harbour an illusion.

I believe that this is a profoundly important motion, because it is some time since the House had an opportunity to express its disquiet about certain aspects of our constitution. I want to take advantage of this opportunity because I believe that our constitution and its institutions are failing to respond to the tensions and pressures of contemporary society. I believe that this will continue and will ultimately become profoundly dangerous to democracy.

I should like to focus attention on two aspects of the matter. The first is the control that the House exercises, or ought to exercise, partly over the Executive and partly over the process of legislation. I should like to deal with this matter fairly briefly. It is, of course, a very wide subject.

We ought to ask ourselves: what are the historical roles that the House has to perform? I think that, largely, they are fourfold. We are here to impose some control on the Executive, to scrutinise legislation, to redress grievances and to grant Supply. That is the historical nature of the House of Commons.

Of course, these roles were always much easier to perform when the Executive stood outside Parliament, because when the Executive stands outside Parliament it is much easier for Parliament to scrutinise and control it. For reasons that I shall shortly mention, it is the separation of power that makes for an easier performance of these our functions.

I am not pretending that we can create a separation of powers of the kind that exist in the United States—I am not even saying that that would be desirable—but we must recognise how much more difficult our problems are because the Executive is embodied in this House, and, indeed, in the Second Chamber.

That complicates the issue, for a variety of reasons. It complicates the issue because of ambition. Many hon. Members want to sit on their respective Front Benches. It complicates the issue because Governments have the initiative, the power of information. It complicates the issue because of the strength of party loyalty and party Whips. There are many other aggravating factors, as. the hon. Member for Isle of Ely said.

We must ask ourselves whether this House is, in all conscience, exercising proper control over the Executive. I think that to that question there can be only one answer, and that is "No". The Select Committee system is desirable. Question Time and written questions are desirable, but, in truth and in conscience, they do not constitute anything approaching proper control of the Executive.

That situation is even more marked when we consider legislation. I do not want to cause offence. I hope that I never cause offence—except when I intend to do so, which is rarely. I think that the process of the Standing Committee as a method of examining legislation is derisory. It is not a proper way to conduct careful scrutiny of legislation.

What I should like to propose in this connection is that the special procedure recently introduced should be extended to all Bills. I make two other suggestions. The first is that the Standing Committees should have their own staff, their own independent advisers, properly briefed, with proper briefings given not to parties, qua parties, but to members of the Standing Committees. I also suggest that there is a tremendous argument in favour of relaxing party discipline in Standing Committees. If the Government cannot carry their arguments, let them suffer defeats in Standing Committee, and, if they must, let them put matters right on Report in the House.

I do not believe that the prestige or the independence of Members of Parliament is properly safeguarded. I do not like the party system, any more than the hon. Member for Isle of Ely likes it. I think that it is an inevitable evil. At the same time, however, we must recognise our function, which is to control the Executive and to scrutinise legislation. We can do that only if we give to individual Members of Parliament a greater standing in their own eyes and a greater independence in the way in which they carry out their judgment.

Mr. George Cunningham

No one can give a Member of Parliament that status and freedom. He has it. All that he needs to do is to exercise it.

Mr. Hogg

No, that is an illusion. It is the kind of illusion that does such harm in this country. We in the House know perfectly well the constraints under which we operate. All of us operate under constraints; I am not talking about the crude constraints of the party Whips—although they are constraints; I am talking about the adversarial and polarised nature of the House, the bonds of party loyalty, the ambitions of individuals, and so on.

The plain fact is that, save on exceptional occasions, hon. Members vote according to their party rather than according to their particular judgments. The hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) shakes his head, but that is not arguable. We merely have to look at the Division lists, time after time, to see that hon. Members troop through the voting Lobbies whether they agree or disagree with pieces of legislation, and frequently, probably in the majority of cases, hon. Members troop through without having read the legislation in question.

Mr. Cunningham

That is their fault.

Mr. Hogg

It may be their fault, but it is the product of the House that we have created over many years. It will be very difficult to change. It may be impossible to change. But we must perceive the position to which we have committed ourselves and we must realise the dangers that are attendant upon it.

Mr. Gary Waller (Brighouse and Spenborough)

I have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend has been saying, but does he accept that our system of party discipline gives hon. Members a great deal of protection, which representatives in the United, States do not enjoy? Members of Congress have become the prisoners of pressure groups and are no longer able to exercise their own views, because if they did so they would no longer be returned, because of the influence of those groups in the community.

Mr. Hogg

If I were a discourteous Member of Parliament and anxious to cause offence I would say that that was a cowardly attitude. I do not want protection. I am prepared to justify my judgment on particular matters. The argument in favour of the present system is not the protection that it gives to MPs but the certainty that it gives to Government in the carriage of their measures. That is a different argument.

Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)

Will my hon. Friend dilate a little upon his suggestion that large staffs should support the Select Committee system? What is his idea exactly? How large should this second Civil Service that he wishes to build up be?

Mr. Hogg

I do not want to speak for too long, because other hon. Members wish to speak. The advice that the Select Committees are receiving is helpful to them. I should establish something similar for Standing Committees so that their members could form a better judgment than they do now of the merits of the Bills that they examine. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office is on the Front Bench. My comments apply particularly to the British Nationality Bill, which is one of the most complicated pieces of legislation to come before the House and, so far as I can see, is riddled with anomalies. It is extremely important that members of Standing Committees should have an opportunity to form an independent judgment upon the Bills that they examine.

Another aspect upon which I wish to comment is the proposition, advanced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, of the elective dictatorship. This is the other aspect of our constitutional affairs that should cause us the greatest concern. My right hon. and learned Friend will speak for himself. I am likely to get him wrong, and will probably be severely chastised if I do, so I shall merely advance the argument in my own words and not try to claim that it is shared in all parts by my right hon. and learned Friend.

If a party of Government is ever captured by a minority party—

Mr. Freud

It has been.

Mr. Hogg

That is a silly observation—that party of Government can, so long as it retains control of the House of Commons, do whatever it pleases. That is a plain statement of constitutional law. The inference is terribly important. It is that the concept of parliamentary sovereignty, which used to be put forward as a great bulwark against encroachments from the Executive, has become an instrument for potential oppression by the Executive, because whatever Parliament does is law and there is no obstacle to an infringement of rights sanctioned by law. We have no effective Second Chamber or a Bill of Rights. We have nothing to stand against the authority of Parliament. If Parliament therefore falls into the hands of those who wish to bring about undemocratic changes, we have provided that route as the instrument for carrying through their policies.

I could not agree more with the hon. Member for Isle of Ely in his comments on the concept of mandate and manifesto. I disapprove enormously of those who are returned to power and then say that they have a mandate to do whatever is in their manifesto. That is complete and utter rubbish. People do not read the manifesto. They do not vote according to its contents. Most people do not vote for the Government of the day anyway. To suppose that a Government have a mandate to do whatever is in their manifesto is complete nonsense.

Mr. Freud

Does the hon. Gentleman recall a statement made in this House on 23 March 1977? 'We govern as of right'. By what right? The right of a minority Government We shall not do that. They govern by no right except the arrogant right of Socialism."—[Official Report, 23 March 1977; Vol. 928, c. 1285.] That was the voice of the Prime Minister when she was in Opposition. It is interesting that she attacked the Government of the day for doing precisely what she is doing now.

Mr. Hogg

I do not agree with the conclusion, but I agree with the point put forward by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, which was to demonstrate the danger of saying that a Government are empowered to do whatever happens to be in their manifesto. That seems to be a most pertinent observation, and one with which I agree.

I come now to the possible solutions. I do not believe that any one of these individual solutions will make much difference, but the cumulative effect might make quite a lot of difference. Hon. Members have spoken of a Bill of Rights. I am not hostile to the concept of such a Bill, by which I understand hon. Members to mean defined rights entrenched and policed. The problem about a Bill of Rights is that if it is to mean anything it must touch on the major issues of our day or it is irrelevant.

I do not believe that this House or anywhere else will agree on what should be the contents of a Bill of Rights. I cite two examples in support of that proposition. Most people would agree that most employees should be free to join a trade union. I do not think, however, that we could all agree on the converse—the right of people not to join a trade union. Let us consider education. We would all agree that the State should provide education, but would we all agree that the individual should have the right to provide his children with private education in the independent sector? The answer to that is "No". These are two major issues that touch on basic rights, and I can see no agreement arising on them. Therefore, although I am not hostile to a Bill or of Rights, and although I think that we could overcome the technical problems of sovereignty, I do not regard it as a solution, because there would be no agreement on major issues.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) touched on the European Convention. It would be helpful if we were to introduce that convention into our domestic law. It would then be a justiciable issue before our courts, and that would be a small but distinct step forward.

I come next to proportional representation. It is remarkable that the advocates of that cause—the Liberal Party and the Social Democrats—should now be wholly absent from the Chamber. No matter, because I can deal with the subject fairly briefly. There are many schemes of proportional representation, and the House should approach the issue with caution. I am not opposed to an element of proportional representation as a means of electing Members to this place, but dangers are associated with that cause, notably the influence that minority parties would necessarily have over the policies of Governments elected by many more people than voted for them. That is intrinsically dangerous and would make for inconstancy in policy, but against that we should have to weigh the consideration that the House is less respected than it should be. One of the reasons for that is the narrow basis by which this Parliament is elected. An element of proportional representation would put the House in a higher esteem and thus add to its authority when it speaks on major issues.

I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Isle of Ely on the importance of retaining a connection between a constituency and the Member of Parliament. That is of paramount importance. Any system of proportional representation that we might introduce must ensure such a connection. I favour the additional Member system of the kind that exists in Germany.

Mr. Philip Whitehead (Derby, North)

Is not there a stronger case for the alternative vote system, which was almost agreed to by the House in 1931, and which would maintain in its entirety the Member-constituency link, which the additional Member system does not for those Members who are added?

Mr. Hogg

That is true. We are embarking on a slightly technical argument that is perhaps best conducted elsewhere. There are about 200 systems of proportional representation, and we cannot agree upon them here. What the hon. Member said is arguable, and he may be right. I should be prepared to compromise on those issues if necessary, so as to carry the House with me on such a proposal.

I shall refer briefly to the Second Chamber. If I had to advocate one preferred solution, it would be this. Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East I shall start with the principle that a bicameral system is essential. I proceed by saying that a second Chamber must have wide powers to delay and to revise. That is partly because of my fear that the party of Government in the House will be captured by extremists. I want to buttress the democracy by enlarging the powers of the Second Chamber.

Once one has come to that conclusion, one also answers the question: how should that House be composed? A second Chamber with wide powers must be elected. Here I disagree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden). I should do away with the hereditary element, a nominated or an appointed element, or any such thing. I should rest a second Chamber exclusively upon election. It would rest upon proportional representation and upon elections at staggered intervals. I should give that second Chamber wide powers of revision and delay.

We could argue over the exact content of those powers. That matters not for the moment. However, I should greatly extend the powers of a second Chamber.

Mr. Ogden

In a reasonable time I should come to the hon. Gentleman's position. I was offering a degree of heredity and appointment as a progressive process towards the sort of Chamber that he advocates. However, is not he in some danger of saying that he is giving up the battle for democracy in this place and that he wants to alter and strengthen the other House not for its own sake and its own right but because democracy has been lost here and the other place would be the bastion of democracy?

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Member has raised two important points. On the first point of progression, I am in favour of evolutionary change. In ordinary circumstances I should agree with the hon. Member and his progressive approach. I am not making a party point, but, as the hon. Gentleman will know, many people in his party advocate the abolition of the Second Chamber. In order to meet that argument I should go at once to an elected second Chamber rather than follow the progressive road so elequently outlined by the hon. Member.

Secondly the hon. Member asked whether I had abandoned the hope of improving the House and whether I was seeking to buttress democracy in the Second Chamber. I never abandon hope. We can considerably improve the nature of this House, but, in the short term, the dangers of an elected dictatorship will exist, whatever we do. Hence the importance of giving greater power to a second Chamber.

Reference has been made to taking powers away from the House. In part that will be true. That is desirable for two reasons. First, the powers are abused by the House. Secondly, if we were to enhance the power of a second Chamber, that would give impetus to this House to reform itself. The process would thus be beneficial in two respects.

I apologise for having spoken at such length. My excuse is that the matter is serious. The issues are terribly important. They are quite as important as solving the economic problems that we are experiencing. The constitution is not satisfactory. It is breaking down in many respects. It poses a grave danger to democracy in Britain. Hon. Members would do well to give the matter earnest and careful attention, with a view to bringing forward reform, and that right soon.

11.35 am
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)

I extend my congratulations to the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) on tabling his motion. The most important reason why he deserves congratulation is linked to what the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) said. It is important at times to discuss the constitution and the structure and fabric of society, because we do not always have time to do that in the House as we concentrate on the more immediate matters of the day.

