§ (".—(1) Sections 1 to 3 and 4(3) and (4) of this Act shall not come into force until the people of the United Kingdom have approved their coming into force before the implementation of any of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the reform and composition of the House of Lords, in a referendum conducted in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life set out in chapter 12 of Cm 4057–I.
§ (2) The referendum referred to in subsection (1) shall not he held until the recommendations of the Royal Commission have been reported on by a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament.")
§ The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 1, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 2, which is accepted with much gratitude, and Amendment No. 111 to Clause 4 which is consequential. I much regret having to move these amendments at all. It would have been preferable if the noble Baroness the Leader of the House had been able to accept the very constructive suggestion of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde.
§ The spirit of these referendum amendments all but evaporated some time ago in "No day named" until it materialised as a reasoned amendment to the "Take note" Motion on the White Paper. It was withdrawn then to avoid unrepresentative division and pre-emption of my own Front Bench. This was at the request of my own party and a body of opinion on the Cross-Benches, Since then, until today, it has hovered around in limbo.
§ The constitutional commission, to which both noble Lords have referred, does not bite upon the referendum amendments at all; nor does it, bite upon the transitional House amendment, which I think is Amendment No. 31, because the constitutional commission did not quite consider the question as to whether a transitional House should be set up. But, for the purposes of the report, and quite reasonably the Committee may think, the commission on the options for reform made the hypothetical assumption that a transitional House would have been set up by the time those options materialised. It was on that assumption that the commission concluded that independent members in a reformed 1027 chamber can only be to the disadvantage of the political parties. Well, if so, then so be it, but as yet the House of Lords retains its indigenous ethos and independence; it retains its guardianship function of the constitution when the nation is substantially divided against the Government, as indeed is the case on this Bill.
§ On the reasoned amendment, the House of Lords concluded that the Government introduced the Bill for party political advantage. None of the six noble Lords whose names appear in support of these amendments is so motivated. The three members on these Benches do not speak for their party; the three members on the Cross Benches have no party for which to speak. We are moved by a tenable belief in a common purpose as a matter of principle. This is—and I say this to the noble Baroness with respect—no ploy, no filibuster to delay, no wrecking amendment contrary to the conventions of the House of Lords. Due notice has been given to the Government of the intention to take the opinion of the House, subject to when we may conclude, if so advised. I am unable to give any assessment. I have been asked by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, but as we have done no lobbying we do not know what measure of support we have nor who will speak.
§ These amendments, in accordance with the wishes of the people, would delay commencement of the Act until its substance had been approved by the people on a referendum fairly conducted to be held before enactment of any recommendations of the Royal Commission. The purpose is to assert the will of the people; to enjoin due governance under the Queen in Parliament; and, albeit against the odds, to seek the support of this House for some accommodation. To this end, must we not look to the people and accept their judgment as the ultimate arbiter of our differences? If so, hence the referendum.
§ Legitimacy derives from the will of two-thirds of the people, as expressed in the opinion polls, who wish to retain the composition of the House of Lords only until the substance of proposed reform is known, a point which was not taken on board a moment ago, if I may say so with respect, when the noble Baroness the Leader of the House was replying to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. Hence delay until the substance of the Act is approved after the Royal Commission has reported. The people do not want to put to sea in a sieve with any proverbial owl or pussycat. They rejected the stale manifesto commitment reflected in the Title and Clause 1 of the Bill. The Bill as it stands is but a work of supererogation taught by arrogance of constitutional impiety, only 2 per cent. of the people having any recollection whatever that the manifesto proposed reform of the House of Lords.
§ In substance, these referendum amendments have already commended themselves to your Lordships' House on the reasoned amendment, notwithstanding the anathema pronounced upon them and on all other amendments: save the deal (as now presented by Weatherill Amendment No. 31) which the Government were then minded to accept, notwithstanding the threats of dire consequences made in the speech of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House on the Motion to take 1028 note of the White Paper and by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in his celebrated speech on Second Reading.
§ May I say, in the irenic spirit to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, that neither that anathema nor those threats were entirely well conceived, for it was no part of the deal between my noble friend Lord Cranborne, whom I see in his place, and her right honourable friend the Prime Minister, as no doubt the right honourable gentleman would confirm, that in anticipatory deprivation of parliamentary entitlement the deal should be used to hammer the House of Lords into submission to pass this Bill by consensus. It was never part of that deal.
I speak to these amendments but as an untrainable apprentice to my noble friend Lord Cranborne, who laid the foundation stone long, long ago. My noble friend has always maintained that stage 1 without stage 2 is wrong, and he said so again on Second Reading. His concept of a referendum on constitutional matters, in context with the guardianship function of the House of Lords, was perfected—I do not know whether any Members of the Committee have seen it yet—in Clause 3 of his Parliamentary Government Bill, a masterpiece of draftsmanship. It is a concept which expressly acknowledged that only the broad assent of the people can confer the authority to legislate,
on any provision substantially affecting the constitution",
a concept invoked indeed by the present Government in Chapter 2 of their White Paper:
Parliament is where the will of [the] people is expressed … Parliament is the core of political accountability".
