§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Lord Alderdice
My Lords, I should like, first, to applaud the initiative of my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead and to thank him for having given us the opportunity to review the matter. As he said, the Motion has provoked sufficient interest to attract a significant number of maiden speakers. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing those maiden speeches.
597 However, my noble friend's own speech was significant and worth remarking upon. He is a more than noted chronicler of the achievements of progressive politicians of a previous time. In himself, my noble friend is a towering figure in the politics of his own generation and time. As a somewhat younger man, despite the increasing number of grey hairs in my beard, I and many of my generation find the vision that was expressed in the analysis in his speech today an inspiration as we continue to build our politics, our future and our relationships not only within domestic politics but also further afield.
However, this Chamber is no stranger to great speeches; indeed, not even to those that we have already heard today. As noble Lords will know much better than I do, if one makes one's way down from the Prince's Chamber towards the Library, one sees two major works of art, one on either side of the corridor, commemorating a great historic and political occasion in this House and a period of debate redolent of the great speech.
I was reminded of this when I heard the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, speak. On one side of the corridor there is a picture of the Lord Chancellor about to put the Question in the debate on home rule and on the other side there is a picture of the Marquess of Salisbury clearly objecting to the matter in hand. I found myself reflecting on that as I listened to what the noble Viscount had to say, because my part of the world, Northern Ireland, and indeed Ireland as a whole, has continued to suffer from the results of that debate and its outcome, and not least from the stance that was taken by the great-great-grandfather of the present Viscount; for it was his view at the time that, rather than there being co-operation in addressing the problems of Ireland, it would become a matter of enormous debate, division and disagreement.
As your Lordships well know, home rule was defeated on that occasion. Despite being brought back on a number of occasions, it did not finally achieve anything other than a partial completion in the early part of this century. I remind your Lordships that one of the costs was not only the reality for people like me many generations later but also what happened to your Lordships' House. I had cause to reflect upon this because I and my colleagues have been struggling to deal with some of the damage that I believe was wrought at that time; for I am firmly of the conviction—although it is not a particularly well educated one—that, had it been possible for the people of Ireland to have more responsibility and control of their own affairs at that time, the pressure cooker of militant republicanism and nationalism may never have reached the strength that it did and the people of Ireland would have been content to remain with the rest of the people of these islands, and we would all have had a much more fruitful and positive relationship with the rest of our common European home area.
I have been fascinated as I have observed how the party that the noble Viscount represents changed its attitude when it was in power and had responsibility for dealing with all the difficulties that had been created 598 over so many years. A century ago the party led by Lord Salisbury was insisting on no devolution—home rule was the name given to it in those days. The party insisted that it was a matter of sovereignty, that there could be no movement upon it and that electoral systems and governmental arrangements should change absolutely as little as possible. A little later it became apparent that this was not merely a question of a fundamental conviction in debate but was, in the words of another Tory, an orange card that could be played to advantage. But when many years later a Tory government became responsible for dealing with the difficulties of Northern Ireland, what did we find? On electoral systems they decided it was crucial to ensure that there was proportional representation in Northern Ireland at local government level and in any assembly. Why was that? It was considered crucial to ensure that the community was not split, divided and fighting among itself.
As regards the European election, the previous government were quite prepared to accept that proportional representation might be appropriate for Northern Ireland even though the rest of the United Kingdom would be blighted with another system. They said that should be the case because a consensual system was so important in a divided community. I found it extraordinary to listen to the Secretary of State in the previous government and his colleagues argue with energy and emotional conviction that home rule or devolution was critical to the health of Northern Ireland and to its welfare but anathema for the rest of the United Kingdom. They argued that it was the way of ensuring that Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom but the recipe for fracturing the whole kingdom if it were applied to the people of Scotland or the people of Wales.
As regards human rights, after considerable debate and after the discussions of 1991 and 1992 the Secretary of State began to make it clear that a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland would be important and appropriate while at the same time the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights for the rest of the people of the United Kingdom would be an aberration and an appalling business altogether, likely to wreak havoc with our administration of justice.
It seems to me that when one has responsibility for dealing with big questions or divisive questions, somehow or other there is an appreciation that we must work together in the face of these difficulties because they are so strong and because they are so critical. In that regard the Conservative Government realised the importance of Europe and of working together with our closest European neighbour, the only one with whom we have a land frontier, Ireland. We joined the European Community on the same day in 1973. We must work together with them in a special Anglo-Irish Agreement, establishing intergovernmental arrangements and making sure that Ministers are meeting together. Why is this done? Is it done in order to sell ourselves out to people who had rebelled and left, and in order to dilute national sovereignty and to tear our United Kingdom apart? Not at all. It is done in order to build peace and prosperity with our closest European neighbour.
599 Yet, somehow, it appears that to work in the same fashion with the rest of our European neighbours is a profound threat to all that we hold good. I find that an extraordinary proposition.
Perhaps I might be permitted a wry comment. When we look at the difficulties in Northern Ireland and those battles which are celebrated every summer, we find that it is not an Irish prince, nor even an English prince, who seems to be at the bottom of it, but a Dutch prince who was persuaded to take upon himself the throne of England in order to struggle against some of his European enemies at the time. The truth is that on these big issues that involve our history and our future, our peace and our prosperity, there is something bigger than party advantage. In Northern Ireland we have tried to work at this. We have made it clear that difference should not be pushed to division; that power sharing does not mean giving up one's party, its commitments and its principles: but rather finding ways of working together with those with whom one differs for the greater good of all and the achievement of what is best in the community.
I know that your Lordships may well find that I come back again and again to the difficulties of Northern Ireland and to its history. I trust that it will not be a plague on your Lordships' House. In times past others kept coming back to this matter to disrupt the affairs of this House. I trust your Lordships will understand that I return to this matter because I believe that sometimes as regards our most difficult problems we can see most clearly the way not only of resolving them but also some of the problems that have caused less dismay. In that context I am not only persuaded of the critical importance of power sharing in Northern Ireland but also of sharing power in the whole of our United Kingdom and in our increasingly united European home.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity of participating in a debate in your Lordships' House. I hope that some day I shall be able to match the fine oratory of my noble friend Lord Alderdice. I was advised, as I suppose have been many other noble Lords, that a maiden speech should be short and uncontroversial. As an advocate at the Criminal Bar I have always understood the effectiveness of brevity. However, I had more trouble with the ordinance about controversy. My granny used to say that a kiss from a man without a moustache was like meat without salt. I have to say that I feel much the same way about a speech without just a frisson of provocation. However, I shall do my utmost to keep to the injunction.
On the topic of kisses, I was introduced into this House a fortnight ago and have been met with kindness itself. I think it started well with a misunderstanding on my part of the initiation rite. After the elaborate doffing, the oathtaking and much bowing, I followed the procession out of the Chamber, where I was met by the noble Lords, Lord Hollick and Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, who kissed me warmly. There was a queue of noble Lords waiting to enter the House and I enthusiastically kissed each of them in turn, thinking this was part of the ritual. It has made me very popular 600 with noble Lords on all sides of the House and I look forward to building on that good will. Indeed, perhaps your Lordships have been too inhibited in the past and this could be the way to greater cross-party co-operation on many issues.