The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge might have done me either a service or a disservice, because originally he said that he would like to have revolutionaries in the House rather than revolutionaries preaching on the street corners. I am not sure whether he puts me in that category. Had I not been here, following the hon. Gentleman's comments on the closed shop, I might have been out on the street corner pointing out the gross hypocrisy of the greatest of all closed shops, the legal profession, which complains about other people organising themselves into closed shops.

I do not intend to talk at length about revolution. "Revolution" is one of the most misused words in politics. It tends to take in everything and everybody, from someone whose views one does not like to bloody revolution and back again. It is most important to remember that as soon as the revolutionary succeeds he becomes a counter-revolutionary. That is what has happened in the House or around it from time to time. We all refer to one of the great ages of the British constitution as the time of the English Revolution. Therefore, perhaps we need to remember at times that there are always two sides to revolutions. That is one of the reasons why we need to consider events in other countries—which the hon. Member touched on by implication—a little more sympathetically and with more understanding than we have done at times.

The hon. Member's motion is complacent primarily because of the final sentence, which contains the words and deplores the attacks on these institutions by those who ought to know better. The problem is that we are never sure who ought to know better. When I think that I know better than someone else, that is when I should be most ready to question my judgment. That applies to all of us. Above all, in a healthy, strong democracy, one should be able to accept criticism and question. Such a motion worries me because it says that anyone who questions or criticises the institutions of the State is in some way doing a disservice to the State. I would put the argument the other way round and say that that is the essence of democracy.

One of the problems which we have faced for some time in this country is a fear of change. One of the hallmarks of a mature personality and a mature society is that not only challenge but change can be accepted. When a society pulls the blankets over its head it is lulling itself into a false sense of security and hoping that the problems outside those blankets will go away. They will not do so. They will stay and worsen unless we come out and face them. That is the importance of having that strength.

I am using my words carefully and I mean this in a positive way. The hon. Member presented his case fairly. He was speaking for a generation which now hardly has a voice. That is not a generation as such, but a generation of values, attitudes and beliefs. That has changed. The hon. Gentleman represents a small section of the community when he presents his views in such a way. I am sure that many people both here and elsewhere will agree with him in part, but in a way he presents a minority view.

Mr. Stokes

I do not believe that my views represent a small number, because I have a large constituency composed of hard-working people, most of whom work in factories. My majority at the last election was just under 9,000.

Mr. Soley

I do not question the hon. Gentleman's statistics, but people vote primarily on party tickets. His personality and his views about the value of and attitudes towards the State may influence several thousand voters, but I would put it no higher than that. The same applies to all hon. Members. I doubt whether individual views change the voting pattern to a great extent, except in exceptional circumstances.

It is instructive to listen to the hon. Gentleman, but it is also important to consider the views and attitudes of the day, which have changed dramatically. It is dangerous to pick watersheds in history, but among the new generation in the 1960s a change became apparent. It took place long before, but it came to the fore in the 1960s. We should consider why it occurred and what has been the change in the attitudes and views towards the structure of the State, although I shall not go into that in depth today. One important factor is the problem of knowledge. Once knowledge grows and develops we cannot get rid of it, and it changes behaviour, attitudes and values.

The hon. Gentleman spent time dealing with the Church. The Church is in difficulty. The hon. Gentleman attacked some of the radical views expressed in the Church, which relate to the uncertainty about which direction it should take. I am not a member of any Church, but if I were I should support the people whom the hon. Gentleman attacked. At one time, the Church was, in effect, part of the established Government, but it is no longer thought of as such. We now have a much broader attitude to religious belief. The hon. Gentleman said that the Church should concentrate on why we are here and should not be afraid of the concept of sin. Most people nowadays have an attitude different from the one with which his generation was brought up.

The change is significant. For much of my adult life I have worked with people who are regarded as abnormal—not behaving normally—although none of us behaves normally. A man appeared before London magistrates because he thought that he was the son of God. He was a passive and intelligent man, with insight, but it was suggested that he should be compulsorily committed to a psychiatric hospital under section 60 of the Mental Health Act. The magistrate rightly threw the case out, because the man was not a danger to himself or to society. About 2,000 years ago a man cut himself off from society, went into the desert and returned to say that he had conversed with the Devil and believed himself to be the son of God. A religion was founded and his name appears in the Bible. Today, he would get a bed in a National Health Service hospital and a shot of mood-changing drugs. It is therefore almost impossible to created a new system of religious belief, be it Christian, Muslim or Hindu. It also means that the existing system will be challenged and questioned. When people with the attributes of the man who founded or gave his name to the Christian religion would today be regarded as schizophrenic, it is difficult to continue to justify those beliefs.

It is irrelevant whether we believe that a man is the son of God or is a schizophrenic. What is important is that the person is a human being, and, like everyone, has problems. The basis of the beliefs of the Church has rightly been changed by new philosophies, such as determinism, existentialism and other moods of the day, all of which demonstrate the underlying change.

The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) pointed out that Voltaire said of God: If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him which is precisely what the French did during the French Revolution. They abolished God, but almost immediately decided to have a supreme being, which was merely a longer way of saying God. Why does society need a God, and particularly a paternalistic, controlling, authoritarian God, if it is not merely to keep order in society? We need to keep order in society, but to create a belief system whose assumptions and philosophies can be challenged is not necessarily the best way to do it.

Religious conflicts lead to war, and the hon. Gentleman should bear that in mind. He said that the British were a peace-loving people, but we have fought more wars than almost any other people, so that definition is difficult to accept. Wars have often been fought in the name of Christianity. Tragically, the Christian Church, which claims to believe in peace and love of mankind, not only split and fought within itself but started burning people at the stake. The problem is continued in Northern Ireland. It cannot be a good omen for mankind. It is not only a problem of religion. Political parties have the same problem. Socialists fight Socialists, and Conservatives and democrats fight each other. The problems go deep. I repeat that we have to consider current knowledge, which is what affects our values and attitudes.

The hon. Gentleman put great emphasis on the monarchy. Although I feel that a republican system would be preferable I am not a strong republican. The West German system seems preferable to that of the United States, and has a lot to be said for it. The problem with the monarchy is that, although not necessarily the fault of the monarch of the day, it underpins our class system, which is divisive. Hon. Members on the Conservative Benches say that they do not like the "them" and "us" world, but the reason why the monarchy is frequently challenged is that it is divisive. There is no simple answer. A presidential system can do just as much to underpin privilege and class, but we cannot dismiss the problem. Above all, the motion is wrong in saying that people who criticise the monarchy should know better. That is at best complacent, and at worst it smacks of paternalistic authoritarianism.

The greatest danger to any society comes when it is at its most successful, because that is when it becomes complacent. I suggest that that period for the United Kingdom was the nineteenth century. It is significant that our decline started at the end of that century and continued into the beginning of the twentieth century. It set in largely because we were so convinced of the rightness of our own institutions, beliefs, attitudes and values that we did not allow ourselves to question and to change as we should have done.

We are not alone in having done that. Every other sucessful society that I can think of has done the same. Perhaps the clearest example is the Great Age of China. During the Confucian period it established an order and a stability in society that was a model for other countries around it. In many respects it was an impressive model. It embraced enormous achievements in science, literature, politics and economics. However, it began to atrophy, and when more advanced Western technological Powers knocked on the door, in effect, in the nineteenth century, the pack of cards collapsed. That is my fear for any advanced society.

We can see similar things happening to the United States now. In the 1950s and 1960s Americans became increasingly complacent about the rightness and goodness of their system. They believed that it was the ideal model for everyone else to follow. The greatest danger to any society is when it rests on its laurels and, says that its institutions are the best possible and that anyone who criticises them or doubts them is irresponsible. That is a danger period and we should be alive to it.

The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge made some comments about immigrant populations that I shall have to read to ensure that I fully understand his argument. The United Kingdom is alive and well. It is a multi-racial community and I am immensely happy to be living in it. I invite the hon. Gentleman to spend an hour or two with me one Saturday morning at Shepherds Bush market, in my constituency, which is a few roads from where I live. He will find an immensely varied racial group in the area. At least 25 per cent. of those who live there are of non-British origin. I am not pretending that we do not have a racial problem in the area. There is such a problem throughout Britain. As I have said before, the real problem is white racialism, which is one that we must tackle. However, the atmosphere and the attitude in the area that I represent is immensely good and stimulating. ft is one that is full of change.

To be afraid of such an atmosphere and attitude is a form of poverty. It is a form of cultural poverty because that fear prevents us from opening our eyes to other cultures. It is a form of social poverty because it does not allow us to participate in and enjoy the experience of other groups. Above all, for the British people, it is a form of historical poverty. No country has done more than Britain to settle its people abroad in other people's societies. No country has done more to involve itself with the outside world. To try to shut ourselves off is to run away from the difficult and at times disturbing experience of rethinking and changing our values, and emerging at the end of the day with a stronger set of values and a much more probing outlook.

In the comments of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge there seemed to be the idea that the world should be governed by common sense. Common sense is necessary in our day-to-day life, but common sense is often common nonsense. It was common sense that told us that women should not be allowed to vote, that women should not be allowed in this place, that things heavier than water would not float, that human beings would never fly or never travel to the moon, and that those living in our community in the previous century who did not have a certain amount of property should not be allowed to vote. Indeed, it was common sense that said that the sun moved around the earth. Many were, burnt at the stake, exiled, put into captivity and tortured for trying to reverse those views. That sort of common sense held back society for nearly 2,000 years. I believe that the hon. Gentleman has become complacent, however good his intentions may be. For how much longer will humanity sacrifice itself on the high altar of common sense?

11.55 am
Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)

I shall not go down the road that was taken by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley). He made a most interesting speech and a thoughtful contribution. However, I think that there is a confusion in his mind. Questioning is not the same as attacking. For example, the hon. Gentleman will remember that when recently we were in Hong Kong we used to split into small groups in the course of each day's visiting. The hon. Gentleman normally went off on his own. The rest of us questioned that. We asked "Why does he do it?" but none of us attacked him for doing it. It seemed to us that that was what he wanted to do. In my judgment the hon. Gentleman must recognise the difference between attacking and questioning. When we stop questioning we are in trouble, but that is not a reason for attacking.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) on his interesting and constructive motion. I do not regard it as an attack on anyone. My hon. Friend says that he deplores attacks on institutions by those who should know better. I understand him to mean that individuals who have inside knowledge and information and who are aware of the facts that are available frequently attack for reasons that are suspect. That is not the same as questioning, which must be viewed entirely differently. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way in which he introduced the motion.

I make no apology for the fact that I am a monarchist. That declaration will come as no surprise to hon. Members. I believe that the monarchy provides a stability that is often missing elsewhere. We are fortunate to have our monarchy.

I have misgivings about certain aspects of the House of Lords. If recent reports are accurate, there are insufficient Members in the other place to carry out the tasks that are necessary for good government. When we introduced the life peerage system we missed a unique opportunity. The system enabled successive Governments to introduce to the other place individuals of distinction, who could bring to it the qualities that would make it a worthwhile part of our parliamentary system. Successive Governments and successive Prime Ministers have not made the best use of that opportunity. An individual who accepts a life peerage should be required to enter into a commitment to carry out his duties as a Member of the Upper House. He should go there, he should work, and he should do something. Failure to carry out his duties properly and adequately, except in the event of illness, should result in the loss of his peerage.

After spending a lifetime attacking our institutions, especially the House of Lords, Left-wing individuals, including many trade union officials, become Lord Smith and Lord Bloggs. They go to the other place to spend their twilight years enjoying the privileges of the Palace of Westminster.

Mr. Norman Hogg (Dunbartonshire, East)

Would the hon. Gentleman like to say precisely to whom he is referring, rather than just saying "Smith" and "Bloggs"?

Mr. Walker

I leave hon. Members to determine which Members of the House of Lords have in the past attacked the institution. We all know who they are.

I will give an example about the privileges of the Palace of Westminster. One of the gentleman in the other place has produced some very illiberal views about the liquid refreshments available in the Palace of Westminster. As a teetotaller, I think that one of the great benefits of the Palace of Westminster is that I can have a cup of tea when I want it, when we are working late. Coming from a Scottish constituency, I would be the last to suggest that anyone should not have a "wee dram", should he so wish.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) is not here at the moment. During his interesting speech he touched on the question of the independence of Members. I thought that he was less than fair or just to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), who is on the Oppositon Front Bench, when he interjected a remark about the independence of individual Members. Anyone who knows anything of this House will remember that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury had a large say in the devolution issue and that at the time that was not quite in accordance with the wishes of the governing body of his party.

There is room today, and there will always be room, for those who wish to pursue an independent line. If there is any hon. Member who thinks that that will not happen in the next few weeks, I remind him of the petrol tax—

Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

That matter is of great interest to the hon. Gentleman's constituents in Perth and East Perthshire. Is he about to give an unequivocal pledge that he will vote against the Government if they persist with the 20p increase in petrol tax?