They say also that,
Parliament must rest on the will of the people".
In the context of the referendums on devolution,
the people have made known what they want.
The resolution of the House of Lords on the reasoned amendment in fact endorsed the commonsense approach of the people. It was carried against the Government with some Liberal Democrat and Cross-Bench support by 192 to 126 votes at very nearly three o'clock in the morning. That is a substantial majority of one-third, especially at that hour. It carried the concept that,
the Bill radically alters the historic composition of the House of Lords for party political advantage",
and had been introduced without prior consultation and consensus as to the role or composition of a successor House.
§ It is the selfsame situation which arises to be addressed on these amendments. The hereditary element on that occasion which supported the Government was one Duke, a terce of Earls, a sprinkling of Viscounts and a wee clutch of Barons. It is evidently appropriate that some assurance should be given, for it is respectfully suggested that perhaps the last, if not the most noble, act of selfless service which the hereditary Peers could render to the body politic is to seek to safeguard the wishes of the people and to support these amendments.1029
§ As to the assurances, the arguments in support of these amendments, which I put forward, are in no way inconsistent with the speeches made by such noble Lords which I have read. These amendments cannot and do not pre-empt the work of the Royal Commission as to the composition of the successor House. They cannot and do not entrench or seek to entrench the extant successory entitlement to membership of your Lordships' House. Again, with respect, I draw the attention of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House to that assurance.
§ If these amendments were to be carried into the Bill, there would be no substantial division between the Government and the people on this constitutional question, such as is now the case. But as such is the case, is it not the acknowledged function of your Lordships' House to seek to provide some measure of constitutional protection and safeguard and to consider whether it is appropriate to delay the legislation from taking effect as proposed by the amendments?
§ The Weatherill amendment, Amendment No. 31, has no legitimacy derived from the people and ignores the current state of public opinion. But, if qualified, as it would be, by the referendum amendments, it could assume an aura of legitimacy in conformity with the very concept expressed in Clause 3 of the Bill of my noble friend Lord Cranborne. It would avoid pre-emption of the work of the Royal Commission and inhibit fulfilment of the "Quintine" prophecy heralded by paragraph 7.26 of the White Paper.
§ To accommodate the Weatherill amendment, No. 31, the mould of the Title must be cracked. That is done by the Title Amendment No. 152 which seeks to substitute "restrict" membership for "end" membership. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor appreciated, that would open the door to a series of other amendments to restrict. The noble and learned Lord expressed the Government's attitude to such amendments on a previous occasion.
§ This has nothing whatever to do with the referendum amendments, which are entirely free standing. The question of choice—I wish to stress this—that your Lordships have between any form of transitional House amendment and these referendum amendments simply does not and cannot arise save unless (and there is one proviso) it is the settled preconception, come Hades or high water, to support and safeguard the hope of a tentative offer by the Government to accept Amendment No. 31 and only if no other amendments are to be carried into the Bill.
§ On Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde truly said about an amendment referring to the deal (the arrangement made and reflected in Amendment No. 31) that it falls short of making a bad Bill better.
§ At all events, there are many serious problems in relation to Amendment No. 31 as it stands which will have to he sorted out by a series of amendments at various stages of the Bill. Those gremlins may well be laid to rest to the satisfaction of your Lordships' House, or not. I have had a word with my noble friend Lord Cranborne on that matter, as on other matters. It may take much time and more than one stage to sort that out. 1030 There is no reason whatever, on that account, to wait until many other problems have been sorted out at subsequent stages, or not sorted out, to delay a vote on this Bill.
§ No assurance of safe conduct of passage in another place may be given for any amendment carried by your Lordships. The Motion as tabled in another place and the Official Report of the proceedings on the Bill in another place preclude any such assurance. If the referendum amendments were rejected, the extant hereditary entitlement would soon be severed under Clause 4. If the proposal of the Constitutional Commission at paragraphs 61 to 64 were to be accepted by the Royal Commission this is what would happen: the senate would be instituted at the first meeting of Parliament after the election; all life Peers would lose their right to sit; the House of Lords would disappear at the dissolution of that Parliament; and up to two-thirds of the transitional House would be transferred to the senate. Is that the sort of scheme which commends itself to your Lordships? Is it not preferable to delay implementation of the Act until the recommendations of the Royal Commission have been known and the people have been offered an opportunity to express their opinion of the substance of the Act on a referendum, perhaps to be held in the spring?