I chose to launch my participation in this House in this debate because the idea of cross-party co-operation on major national issues seems so incontrovertible. Having chaired for four years—between the last two elections—the constitutional reform organisation, Charter 88, I am only too aware that support for change crosses party loyalties. On many issues people do not divide along the old political fault lines and the public would welcome greater honesty and openness where agreement exists in particular on areas of policy which will have such a profound impact upon our institutions and our lives. I also believe that many other areas of policy could benefit from a consensual approach. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, spoke about Northern Ireland. Both as regards Northern Ireland and many other issues such as drugs, the environment and crime, about which I know rather a lot, it is clear that we need not have a particular party angle in seeking a proper and helpful debate.
A worrying feature of modern democracy has been the increasing cynicism among the public about governments and politicians. The issue of trust was very much at the heart of the last election. Clearly many factors contribute to the erosion of public trust. Sometimes it can be the failure of governments to keep promises; it can be the questionable behaviour of Members of Parliament; it can be the inability of politicians to say "We got it wrong"; and it can also be the feeling that perhaps the Government were no longer listening. However, public disenchantment was in no small part due to mindless adversarialism. It was that mindless adversarialism which in many ways blighted fruitful political discourse for many years.
In the politics of the brawl, whatever is said by the other side has to be opposed or ridiculed. The sides square up and are quick to exploit opportunities to embarrass each other. While that may score points in the short term, it does not make for thoughtful or reflective debate and I am sure it reduces public confidence in politicians. Happily, such posturing has never been characteristic of this House.
However, lack of trust and public cynicism have already taken their toll upon policy choices. For example, opinion polls show that people are privately willing to pay more taxes but in the ballot box do not vote for tax raising parties. The reason is that they are not confident that the increase will find its way effectively into health or education and they are not confident that the tax raising will stop where it was promised. Lack of trust limits policy choices, as parties who wish to govern have to tie themselves into a straitjacket.
This Government's programme of constitutional change is not about change for change's sake. It is precisely about rebuilding trust, reconnecting people and institutions and renewing our democracy. I recently led a commission which looked at ways of drawing more
601 people into further education. In the course of gathering evidence I visited some of our most deprived and despairing communities. When you do that, you see just how little our formal democracy can mean to people in some parts of the country.
What has become clear to so many is that we must decentralise power and bring decision-making closer to the people affected by those decisions. We have to give rights to our citizens, look again at our voting system and find ways of making it reflect the way people actually vote. These changes will remove the "Winner takes all" mentality from our political culture. Westminster will have to learn to share power with Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. Laws will have to be framed and interpreted to be consistent with fundamental human rights values. Members of that other place will no longer just be voting fodder but partners in framing legislation. These changes will not be additional frills but pre-conditions of a wider social renewal.
Rebuilding trust is never easy, but more consensual policy-making could undoubtedly contribute to that end. And cross-party collaboration or co-operation on matters which go to the very underpinnings of our democracy must be not just welcome but essential.
It may seem strange that someone who has spent the whole of her professional life in the English legal system should seek an amelioration of the adversarial mode of debate. All my colleagues at the Bar—a number of them are here today—will confirm that I do not shrink from the fray. Indeed, I chose to practise in the most adversarial part of the system as a jury trial lawyer, and I like the battle. I like the taste of blood. I believe strongly that our adversarial process is the most effective way of trying criminal issues. However, the legal system has begun to recognise that pure adversarialism does not always produce justice, and more effort is now going into establishing areas of consensus between prosecution and defence. For example, judges are reining in needless, destructive cross-examination which puts people such as rape victims on trial, and procedures are being invented to prevent ambush tactics which involve one side taking the other completely by surprise.
What we are seeing both in law and in politics are significant incremental shifts which are making our systems more appropriate to the modern world. Unmitigated adversarialism has had its day. As a woman, I see it as the bringing of some of the strategies of the domestic or private sphere into the public domain. It is a modern way of managing conflict. It is the future, and it works.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, I value cross-party co-operation. But may I respectfully offer some words of warning about consensus politics? Consensus can mask difference. It can offer the pretence that no real differences exist when there are some very real differences in our society. While there are people who gain from policy, there will often be those who lose. Let us not pretend that there are not honest disagreements. Even nuances of difference should be given expression. I am sure we all believe in the power of creative argument as the lubricant of democracy.
602 We should also recognise that consensus can favour the powerful. Consensus can often most easily be reached around the interests of the most influential groups in our society. It is they who decide what is the "sensible" course on which we can all agree. When that happens the interests of the more marginal groups in our country—the poor, the dispossessed and minorities of various kinds—can easily be neglected or ignored. That is not healthy politics; and it is not a form of politics which interests me.
What is essential to consensus is a culture of openness, access and dialogue. When the grandees of the political parties agree behind the scenes, people feel excluded rather than included. They can easily feel that a political elite is making the decisions. What I urge upon noble Lords is that where there is an effort to seek honest agreement between the parties, it must be conducted, not sub rosa between men in grey suits, but openly and with public involvement.
We must all be mindful that if the public are not properly informed and really engaged in this dialogue about constitutional change and our involvement in Europe, the consequences could be very serious indeed. We could hand democracy to chauvinism. So what one needs is an agreed set of rules for this new politics of consensus.
I thank noble Lords for their indulgence. I greatly look forward to participating in the work of this House. Your Lordships can expect me to be both co-operative and controversial.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Lord Alexander of Weedon
My Lords, there will be a total cross-party consensus in the House that that was a splendid maiden speech. It is a great joy for me to have the opportunity of congratulating the noble Baroness on her speech. She is a fellow barrister; she is a star of our profession; and she has, as we all see, great wit—indeed, the proposal she made for the change to the Introduction ceremony to this House might add to its time, but in her case would win total support. She has long supported causes which were sometimes minority causes. She has always been brave, always a batailleur. Of her it can truly be said, as Judge Tapping-Reeve, who founded the first law school in the United States, at Litchfield, Connecticut, said was his ambition for his students—that they would go out as advocates, burning to uphold the right and avenge the wrong. That is true of the noble Baroness. We very much look forward to her taking part in the work of this House.
Co-operation in many spheres of life is admirable. However, it is not a panacea. The career of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, is an illustration of a career that gained its strengths from battles fought, from ideas courageously developed and from ideas that were often ahead of their time.
There is one striking illustration in the life of our country today. Looking back over the past 20 years—and it is an often under-appreciated part of the record of the Government led by Mrs. Thatcher and her successor—the framework for the economic success of this country was hammered out on the anvil of strife.
603 It was reluctantly accepted by some other parties. This country would not have the opportunity for economic progress that it has today had that battle not been won. It is encouraging that there is now a consensus that we need a sound economy and low inflation; that there is no trade-off between high inflation and unemployment; and that we need to curtail public spending and reform the welfare and social security system. That is a very encouraging consensus. But it would not have been won simply by an attempt at cross-party co-operation. A striking example of the growth and development that can take place across parties in terms of controversial ideas is the building on what was done by the previous government through the present Government very wisely deciding that the Bank of England should have operational independence. In a curious way, I should not expect to find total consensus for that on the Benches on which I sit. However, I believe it was a right decision.