Mr. Walker

My position today is as it was before we had the Division on that issue. I have told the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others that they cannot count on my support. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I shall wait and see what amendments are tabled and then I shall make my judgment. My constituents are aware of that. I have advised them of the position. There is nothing dishonourable in it. That is how the House operates.

I am not intersted in scoring trivial points. That is not what matters. What is important here is that we should be seen to be attempting to do the job that our constituents sent us here to do. That is what this debate is about.

I deplore the attacks that are frequently made on the Armed Forces, the police and the judiciary by those who ought to know better. That is one of the areas in which I am in complete agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge.

There are lessons that can be learnt from the last Parliament, when many months were spent on the thorny problem of devolution, on the Scotland and Wales Bills. A highly motivated, articulate group of people in Scotland are determined to keep alive the issue of devolution. They are determined to have an elected Assembly in Scotland. They are supported by many sections of the Scottish media. I add that they do have my support. They are even now attempting to persuade the people of Scotland that the answer to the problems of today is to set up a directly elected Scottish Assembly with tax-raising powers. Heaven help us. Scottish manufacturing industry depends desperately on its English customers to buy its goods. Lord help it if it has to pay additional taxes.

We ignore the activities of these people at our peril. Hon. Members have a duty to be vigilant. We have a responsibility to see that the people are reminded of the advantages of our present constitution and our parliamentary system. Our unitary State has evolved. It has changed, and it has changed progressively, to meet changing times. We also have a duty to ensure that the way in which the government of Scotland is executed can be seen to be the most efficient and least expensive that is available to us at this time. It can also be viewed by the people of Scotland as being an effective form of government.

I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will soon be reporting on the all-party talks. It is interesting that the Scottish National Party, which claims to be interested in the constitution of the United Kingdom, in order that it can work towards a separate Scotland, is not represented here today, when we are discussing the Scottish constitution, which is part of the British constitution. The Scottish National Party has again failed the people of Scotland, as it frequently does, because it did not take part in the all-party talks, either.

We should remind ourselves of the powers that have already been devolved to Scotland, and how Scottish Ministers and Scotland's Members of Parliament are directly involved in the enactment and preparation of Scottish legislation.

I am often staggered to find that people who ought to know better attack the way in which Scotland's government works. Often they are unaware of the matters for which Scotland's Ministers are responsible. The Secretary of State for Scotland has overall responsibility for the work of the Scottish Office. He deals personally with life prisoners, State patients and the exercise of the Royal Prerogative of mercy.

The Minister of State is responsible for agriculture and fisheries in Scotland. He also deals with forestry, the Highlands and Islands Development Board, the Scottish Tourist Board, and the co-ordination of Government action in relation to the Highlands and Islands.

The Under-Secretary of State who is responsible for industry and education deals with industrial and regional development, manpower services, matters relating to oil development, new towns, electricity, education—including primary, secondary and higher education, but excluding universities—public libraries, youth and community services, sport and recreation, and the arts.

Another Under-Secretary of State, who is responsible for health and social work, deals with the health boards, the Common Services Agency, hospital services, general practitioner services, community health services, ambulance services, health education, services for the elderly, children, the disabled and the mentally handicapped, list D schools, children's hearings, and the after-care of offenders.

The third Under-Secretary, who is responsible for home affairs and the environment, deals with the police, fire services, civil law, criminal justice, prisons, Scottish courts, administration, local government, town and country planning, housing, roads and transport, water, sewage and pollution, urban renewal, building control, ancient monuments and historic buildings. That is an enormous range of responsibilities.

Mr. Foulkes

Has not the hon. Gentleman given the most eloquent argument for devolution by showing that it is impossible for one Secretary of State to deal with that great range of tasks, which require seven or eight Secretaries of State in England?

Mr. Walker

I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is an area of great concern to the people of Scotland. His simplistic solutions and his emotive approach to the problem are not helpful. We already have the machinery and the Ministers. The means of using them more effectively is the aspect that we ought to be considering.

There are 76 executive bodies, from the Animal Diseases Research Association to the Scottish Tourist Board, which are responsible to the Secretary of State. In addition, he is responsible for 70 advisory bodies and tribunals.

I want to suggest a method whereby we could make better use of the existing Government machinery and Ministers. Standing Order No. 68 states: There shall be a standing committee to be called the Scottish Grand Committee which shall consider…bills referred to them for consideration in relation to their principle under paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 67 (Public Bills relating exclusively to Scotland);…bills referred to them under Standing Order No. 73 (Consideration on report of certain bills by a standing committee); … Scottish estimates referred to them under Standing Order No. 70. In essence, that means that he Scottish Grand Committee has the power to discuss those Bills. I suggest that the Scottish Grand Committee should meet on Mondays in Edinburgh, on predetermined dates. It could be arranged that on that day business in the House would concern Ireland or Wales. Therefore there would not he any conflict. We all know how the House works. If business were to relate exclusively to Ireland, the chances of a Scottish Member being involved in the debate would be remote. Therefore, Scottish Members could be in Scotland, dealing with Scottish matters.

The Scottish Grand Committee is topped up by English Members in order to produce a better balance. With the emergence of new forces on the political arena it would be a brave individual who said that the balance would remain the same. Indeed, one never knows how a future Government will balance things. If English Members must be used to create a balance to meet the needs laid down in Standing Orders, that can be arranged. It would mean that up to 15 Members might be required to go to Scotland. It could be done on a voluntary basis, because there would be no shortage of volunteers to enjoy the delights of a Monday in Edinburgh.

The Scottish Select Committee should also meet more frequently to deal with Scottish matters, and it should meet in Edinburgh. I am happy to say that it has already started on that course. However, I am primarily concerned about constitutional matters as they affect Scotland. The problems of devolution will not go away. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury spoke with the voice of sanity. That is not surprising, because many expatriate Scots all over the world speak with that voice. That is what we expect. I hope that the House will take note of my warning signal. Devolution is not dead. It will not go away. It is up to hon. Members to deal with the Scottish problem in a way that will not put at risk the unitary State that we so much enjoy.

12.12 pm
Mr. John Ryman (Blyth)

I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Halsowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) on initiating a debate on a variety of important topics. I wish to dwell on only one of them, namely, the Bill of Rights. This subject has been discussed for a long time. I shall deal with some of the arguments that have been put forward both today and in the past. I make a strong plea to the Government to give time for a debate on this subject during this Session. In addition, I ask them to initiate moves with both parties in order to set up the machinery for the establishment of a Bill of Rights.

The mood is changing. A consensus strongly advocates the establishment of a Bill of Rights. The need for such a Bill becomes more urgent as Governments become more complicated and bureaucratic. Recently, that need has been symbolised in speeches that have been made by eminent judges, trade unionists and members of all political parties. Lord Scarman made a speech in Belfast, which was reported in The Times of 19 May 1980. He spoke about resistance in the House of Commons to a possible Bill of Rights. I shall quote from a small extract of that report. It states: 'Resistance in the House of Commons to a Bill of Rights for the United Kingdom is based on fear of judicial power … That fear is completely groundless.' Addressing a seminar organised by the Northern Ireland Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, he stated: 'We, the judges, need a basis of principle by which to approach the vital task in the twentieth century of interpreting and applying legislation. If it can be given to us by Parliament, so much the better.' Lord Scarman, who carried out the inquiry into the 1969 violence in Ulster, was one of 150 delegates, who included leading judges and constitutional experts from Britain and the Irish Republic. Delivering the main address he said that not only judges needed the help of a Bill of rights. Parliament and government needed it. Personal integrity and physical liberty are well protected by the law, for example by habeas corpus and the criminal law. But family life; privacy; freedom from discrimination on grounds of sex, race, colour, creed or national origin, are not. That is an extract from a speech made by a distinguished Law Lord. Those sentiments have been echoed by many distinguished people in public life. As usual in the Labour Party, the lead has come from Northumberland. A resolution was submitted by the Blyth constituency Labour Party to that distinguished assembly, the Labour Party conference. In 1980 the annual conference was held in Blackpool. The resolution echoed many of the sentiments expressed by trade unionists and workers in the Labour Party. It is fair to say that many trade unionists had legitimate fears and apprehensions.

I had something to do with the drafting of that excellent resolution. It stated: That this Annual Labour Party Conference commits the next Labour Government to enact a Bill of Rights, which shall have the force of law, with the object of protecting by legally enforceable action, all fundamental human rights and freedoms. That resolution was submitted to the conference in October last year but, unhappily, no action has yet been taken by the Labour Party.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Does the Blyth constituency Labour Party regard the right not to join a trade union as one of the fundamental freedoms that it wishes to preserve?

Mr. Ryman

Of course. That right is being considered by a Court in Europe. It is one of the many considerations that must be given to the whole question of a Bill of Rights. I cannot speak on behalf of the Blyth constituency Labour Party. I can only repeat to the House the resolution that it submitted to the Annual Conference.

The question of trade unions and a Bill of Rights is worrying. Many trade union leaders are worried about their position. The British Rail case is being considered by the European Court. A Conservative law officer has put forward the case of a closed shop. The Court's decision is awaited with interest.

I understand and sympathise with trade unions which are apprehensive that a Bill of Rights could be used against the legitimate interests of trade unions. That danger is not confined to the law relating to human rights. The danger permeates our law because we have not yet developed our legal concepts to embrace group or collective rights. Our law has a strong nineteenth century bias in favour of an exclusively individualistic approach. That danger would not be aggravated by a Bill of Rights.

If we enacted the European Convention of Human Rights as our initial Bill of Rights—and that is a minimum—the danger to the trade unions would not exist. Article 11 of the convention ensures the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of interests. The second part of the article emphasises that no restriction shall be placed on that right other than that prescribed by law or that which is necessary in a democratic society.

Group rights are essential to support an individual's right to form and join a trade union. If there is a case for a closed shop in industry—a case that can be justified on its own merits; and such a justification can be made in many cases—nothing in a Bill of Rights incorporating article 11 would invalidate such a closed shop. My many friends in the trade union movement have nothing to fear from an enactment of a Bill of Rights; indeed, they have a great deal to gain.

The movement is gathering momentum. No specific proposals have been made, but the difficulties of interpretation are exaggerated. In the debate on the Select Committee report on a Bill of Rights, when discussing how such a Bill could be interpreted, Lord Diplock said: There is some judicial experience in this country of interpreting Bills of Rights, because in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council we deal with appeals from a number of Commonwealth countries who have achieved their independence since 1947, and who have entrenched in their constitutions Bills of Rights in basically the same—though by no means identical—terms as those in the European Convention. Some of them have retained these in their changing Constitutions and still retain the appeal to the Privy Council. So I can speak not with a great deal of experience, but, at any rate, with some experience of having to interpret and apply entrenched provisions for human rights in substantially these terms. The learned Law Lord said that he recognised the difficulties that could occur in the judicial interpretation of a Bill of Rights but that the Privy Council had experience of these problems and had successfully overcome them. I mention that because it is sometimes implied that the existence of a Bill of Rights would place inexorable difficulties on interpretation.

The case for the enactment of a Bill of Rights grows more urgent each day. The issue was succinctly summarised by Lord Scarman in the same debate, when he said: Let me explain briefly why I support a Bill of Rights. I support it for the reasons which commanded the unanimous assent of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland. Their documenet, to which I pay tribute, is a most formidable and well-reasoned case. I will not quote from it but I ask noble Lords who are interested to look at it and particulary to read paragraph 6, in which they give their reasons in favour of a Bill of Rights. "—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29 November 1978; Vol. 396, c. 1345–65.] I cannot understand why this Administration is dragging its feet on a Bill of Rights. This Government are almost as slow as the previous one, who did nothing about it in spite of a clamour for action from the House of Lords, large numbers of people, and many organisations. The case for a Bill of Rights is urgent. Many eminent people have asked for it, but we cannot even have a debate in the House on the issue.

I support the recent letter by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) to The Times, in which he put the case graphically. I speak from memory. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that it was extraordinary that despite the great movement for a Bill of Rights and an early-day motion signed by hon. Members from both sides of the House, the Government would not provide a day, or part of a day, for a debate on that important subject.

I hope that the Minister of State will give some thought to the Government's reaction to the possibility of a debate on a Bill of Rights and explain the Government's thinking. The Minister has been asked many questions, ranging from the serious to the frivolous. The debate has been interesting and I congratulate right hon. and hon. Members on the high quality of their speeches.

The issue is simple and straightforward. What is the Government's attitude to a Bill of Rights? Do they intend to provide parliamentary time to discuss the matter? What is their attitude to initiating all-party talks on a burningly important subject for which there is widespread support in the House of Lords, the House of Commons, the country, the Churches and the trade unions? I hope that the Minister will give us his reaction today.