§ If judgment were to be sacrificed to wishful conjecture, to the dictates or the convenience of this Government or to the opinion of the hour, the people would be betrayed. If that is done in due course by another place, so be it: but surely not by your Lordships' House. I beg to move.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Gray moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 2:
§ Line 3, leave out ("the people of") and insert ("a majority of the parliamentary electorate in")
§ The noble Lord said: I fully support my noble friend's contention that there should be a referendum. My amendment seeks only to suggest that it may be advantageous to make the drafting more specific and perhaps avoid the criticism of technical imperfection.
§ Citing, as my amendment does, the parliamentary electorate reminds us that it is not the executive, nor yet Parliament, but the electorate which must be the final arbiter when it comes to constitutional change. Noble Lords may take it amiss that my drafting excludes them from the referendum poll. No doubt they will tell me. In any case, words can be altered. However, until we have the proposed referendum Bill enfranchisement formulae will have to be made on an ad hoc basis.
§ There is no question that this Bill is of fundamental constitutional import. It alters the structure, character and balance of Parliament. It will significantly affect the balance between the executive and the legislature. It is the case that this Bill has that effect, no matter what comes later. Generally speaking, while I am not an enthusiast for referendums, I hold that they are entirely appropriate when it comes to constitutional issues. To hold a referendum will be to follow precedent, and only 1031 through a referendum campaign can we properly inform the electorate of the Bill's immediate consequences. It would be infinitely preferable to hold a referendum which embraces both the provisions of this Bill and whatever scheme of final reform Parliament may yet endorse.
§ However, since the noble Baroness the Leader of the House was not prepared to listen to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, and unless the Government yet see the sense of withdrawing their intention to enact this Bill as a free-standing measure, that will not be possible.
In hoping that the Government may yet agree that the proposed referendum should be held, I was encouraged by the words of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey—who, sadly, is no longer in his place—in replying to my noble friend Lord Waddington on 17th March,
I simply do not accept that the ideal of democracy is to have a Parliament where the only direct chance of participation by the electorate is, once every four or five years, a vote on all issues combined together in the way which suits the political parties. Without saying that they should become a substitute in any way for parliamentary government, referendums as they have been used in the past few years, particularly in a constitutional sense, have been a valuable addition to, not a subtraction from, democracy".—[Official Report, 17/3/99; col. 792.]
§ Surely this proposal for a referendum fits the case. I beg to move.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Waddington
I want to explain in simple terms why I am attracted to this amendment. The Government's whole case is that this is a two-stage process and that stage one, which will create, without the Weatherill amendment, a wholly nominated House, will not be with us long because it will be followed by long-term, second-stage reform. Every Member of this place knows perfectly well that it is not as simple as that. Those of us who have said often that there might not be a second stage pray history in aid. We all know perfectly well as politicians how enormously difficult it will be to get a second-stage Bill through the other place. As the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, well remembers, the difficulty was experienced in 1968.
I took the trouble to read the Second Reading debate in another place. Government supporters were all over the place. Hardly two of them agreed on what was the best solution in terms of a second stage Bill. We read in the papers that today, for all that has been said from the Conservative Benches, there does not appear to be much support on the Labour Benches for the idea of an elected second Chamber.
So the Government have to face up to the fact that in this current Bill we may be looking at a Bill bringing about a permanent change in the constitution of this place. We have to ask ourselves whether that would be a happy outcome for our country. I do not believe that it would be for one moment. I have often talked about the inadequacies of this Bill. I do not see how anyone in his right mind could contemplate a wholly nominated House without there being written into the Bill all kinds of safeguards against the abuse of power. I do not see 1032 how anyone in his right mind can say that our liberties would be secure if there was a second Chamber composed entirely of nominated Peers and the Prime Minister of the day still had in his hands the power to appoint as many Peers as he wished, of whichever party political complexion he wished.
So I am attracted by this amendment because I look at it as a way of avoiding the worst possible outcome. That would be the passage of this Bill without safeguards; the failure, as a result of opposition in the other place, to approve a second-stage Bill; and our being left with a wholly nominated Chamber with power still in the hands of the Prime Minister of the day to manipulate its composition. This amendment would prevent that enormity because, as I understand it, the public would be asked whether they were prepared to put up with the permanent solution of a wholly nominated Chamber. I do not believe for one moment that the public would subscribe to that as being a reasonable way of addressing our present problems. I have confidence that the people would reject that out of hand and would force the Government to bring forward a second-stage Bill which genuinely brought about lasting and sensible reform of this place.