It would be highly desirable if we could secure the maximum consensus on constitutional change. There has been precious little constitutional change in this country since 1928, when the universal franchise was complete. That was a time when, as A. J. P. Taylor said, "government was little intrusive". He said that you could walk the length and breadth of England and, if you did not commit a crime, the only representative of government you might meet would be the postman. If we add to that the fact that over that period our people have developed educational skills, more leisure and more opportunities for information, it is high time that they were offered a greater part in government.
The previous government rightly stressed subsidiarity in Europe. Subsidiarity (which is curious "Euro-jargon") is actually a matter of common sense. It means that decisions should be taken as close to the people as possible. In terms of the strengthening of local government, in terms of devolution and the judicious use of referendums, that is a guiding principle which I hope will be more and more respected on a cross-party basis. It was the present Leader of the Conservative Party who, when Secretary of State for Wales, said:People everywhere want more say in decisions which affect them".However, it does not follow that, just because one supports the aim of co-operation and consensus, it can necessarily be easily achieved. I listened with interest and encouragement to the speech of the noble Lord the Leader of the House. Successful constitutional reform must start with Parliament. It was, after all, a Conservative, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, who described our government as an elective dictatorship. The fact that three out of the last four elections produced governments of different complexions with a minority of the votes but elected with vast majorities bears that out.
We talk easily of parliamentary sovereignty. What do we mean? We mean that we elect a government every five years and, if they have a decent majority, they can put through what measures they like; and the Back-Benchers, far from fulfilling Burke's splendid tradition, are all too often the tame footsoldiers of democracy.
604 I mention that point because personally I am not against changing the composition of this House. Having had the enormous privilege of being here for some nine years, I have often felt that this House lacked the courage to exercise all its powers. I believe it lacks that courage in part because it feels that it lacks—in the purest sense of the word, I hasten to say—legitimacy. It is reluctant to use the delaying power. It did not even use it in relation to the poll tax, and has very rarely used it. In the previous Parliament, for example, it did not delay the change to the Bill of Rights, passed in a single afternoon in this House, to the potential benefit, as it was then believed, of a Member of the other place. This House needs the opportunity to exercise the powers that it has. That can come about only as the result of some change.
However—here I part company with the noble Lord the Leader of the House—I do not believe that it is as simple as saying: do you support a change in the hereditary principle? Parliament has to be looked at as a whole. I believe that the House of Commons needs proportional representation. The type of proportional representation needs to be considered. But we need to avoid what happened in, I believe, 1918 when there was agreement on the need for proportional representation but no agreement on the method. So in a typically British compromise, we decided to stick to the existing first-past-the-post system for the next 80 years.
Any examination of reform in this House needs to be undertaken together with an examination of reform in the other place. It is not as simple as saying that we should eliminate the right of hereditary Peers to vote. We have to look at the way in which this House should be composed as a whole: what electoral means there should be—perhaps bringing in people from the regions; what percentage should be appointed, if indeed a percentage should be appointed; and how one can avoid the tyranny of the party list. I hope it will be realised that any change on a cross-party, co-operative basis is precious to us all and must be properly thought through. It is not desirable that, every time this House votes against a government proposal, the mantra goes out that the House of Lords is undemocratic, in an apparent attempt to undermine the validity of the decisions taken by this House. So long as the composition remains as it is now, it should be properly respected on all sides.
I wish to address one other issue—that of Europe. It is very important that this country should have what it has lacked for far too long—a policy "for" Europe. All too often we have a policy "on" Europe for domestic consumption. There is a vast difference. The leading Singapore statesman, that formidable but very able man, Lee Kuan Yew, recently said to me that there was only one stance that the United Kingdom should take on Europe, and that was, "In there, pitching".
However, even if we agree that that is right, it does not take all the difficult issues away. I think that European monetary union is one of the great and difficult issues of our time. I respect the sceptics. I do not believe that anyone who read Milton Friedman in The Times this morning, with his powerful argument,
605 could possibly do otherwise. There are risks to monetary union. Business is to a considerable measure unsure about it; the City is still sceptical.
The plain fact remains that 11 of our partners are determined to have a monetary union on 1st January 1999. But if they do it will affect us. I believe that we should preserve our flexibility, and I would be disappointed at any firm decision in any party that we should not contemplate going in for a particular number of years. We should keep the flexibility, in the economic interests of this country, to decide to join if the single currency is successful and if we think that our economy has converged so as to make it possible.
But that said, I recognise that it is one of the most important issues of our generation. A single currency, even if successful, will not be easy. I am convinced that, whenever it comes, the decision can be taken only with the support of all our people. I look forward to a referendum, in which I have the feeling that the people I most admire in each party will, when it comes to the moment, be on the yes side, as they were in that most decisive, interesting and determinative of referendums in 1975.
I have spoken long enough; there are others still to speak. I am encouraged to sit down because I look forward with keen interest to all the other maiden speeches and to the speech of my noble friend Lord Blackwell, who served the previous government with distinction. I am privileged to have him now as a valued and senior colleague at NatWest. I also look forward with great and immediate pleasure to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I know him through the work we do together on Justice, the all-party law reform group. He is our representative on the International Commission of Jurists, and he, like the noble Baroness opposite, is passionate about human rights. How marvellous it is that so many barristers are coming to this House. Perhaps that is the clue to reform. I look forward to the noble Lord's speech.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, I am one of those who became involved in politics initially to a large extent as a result of listening to the magnificent Dimbleby Lecture delivered by my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead in November 1979, 18 years ago. It is therefore a source of great pride to me to be able to make my maiden speech in the last debate which he will be initiating in his capacity as Leader of the Liberal Democrats in your Lordships' House.
I am also pleased, though somewhat overawed, to be speaking immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon. I regret that the traditions of this House do not allow me to describe him as "my noble friend", which he is. He is a profound thinker on constitutional issues and I must say that there is considerable cross-party agreement between the two of us on the subject.
I rise with some trepidation because I have already, in my time as a Member of your Lordships' House, listened to two debates of an alarmingly high standard. 606 The first was on the day of my introduction, a week ago, on the funding of Oxford and Cambridge colleges. The other to which I had been able to listen from the steps of the Throne a few days earlier, was the debate on the Second Reading of the Human Rights Bill. I have had a long commitment to the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into the domestic laws of the United Kingdom. I would have chosen to make my maiden speech in that debate, had I been able to obtain a somewhat higher place in the queue for introductions. I had hoped that that process might have been speeded up by having mass introductions somewhat like the Reverend Mr. Moon's mass weddings. Indeed, I may say that the process of being introduced seemed to me to be rather like a wedding in the sense that one gets dressed up in rather peculiar clothes—I am sure it would be out of order to describe it as "fancy dress"—and one then processes slowly between two groups of people who look at each other with a certain amount of mutual suspicion and hostility. One then signs the register. The critical difference is that on this occasion I had two best men but no bride.