12.30 pm
Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)

I congratulate my hon. and patriotic Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) on providing the House with the opportunity to consider that most fundamental of all political issues—the British constitution. As our very existence is dependent upon the concept of the British constitution, it is indeed right for us to have an occasion when we can pause for reflection and appreciate how fortunate we are to enjoy such a democratic society.

In order to recognise the excellence of the British constitution it is surely necessary to understand the role of the State so that our institutions can be judged on whether they fulfil their criteria. To say that is immediately to provoke an argument on what such a role should be. In my firm belief, the essential contrast between Conservatism and Socialism provides a clear direction of the answer.

Conservatism exists to produce a complete framework in which to live one's own life—a framework built upon freedom and common sense, a framework that recognises the benefits of the British constitution. The Conservative way of life is like a wheel that continually moves forward slowly and cautiously, with care for the direction that is being taken. En just such a way have our great institutions been nurtured.

At the hub of that great wheel is the concept of freedom, and it is from that hub that the spokes of policy radiate. Those spokes provide the means to put into practice the commonsense attitudes held by the majority of the people of this country, and so Conservatism can develop and sustain the institutions of the British constitution in keeping with the desires of our citizens.

Socialism leads to the antithesis of the individual —collectivism—and propagates the self-evident fallacy that the State always knows better than the individuals who comprise it and that the British constitution should be the key element in carrying that out. The very concept of a State rests upon the notion that it exists with the intention of acting on behalf of the people who make it up and in their best interests, and our institutions are the means of achieving that. However, since our countrymen are in many respects better able to judge their own interests than is any composite body, for Socialism to claim that the State always knows best is an effrontery to those very individuals.

Mr. George Cunningham

No Socialist would be so stupid as to say that.

Mr. Murphy

If the hon. Gentleman wants me to give way, I shall be happy to do so.

Mr. Cunningham

I was saying that no Socialist would be so stupid as to make such a claim.

Mr. Murphy

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should make such a comment. He has only to look back at the last Labour Party conference to see that those are the claims being made by the Labour Party these days. If that is to be the face of the Labour Party at the next election, it will be rejected by the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish electorate.

Mr. Cunningham

If the hon. Gentleman will find me a quotation from that conference saying in so many words that the State knows best, I shall be grateful. Can he do that?

Mr. Murphy

I did not say that the motions at the Labour Party conference used that phraseology. I said that the motions before the conference gave that impression and that that was the underlying reason behind many of those motions. If those motions are to be accepted as part of Labour Party policy, the British constitution is in grave danger. The hon. Gentleman should reflect upon that.

It is questionable, therefore, whether the Socialist approach could be content with the existing British constitution, which has institutions clearly not meeting the requirements of a more doctrinaire approach towards the citizen.

The excellence of the British constitution can be seen from the benefits provided by our great institutions, not least the restoration and defence of individual freedom and responsibility and governing in the interests of everyone. Much as Conservative Members wish to extend and develop that freedom of the individual, there still has to be a State providing an essential backdrop against which that individual can run his own life.

At the last general election clear alternatives were put before the people: they could vote for Socialism and thereby ensure that the steadily growing tentacles of the State would reach further and further into their hearts and minds, into their employment and their leisure, into their families and their very own existence with the consequential changes that: would be made to our constitution and institutions; or they could vote for Conservatism and thereby ensure that the growth of the State was atrophied, that the constitution and institutions were respected once more, that freedom was returned to the individual, that enterprise was encouraged again and that choice once more became a feature of our lives.

The electorate chose to make the rejection of the all-powerful and smothering embrace of the State the attitude that they wanted to see in their next Government. We are delighted to support a Government who are seeking to achieve that. The British constitution, through the well-developed but flexible institutions that we are fortunate to have, is able to provide successfully for that view of the role of the State. To attack these institutions and our constitution is to attack the democratic wishes of the citizens of the United Kingdom.

In preserving the realm, sound money is seen as a legitimate concern of the State and its institutions. The Government cannot achieve any real or lasting success unless they tackle this overriding problem. This Administration are committed to economic policies that rely principally, but by no means solely; on monetary realism. The role of the State must be one of ensuring prudent and lower public expenditure, together with the encouragement to produce more by less taxation if sound money is to be achieved.

In preserving the realm, the rights of the individual are also seen as a legitimate concern of the State and its institutions. The individual must be guaranteed the opportunity to live his own life in his own way and not to be dictated to by the strictures upon him beloved of bureaucrats. Each person has his own priorities in life for himself or his family, and he should be assured of the environment in which he can make his own decisions. The role of the State—to paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill—must be a safety net ensuring that no individual has to fall below a generally accepted minimum level, but equally it must be a ladder up which all may climb and achieve their own objectives.

In preserving the realm, law and order are a further legitimate concern of the State and its institutions. A nation is as naught if it is unable to have respect for the rule of law and the need to provide its enforcement. The police deserve the full support of the House, and I am certain that they enjoy the trust of the vast majority of our constituents.

The freedoms for which many of our citizens have laid down their lives must be vigilantly protected from our enemies; and the law of the land must be such that all are equal under it, for to provide a situation where some are in a privileged position is to undermine the whole concept of a fair and just society. The role of the State must be a catalyst for the differing hopes and aspirations of people, welding them together under the rule of law for the greater good that results for all by gaining respect for one another.

Recognising the excellence of the British constitution is to recognise its ability to accommodate successfully via its great institutions a view of the role of the State endorsed by the people of this country. With that view established we have a pole star to guide us along the correct course whatever the trials and tribulations the political scene may produce in the coming years. And the destination to which we have set our compass is one of a society that exists only to benefit its own citizens, never one that exists to benefit itself. The strength of the British constitution is its ability to cope successfully with this new and more realistic direction.

In Britain, with a society based on the fundamental tenets of the constitution, there is the chance to pick up a canvas and paint upon it what the individual himself wants to create—and that is the essence of Conservatism. Under Socialism the individual can achieve only a predetermined picture—he is painting by numbers. Liberalism and social democracy are merely irrelevant abstract art. Within the guidelines of our excellent constitution, and with the recognition of the value that freedom and common sense can give to our way of life, together we can paint a picture of success in Britain. Under the Conservative Government the broad brush strokes have already been boldly made.

12.39 pm
Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Listening in the past three hours to the doubts and hesitations that many Members have expressed about our present quasi-constitution, some people might be slightly depressed. Of course, in the light of the speech to which we have just listened, from the hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy), one must be placed in an entirely different mood, because he told us that as long as we have our present excellent constitution and the present excellent Government in power on the Front Benches, supported by the excellent Member for Welwyn and Hatfield on the Back Benches, nothing can go wrong.

Mr. Murphy

Quite right.

Mr. Cunningham

I suggest to him with all respect that the discussion of serious issues is not a matter for fairy tales. That sort of rubbish, and the suggestion that every Socialist is a hound from Hell and every Conservative is a perfect proponent of good policies, which will do everyone a lot of good and have no fault, belong in the nursery. In discussing serious issues it is not our job to perpetuate that sort of nonsense.

Mr. Murphy

Surely now is exactly the right opportunity to discuss such matters, because if the Labour Party moves its policies towards those that will damage the existing constitution of the State it is for the House to discuss those matters and to show its concern.

Mr. Cunningham

Of course it is for the House to discuss all the matters that we are touching on, but it is not for us to discuss them in this childish fashion, suggesting that every Conservative is a saint and every Socialist is a hound from Hell. No one believes that nonsense, so what is the point of using time in that way?

It is characteristically British that we are discussing the constitution without actually having a constitution. We fall into some confusion when we talk as though we have a constitution. We have quasi-constitutional habits. When I saw the motion that the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) tabled, I felt that it was too wide, because it embraced so many different subjects. I thought that it would be better to have discussions, if we could, on the individual aspects—on the possibility of a Bill of Rights, on proportional representation and the many other aspects that we have touched on this morning. However, we all know that we should not have had time for a separate discussion on all those issues, and therefore we should express gratitude to the hon. Gentleman for giving us the opportunity to touch on them, even though it makes for a disjointed debate to discuss them all together.

We all enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge. We always do. It was clear from his speech that had he been here at the time he would have voted against not merely the reform of the House of Lords in the 1940s but the reform of the House of Lords at the beginning of the century.

Mr. Stokes

indicated assent.

Mr. Cunningham

The hon. Member nods his head in approval. We would not have expected him to support those reforms. I am confident that he would have voted against the Reform Bill in 1832, not to say the Bill of Rights in 1688.

Mr. Stokes

indicated assent.

Mr. Cunningham

Had it been put to the vote, I think that the hon. Member would have voted against Magna Carta.

We were told a few minutes ago that the process of Conservatism is of a smooth-running wheel that slowly but deliberately advances into the future, but there is another picture—one that depicts the Conservative Party as being dragged reluctantly into each new decade, each new thought and each new century, backwards, with its eyes shut. If I were to follow that line I should be falling into the trap for which I rebuked the hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield, so I shall not do so.

I detest metaphors—they are always misleading—but every train needs a brake, and it also needs an engine. It would be better if we could somehow mould those two functions of movement together so that we did not always have some people pushing harder than they wanted to because they knew that there was a brake holding them up and, on the other hand, people heaving on the brake because they knew that there was an engine in front.

The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge is a doughty expresser of patriotism in this country. However, more seriously, I suggest to him that in the past 10 or 20 years there has been an interesting decline in patriotic feeling among an unusual section of the population. I put this with some hesitation, but I think that among some—dare I say it?—middle-class people there is a tendency to identify less with this country and more with Europe—which may or may not be a good thing—a tendency to deride this country and, for example, to choose to buy foreign cars rather than British cars—I do not say that that is always wrong—and a tendency to have less of an attachment to Britain and British endeavour than was traditionally almost automatically the case. That is not so among working people, but it is the case with sections of the middle class. It recalls the change of national identification attitudes that took place in Scotland at the end of the seventeenth century and during the eighteenth century.

Mr. Stokes

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's main point, but is it not true that it is not the middle class that has failed but the intellectuals, who may be mostly middle class but comprise other classes, too?

Mr. Cunningham

I doubt that. I do not want to go on about it because these are impressions, but I doubt whether it is the so-called intellectuals—not that I know what on earth that means. I deny that I am an intellectual. An intellectual is a person who is always thinking but never coming to the right conclusions. Although common sense has been slightly criticised this morning, it is the quality that I would seek to have. Whether I have it is another matter.

The first subject that we need to refer to is the Second Chamber or, as it would say, the First Chamber. No one but the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge would defend the hereditary habit—I refuse to call it a principle. In this day and age, no one, whether in other countries or in this country, would say that as a matter of conscious choice it is desirable that we should give a voice and a vote on our legislation to a person merely because he is the son of his father—and not, of course, because she is the daughter of her father. There is no justification for that. Some day we shall have to do something about it. We cannot go on from century to century saying that a person should have a vote on legislation for that reason alone.

However, I caution those who support that view that we may end up with something worse. The existence of a Senate—it would be the British way to call it the House of Lords, even though it was not that—probably elected by proportional representation, as one or two hon. Members have suggested, could be severely inimical to the advancement of progressive legislation. In addressing ourselves to the subject we should be careful not to end up with something worse.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

I hate to ask the hon. Gentleman to take longer than he intends, but he suggested that an elected second Chamber would stand in the way of the implementation of progressive legislation. Bearing in mind that we are talking about an elected second Chamber, why should it necessarily stand in the way of progressive legislation?

Mr. Cunningham

Because the likelihood is that we could end up with an Upper Chamber, elected by proportional representation, that would always have an anti-Labour majority. The House of Commons would sometimes have a Conservative majority and sometimes a Labour majority—I am assuming for the moment our present political patterns—but the House of Lords would always have an anti-Labour majority, even though it did not necessarily have a Conservative majority.

That may be a recipe for great dispute and tussle. It certainly is not a recipe that is likely to produce much of the progressive legislation that has been introduced by the Labour Party—fought against by the Conservative Party over the years but later accepted by it. Although the Conservative Party has often sought to repeal—and has sometimes succeeded in repealing—Labour legislation, there is far more Labour legislation that was opposed by the Conservative Party at the time and later accepted as being right, inevitable and something that should be maintained on the statutue book, but it never would have reached the statute book if there had been another Chamber of the kind that is being discussed. That is a consideration that should be particularly in the minds of my hon. Friends.

We have not touched on one of the more recent innovations in our quasi-constitutional behaviour that have taken place in the past seven years or so. I refer to the two referendums that we have held—one on Europe and one on devolution. I do not say that referendums will become a regular part of our behaviour, but there is certainly a greater chance of that now than there was before, and there are many more people who feel that a referendum is a useful tool in particular circumstances.

Two questions arise. First, on what issues and in what circumstances should one hold a referendum, and by what principles? It should not be just an ad hoc decision each time. Secondly, by what rules should referendums be conducted?