Without any safeguards at all this Bill is an enormity. If the Government had come to this place with a worked-out scheme and a Bill which provided for the abolition of the hereditary peerage, but which at the same time provided for the kind of safeguards which I mentioned in a speech the other day, taking entirely out of the hands of the Prime Minister the power to nominate people for peerages; and if there had been another safeguard in the Bill providing for a referendum in case of rejection by the second Chamber of a Bill which radically altered our constitutional safeguards I would not be making, with some passion, this speech today. But the Government have not tried to meet those points. All they have done is to throw before this House a Bill which will take away many of the safeguards against abuse which exist in this country at the present time.
No one can tell me that a wholly nominated House without a hereditary peerage would not be more easily manipulated than a House in which there is a large number of hereditary Peers. No one really believes that for a moment. Once the hereditary Peers have been removed and only a limited number of life Peers remain, with one party having a marginal advantage over the other, it would be very easy to create enough Peers not only to make sure that one can pass any legislation that one wishes but also to enable this House to vote for a Bill which extended the life of a parliament. That is the very safeguard which the legislators in 1911 recognised had to be left in the hands of the second Chamber.
I earnestly ask the Government to address these problems. I do not say that this is the only way in which those problems can be addressed, but I refuse to believe that we do not have the public on our side when we say that we cannot leave this as merely a simple exercise to get rid of the hereditary peerage and then leave it to the government of the day to decide on the composition of this place. That is the effect of this Bill.
§ Lord Chalfont
I rise briefly to express my support for Amendment No. 1, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. I think I can be mercifully brief because I have, before now, made my views known: I do not agree in any way with this Bill. Indeed, I do not believe it to be necessary. I believe that this House works perfectly well as it is. However, all those arguments are long past and gone. We can see what the Government have in mind and that they have a very good chance of bringing it about.
However, there is one thing that I believe we ought to do. As other noble Lords have said, we ought to find out whether the people of this country really want this change. We start off, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said earlier, with the fact that this is a manifesto commitment by the Labour Party which won the election for which that manifesto was published. I do not think that anyone contests that at all; nor do people contest the fact that a manifesto commitment has a very special resonance and status in Parliament and in your Lordships' House. But I do not believe that anyone sitting on that Front Bench, or on any of the Benches behind it, really believes that a great number of people who voted for the Labour Party in the last election did so because it was going to abolish the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords. I believe that we should find out whether that is what people want.
I have already said that there is no need for the Bill. In fact, I would go further than that and follow other noble Lords in saying that this is a dangerous Bill unless the Government are prepared to say, before they bring the legislation into effect, what will take the place of the present House of Lords when the hereditary Peers have been removed. Is it to be a nominated House? I should have thought that that would be the worst possible solution. Is it to be a mixture of nomination, appointment and election? Alternatively, as has already been suggested in many quarters, is it to be a fully elected House? We do not know the answer. I therefore join other noble Lords in saying that without that knowledge this simple Bill is a mistake—and a dangerous mistake.
We apparently thought it necessary to seek the opinion of the people about the governance of London. We thought it necessary to have a referendum about an assembly in Wales. We also thought it necessary to have a referendum about a parliament in Scotland. I would not argue with any of those decisions. But if those constitutional changes were considered important enough to ask the people of this country to support them, why on earth are we not prepared to ask them for support for the abolition of the hereditary peerage in this House? There is long constitutional history behind it; it is fundamental change to the constitution which leaves Wales, Scotland and London looking like trivialities in the political debate and argument of the day.
If carried, this amendment would have no impact on any other amendment. There has been a great deal of talk today about the Weatherill amendment; indeed, there have been criticisms and adumbrations of it. All I can say is that if this amendment were carried, it would have no impact upon that amendment at all. Anyone who believes that it would can be reassured in 1034 that respect. The referendum would not have any impact at all on the proposal to create a transitional House, nor would it have any effect as regards pre-empting the Royal Commission.
I turn now to my final point. If there is to be a Royal Commission and perhaps a Joint Committee of both Houses to decide upon and recommend the eventual shape, size, composition and powers of this House, would it not be best to wait for that to come forward before engaging upon this half-baked and totally controversial measure? I believe that the Government have already begun to realise that this is not the way to go about changing 1,000 years of history. I very much hope that noble Lords will support this amendment.
§ Lord Elton
My noble friend Lord Strathclyde drew from the noble Baroness the Leader of the House a response which made it clear that there is no prospect of delaying implementation of the Bill until the findings of the Royal Commission have been published. I believe that that would be most helpful. I see that the noble Baroness looks startled, but my noble friend asked whether it would not be more sensible to await the findings of all the advisory bodies. I understood the noble Baroness to decline that offer—she certainly declined it on Second Reading—and that has frequently been signalled in advance.
Therefore, when replying to the debate, I hope that the noble Baroness or the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will be kind enough to separate the reasons for the resistance which I anticipate they will voice. I make that request because subsection (2) of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway would have the effect of delaying the implementation of the Bill until the Royal Commission has reported. At Second Reading, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made it clear that that was something which the Government would not accept under any circumstances.