The Human Rights Bill is very relevant, however, to today's debate because it is a Bill of profound constitutional importance. It is perhaps the most important constitutional Bill to have come before your Lordships' House since the European Communities Act 25 years ago. As such, I believe that it requires cross-party support, not all-party support, but the support of more than a single party. It is clearly right that it should have the support not just of a party with a majority, however large, in the other place, but the support of parties that together have been elected by a majority of the voters who have taken part in the last general election. That principle applies not only to the Human Rights Bill, which imposes important curbs on the powers of the Executive, but it also applies to the Scotland Bill which transfers important powers of legislation from Westminster to Edinburgh; and it applies, to a lesser extent, to the Wales Bill. It applies to the Bill to alter the system of voting for members of the European Parliament and it applies to—though I hardly dare mention it in a maiden speech—the proposed Bill for changing the composition of your Lordships' House.
Sometimes, of course, cross-party co-operation is not a matter of co-operation between parties but of co-operation between groups within parties. As my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead pointed out, that was particularly the case in the debates on Europe in 1971 and 1972 and again at the time of the referendum campaign in 1975. Something very similar could happen again, no doubt on the same subject.
However, let me make it clear that cross-party co-operation is not, in my view, the same thing as cross-party consensus. Very few of the major constitutional changes which have occurred in this country have been achieved as a matter of all-party consensus. Perhaps at the end of the day the extension of the vote to women in 1918 and 1928 was an example of that, but only after years when there had been something that was clearly not a consensus at all.
607 So I believe that constitutional changes do not require a consensus but they require clear majority support among the voters—the support of parties backed by a majority of the voters. That is why I warmly welcome the co-operation between Her Majesty's Government and my party, the Liberal Democrats, on the Human Rights Bill and on other proposals for constitutional reform. The programme of constitutional reform now being implemented is the most far-reaching programme of its kind for decades. Most of it, once implemented, will be irreversible. Therefore, it needs legitimacy, and that legitimacy can be obtained only through cross-party co-operation. I thank your Lordships.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Cockfield
My Lords, it is my great pleasure on behalf of the whole House to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, on an interesting and distinguished maiden speech. He is a distinguished lawyer with wide experience and has much to contribute to debates in your Lordships' House. He will greatly strengthen the Benches of the Liberal Democrat Party. We wish him well and look forward to hearing from him again on many an occasion.
When I first read the list of speakers it occurred to me that there must be more in this than the standard Liberal Democrat debate. To find that it was being opened by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, and that the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition were also participating, made me realise, if I may be forgiven such a phrase, that "something must be up". The following day we saw in the press that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, was giving up the leadership of the Liberal Democrat Party and was being succeeded by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. This therefore gives me the opportunity of paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, who has been one of the great statesmen of this part of the present century. He has brought great talent to both Houses of Parliament and also to the European Commission and the European Union. He is one of those people of whom it may truly be said that he has not only ability, but wisdom as well.
I turn briefly to the substance of the debate. There are clearly some issues on which not only cross-party co-operation but also a national consensus is desirable or, indeed, essential. That is obviously true on certain major issues of foreign policy; it is certainly true on issues of war and peace; but it is also true on other issues as well.
There are major issues which divide the parties, and Europe is one. In my view—other people take a different view but I express my view, not theirs—there is a consensus in the country as a whole which crosses party boundaries in favour of close involvement in the European Union and in its future. It may well be that when it comes to a referendum it will have to be fought on cross-party lines.
If one listens carefully at Question Time, one finds great concern in this House about what is regarded as a lack of democracy on the part of other countries. But little is ever said in relation to the lack of democracy in 608 our own country. Over the years, particularly in the past few years, there has been a growing rift between the politicians and the public; between the government and the people. In fact we are a long-suffering people—at least the English are; I doubt whether the Welsh or the Scots are quite as long suffering. But the English are long suffering and put up with bad government for long periods of time. At the end of the day, however, the plebs revolt, as they did in 1979 and as they did again in May of this year. We then find the politicians abasing themselves and saying how much they got it wrong and how right they are to say how much they got it wrong.
However, there is obviously a divide. One of the reasons for it is the tendency, particularly where there is a strong party division, for people to look at the party interest rather than at the overall national interest. It is also the case—one must be careful how one puts this—that from time to time politicians seem to be more interested in their own position as politicians rather than the interests of the public they are supposed to be serving. I shall not go into any great detail now.
I want to make one comment on the speech of the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal. I took great exception to some of the things he said, particularly when he talked about men of "goodwill"—they being the people no doubt who are prepared to co-operate with him on his terms—dismissing the rest of us as being below the salt and barely capable of recognition. Let me make two points, in case there is any misunderstanding on his part or on the part of anybody else, about my own position.
I do not support the hereditary principle either in politics or in business. I firmly believe in what the original drafters of the American constitution said—that it is self-evident that all men are born equal. But at the same time I do not buy a pig in a poke; still less do I buy half a pig in a poke. What the noble Lord the Leader of the House is currently offering the House, having dismissed everybody who disagrees with him as people not of goodwill, is half a pig. And we do not even know what that half a pig looks like. If this matter is pressed to a Division, I shall take great pleasure in voting against the Government's proposal. I do so not on the basis that I support the hereditary principle but because I support good government and because I support knowing what one is setting out to do, however unfashionable those concepts may be in the political world.
I also want to take up the question of proportional representation, with particular reference to what the Government propose doing in the case of the European Parliament. We see politics at its worst in the European Parliament with the decision by the governance of the Labour Party (the party machine) that four of its members—one would otherwise have thought of them as being rather insignificant people—should be put on the rack and cast out because they had the temerity to express some dissent from the party line. I do not know any of those gentlemen; I probably would not support anything that they say. On the other hand, it is an abuse of power to behave in the way that the Government are behaving towards them.
609 Therefore, with that rift between the Government and the people, we must look at the situation also in the light of the way that the party system has developed in recent years; where the machine has become too powerful and is riding roughshod, not only over the public interest, but also over its own people. Why should I object if the Labour Party machine rides roughshod over supporters of the Labour Party? A few less of them might well be in the public interest. Nevertheless, I do not regard that as proper or acceptable behaviour.
The Government are not proposing in the case of the elections to the European Parliament to introduce a proper proportional representation system. I am not saying that I support proportional representation. They are introducing a closed list system which strengthens the party machine at the very time when what we need to do is strengthen the hand of the people—the foot soldiers, the people out on the front fighting the battle, not those in the offices of Whips or in party headquarters. Therefore when, as I may be tempted to do, I vote against the Labour Party proposals on this matter, it does not mean that I do not support some measure of reform in the "first-past-the-post" system.
There is little more that I want to say. This has been a valuable debate. It has brought to the fore a number of important issues which need to be addressed. But I make one final point about your Lordships' House. In many respects it is a more democratic body than the other place. That may be a strange thing to say, but the fact of the matter is that if the whip is cracked in another place, the troops have to toe the line. The sanction is that if they do not toe the line they end up being deselected and lose their livelihood. That, presumably, is what is meant by "democracy" as we understand it these days. But that sanction is not available against your Lordships. Apart from the golden characters on the Front Bench the rest of your Lordships are not paid and therefore there is fortunately no sanction open to the party machine against the occasional free spirit that may emerge on both sides of the House.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Lord Razzall
My Lords, I should like to start my first speech to the House by thanking noble Lords on all sides for the friendship with which I have been received here. I fear that I have not yet received the kiss of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws; no doubt an omission that we can soon rectify. I should like also to thank all the staff of the House for the grace and civility with which they have greeted me, a grace and civility that I must say I did not know existed outside the great 19th century hotels.