My view is that if we are to have referendums at all frequently, the kind of subject that lends itself to them is a subject that is, first, important and quasi-constitutional in character; secondly, likely to be irrevocable in theory or in practice; and, thirdly, an issue on which the views of the public cannot be reliably ascertained from the way in which they voted in the previous election. Those will usually be issues on which the two parties were internally divided. On Europe and on devolution the two parties were internally divided.

Even if we cannot have some advance agreement and guidelines about the issues on which we should hold a referendum, it is useful to ask ourselves whether we should have rules for the conduct of a referendum whenever we decide to have one. Having been through some trauma on the devolution referendum over a little matter which disturbed some of my colleagues, I do not think that it would be a good thing if we were to go through that sort of tussle every time, inventing new ingredients and perhaps new figures, new minimum percentages, and the like, on each occasion in response to an individual situation.

We must address ourselves to the question of broadcast coverage of referendum cases if we have another referendum. In the case of the European referendum, it worked pretty well, because the protagonists on the two sides were prepared to have so-called umbrella organisations, which were a means—not adequately used—of controlling such matters as access to broadcasting time and financial expenditure.

That did not apply in the devolution referendum. There had to be a court case in Scotland to decide one element of the broadcast coverage of the two cases there. Some thought needs to be given—I say this to the Minister of State, Home Office—to the question whether it is desirable, and, if so, whether it is possible, to have guidelines, if only for the conduct of referendums, if we decide to have one in future.

There is also the issue of the relationship of central Government to local government, which brings in the whole issue of devolution. The debates on devolution, which stretched over many years in the House, showed how unfamiliar the British are with talking about constitutional issues, and how unfamiliar they are with what is done in other countries. Too much talk about the excellence of the British constitution, and how marvellous things are here, perhaps distracts us from looking as carefully as we should at methods used in other countries which could be—I do not say "adopted here"—adapted for use here, and which it is certainly useful to know about. There can be no doubt but that any proposal to devolve legislative authority to one part of the kingdom is a matter which affects the whole of the kingdom. That is as far as I should like to go on that subject today.

There has been talk of a possible Bill of Rights and of the role of the judiciary as against that of Parliament in protecting the rights of the people. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) said that people in Britain have all the rights that there can be unless they are taken away by legislation. I should not have thought that that was a true statement of the law. It seems to me, rather, that we suffer from the fact that the Crown possesses all the old prerogative rights which it had, except in so far as they are removed by legislation. We have to try to ensure that rights are actually conferred upon the public—rights such as those which would be enshrined in a freedom of information Bill, rather than just ensuring that legislation does not take those rights away.

If we are to have a Bill of Rights we had better recognise that in all the Bills of Rights which the British have given to other people—and we have given dozens of them to other people in the post-war independence statutes—we have conferred a right, on the one hand, and proceeded, with far more subsections, to qualify it, on the other hand, thereafter. We say that there will be a right of freedom of speech, but we also say that in time of war or emergency that does not apply, and so on.

The experience of most people is that charters of human rights are not as strong a safeguard for the rights of the public as they superficially appear to be. That is not to say that the balance of advantage is not in favour of them—although it is my view that the balance of advantage is against them. But it means that they are no panacea. They are not as easy to draw up and make effective as is suggested.

Quite a few of the things that we have done since the present Government came to power would have been illegal if we had had a Bill of Rights. To take just one example, I think of the Government's action on sanctions with respect to Iran. I do not think that a Bill of Rights would have made it possible to impose the penalties which the Government sought on behaviour which, at the time when it was done, was not illegal. I do not mean that a Bill of Rights would always veto retrospective legislation, but retrospective legislation of the kind that the Government then had in mind would certainly have been ruled out. Therefore, let no one suggest that a Bill of Rights is needed to counteract wicked Socialist Goverments. The present Government have done things, and have asked the House to do things, which would not have been legal if we had had a Bill of Rights.

It has been suggested, particularly by the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge, that if we put our trust in the judiciary all will be well. There are judges whom I would trust to the end of the earth, but if the hon. Member suggests, as a matter of history, that the judiciary in this country has always stood up for the freedom of the individual, I think that he has not been reading the right history books.

There have been mighty and great statements on individual liberty, such as the statement that when a slave touches the territory of this country he becomes free. There was the great statement by the Common Council of the City of London—straying a little from the judiciary—after Peterloo, about the right of British people to demonstrate against their grievances. I add the great statement on the same point by Lord Denning, in 1975 or thereabouts, also on the right, which he regarded as fundamental and part of the common law—leaving aside statute—of the individual to go on to the highway and to march and to demonstrate, so long as it was done in good order as a protest against grievances. Lord Denning, with whom we would not agree on everything, stated very clearly on that occasion one of the fundamental rights.

But there have been other occasions when the judiciary, down the decades and centuries, has been extremely reactionary about the rights of the public. I should hate to rely upon the appointed judiciary rather than upon the elected members of a legislature for the rights of the people.

I come next to proportional representation. There is no perfect system of election. One must consider the country and its general situation and decide what one wants to achieve. If a country has a tendency to extremism and it is necessary to build up the Centre, I can see the case for proportional representation. However, on the whole, in the past as now, Britain has not suffered from extremism. If people think that we have extremism now to any significant extent they are failing to see what happens in other countries.

It is no accident that proportional representation is at the moment supported by more people than have supported it in the past, because they have come to believe that there is a greater danger—though not very great—from political extremism. If there were a danger of people saying "This minority will get control of the House of Commons and then will put through anything they want" the public would unquestionably turn to proportional representation and any other devices to ensure that that undemocratic approach did not succeed. I do not see in general, however, that it is more democratic to give to the small party or parties in the Centre a predominance of political power than it is to give it to the larger parties to the Left and Right of them.

The Liberals, who believe in proportional representation, are not here, of course. If we were to have PR there would be a large Labour Party and a large Conservative Party and a small—though larger than now—Liberal Party. That Liberal Party would sell its support to whichever of the other two parties it wanted to see in Government. The Labour and Conservative Parties might alternate as they do now, but the Liberals would always be there. A Liberal can be forgiven for wanting that to happen, but let him not say that it is democratic when the middle of the see-saw is always in power simply because it is in the middle of the see-saw.

Mr. Ogden

Should not proportional representation stand or fall on its merits and not because of any danger to the House? The first-past-the-post system has in the past 10 or 15 years failed in most of those years to provide the majority Government that it was supposed to. This Government are an exception to that. Since the House has supported PR for Northern Ireland, is suggesting PR for the other place and will inevitably come to it for the European Assembly elections, how can this Chamber remain elected by one system when all the other Assemblies will be elected by PR?

Mr. Cunningham

My hon. Friend should not assume that proportional representation will be adopted for the European Assembly, at least for the next time. He seems to be implying that I am producing disreputable reasons against PR. I am trying to produce reasons related to democracy. I am saying that it is no more democratic to have a small middle party in permanent power than to have the other, larger parties in permanent power, and the case for PR is not made out on that democratic ground. With regard to the EEC, reference has been made to our right to bring sovereignty back to this place, for us to decide to come out of the Community.

We play many charades in this place—Black Rod knocking on the door, and all that sort of thing.

Mr. Stokes

That is very important.

Mr. Cunningham

The hon. Member says that it is important, but when it started the business of keeping out Black Rod and the King was revolutionary. The hon. Member would have been on the side of the King, wanting the King to come in. He was coming in to arrest five Members of Parliament and the hon. Member would have helped him. The historic words of Mr. Speaker Lenthall: I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place save as this honourable House commands me would not have been expressed by the hon. Gentleman. He would have been there holding the hon. Members' arms up their backs to get them to prison.

There are many other habits in this place. We have this lovely mace. When red blood flowed through its molecules, what was it? It was a knobkerrie for bashing people on the head. We take all our revolutionary beginnings and we atrophy them. The relevance of that is that we believe that if we want to come out of the European Community we can do so by passing an Act of Parliament. That view is not shared by all members of the European Court of Justice. If we believe that, why do not we play a game which is relevant to our present circumstances? Instead of Black Rod bashing on the door and all that and the Clerk of the House calling out "Outlawry Bill" for a reason which no one ever comprehends, why, at the beginning of each Session, do not we have a little five-word Bill which declares that this Parliament retains the right to come out of the European Community if it ever decides to do so? It would not take any more time than the Outlawry Bill procedure takes. It would be a little charade which had some relevance to our present circumstances.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) talked a little about the working of the House. He pleaded that some of the party discipline—I would say allegiance, because there is a difference—should be relaxed. He criticised very much the processes in Standing Committee and called for an extension of the Special Standing Committee procedure. I entirely agree with him on that. The Special Standing Committee procedure has been a wild success on the first Bill which was subjected to it, namely, the Criminal Attempts Bill.

However, I disagree with the hon. Gentleman absolutely when he calls upon someone else to do something to ensure that hon. Members are able to vote more according to their judgment. Nobody can do that for a Member of Parliament except himself. There is nothing to stop him doing it now. As a Conservative Member once said, the Whips are not so much Whips as feather dusters. We are glad to say that they have no power. Back Benchers have all the power that there ever was. Nothing has been taken away from them. Nothing can ever be taken away from them except by their own behaviour and decision.

Mr. Hogg

I agree with the hon. Member. I hope that he will not misrepresent my views on this matter. I am trying to point to the fact that party discipline and constraint are too strong. I agree that it is in our hands to relax it, but the hon. Gentleman must agree that few hon. Members are prepared to exercise the sort of independent judgment which I regard as desirable and which I believe he regards as desirable.

Mr. Cunningham

But I believe that we are disagreeing on what the solution is.

Mr. Hogg

That may be so.

Mr. Cunningham

I am saying that the only solution to that problem is the hon. Member himself. There is no sufficient impediment put in the way of his doing that by any third party. No third party is in a position to put any such impediment in the way. If one diagnoses the disease wrongly one wastes much time trying to find the prescription. In this place, hon. Members often look for procedural prescriptions to ailments which are not procedural but personal.

I do not like to say that all that an hon. Member needs to vote—subject to the normal compromises—according to his judgment is gumption. He does not need gumption at all. It is a natural thing to do. However, if it ever does need gumption for hon. Members to do the right thing, they should go to the cross rather than do the wrong thing, and they will not be able to pass the blame to anyone else. When they do wrong, it is not the fault of the Chief Whip, the party, the party conference or the Prime Minister; it is their fault—and the fault of one other group, the public. What is wrong with the House of Commons? It is the hon. Members and not the procedure. If there is a qualification to be made to that it is that the public do not take sufficient interest in what we do here. The result is that an hon. Member can be a lion in his constituency and a mouse in the House. That is not our fault; it is the fault of the public, and I do not apologise for saying so. Too few members of the public insist on certain behaviour from their Members.

I finish with this constituency anecdote. I recollect two letters from constituents. One constituent told me that it was disgraceful that the Government were allowing a free vote on a certain issue. The letter that I wrote back made certain that I lost that vote. Another constituent was interested only in animals, and demanded that I promise to support every measure that would help animals. I said "No", I could not do that, so that constituent wrote to me telling me that he would never again vote for me. He may have been barmy, but he had the right idea on democracy. Until we in this House behave more often according to our judgments, and until the public require us to do so, no procedural changes in this place will have sufficient effect.

In the absence of a Bill of Rights and a constitution in this country we are more dependent than most upon behaviour within this place. We are the guardians of the rights of the population and we have to behave in that way, otherwise the rights of the population are lost.

1.12 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Timothy Raison)

The House has listened to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) with considerable interest. I am reluctant to adjudicate between my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) and the hon. Gentleman, but I have to confess that on this question my sympathies lie with the hon. Gentleman. It is ultimately up to us. That is the correct message, and one that we should not forget. At least the hon. Gentleman has a track record that enables him to say such things. The hon. Gentleman played his part in the great battles about devolution a year or two back, and he can claim to speak not only theoretically but in terms of what he did.

The House also owes a great debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), and I say that genuinely. He made a speech of considerable charm and forthrightness. I listened with envy. Not for him the clouded uncertainties that afflict so many of us from time to time. We know where he stands, he knows where he stands, and there is no dubiety. He has no doubts, and he has, rightly, no sense of guilt or shame about the country. He is not saying that everything is right—he would never argue that—but he has profound convictions, and more people than perhaps we realise share them.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Solely) questioned that fact. He talked about a new mood that was growing, as did the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, but my experience and instinct is that we are not all good at judging moods in the country at any given time.

One of the homely things that I have learnt from Tea Room chat in this place is that whenever hon. Members come from their constituencies to tell each other exactly what their constituencies think, their accounts always bear an uncanny resemblance to the thoughts of those hon. Members. We do not always necessarily judge. Although there may be the famous silent majority or minority, there are still many who share the view of patriotism that my hon. Friend expressed. There are many others who are deeply patriotic, although the ways in which they express their patriotism may be somewhat different from those used by my hon. Friend.