I think that my noble friend should consider whether he is wise to couple the two requirements in his amendment; namely, that there should be a seeking of the opinion of the majority of the electorate and that this should be sought only after the Royal Commission has reported. The Government are committed to a two-stage Bill. We all regret that fact and think that it is wrong, but we have to accept their position and majority in the other place. It seems to me that my noble friend could usefully reflect between now and the end of the debate on whether in fact his amendment would have a much stronger claim to acceptance by the Government. and whether the Government would have much less ground in the view of the public, your Lordships and indeed those in another place, on which to resist a referendum for this change to the constitution, after having accepted referendums for so many arguably lesser changes to the constitution. If my noble friend were to remove that excuse for such resistance, I believe that his amendment would be a good deal stronger.
§ Baroness Gould of Potternewton
I rise to make a brief intervention in opposition to these amendments. I have two basic, if technical, reasons for doing so. 1035 I shall try to stick strictly to the consequences of the amendments. I have listened with some care to the arguments expressed for holding a referendum, which might have had some legitimacy if the Government did not have a mandate for this Bill. Reform of the House of Lords was clearly set out as a two-stage reform in the manifesto upon which, I must stress, the Labour Party won the general election. Although frequently scoffed at in this House, manifesto commitments do have legitimacy—or why did we need the Salisbury Convention?
Similarly, there is no legitimacy in the view that there is no public support for the Bill. Indeed, 80 per cent of people in a MORI poll taken last October supported the removal of the hereditaries. With the greatest respect to those noble Lords who have spoken to the amendments, I have to say that I find it hard to believe that the latter have been tabled as a serious wish to consult people, or that the movers have had a sudden conversion to support the principle of referendums. I rather believe that the amendments have been tabled as a means of delaying the passage of the Bill. If we look at an outline of the timetable for implementation if the amendments were to be carried, that becomes even more evident. It is not just a question of waiting for the Royal Commission. I give way to the noble Lord.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I am much obliged to the noble Baroness. Will she accept the assurance that I have already given that, whatever else we have done, none of us—that is, of the six of us—has tabled these amendments to delay the Bill? I give my word upon that. Will the noble Baroness accept it, or not?
§ Baroness Gould of Potternewton
Obviously I have to accept the noble Lord's words, but I think the consequences would belie that. I shall quickly go through the timetable that would be needed. First, we must await the findings of the Royal Commission and then we must debate them. We must await the findings of the Joint Committee of both Houses and then debate them. We must introduce a referendum Bill for the consideration of both Houses. We must then hold the referendum. I reckon that if we do that in under two years, or perhaps three years, we shall have done extremely well. There is clear evidence that the Bill will be delayed.
That brings me to my second and possibly more fundamental objection to this amendment. Amendment No. 1 spells out that the referendum should be conducted,in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life set out in chapter 12",of its report on the funding of political parties. Acceptable and worthy as those recommendations may be they have not yet been approved by Parliament. Surely it is not the intention of the noble Lords proposing these amendments to deny Parliament that right or to prejudge Parliament's attitude to the Neill report.
1036 I am sure that many noble Lords will have strong views on the recommendations in that report, not least on the question that should be put. The recommendations not only spell out the way that referendums should be conducted but they also cross reference with other aspects of the Neill report; they cannot be isolated, not least the establishment of an election commission. The recommendations of the Neill committee on the conduct of referendums are based on the establishment of such a commission. The role of the commission is to oversee the conduct of the referendum and to sanction all the financial arrangements. For instance, page 13 of the report, Recommendation 85, states,The Election Commission should decide which organisations, if any, should be in receipt of core funding".Recommendation 86 states,a Campaign Organisation in receipt of core funding should be required to submit audited accounts to the Election Commission".Therefore acceptance of these amendments might imply that this House is determining not only how referendums should be conducted but also the establishment of an election commission. Although I am personally in favour of such a proposal, it requires proper and considered debate by both Houses of Parliament.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. Is she aware that there is a Private Member's Bill high in the Private Members' List in the other place which would bring into law all the matters which she and I have discussed arising from both the Neill committee and the Nolan committee, and that Bill could be enacted by the summer if she would only urge her colleagues in government to give it support? It is about to go into Committee; it is a perfectly good Bill, perfectly properly and well written. I gather that there is no objection to it in principle or in drafting. All it requires is the Government's support and the Bill could be enacted by the summer.