As the Liberal Democrat treasurer for the past 10 years, I am somewhat nervous to stand before the House in the week of Mr. Ecclestone. Of course, Liberal Democrat treasurers, in particular at the beginning of this century, had a close affinity with the House, an affinity that I was worried was being taken too far when today I had the privilege of introducing the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, only two weeks after I had been introduced myself. When I discovered that not only was 610 I introducing him but that I had become the senior supporter, I wondered whether the procedures of the House were in some way being abused.
I am delighted this evening to support in my first speech the Motion of my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. I am particularly delighted to do so because I do not come from what could be described as the co-operative political wing of politics. I was first elected to a London borough in 1974. Those noble Lords who are or have been members of London boroughs will realise that confrontation, not co-operation, has been the hallmark of London town hall politics in the past 24 years. In supporting my noble friend's Motion despite my background, I take comfort from the fact that, in what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, described as the first period of my noble friend's life he must have had an early experience of Labour Cabinets that could from time to time have been akin to taking tea with the Borgias.
Now I believe—and I believe with my noble friends on this side of the House—that it is time for a change of approach from confrontational politics to the politics of co-operation. I believe that many of us who have just come into the House are lucky to do so in 1997. It is arguable that there have been certainly two watershed elections in the 20th century—the 1906 election and the 1945 election—and possibly the 1979 election, although it may be that we are too close to that to know. But it is certainly possible and quite likely probable that the 1997 election created a climate for constitutional and political change for which many of my noble friends have fought all their lives.
It was not only the creation of the Social Democrat Party which started this process—I think that three members of the so-called "Gang of Four" are present today—it was also Lord Grimond before that, who marched, in his phrase, "his red guards towards the sound of gunfire", in order to attempt to break the mould of British politics. Certainly, the signs in the first six months are good that the 1997 election has created one of the great reforming Parliaments.
I shall list the things that are to happen or are already in train. We have the measures put in place to create a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly; we have the decision on independence for the Bank of England on monetary policy; we have the decision to grant trade union rights at GCHQ; we have signed the social chapter; and we are taking steps to introduce proportional representation for the European elections. For me and like-minded Lords, that is an excellent start. How could a Liberal Democrat of my persuasion not support and co-operate in the development of this agenda?
However, we have heard this afternoon some siren voices. There seem to be two strands of complaint about the co-operative style of politics proposed by my noble friend. First, people say that we, as a party, will lose our independence and will be swallowed up and destroyed by the Labour Party. Secondly—the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, expressed this view earlier in the debate—whenever we appear not to agree with what the Government are doing, we are treated as though in some 611 way we have been caught out like naughty schoolboys making signs behind teacher's back. That argument fails to understand what we mean by constructive opposition.
What it means—it is quite obvious to members of the public—is that as a party we would intend to co-operate where we agree and oppose where we disagree. There are many areas where we agree with the Government. We agree with the Government on much of the agenda for constitutional reform. We agree with the Government on much of their European policy. From this side of the House we shall clearly support the Government and co-operate with them to bring in the legislation necessary to implement those policies. There are many other areas where we believe the Government share our instincts but are somewhat too timid. Indeed. there is a suggestion that many new Labour Members elected to the other place wish that they had been elected on our manifesto.
In what the noble Viscount described as key public services, we believe—as Mr. Simon Hughes demonstrated in the debate in the other place—that the Government are not going far enough. In those areas we shall act as their scourge. But in many areas, we, as a party, oppose what the Government are doing. We oppose the Government's position on university fees. We oppose the Government's policy with regard to the tobacco sponsorship of Formula One. In those areas we will oppose. But there is nothing inconsistent with co-operative politics in saying that where we disagree we will oppose and where we agree we will support.
I am grateful for the reception that I have been given in the House and today. I am grateful, too, for the opportunity given by this Motion to set out to the House the principles which I believe should guide our words and actions in the coming years.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Lord Harris of High Cross
My Lords, it is my privilege to welcome to our counsels another recruit with a distinguished legal background; indeed, one who was nominated in 1994 as European lawyer of the year. However, he is no narrow lawyer, as noble Lords may have judged from his splendid address. He has experience in teaching, in business, and even in retailing; and, as he revealed, he has experience in local government. In the reference books he gives his recreations as sport, food and wine. I hope he feels among friends on both sides of the Chamber who share at least two of his three absorbing activities. We all hope that he will find time to drag himself away from the Bar and take part in many of our debates in the future.
When I first saw the terms of the original Motion—the real thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins—at first glance they seemed so reasonable and innocuous that even a paid-up member of the awkward squad on the Cross-Benches had to think hard and ask himself, "What is the catch; where is the snag?". Like the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, we would all like a great deal less of the crude party political slanging match. But as the noble Baroness said, consensus can mask important differences. What is wrong with 612 political parties vigorously confronting one another—challenging one another? Should not democrats revel in the open clash of rival beliefs and concepts?
Before challenging the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, I should like to associate myself with the graceful tributes paid to him by others and offer him one of my own. After all, the noble Lord has not always been so fastidious or so squeamish in disdaining confrontation. As other noble Lords have remarked, he was not above a spot of what the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal called "the rough trade" of politics. We recall his courageous confrontation with former Labour colleagues in 1981 which led to the breakaway SDP. At that time there were plenty of Labour Members of Parliament and others who shared his anxieties to the full, but they preferred a quiet, non-confrontational life. It was certainly, for a time, a bloody battle. but the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, emerged unbowed and victorious.
In 1981 we saw an historic triumph. I would go further and say that next to my noble friend Lady Thatcher and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Owen, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, deserves most political credit for confronting and purging what had then become the natural party of opposition of its more self-destructive shibboleths.
I do not find much to support in this great call for cross-party co-operation. As other speakers have said, it sounds very reasonable despite a slight whiff of moral superiority. But it can smack of a contrived consensus, based on backstairs compromise, to serve short-term convenience or party advantage. My worry is that consensus and compromise are precisely the follies that cost us so dear in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
I am an economist and not a lawyer so perhaps I may invite noble Lords to sit back comfortably and reflect on the fashionable panaceas to which the leaders of all three parties paid almost abject deference in the post-war years until 1979. I give noble Lords a preliminary list of the sacred cows, all of which finished up in the intellectual abattoir. The pride of place among consensual policies that all reasonable and good men upheld was the universal, self-sufficient, state monopoly of welfare, now acknowledged by its well-meaning progenitors to be unsustainable and urgently undergoing radical reform.
Not far behind in cross-party favour was the famous mixed economy based on subsidised state industries, which have since been privatised, making profits and contributing to the Exchequer. Then there was the all-party incantation of growthmanship leading directly to stop-go instability of the economy and inflation. Not far behind that was the cross-party enthusiasm for naïve Keynesianism as a substitute for monetary discipline of which, by the way, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, as Chancellor, was far less guilty than most of the people who occupied the Treasury in the post-war years.