I was interested in the comments of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury about the less patriotic in our society. When an event like the World Cup crops up there is overwhelmingly in the mass of the ordinary population a strong sense of patriotism. That patriotism would be equally expressed in the far more serious, although we all hope utterly avoidable, threat of a war or a deep challenge to our society. We have had ample evidence of the forthrightness of my hon. Friend's views and the value that he has given us in bringing these issues before the House. It has been an interesting debate. It has made many of us think about important issues that we tend to push to one side in the perhaps excessively busy lives that we tend to lead.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said that we were discussing a constitution without having a constitution. The theory is that we do not have a written constitution. We cannot say that we do not have a constitution, because in the Library are to be found many learned volumes that are based on the assumption that there is some sort of constitution floating around. We must acknowledge that we are gradually being edged slightly towards having rather more of our constitution written out than was the case in the past.

It is interesting that constitutional issues should have come to the fore so much in the past decade. I remember writing a Penguin book that appeared in 1964 that was about politics. It was entitled "Why Conservative?"

Mr. Foulkes

We have not had the answer yet.

Mr. Raison

The answer has been proved repeatedly, and it will continue to be so proved. I am glad that my book is remembered by others apart from myself. When I read it not so long ago it struck me that one of the several interesting features about it was that it contained virtually no discussion on constitutional problems. It was much more concerned with economic, defence and social problems. It was written at a time when, by and large, we did not regard our constitution as something about which we should be having second thoughts. There was still a fairly great degree of certainty about how the system was working. Over the past decade many issues have come to the fore, and they have been referred to during the debate. These issues include the future of the other place, referendums, devolution, the European Community and our accession to it, a Bill of Rights, electoral reform, and what I might call extra-parliamentary forces.

A question that has perhaps been rather underplayed in the debate is the question that Governments, far from being too strong, are in practice too weak, and whether from time to time in the past decade other significant forces in society have been able to some extent to thwart the work of the elected Parliament and the Governments that derive from it. We have found time today to think and talk about some of these important matters.

I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge that because we have been talking about these matters and questioning them it does not necessarily follow that change is the answer. It is right that we should discuss them. In some cases, it is right that we should make changes. But I do not adopt the proposition that just because we are not entirely satisfied about all these matters the answer is necessarily to carry out some kind of general reform and upset the apple cart. I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend's instinctive conservatism, although he might regard me as not quite as pure an upholder of the faith in all these matters as he would wish.

The debate has ranged from satisfaction on the one hand to considerable dissatisfaction on the other. My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud)—who has departed, I know not where—set out to dispel any sense of complacency. Perhaps it is the air of the eastern part of England that is responsible for the questioning and sharp spirit generated by them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham raised some very interesting and fundamental questions. He reminded us, with all his modesty, that he is not yet Lord Chancellor of England. No doubt that day will come. But he forced us to look at a number of the important questions which his greatly revered father has raised from time to time.

My hon. Friend made some forceful comments about Standing Committees. I spend the greater part of my life in a Standing Committee. My hon. Friend referred to the need for greater advice. He seemed to want permanent staff for these, albeit temporary bodies. Our Standing Committees, as we all know, belie their name. They are transient committees rather than Standing Committees. I have not noticed any lack of advice on the British Nationality Bill, either to Opposition Members or to Conservative Members. I wonder whether it is possible to set up a permanent apparatus to support the Committees, but I accept that what my hon. Friend said is of considerable importance.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) put a number of challenges to the House in—to use his own favourite word—his felicitous speech. In particular, he asked about a Bill of Rights and said that we should set up a Royal Commission to consider the matter.

I want now to deal with some of the points set out in my hon. Friend's motion and to make a number of comments on them. On the monarchy, I need say little more than that I believe that in all parts of the House there is a deep desire to pay a special tribute to the role performed, on behalf of the nation and of the wider Commonwealth, by Her Majesty the Queen and her Family. The respect that they arouse was shown with great vividness and depth of feeling at the time of Her Majesty's Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977. I shall be amazed if there is not a resurgence of that feeling at the time of the wedding of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer during this summer.

The Church was one of the subjects raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge in his motion, and it has featured in the debate. It has, indeed, had something of an airing during the course of parliamentary life this week. My hon. Friend made it clear that he did not think much of the General Synod and he deplored the possibility that the Prayer Book might be used less and less. While I share his wish to see our old Prayer Book remain in use and hope that it will—indeed, I know that it will, for I cannot believe that it will ever be extinguished—I cannot agree with him—and here I speak for the Government—about the General Synod. It was over 60 years ago that Parliament agreed to set up the Church Assembly, which in 1969 became the General Synod.

In 1974 we approved the Worship and Doctrine Measure, which empowers the General Synod to legislate by canon for alternative services while retaining the Book of Common Prayer. The Measure has provided that the Prayer Book must remain available and that the choice of service lies with the incumbent and the elected parochial church council. If they cannot agree, the Prayer Book must be used unless an alternative form of service has been regularly used for at least two years out of the last four. The constitutional question involves whether it would be wise for Parliament to attempt to take back from the General Synod the duty of settling the machinery for deciding what kind of service is to be used in parish churches. That is said in the shadow of the debates that have been held this week.

In the other place there has been criticism of the fact that of those who voted against the Ten-Minute Bill about 100 were Ministers. Let me explain why Ministers such as myself took that action. The Ten Minutes Rule is a recognised part of our procedure. As we all know, the hon. Member who moves the motion makes a brief explanatory statement, which is followed by one from an hon. Member who opposes him. The Question is then put. There is no opportunity for Ministers or other hon. Members to explain why they will vote for or against the motion. Ministers voted against that motion not because the Government had a collective view about the merits of the particular forms of service but simply because, in our view, it would be wrong for Parliament to initiate legislation on matters for which the General Synod has been entrusted to provide the initiative.

In the Government's view a bicameral legislature is an essential element in the British constitution. We are committed to the maintenance of that principle, since it provides safeguards to continued constitutional government in this land. As hon. Members know, a number of views are held about the desirability of making some changes in the composition of the other place. That is something that the Government will continue to have in mind in the light of all the views that have been expressed. However, the work of the noble Lords provides an important contribution to the formulation of policy and to the content of the legislation under which this country is governed.

My noble Friend the Lord President of the Council spoke on the Second Reading of Lord Alport's Constitutional Referendum Bill on 8 December 1980. As I have done, he made it clear that the Government are committed to the maintenance of a second Chamber and to the view that the House of Lords plays a crucial and indispensable role in the parliamentary process. There are aspects of the work of the other place that complement rather than repeat the work of this House.

The other place is something of a guarantee of constitutional government in this country. During this debate we have been reminded that the other place was abolished in 1649 but re-emerged to play—as it does today—an important part in our constitutional arrangements. The consequence of the abolition of the other place was that, to all intents and purposes, this House was abolished or suspended a little later.

Any proposals for changes in the composition of the other place would need to be given the most careful consideration by the Government of the day. Any Administration would be under a duty to consult widely about proposed constitutional changes, so that the purpose of the changes was properly understood in the country at large and so that as much support as possible was gained for such changes. If possible, that support should extend across party lines. As to proposals put forward in the other place last December during the debate on the Constitutional Referendum Bill to protect the powers of that House in the face of challenges to it from other quarters, the position is that the Government are looking carefully at the arguments advanced for protective legislation safeguarding the principle of a second Chamber.

One view that may find favour with many is that any measure of protection for the other place should be associated in some way with a reform of the Second Chamber, and that it is not desirable entirely to separate protection from reform of the other place. If that view were to gain wide acceptance, protective legislative would be viewed as a mere beginning on the road to reform. There might be some who would wish to know where the road led before they set foot along it.

The Government have not yet come to a firm view on that. We believe that it is necessary to have a further period in which to reflect on the various possibilities. Hon. Members' views will be weighed along with views expressed elsewhere.

Hon. Members have discussed electoral reform and proportional representation. There has been much public debate and consideration of alternative electoral systems, including detailed studies by the Speaker's Conference between 1965 and 1968. That conference recommended against any changes in the electoral system. We have also had a report from the Committee of the Hansard Society for Parliamentary Government.

We must recognise that opinion is still sharply divided, both about the advantages of proportional representation, per se, and about the relative merits of the many variants of that system. Our belief is that our present simple majority system is most appropriate for elections to this House. It is well understood by the electorate, it provides close and direct constituency representation and it helps to bring about the formation of stable and authoritative Governments.

The European Assembly Elections Act 1978 prescribed a first-past-the-post system for the election of British representatives to the European Parliament and the single transferable vote system of proportional representation for Northern Ireland. The Treaty of Rome provides for a uniform electoral system for member States, but imposes no time limit for its adoption; nor does it define the scope or nature of uniformity. The United Kingdom Government await any proposals that the European Parliament may put to the Council of Ministers. The electoral system in Northern Ireland can be considered in that context.

Mr. George Cunningham

Will the Minister of State reconsider whether it is right for us to await an initiative from the European Parliament? That is what happened with direct elections. Some people who thought that direct elections were right at the time no longer think that they are. The electoral system in Britain is so important to us that perhaps we should not leave it to the European Parliament. Perhaps we should at least start thinking about it ourselves and even take the initiative.

Mr. Raison

I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument and I am prepared to think about it. However, I can go no further at present.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East and others discussed a Bill of Rights. A Bill on this issue is before Parliament. It has passed through all its stages in the other place. The Government have no settled view on the merits of the Bill. We believe that important proposals for constitutional change of the type involved in any Bill of Rights should proceed as far as possible by agreement between the political parties. The Government have it in mind to initiate talks at a suitable time.

Proposals of that character have implications for the role of the judiciary, and in the view of some there would be a change in judicial techniques and approach that might represent an unwelcome departure from the hitherto accepted areas of the competence of Parliament and the judiciary.

The arguments for and against a Bill of Rights are helpfully summarised in a House of Lords Select Committee report published in May 1978. The summary, in paragraphs 32–34 of the report, explains that whereas under the common law the courts have developed legal principles slowly and empirically from case to case, under a Bill of Rights they would start with principles of wide generality and would have a free hand to decide how the principles operated in individual cases that were brought to them for decision.

Under our present constitutional arrangements, however, it is left primarily to Parliament to enact detailed legislation on social policy, for example, rather than for the judiciary to develop the policy and to determine the manner in which problems should be tackled. As the report and the discussion generally have made clear, there are still enormous questions to be considered. The subject is important and needs fuller discussion before we can take any step along that path.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

I should preface my question by apologising for not being here at the beginning of my hon. Friend's speech—for reasons that I explained to him—when apparently he was kind enough to refer to me.

With regard to what is known, for convenience, as a Bill of Rights, there is a slight complication and danger of confusion, because there is a dichotomy. The phrase is used in two contexts. It is used in the context of the short Bill in the House of Lords to deal with the European Convention on Human Rights being made applicable to courts in this country. In the wider sense it is convenient shorthand for entrenched provisions as to rights.

On the first of those matters, I think that it would be fairly easy for the Government to legislate along the lines of the Bill that has already—twice, I think—passed through the other place. On the second, wider matter, I was pleased to hear what my hon. Friend said about further studies. It was in that context that I suggested a Royal Commission, which could have the advantage of membership of eminent jurists and others.

Mr. Raison

The House will understand the two points made by my right hon. and learned Friend. I should, in passing, say that it was owing to a switch in my plans, as it were, that he was not present when I started my speech. Therefore, he is in no sense to blame.

My right hon. and learned Friend raised two important points. I cannot comment on them. He will know that it is for the Prime Minister and not Ministers of State to announce appointments to Royal Commissions.

Another important matter—the police—was raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Halesowen and Stourbridge and for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy). My hon. Friends are right to recognise the general support and trust that the police command from the public at large. Without the Queen's peace and those who unsparingly uphold it, a civilised society would be impossible. I do not deny that there are shock occasions when malpractices are uncovered, but they form a minute proportion of the activities in which the police are engaged.

Policing in this country has always been based on the tradition that ultimately the community polices itself and that the rule of law is upheld with the consent of the community. Our system of policing is not primarily the product of legislation. Rather, legislation is the expression of the historical development of the relationship between the police and the public. In this way we have a constitutionally sound basis for policing.

The Police Act 1964, which gave effect to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the police 1960–62, recognises the three elements that need to combine to provide effective policing arrangements: professional expertise, the interest of the local community and the national interest. Those are reflected in the responsibilities and powers given by the Act to a chief constable, the police authority and the Secretary of State.

As the House knows, chief constables need to be operationally independent. Neither my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary not the police authority may instruct them to institute proceedings in a particular case or direct them in the deployment of their forces. This is a key element in our policing arrangements and it stems from the principle that the police must act with the support of the community as a whole.

If the police are to enforce the law by consent and not by coercion they must never be regarded as the representatives of any particular section of the community. There is no room for political interference from either the Government or local authorities if public confidence in the police as the representatives of the whole community is to be maintained.