§ Baroness Gould of Potternewton
With the greatest respect, that is not what this amendment asks for. This amendment asks for the recommendations of the Neill committee to be the basis on which the referendum should be conducted. We do not know the outcome of the Bill that is going through. As it proceeds through the House many amendments may be made to it. The noble Lord cannot use that as an argument. As I say, I personally support the proposal for the establishment of an election commission—which I think is important—but it must receive proper and considered debate by both Houses of Parliament. The whole report of the Neill committee has to be seen as a package. That is why the Government will bring forward their draft Bill before too long. Therefore it appears to me that while these amendments may appear straightforward and simple they have far-reaching consequences beyond this Bill. For that, if for no other reason, the amendments should be rejected.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Viscount Cranborne
Before I address the speech of the noble Baroness who has just spoken, I wish to comment on the speech of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway who, with his usual eloquence, 1037 supported this interesting amendment. He suggested by implication that I had confirmed my interpretation of the amount of resistance that I would promise the Government—when I was in a position to do so, which I no longer am—in your Lordships' House to this Bill. I hope I may offer some help to the Government—whom I am always anxious to help, as a number of your Lordships have criticised me for doing already—but also to your Lordships' House if I attempt to give my interpretation of the understanding that was reached in that regard between the noble and learned Lord, his right honourable friend and myself.
My clear understanding of the somewhat joky—dare I say—final exchange between the Prime Minister and myself. which I well recall, was that I looked forward to causing at least as much trouble during the current Session of Parliament for the Government in your Lordships' House as we had in the previous Session. By that I meant—I think I got what I can regard only as a positive response—perfectly clearly that I regarded the obligation of your Lordships' House to examine with care all the legislative proposals put before your Lordships, and within the established conventions of your Lordships' House for your Lordships to perform their perceived constitutional duty to scrutinise legislation and indeed to make suggestions and amendments for another place which another place in due course could reject or accept.
Certainly I hope that Amendment No. 31, or a version of it, will meet with the Committee's approval. I shall certainly do my best to persuade the Committee of its virtues. As I explained on the previous occasion I addressed myself to this matter in your Lordships' House, I certainly could not undertake to predict, or indeed to deliver, your Lordships' opinion; it is for all of us to try to persuade a majority of your Lordships during the course of our debates. But nonetheless I am absolutely certain that it would be wise for the Committee—if I may be so bold as to venture some advice, which is perhaps unwise of me—to consider the remarkably fine record, since the election, that your Lordships have established for criticising the Government's legislation. I may venture also to suggest that your Lordships' reputation has never stood higher because of the judgment that your Lordships have exercised during the course of your Lordships' legislative performance during the past nearly two years.
I turn to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. Like my noble friend Lord Waddington, I am greatly attracted by this amendment, not least because of the charming puff that my noble friend gave to the Bill that I have introduced into your Lordships' House, which among many other modest and sensible measures suggests that your Lordships' House might in due course be given the duty to determine what constituted a constitutional measure of legislation and, having so decided, to tell the Government that they had an obligation under those circumstances to submit that measure to a referendum for approval or otherwise. For that reason alone I am attracted to my noble friend's proposal.
1038 I am also attracted to the reasons of my noble friend Lord Waddington for supporting my noble friend because he gave passionate expression to the view that I have often expressed—as has every single one of your Lordships so far—about our preferred route which has been encapsulated in the not particularly cosy mantra: no stage one without stage two. I associate myself enthusiastically, not for the first time, with everything that my noble friend Lord Waddington said about the Government's approach to this legislation. In fact I stand, like someone else not so long ago, astonished at my own moderation, and indeed at his, in support of that. I shall not weary the Committee with repetition of something which my noble friend was much better able to express than I.
However, I have to say both to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway and indeed to my noble friend Lord Waddington that I find myself in something of a difficulty about supporting the amendment of my noble friend Lord Campbell. The reason is very clear to me in the case of the inducement trailed by my noble friend Lord Campbell. The inducement was that he was merely bringing about a little earlier one of the admirable provisions of my Parliamentary Government Bill. I am grateful to him for that and for the additional publicity. Unfortunately, if I may say so with the greatest respect to my noble friend, my Parliamentary Government Bill is not yet law. Therefore the provisions which he and I both think so admirable in that Bill are not yet on the statute book, although, of course, I have every confidence that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will nod it through and encourage his honourable and right honourable friends in another place to do the same in very short order—thereby setting an extremely good example for your Lordships' House. But as the Bill is not yet on the statute book, it is with the greatest reluctance that I cannot find myself persuaded by my noble friend's argument, however much I should like to be.
My noble friend Lord Waddington is right about no stage one without stage two. All of us have repeated ad nauseam our criticism of the Government's approach to reform of your Lordships' House. I never thought I would find myself saying that I was getting bored even with the sound of my own voice in repeating these arguments. For the first time in my life, I have at least some sympathisers among noble Lords opposite when I make that observation. Tempted as I am by the prospect of supporting my noble friend's amendment, it is in direct contravention of what has come to be known as the Salisbury convention. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway was perfectly correct when he said that the amendment would in no way impede the provisions of the Bill. But it would impede the implementation of the provisions of the Bill, not only for a few weeks but probably for some months or even some years.