During the same period all patriots were required to pay lip service to fixed exchange rates until that was punctured by periodic devaluations and abandoned altogether in 1972. Nor must we forget the cross-party enthusiasm for the National Economic Development Office in 1961 which led to George Brown's national 613 plan in 1965. That collapsed within a year. The national plan had a shorter vogue than the Spice Girls and it was a whole lot less fun.
Let us remember the way in which both the main parties, Conservative and Labour, but with the Liberals not far behind, whored after the phantom of bigger, better and more draconian incomes policies. That is what we all had to believe in the 1960s and early 1970s. They were all doomed to fail ignominiously. In a way, most shaming of all until 1979, is that all parties accepted the legally entrenched trade union monopoly as a fact of life. It was inevitable and had to be accepted.
Have we not suffered enough over these years from cross-party co-operation, from Churchill's Butskellism; Macmillan's middle way and Wilson's white heat of technology? I have a different view. Indeed, for the whole of these 30 years what we needed was a straightforward, open confrontation between rival conceptions of government and society. We needed a straightforward shoot-out, if one might put it that way, between creeping collectivism and competitive capitalism. But the craven consensus fobbed us off with trivial party sniping and phoney polarisation.
I must declare an interest. For 30 years I was general director of the Institute of Economic Affairs. During those years it was left to independent economists outside government and business to warn that central planning, like incomes policy, NEDDY, growthmanship and the rest, provided no enduring substitute for a radical reconstruction of a competitive market economy. I can vouch that throughout that time the great party swells took little or no interest in our musings until the emergence—I would almost say the eruption—of the then Keith Joseph, followed by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher.
The noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, has spoken eloquently about the economic and political transformation wrought by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, after 1979. That was the pure fruit of confrontational politics, which now frightens the life out of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. Yet that confrontation was necessary to break the mould and eventually to make possible the emergence of Mr. Blair's new Labour Party.
In conclusion I suggest three lessons from this potted history. The first is that the avoidance of confrontation should never be a high priority for a party based upon principles. Too often it is a pretext for dodging hard choices which have to be made in the longer run. It is the perennial lure of the soft option or the easy life. The second lesson—and I particularly address the noble Lord. Lord Jenkins, and his colleagues—is that the Liberal Party leaders, famed for their independence, with the honourable exception in my experience of the then Jo Grimond, proved far from immune to the novelty of sweeping panaceas however illusory they proved to be.
That brings me to my third lesson, which may not altogether surprise the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, whom I am glad to see has now joined us having missed my eloquent tributes earlier to his achievements. The third 614 lesson is the current attempt, which is now out in the open, by the political establishment in Westminster and Brussels to stitch up a cross-party consensus in favour of a single European currency. On my consistent market analysis, this project exemplifies precisely the same wishful thinking as did the incomes policy, the national plan, growthmanship and the rest. It is equally doomed because it subordinates objective economic realities to short-term political expediency. It was the cross-party co-operation, backed up the Whips of all three parties, that deprived our people of democratic choice on Maastricht. The result was simply to store up trouble for the future and it has dogged the Tory Party in particular.
Frankly, I welcome the signs of a full frontal confrontation between the main parties on the fateful question of whether Britain should join the European Monetary Union. For me, the death knell of the euro was sounded this very day in a brief and persuasive essay by Milton Friedman in today's edition of The Times. I commend it to your Lordships. I look forward to seeing one of the exponents of the euro set out an equally analytical and persuasive line of argument. I have some confidence that if those rival arguments can be fully deployed and confront one another, we shall avoid involvement in yet another doomed experiment.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Lord Blackwell
My Lords, it is a great privilege to be able to make my maiden speech in your Lordships' House in such a distinguished debate which has so many distinguished contributors. It is particularly a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, whose distinctive free market economics have been such an inspiration to so many of us for so long. I must also thank the noble Lord for having used many of my best lines!
The injunction to be brief and non-controversial could lead to the conclusion that I should sit down now while I am ahead, but I concluded that my objective should be to make all my contributions in your Lordships' House brief and non-controversial on the grounds that they would be wrapped up in such impeccable logic and common sense that nobody could ever disagree. The fact that I suspect that that is unlikely points me towards what I see as the first fallacy of the Motion; namely, that all men of good will, whatever their party or background, can be brought to a consensus on great issues of moment.
Like everyone else, I bring my own views to this House and we are all likely to interpret the same facts and the same arguments differently. I believe that that is fortunate because I suggest that the second fallacy of the Motion is the notion that consensus—cross-party or otherwise—can be trusted to be right. I have always had sympathy for the minority view and I suggest that history shows that the minority view is often right. The fashionable consensus of the time held that the world was flat. The fashionable consensus held that witches should be ducked and, in his lifetime, that Schubert's music was not worth listening to. That was certainly the fashionable consensus some centuries ago. The fashionable consensus just before the war was that Churchill was an extremist who should not be listened 615 to. More recently, the fashionable consensus before what turned out to be an ill-fated entry into the exchange rate mechanism was that Britain had no choice but to join.
I grew up in a period of political consensus—of Butskellism. That consensus held, among other things, that state services such as telecommunications, water and electricity had to be publicly owned. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, set out a long list of some of the other elements of that consensus which were held to be fashionable and right at that time. I remember that it was long believed that governments should intervene in prices and wages and in what the noble Lord referred to as the "mixed economy". Despite my great respect for both leaders who gave their names to Butskellism, I believe that, as my noble friend Lord Alexander of Weedon said, Britain's current success has depended on breaking that cross-party consensus.
I think it critical that a strong voice of opposition is raised to the political fashions of the day. Even where the Government view is right, opposition is essential to sharpen decision-making in government. I know that many noble Lords have had direct experience of holding high government office. Having had the privilege of working at No. 10 under two distinguished and, I believe, highly principled Prime Ministers, I am no less conscious that the demands of having to face critical opposition across the Dispatch Box are in reality highly valuable—even if at times Ministers may wish that away—in forcing discussion and debate within government and the Civil Service and in avoiding the lazy adoption of easy solutions. It is no accident that the word "consensus" is often coupled with the word "cosy".
So, I am not a great believer in the great issues of our time, such as constitutional change and Europe, always benefiting from cross-party consensus; nor do I believe—I am not yet convinced—that fashions such as proportional representation, which attempt to force a consensus on government, necessarily lead to better government. I see no evidence of that when I look around the governments of the world.
However, that does not imply mindless confrontation. There is a difference between opposition based on principled argument and opposition based on opportunistic confrontation or on bigotry. Opposition based on principled argument and belief must surely be our aim for the relationship between the Government and the Opposition. I hope that this House will continue to value and respect those who hold the counter point of view to the fashionable cross-party consensus of the time. I thank noble Lords for their indulgence.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Viscount Thurso
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, on his most interesting maiden speech. The noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, has already referred to the noble Lord's political service at No. 10 as head of the Prime Minister's Policy Unit and to his current position at NatWest. I was particularly interested to read in his biography that the noble Lord spent time with McKinsey 616 & Co., ending up as a partner in that great consulting business, and that he had worked previously for Plessey, having had an academic career and gained an MBA at Wharton in the United States. I look forward to hearing many contributions from the noble Lord in future, particularly on the subject of business, about which I have a great passion, and possibly on the quality of British management. On behalf of all of us, I wish the noble Lord well in your Lordships' House.