In some quarters it has been suggested that because a chief constable is not directly answerable for all his actions to the police authority, and because the authority cannot give him directions, the police are unaccountable for their actions. We do not share that view. A chief constable's operational independence does not mean that he cannot be held responsible for his actions. First and foremost, he is accountable to the law and is answerable in the courts. He is also responsibe to his police authority for the general efficiency of his force and has to submit an annual report to it on the policing of his area.

There is a further element to be considered. The police are accountable in the context of the arrangements for dealing with complaints. In 1976 Parliament authorised the establishment of the Police Complaints Board. While the great majority of complaints turn out to be unsubstantiated there are some—inevitably, although regretfully—that are justified. It is essential that our system for dealing with complaints carries public confidence. The first triennial review report of the Police Complaints Board suggested some improvements in the arrangements, and the report of a working party set up by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary under the chairmanship of Lord Plowden has just been published. The report is receiving my right hon. Friend's careful consideration.

It might be helpful if I make a few observations about the links between the police and the local community and the role of the police authority in that respect. My right hon. Friend believes that it is increasingly desirable that police authorities should see themselves not just as providers of resources but as a means whereby the chief constable can give an account of his policing authority to the democratically elected representatives of the community and they can express to him the views of the community on those policies. Many police authorities are already developing this role with some success. The Government wholeheartedly commend the co-operative spirit in which the authorities are working with their chief constables to ensure that the voice of the community is heard in such a way as to ensure that the police can meet its needs. In the Government's view public confidence in the police service may best be sustained by the continuing development of that dialogue.

Perhaps I may conclude my comments on the police by reaffirming our belief that policing arrangements within the framework of the Police Act 1964 provide an appropriate constitutional balance of responsibilities. No one would wish to claim that the arrangements work perfectly everywhere and all the time. Nevertheless, within the basic structure provided by the Act, the role of the three elements that compose it—professional expertise, the interests of the local community and the nation, and the relationship between them, can develop in a constructive way that reflects the changes in our society.

Mr. George Cunningham

The Minister has made an important statement on the role of police authorities—perhaps more important than any other statement on the subject for a few years. If the Home Office is proposing that the role of police authorities should be more active than it has been, in practice, for many years, has the hon. Gentleman anything to say about the equivalent of that in London?

Mr. Raison

I am not in a position to go beyond what I have said about the Metropolitan Police, but the principle is important. It is important that there should be a chance for a general dialogue and discussion about how policing is carried out. The point is that the police authority in London, as is implicit in what the hon. Gentleman said, is the Home Secretary. Parliament has had many opportunities to conduct that kind of dialogue with my right hon. Friend. The creation of the new and perhaps more powerful Select Committees will, in their way, add another dimension to the way in which that kind of dialogue can be executed.

Mr. Cunningham

Those methods, of which I approve, do not give the local borough council representatives or the GLC the opportunity to have that kind of dialogue. Some of us in our own areas—certainly in my area—have taken the initiative in setting up informal meetings between leading borough councillors and the police commander, but apparently there is a Metropolitan Police orthodoxy that normally the commander of a district does not attend such meetings. I overcame that in my constituency, but it is normal practice that he does not. If the Home Office is taking the line that the Minister has expressed, that is the sort of thing that he will have to consider further, to ensure that there is an equivalent procedure in London.

Mr. Raison

Experience shows that there are, perhaps increasingly, informal ways in which the sort of dialogue that I have been talking about can be carried on, but I am not in a position to go further today.

The debate has been characterised by the fact that, with the exception of the occasional brief diversion, it has not been conducted in party terms. There has been a little badinage, but generally it has been fairly non-partisan.

However, I must say that we are faced with the emergence, in some sections of the Labour Party, of a frame of mind that indicates a switch from parliamentary democracy as we have known it to a party-based pseudo-democracy. I do not want to exaggerate, but there is no doubt that the present rumpus in the Labour Party has much to do with fundamental constitutional issues. It concerns whether, ultimately, Parliament and the electors should decide how the country is governed, or whether, increasingly, we are to see government at the behest of a party apparatus. If that is carried to an extreme we shall end up with the sort of non-democracy that exists in Eastern Europe.

I am happy to accept that over the years the Labour Party has shown itself to be a constitutional party. One can always point to exceptions, but it has shown itself willing to work through the formal apparatus of parliamentary democracy, and usually within the spirit of that democracy. But one is bound to be concerned about what is happening at present. The most vivid expression of current events was the decision of the Wembley conference on changing the procedure for choosing the leader of the Labour Party. The direction of the movement epitomised by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), skilled parliamentarian though he is, seems to many to be away from the traditions of parliamentary democracy.

Mr. Ogden

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is nothing wrong in a party that has been established for 60 or 80 years deciding what sort of party it should be for the next 60 or 80 years? Those who agree with me are in enough trouble in our party without others being able to claim that my point of view is supported by the Minister and his colleagues. There is no problem about the hon. Gentleman expressing concern and keeping a watching brief, but if it is said at my reselection conference on 6 June that everything that I stand for is supported by the hon. Gentleman it will be the kiss of death for me.

Mr. Raison

That is a new form of gag. Even Ministers should be allowed a modicum of freedom of speech.

I am making a serious point and I know that some Labour Members are concerned about it. We are seeing a break-up of the Labour Party. Hon. Members have left the Labour Party—one left the Conservative Party, but that is not on quite the same scale—for fundamentally constitutional reasons. I do not want to labour the point, because it is understood throughout the country, but when we talk about our constitutional institutions and the nature of our constitution we have to be concerned that one of the great parties that constitute our parliamentary democracy is going through this travail.

If those who are seeking to change the nature and tradition of the Labour Party in this way are successful it will be a sad day for the country, although it may well presage the break-up of the Labour Party, which perhaps in my more partisan spirit I might welcome.

I think that something important is to happen, and this is a time when we should stand up for our great tradition of parliamentary democracy. I go even further than Winston Churchill, who was always quoted as saying that the only merit of our system was that all the other systems were worse. I think that it is not just that; I think that it is a great and positive system, a marvellous system.

I again express our thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge for enabling us to have this debate, in which we have seen a deep devotion to parliamentary democracy but a willingness on the part of some of us to say that not all is perfect. There is nothing more important than that we should stick up for the system that we have inherited down the ages and that still has so much to offer all the people.

1.52 pm
Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

Hon. Members will have noted the second motion on the Order Paper, concerning the elderly, in my name. Unfortunately, we shall not now reach it. The last time that I tried to move a similar motion I also came second in the ballot, and the subject of the debate that "talked me out" then was the problems of small business men. I was nevertheless able to make exactly the same speech, because I talked about elderly small business men and the problems of small business men in retirement. It is more difficult to link the two subjects on today's Order Paper, and it is therefore not possible for me to make exactly the same speech as I would have made, although on occasions the House of Lords has been described as the best old persons' day centre in the country. That certainly seems to be one of its functions.

However, there is a link between the two motions. It has been said that a measure of the civilisation of any country, and of any constitution, is how it treats its old people. By that measure, over the past two years we have not had all that much claim to be civilised.

The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) would probably confirm that our old people more strongly support our present constitution than does anyone else in our society. Therefore, we have a reciprocal responsibility to support them—the large number of them; more than 7 million. If they all voted in the same way at a general election it would change the balance of power. It is very unlikely to happen, but it is a latent power that old people have. I hope that on some occasion it will be used.

Old people rightly ask whether we are being true to the constitution when those who contributed during their working lives, who fought in one war, or perhaps two wars, are hammered in retirement, and when the basic pension on which they depend is eroded. First, the link with earnings was abandoned. Then there was a scurrilous delay in payment of the amount due to them. Now there is a 1 per cent. clawback of what was paid to them last year, on the ground that the old people are over-provided for. Does anyone here know an old person on the basic pension who is over-provided for?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be careful to stick to the motion.

Mr. Foulkes

I am treading warily, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Is it increasing confidence in our democratic process when we promise one thing at an election and do another in power? I well recall the posters so cleverly presented by Saatchi and Saatchi which said that Britain was not working under Labour. That statement clearly implied that under the Conservatives all those shown queueing up for work would be working. In fact, the opposite is the case. In addition, there was a clear pledge in the Conservative manifesto—one of the few unequivocal pledges in it—that the earnings rule would be abolished. Nothing has been done about it.

I now refer rather more directly to what the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge said. He showed regrettably little knowledge of the position in Scotland. On this issue I agree, for once, with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). Many Members show a surprising lack of knowledge of our constitution, and even less knowledge of others.

What the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge and many other hon. Members seem to fail to realise is that there is already a great deal of devolution of power to Scotland. There is administrative devolution to the Scottish Office, which was described in graphic and almost frightening detail by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker). A whole range of administration is under the control of one Secretary of State.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Secretary of State is a Scot, from a Scottish constituency?

Mr. Foulkes

Yes. I live in his constituency and I know him well. However, I suggest that he does not command the support of the majority of the electorate in Scotland, because his party holds only 22 out of the 71 seats there, and my party was successful in gaining 44 Scottish seats at the last general election. Thereby hangs the difficulty.

We have a separate education system in Scotland, with a totally different tradition,. It is very interesting to note that, regrettably, our examination system has moved towards the English system during the last few years, with the introduction of O-levels and increased specialisation. The Chairman of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts tells me that those responsible for the English system are looking at a broader-based leaving certificate, which will return us to almost what we started with in Scotland. One of the unfortunate effects is that because England is so dominant, even though our system is clearly better, there is tremendous pressure, with the influence of the House of Commons and the centralising influence of the media and other centralising influences, to try to move towards what is the habit and system of the majority of people, which is not necessarily always the best system.

We have a separate Health Service structure and a separate local government system. We have a separate Church. I have heard incessant talk about the Church of England, but it is often forgotten that that is not the Established Church north of the border. That is an important difference. Above all, we have a separate and unique legal system. We have a separate judiciary, High Court, and Court of Session. The crucial missing element is that we have no separate legislature to look at changes desirable in the legal system or to provide democratic control over the substantial amount of administrative devolution.

Mr. Martin Stevens (Fulham)

In his intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) pointed to the obvious weakness in the hon. Gentleman's line of argument, which is that if he is to demand successfully that key policy decisions in Scotland are to be taken by a devolved Scottish Parliament he must agree that Scottish Members do not intervene on similar issues in the Parliament at Westminster. I should like the hon. Gentleman's guidance on that point, because it does not seem that he can have one without the other.

Mr. Foulkes

The hon. Gentleman has raised a relevant point. It was best brought out by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) in the debates on devolution, and it became known as the West Lothian question. I shall return to that matter shortly.

As we have a separate legal system in Scotland. and our own law on a wide variety of matters but no separate legislature dealing with Scottish legislation, all Scottish legislation is dealt with here. It is dealt with usually in one of three ways. The first way is as a sort of codicil to English or United Kingdom Bills. The second way is as a sort of pale and rather late imitation of an English Bill, such as the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act, following the Housing Act in this Parliament.

The third way is as a totally separate Bill on issues that are unique to Scotland. This often leads to legislation that can be inappropriate to Scottish circumstances and Scots law, because it arises from something that was designed for English circumstances and English law. It can mean ill-considered legislation through a lack of time in the House for Scottish Bills to be considered. It can mean long days and nights of debate. For example, we recently debated the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, when we witnessed many irritated and annoyed English Members going through the Lobbies wondering what they were voting for on Scottish local government. They were fed up with staying out of their beds until 2 or 3 am. I guarantee that if a snap vote had been taken about an Assembly on that occasion there would have been a substantial majority in favour.

Mr. Bill Walker

The hon. Gentleman skated over one fundamental and important aspect. Much of the Scottish legislation enacted here contains items that are unique to Scotland. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to suggest that we have only law that is added to the English law.

Mr. Foulkes

I did not say that we had only law that was added on. I said that that happened in some cases. For instance, the Education (Scotland) (No. 2) Bill, dealing with school transport, school milk and school meals, is but a codicil added on to a United Kingdom Bill. It enacts legislation that is totally inappropriate for Scotland, was never voted on in Scotland, and was introduced by a Government who have no mandate in Scotland.

manHowever, the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Scotland Bill is unique to Scotland. It has at present no English parallel. This answers the question put by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens). There certainly would have been an anomaly with a Scottish Assembly in which Scottish Members would have been voting on domestic legislation that affected only England and Wales. The same state of affairs existed with Stormont, in Northern Ireland. Northern Irish Members came here—Unionists, almost to a man—and voted on legislation affecting only England or Scotland.

The opposite position applies to legislation which is uniquely Scottish. The hon. Member for Fulham and his hon. Friends, redoubtable men as they are, represent English constituencies and have no interest in Scottish local government, but they provide the English Tory majority that votes through Scottish legislation that has no mandate in Scotland. There are therefore anomalies both ways, and it depends which one finds the more offensive. I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will know which I find the more offensive.