I yield to no one in my support for such a delightful prospect, but I would strongly advise your Lordships against supporting on the first day of Committee stage debate an amendment the effect of which would be to wreck the Bill. That would very clearly set out a pattern for the remainder of our debates, which might make it 1039 increasingly difficult for your Lordships if this pattern were taken up and did not play as well with the outside public as some of your Lordships might like to think it would. That would make it more difficult for us to amend the Bill in other ways, something which I think is equally desirable and perhaps more practicable for another place to consider in due course.
Your Lordships may think my caution is too pusillanimous—and characteristically so—but I urge your Lordships at least to take a rain check before voting in favour of my noble friend's amendment and to think for a little while. Perhaps my noble friend will be inclined to bring back his amendment on Report after we have gained a little of the flavour of the debates we are about to undertake. Then we may be in a position to set my noble friend's admirable proposals in context, not as a matter of principle but as a matter of practicality in terms of the way in which your Lordships consider the Bill in the coming weeks and months.
§ Lord Acton
Before my noble kinsman sits down, can he say whether in his opinion the amendment, whether it is introduced and voted on now or at Report stage, does or does not attract the Salisbury convention?
§ Viscount Cranborne
I am grateful to my noble kinsman. It always distresses me to see one of my kinsmen sitting on the Benches opposite. I hope that his peripatetic habits will one day propel him back to his proper place. While I defer, of course, to the judgment of your Lordships with greater experience in these matters, since the essence of the Bill before the Committee at the moment is tiny, any provision which appreciably delays, and delays probably for a very long time, the implementation of the substance of the Bill goes against my understanding of the Salisbury convention.
The Earl of Dudley
Can the noble Viscount tell us whether his grandfather, when he declared the Salisbury convention, took cognisance of the fact that a Labour manifesto not only needs to be published but also widely read?
§ Viscount Cranborne
My memory of my grandfather, whose ghost I suspect will stalk our debates perhaps even more than usual, is that he did not. Even in those days manifestos were not widely read documents. I am encouraged in my opinion by a whispered aside from my noble friend Lord Carrington, who confirms my view.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Marsh
Not for the first time, I find myself agreeing to a considerable extent with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I have a complete understanding of the problems which one has within families.
This is the first time I have spoken on this subject in the House but, like many of your Lordships, I have sat through many hours of debate here during which we have had some hundreds of speeches. For me, it was sad 1040 because I found myself sliding into an ocean of loneliness, which is unusual for me. Speaker after speaker from the hereditary Peers on the Opposition Benches expressed with fervour and enthusiasm their support for radical change in the House. Not only had they pursued that line for years—it was not a short-term thing—but in some cases for generations. I have missed out because I think the House does a very good job. It is at least as good as very many second Chambers, despite its somewhat eccentric composition. Given that eccentricity, it is better than some.
Paradoxically, the hereditary element has produced by random selection a cross-section of people wider than that of the life Peers, and both groups are more representative than the House of Commons. Some of my best friends are hereditary Peers. I keep it quiet outside this House! There are some who have vast wealth, as do some of the life Peers; and some are people of no wealth, like many of the life Peers. They are drawn from a wide range of different occupations. So I am not a great enthusiast for radical change in this Chamber. But it is too late; the opportunities have been missed.
I was, and still am, puzzled about the enthusiasm for reform yet the failure to obtain it. The Conservative Party has been in control of this country for 33 of the past 50 years, in two periods of office: 13 years in one stretch and 20 years in the other. Therefore, one wonders why they did not do something about the matter. The Labour Party, to my regret, right from its inception has found the existence of hereditary legislators totally unacceptable. But if anyone in this Chamber had not noticed that, along came the much maligned manifesto.
What does the manifesto say? Like most noble Lords, I always read the manifestos, then leave the country and have a holiday until the election is over. There is a view that these matters are terribly complicated and we could not be expected to understand the complexities of election manifestos. Therefore, perhaps I may remind noble Lords of what it said. It stated:The House of Lords must be reformed. As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute. This will be the first stage in a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative … A committee of both Houses of Parliament will be appointed to undertake a wide-ranging review of possible further change and then to bring forward proposals for reform".I am bragging, but I understood it immediately. It is pretty clear.