I congratulate also my two noble friends on their maiden speeches, my noble friends Lord Goodhart and Lord Razzall. Not surprisingly, I concurred with a great deal, if not all, of what they said.
I congratulate also the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. The phrase that she used regarding her grandmother and kisses from men without moustaches was, I believe, "meat without salt". As there is some "meat and salt" right here, I look forward to taking part in that new introductory ceremony at a later stage!
I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead for introducing this subject, which raises two issues which I believe, and have always believed, to be fundamental requirements for the future of our modern democracy; namely, constitutional reform and the requirement of a broad consensus for achieving that.
I am also grateful to my noble friend for introducing this Motion today because this is the last time that we shall have the opportunity of being led by him. In this respect, I have to say that my noble friend was possibly guilty of one small political misjudgment. Although he asked for no premature obsequies, virtually every noble Lord has paid tribute to my noble friend and I do not think that he could ever have got away without any tributes being paid. With your Lordships' indulgence, I should like to add a very small one. In the short time that I have been in your Lordships' House I have come to have a great respect and admiration for his leadership. I hope he will take it in the spirit in which I intend it if I say that this is one young Turk who has greatly enjoyed and appreciated being at the feet of an old master.
There are many important matters facing the Government and Parliament such as education and health where it is vital that we make the right decisions. Important though those subjects are, I have long believed that the single most important issue before us is that of constitutional reform. When I was campaigning before the last election I was shocked to discover how cynical and apathetic the vast majority of our people seemed to be towards politicians and the political process. Rightly or wrongly, a great number of people viewed Parliament with distrust and cynicism. This is confirmed today by an article that I read in The Times headed "Riddell on Politics". That article refers to a report entitled British Social Attitudes" and says:The survey confirms earlier findings about a decline in public confidence in democracy. Fewer than one in four people trust government to put the interests of the nation above party".
I find that truly shocking.
At the other end of the power spectrum, it is extraordinary that barely 30 per cent. of those entitled to vote in local elections take part in those elections. 617 When talking on doorsteps one is struck by the fact that most people probably do not know who are their local councillors. Even if they do, they do not really believe that they will do anything for them. That combination of distrust, apathy and frustration is a terrible cancer which has eaten away the trust that the people once placed in the political process and in their politicians. It is therefore essential that we embrace constitutional reform at all levels and as a matter of urgency. This does not mean simply tinkering with your Lordships' House, but looking further at the relationship of power at each level of government to ensure that in every case maximum power is devolved to the lowest level. That process has already begun with devolution for Scotland and Wales. But it is equally important that we look not simply at your Lordships' House but also another place and at local and regional government.
As part of this process, I believe it to be imperative that power be returned to local government so that it may properly be held accountable to its own electorate for its actions. The centralising process that has gone on for the past 20 years or so must be halted and reversed. The time has come to trust local people to take local decisions for which they can be held accountable. When in the previous Parliament we debated the excellent report of my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf on wealth creation and social cohesion I posed the following question: if the doctrine of subsidiarity was so good for this country in Europe, why was it so bad for local government in this country? Inclusion and citizenship must be founded on participation, which in turn must begin with local democracy. That statement remains the core of my belief in respect of constitutional reform, but the key element is to understand that sovereignty rests with the people and that power should be exercised as close to the people as practically possible.
When I entered the Chamber today I noticed something rather curious. When I looked at the list of speakers I noted that, apart from the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, I was the only other hereditary Peer taking part in this debate. It is clear that someone must put the other side of the coin, so here comes the turkey that wants to vote for Christmas. It is unthinkable that we should enter the 21st century with a legislative chamber composed of accidents of birth, on the one hand, and perhaps accidents of patronage, on the other. We should all go. Emotionally, I am extremely fond of your Lordships' House; indeed, I am extremely fond of most of your Lordships. In many ways my heart might like us to remain the happy band that we are, but my head tells me that it is utterly illogical.
More importantly, it is now abundantly clear that we have lost our legitimacy. Every time a controversial measure comes before your Lordships' House, particularly if there has been a media campaign behind it, we are confronted with the twin barrels of media pressure and public opinion, on the one hand, and our lack of legitimacy in the face of another place, on the other hand. In the face of these two large-calibre weapons we have failed to carry out our duty. The only argument that I can conceive for maintaining your Lordships' House in its current form is that it works; 618 but I am afraid that recent events have demonstrated quite categorically that when it really counts it does not work.
Since anything which is done to your Lordships' House will automatically increase its legitimacy, so it will increase the power which the Upper House requires, and this in turn will automatically challenge the relationship between this House and another place. I do not see that as bad for one moment. I see it as one of the main reasons in favour of reform. But it brings me back to my point of departure. Once you have embarked on the route of reform, as we already have with devolution, all aspects of it have to be considered together in order to reach an overall constitutional arrangement that delivers a participative political system with power as close to the people as possible.
It would be unthinkable for any one political party to embark on such levels of reform without first having secured a very wide measure of cross-party co-operation. There are occasions when 51 per cent. is an inadequate majority. It is extremely difficult to pick the wheat of tradition from the chaff of history or to select real progress from the many great changes which may be proposed. To do this requires the contribution of many opinions of all hues. For such changes to last and carry the weight that they deserve, it is essential that they are founded on a broad national consensus.
I am genuinely sorry that the Conservative Party should in this, as so many other things, choose the ostrich position. Doubtless in 1832 the argument in favour of rotten boroughs was much as it is today in favour of the current arrangements. I hope that they will change their minds. With regard to my own party, I am delighted that it has had the courage of its convictions and that on this all important issue has accepted the Government's invitation to find consensus. Our two parties' combined share of the popular vote at the last election contributes greatly to the required legitimacy.
I believe that there are moments in the development of our constitution when the system can no longer simply be tinkered with. Like the pressure of great tectonic plates, an earthquake is required. I believe that we have reached one of those seminal moments when we must go for complete change. Now is such a time. Let us get to the task before the people lose faith entirely.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, on her most excellent maiden speech. I first met the noble Baroness when I was informed that I was to lead a young lady who was the queen of the radical Bar. Indeed, the noble Baroness was said to be so far left of the Labour Party that she could have qualified for one of Lord Grimond's red guards, to which my noble friend Lord Razzall referred. Together we formed a team in those days. I may have been the first of your Lordships to have the Kennedy kiss implanted on my forehead after one famous result. My noble friend Lord Hooson and I welcomed her into our chambers until she left to be a doughty fighter elsewhere. We on these Benches
619 hope that we shall work with her as a team against the opposition that we face. I know that she will maintain the radical tradition for which she has always stood. I hope that my noble friends Lord Razzall and Lord Goodhart, who have also made excellent speeches today, will forgive me if I go a little further in my personal reminiscences of the noble Baroness.
My noble friend Lord Alderdice referred to Ireland in the most moving terms. I am fresh from the combat, bloodied but certainly unbowed, of the latest co-operation between the parties; namely, the referendum in Wales. At one time during that campaign, I was a little worried at the seeming lack of Labour Party activity in my part of North-East Wales. I was pushing out leaflets with a picture of Neil Jenkins in a town devoted to Association Football. I did not see much support from the Labour Party, but eventually my fears were allayed when an MP who came from a neighbouring constituency assured me that the whole might of the Labour Party and the trade union machine were dedicated to producing mass apathy in his constituency.