I contend, as do my colleagues and an increasing number of people in Scotland, that our domestic Scottish matters would have been best dealt with by an Assembly. Scrutiny of the Executive in Scotland would have been much more effective if we had had one.

Mr. Stevens

The hon. Gentleman has by implication accepted my point, but will he make the further affirmation that he would accept, as part of a deal that would give him the Assembly he desires, the fact that never again would there be a Labour majority affecting the present and future of the citizens of England?

Mr. Foulkes

I would not accept, although some of my fainthearted English colleagues do, that the Labour Party could not obtain a majority in England. If we accepted that we might as well give up the whole business of trying to control the country. If the English Socialists always rely on us in Scotland and Wales, we need to look at some of the ways in which we are putting across our policies in England.

Mr. George Cunningham

In case that notion should become current, is my hon. Friend aware that in general elections since the war, in roughly one out of three cases the reversal of British political predominance has taken place as a result of Scotland and Wales?

Mr. Foulkes

I accept my hon. Friend's amplification of the point.

I remind some of the hon. Members who spoke earlier that a scheme of devolution was enacted by the House and was voted for by the people of Scotland, although not by the necessary 40 per cent. of the total electorate. However, if we are talking about democracy and the excellence of the British Constitution, in that respect the Conservative Party also failed in the United Kingdom at the last general election. That is rather more important than the referendum in Scotland in terms of democratic legitimacy.

Our unitary State is not nearly so excellent as has been made out by the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge and others. It is often a recipe for stagnation, or worse. It could be a recipe for a further rupture of the Union, as we saw in Ireland. If the genuine, strong and legitimate feelings of the people are not taken into account, and if the nationalists were to gain a majority—which is not impossible—the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge would find that the United Kingdom State of 3¼ nations, which he often wrongly refers to as England would be ruptured. He would then be able to call England "England" and be right about it. Perhaps he would be happier, because he seems to be an English nationalist and unaware of and unconcerned about the needs, desires, interests and differences of the people of Scotland.

I would not be so happy with such a rupture. I want the United Kingdom to remain united, with powers devolved as much as is possible and practicable within the Union. That would ultimately strengthen rather than weaken the Union.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge on giving me the opportunity to talk about devolution, even if it denied me the opportunity of talking at length about the elderly. I am grateful for the fact that in my remarks I have been allowed to mention the elderly in passing.

2.7 pm

Mr. Gary Waller (Brighouse and Spenborough)

In tabling the motion today my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) has generated an extremely interesting debate of high quality, particularly in the contributions from both Front Benches. There have been many eloquent contributions during the debate, among them the last one, during which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes), with ingenuity, managed to make part of the speech which he would have made on his motion.

One of the jobs which I enjoy most in the House is showing people round during the week, when they come from my constituency to visit me. I always tell them that one of the strengths of the House which I have learnt in the relatively short time that I have been here is that it does not hang on to traditions, come what may. Even in the two years that I have been here there have been a number of changes in our procedure. Most hon. Members believe that they have been improvements. However, unless there are good reasons—almost overwhelming reasons—to change our traditions and procedures we hold on to them. That principle should be extended and is extended to the British Constitution.

When Bagehot wrote in the last century about the system of delicate checks and balances, although at that time the system was rather different from our present one, he acknowledged that if one changed part of the structure one often affected the whole of it. We should recognise that. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge recognised that in proposing the motion.

There has been discussion about the way in which the House of Lords should be composed. There are good reasons for changing it. If one were to establish a second Chamber from scratch it is certain that one would not choose a system of heredity and nomination as at present. Nevertheless, changes would undoubtedly affect other parts of the constitution and create considerable tension between the two Houses. Our system of parliamentary democracy would change in many ways.

I have considerable sympathy with the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) about party discipline. I get impatient when the system becomes rigid. I share the feeling that no one party has all the answers, and am delighted that the debate has, for the most part, avoided party arguments. It is a pity that not more hon. Members are present on Fridays. It is often the occasion when the House is at its best. Friday debates are often extremely good.

As I hinted in my intervention in my hon. Friend's speech, if we relaxed party discipline we should generate other pressures on hon. Members. I was in the United States for the last election. A day or two after, I asked a re-elected Congressman for Tennessee how he would vote if his views on an issue of conscience were different from those of his constituents. After some discussion, he acknowledged that he would probably have to go along with the strong pressure groups in his constituency. If he did not they would probably see that he was not re-elected. In this House an hon. Member with strong views is more at liberty to vote according to his conscience. As has been said, at the end of the day the Whips have little power except to withdraw the Whip, which has not been done on the Conservative Benches for a long time. I am delighted to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Thompson) agrees. I shall remind him of it when next he puts a little pressure on me. It is easy to propose changes, but there is merit in the status quo. Unless there is a good reason to change the system, we should stick with it.

I wish to deal mainly with proportional representation and alternative electoral systems, of which we are hearing even more now that the Social Democrats are joining their voices with those of the Liberals, who for some time have advocated PR. Many people, including people in the City and in industry, see it as a panacea for all our problems, but I do not. It is not the system that is at fault. The firstpast-the-post approach has many merits. Unfortunately, the case for PR has been made loudly while the case against has gone by default. We often hear it said that PR is the answer to our industrial problems, so a person who does not know much about PR may be inclined to agree with that when a market researcher asks his views. However, if people considered carefully the merits of our existing electoral system and the alternatives available, I believe that they would agree that we should think hard before changing it.

It is generally recognised that proportional representation would almost certainly mean a proliferation of parties and that we would require a coalition to form a Government. I think that throughout the century no party has had a majority of the votes cast in a general election. The present system ensures that we have a working majority for the Government on most occasions. There is generally a clear result. The Government can run the country and they return to the electorate at the next election with no excuse for having been unable to get their programme through Parliament. A United States President might have to return to the electorate to say "I presented my programme at the last election but Congress would not allow me to implement it."

Coalitions are often weak. They find it difficult to make unpopular decisions. There is a greater likelihood that there will be an unstable Government, especially in a crisis. One does not need to believe that every Government elected by PR would be unstable to think that it is possible that that would be the result. We all know that there are a number of Governments elected by PR which have the failing of instability. Italian Governments are the best-known example.

Coalitions are far more likely to come about after an election as a result of compromises and bargains dictated overwhelmingly by political opportunism. In that sense it is a far less democratic system. At the end of the day the ordinary elector will have no power over the Government which emerges as a result of all the machinations.

As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, the Government may often change according to the whim of small parties. Enormous power is given to smaller parties. They are enabled to change their vote from time to time during the course of a Parliament to shift the course of a coalition and to demand from the larger party, in bringing about a deal, compromises which, very likely, the majority of those who did not vote for that party would find unacceptable. Every system depends on a coalition. We have a coalition in Britain, but it is one within the parties. Compromise can best be achieved within the parties even though some of my hon. Friends, for example, have more in common with some Labour Members than with other of their hon. Friends in their own party. Centre parties introduce a fundamentally unstable element into the system, which is currently not present.

Another important benefit of the present system is that electors have a clear choice between alternative party programmes. The two-party system that has been produced by the first-past-the-post system enables the electorate to express dissatisfaction with the Government. The issues are not fudged. The voter who finds himself in a majority gets the policies for which he voted. However he voted, he probably gets the policies for which he voted to a larger extent than in a multi-party system where coalitions form and bargaining takes place between the parties.

In our system the elected individual party Member concentrates on what unites him with other members within his party rather more than on what divides him. In a system which is based on homogeneity rather than division I believe that that is appropriate.

One of the most important reasons why I believe that a change should not be made is the relationship between a Member and his constituents. It has been suggested that with a certain amount of ingenuity it might be possible to devise a system of proportional representation that met all the existing criteria for that relationship and allowed the continuation of single-Member constituencies. But when Lord Blake looked at the matter—he and his team were committed to proportional representation—he concluded that the only way to bring about an effective system of proportional representation would be to have the list or additional member system. I oppose that extremely strongly, because it would put far more power and patronage into the hands of the party bosses than there is today.

In the local government system we see what happens with multiple Member wards. In many cases, only one of, say, three Members is effective: he gets all the cases and the others get none. Often, people do not know who is their representative, or whom to go to.

I find it surprising that the Liberals should be in favour of a system of election which, in order to implement it, would probably require a multi-Member constituency, and which would break the very strong relationship that exists between a Member of Parliament and his constituency.

The existing system is straightforward and easy to understand. The concept of a second preference that the elector would be required to make is nonsense. It would probably be a matter of the luck of the draw as to the order in which the names appeared on the ballot paper. This is already a fault of the existing system of election to local government. Very likely we would end up with more abstentions than we have today, because people would find the system of election unacceptable.

My hon. friend the Member for Grantham said that he did not believe that the mandate system had great validity. I tend to disagree with him. It is of great benefit that a party can go to the country with a programme, implement it, and then go back at the next election and say "We have implemented the programme". If there were to be coalitions, as has been proposed—I think that we all agree that it would be inevitable as a result of the proportional representation system—the whole system of mandate would be killed. People would vote for the same party with different coalitions in mind, and they would have little control over the party which emerged.

I fundamentally believe that the proportional representation system is less democratic. It is high time that the case for the existing system was put more strongly. A change would make minority rule more likely, and the enemies of the constitution and the enemies of democracy might very well be in a stronger position than they are today.

I therefore believe that it is high time that my hon. Friends and those Opposition Members who believe that the existing system has merit should go out into the country and put the case for retaining it.

2.23 pm
Mr. Marcus Fox (Shipley)

I apologise to the House for not being present during this very important debate. I could hardly believe my good fortune when I found that certain hon. Members who were supposed to speak were not present. Realising the opportunity that this presented to me, I hastened to the Chamber to give my support to my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes).

My hon. Friend came into this House at the same time as I did, and he has never wavered in his belief that his major duty here was to seek to preserve the institutions to which he has drawn attention in the motion.

I am delighted, as a Yorkshireman as well as a Member of Parliament representing a Yorkshire constituency, to conclude the debate—unless, Mr. Speaker, other people have other ideas.

I was born in Yorkshire, and all the signs are that I shall die there. I represent a constituency in the heart of the old industrial part of that county. It is surprising that Britain's strength often comes from that type of area. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) also spoke to that effect.

One part of Yorkshire causes me concern, although the rest of the county is in good heart. If one part of the United Kingdom could declare UDI or stand on its own it would be Yorkshire. Nevertheless, I am deeply worried about South Yorkshire. I exonerate the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) from a criticism that I make of one or two of his colleagues. Some of them are proud that South Yorkshire seeks to be known as the "Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire." They are certainly going about things in the right way. Recently I met a resident of that area on the "Any Questions" radio programme. I refer to Arthur Scargill. I shall not go into his background, because he often speaks for himself. One question on the programme referred to the joy of the British people about the forthcoming wedding of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and the celebrations to be held.

Arthur Scargill wanted nothing to do with it. He implied that many in South Yorkshire felt the same way. Indeed, the Labour-dominated council also gives that impression. I understand that plans were afoot not only to refuse to celebrate but to show disapproval of the whole thing. However, I am happy to say that other citizens took certain measures. Some of them paid for a survey to be conducted in Barnsley, of all places. It was a remarkable survey. It asked whether there should be celebrations and a holiday. I think that the second question asked whether schoolchildren should receive the little mementos that many of us received and treasured in our younger days. Over 80 per cent. of the people wanted their town to celebrate the Royal Wedding. That is a classic example of what our institutions mean to us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge has done more than justice to his motion. However, I understand that one institution has not yet been mentioned. As someone who recently served as a Minister. I am entitled to speak on the Civil Service. It is one of our institutions. Indeed, it is right to pay tribute to that institution. I am sure that I speak for all those who are or have been Ministers when I say that the dedication of civil servants is beyond dispute. Therefore, it grieves me to find that we are opposed to the Civil Service.

This morning I listened to the radio and heard a spokesman for one of the unions describe what his union was prepared to do. He suggested that it was in order for union members to withdraw their labour from our defence establishments. If that is the way that the Civil Service is going, it will not remain one of our treasured institutions for long. That spokesman should think again. I have always held strong views about the defence of the realm. The Government will not falter in ensuring that no industrial dispute allows our defences to fall into disarray. I am sure that the Prime Minister knows that she has our support.

I turn to my constituency and to the Shipley computer centre. For several weeks many of my constituents have been on strike. Some of them volunteered to go on strike, but many have been coerced. They are denying the Government the revenue that they are entitled to. About 50 people are still working at the computer centre, but they are being subjected to the type of intimidation that makes me despair. I never expected to see civil servants on the picket line using the tactics that they are using. I refer to We have come to expect that type of language over years. However, the British people do not care much for such talk. They never expected it from one of our major institutions——

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

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