The value of co-operation is illustrated by the two referendum campaigns in Scotland and Wales. In Scotland, co-operation between the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party had produced the Scottish convention. For years arguments had gone on in the Scottish press and on Scottish television in which the issues were rehearsed; everyone knew what they were voting about, and there was overwhelming support for reform. Even the Labour Party itself was dragged into a form of consensus. However, in Wales on three occasions we Liberal Democrats called for co-operation with the Labour Party and, indeed, with Plaid Cymru on the proposals for devolution. That was not forthcoming. So when we came to the referendum campaign the need to give information to the people of Wales was paramount.
I recall that in the devolution referendum debate in your Lordships' House I suggested that the rationale for having a separate day for voting in the Welsh referendum was so that there could be some concentration upon Welsh issues. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, called that an insult to the Welsh people. "Patronising", said the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. The result in Wales depended upon information. To which part of the country were the television aerials turned, and what sort of press was being read in Wales? If we look at the results, the eastern part of Wales, whose aerials were turned to Granada, the Midlands and Bristol, and where no hint of the Western Mail can ever be found, was the area which was uninformed about what was happening and what the issues were.
There is a lesson for the future that where referendums are suggested on issues such as EMU there must be long discussions; there must be an ironing out of problems within and between parties; and, above all, there must be an attempt to gain the support of the people, as the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, said, by projecting information and ensuring that everyone knows what is at stake. One wonders whether one of the major contributing factors for the postponement of any commitment for entry into EMU 620 was the Welsh result, where the Government realised that they had not gone through that long, educative process that was so necessary.
My Lords. I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree also that it is important, in the case of referendums, for the electorate to see that those referendums are conducted fairly? Therefore does he also agree with me and his noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham that it would be sensible to encourage the Government to introduce, as soon as possible, a mechanism by which rules could be drawn up under which referendums in future could be held?
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
My Lords. on that issue I have the greatest pleasure in agreeing with the noble Viscount, that rules for referendums, if they are to be held, should be drawn up and applied consistently whenever that issue arises. However, I disagree with the noble Viscount when he talks about monopoly politics, and that the result of co-operation between the parties is monopoly politics. That reminds me of what the Earl of Derby said in 1841:The duty of an Opposition is … to oppose everything, and propose nothing".
That has always struck me as an empty mantra, and yet it is so often chanted at us on these Benches when we endeavour to reach a degree of agreement and co-operation with the government of the day.
The adversarial system may be all very well in the law. Everyone understands that lawyers are paid to put forward a particular point of view. No one would ever suggest that politicians should be paid to put forward any particular point of view. The price that is paid for that is that lawyers are not the most highly regarded people; they are not thought to be sincere. That is the price of adversarial politics, where one opposes merely for the sake of it.
I recall the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, once saying to me, as she likes the taste of battle and blood, that it was all very well to be a commercial lawyer, like the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, and my noble friend Lord Goodhart, but that what we were doing was fun. I have always borne that in mind.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, listed the failures of consensus politics over a period of time. It seems to me that there was the greatest possible confrontation between rival conceptions of government in the 1960s and 1970s. I thought that the confrontation in those days was between socialism and capitalism; and that there were indeed two distinct strands of opinion. Yet those two strands produced what the noble Lord described as consensus politics, which he denigrated for that reason.
Consensus does not last forever. There are always minority views which eventually make their way into the mainstream. Thatcherism was not a concept in 1979; Thatcherism was a minority view which became a majority view in the early 1980s. In the later 1980s it reached its full flow. There are other minority views. I recall my adoption speech in West Flint in 1964. 621 There were four key issues: the first, devolution for Wales; the second, proportional representation; the third, closer ties with Europe by joining the Common Market; and the fourth, I regret to say, was reform of the House of Lords.
Those issues in those days represented minority views, but one has seen, over the decades that have passed since then, that those minority views have grown to a consensus, and are now becoming the type of consensus of which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, does not approve. It is events which cause minority views to come forward in that way.
When we have a situation where we on these Benches have put forward issues, values and principles over many years, and we find suddenly that the Labour Party has been moving towards our point of view, that it is adopting devolution, proportional representation and talking about reform of the House of Lords, what are we to do? Are we just to oppose for the sake of opposing, or are we to co-operate to try to improve the detail of the plans it is putting forward? That is what co-operation is and should be about.
I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead for introducing this debate. I pay my own small tribute as a foot soldier in his army over the past 12 months or so to the magnificent leadership that he has given us. May I speak for the wider Liberal Democrat Party and say that in his position as our leader he will be greatly missed.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Hillhead
My Lords, I shall make just a brief response. I have never much believed in second bites, certainly not large second bites, of the cherry in these debates. I should like to begin by repairing an omission in my opening speech which is to follow the tribute which the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, paid to the late Lady Llewelyn-Davies. I should not like that to be an omission, because it so happens that I probably knew her long before either of them did. I first put my foot on the humblest rung of the ministerial ladder when I became parliamentary private secretary to Philip Noel-Baker who was Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and she was then his trusted and invaluable personal assistant. If noble Lords rightly thought that she was dazzling when she was Captain of the Gentlemen at Arms I can assure you that she was even more dazzling in the Commonwealth Relations Office in 1949. She will be greatly missed.
I wish to congratulate the four maiden speakers. I begin with the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell. We must look forward to hearing him again, particularly when he is freed from the restraints of being non-controversial, under which he was obviously labouring heavily during his speech today. It was a notable speech. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, added a phrase to our parliamentary language. "Kennedy's kiss" will become like "Angela's ashes", that cult novel of the present time. It was a great comfort to me on my departure to 622 hear the successful speeches made by my noble friends Lord Goodhart and Lord Razzall. They are an asset to our Benches.
Clearly, I am in danger of making a speech like the grandfather of a familiar Member of this House, whom I will not identify. It was said that his speeches were remembered only for the compliments which he paid in particular to his opponents. I thank all noble Lords—I said no obsequies but I did not say no tributes! I assure your Lordships that they have saved time because there need be no tributes when I leave.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, courteously informed me that he would be a little late. I am not sure when he slipped in, but he obviously thought that he would arrive later. I am reminded of an incident relating to his forebears—in this case a lateral one—who paid what I have always regarded as the best feline compliment I have ever heard. He chaired a meeting of a singularly dull lecture. He complimented the lecturer saying that, unfortunately, due to increasing deafness—which did not apply in his case—he had missed certain parts of the lecture which, clearly, were more significant.
The noble Viscount was obviously afraid that he would miss the more significant parts of my speech as a result of lateness, so he wisely provided himself with the alternative of replying to a speech given by Mr. Simon Hughes in another place. I hope that that was very satisfactory for Mr. Simon Hughes. However, he redeemed the situation by the warmth of his tribute—I also thank the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal for his tribute—and I reciprocate his remarks about the pleasure of working together and the assurance that I hope that our personal relations will continue on this basis. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.