But then they said: "It caught us by surprise". I was puzzled. I had heard that view expressed previously, but I remember having a considerable argument with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, long before the election on the Labour Party's intentions. Then I remembered that four of my noble friends, the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, and the late Lord Bancroft, at the beginning of 1995—five years ago—produced a paper entitled The Second Chamber: some remarks on reforming the House of Lords. They already knew what the Labour Party's policy would probably be. The document, written in 1995 by four Back-Benchers on the Cross-Benches, stated: 1041It was our understanding that the Labour Party intended, if elected at the forthcoming General Election, immediately to abolish the right of the hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords. We also understood that they would institute formal consultations—perhaps by means of a Speaker's Conference or Royal Commission—towards a more comprehensive reform of the Lords".The document went on to deal with the proposal to abolish the right of Peers by succession to sit in the House of Lords:We turn now to consider proposals to reform the House. To recapitulate our understanding of what the Labour Party propose, they intend to reform the Lords immediately on being returned to power. They envisage a short Bill to abolish the right of hereditary Peers to sit in the House, to be introduced in the first session of the new Parliament".I apologise for this, but it was public knowledge, and this is evidence. It went on to refer to the effect of the proposal for a short Bill:The Labour Party's approach in effect splits the present debate on reform of the Lords into two parts. The relatively narrow question of the abolition of the right of the hereditary peers to sit in the House must be considered at once".The document continued:The parliamentary history of comprehensive reform of the Lords is not happy. Limited reforms, by way of short Bills, have proved far more successful".I assure noble Lords that none of those people was, or ever has been, a member of the Labour Party.The shorter a constitutional Bill is, the better. A short Bill to deprive the hereditary peers of their seats would therefore seem a practical proposition, and there can be little doubt that, given a sufficient majority for it in the House of Commons, it would pass Parliament, even if in the last resort it was passed under the Parliament Acts, in the second session".I should state where I managed to obtain the document. My source was the Printed Paper Office. If the Conservative Party did not know in 1995 what everyone else knew, there really ought to be a shake-up in its research department. We know perfectly well that it was well known.
That decision has been taken. I have gone through life being disappointed: political parties do not agree with the things that I think are right. The objective now that we are presented with a clean sheet must be to seek to produce the most effective Chamber that we can. The opportunity is available to start afresh. There is no reason why some hereditary Peers will not reappear in this Chamber as life Peers or whatever. They can stand for Parliament or whatever. People can still continue, with this Chamber, seeking the best solution that we can provide.
To speak at this time of holding a referendum is a constitutional abomination. I oppose it on two grounds. First, in terms of practicality, what question will be posed? Who will put the question? How many months are we going to spend trying to explain to the public the problems that we have with delegated legislation and such matters? The suggestion is totally impractical.
1042 I pass quickly over the cost. We do not have many national referendums. I believe that the first, and last, was the 1975 referendum on membership of the European Economic Community—
§ Lord Marsh
No, with the greatest respect, "national" means in this context Great Britain. The referendum in 1975 cost £11.417,000. I do not think that cost should be the deciding factor in this argument, but noble Lords can amuse themselves working out what it would cost today, 24 years later.
I turn finally to my key point. In this, I am totally with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. The Salisbury convention is the only way in which this Chamber works with the House of Commons. It is wrong, and always would be, for a second Chamber, particularly an unelected one—even if it were elected it would be a subsidiary chamber—to seek to impose its views on a matter on which the government of the day had been elected.
The manifesto is crystal clear beyond argument and the Bill fits without any deviation whatsoever. When I think of the number of things that this Government have done for which they had no manifesto whatsoever—in terms of student fees, syphoning £5 billion a year from pension funds with the ACT tax charges, and a host of other matters. On this master the manifesto is clear beyond doubt. Not only will the Government get their way at the end of the day; they are entitled to get their way. To seek to say at this stage that basically all the last election obtained was a raffle ticket to enter a referendum is, in my view, a gross distortion and total irresponsibility.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
I enjoyed that delightful Second Reading speech of my noble friend Lord Marsh enormously. I am only sorry that he did not list the other commitments the Government made in their manifesto. It is nonsense for the Government to pretend, as they do, that because the Bill formed part of their manifesto commitment, the people of this country elected them to kick the hereditary Peers out of this House. There were many other promises in the manifesto, most of which will have been of much more cogent importance to the majority of voters.
Therefore, the Government cannot pretend that they have a mandate from the people of this country to do what they are doing. This is a major constitutional change on a par with devolution for Scotland and Wales, on a par with going into the European Community and on a par with potentially giving up sterling for the euro.
If we can have a referendum to decide those matters, why can we not have a referendum for this vitally important constitutional reform? Is it because of the expense? If the Government could find the money for the devolution referendums, and if they propose to do so for the currency referendum which we have been promised, why can they not find money for this? Is it because they are frightened that the result might not be 1043 to their liking? I believe that it is. Then it would be difficult for them to go against the expressed will of the people.
The purpose of the amendment standing in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Gray, and myself is to clarify the composition of the electorate in the proposed referendum. The promised legislation on the conduct of referenda has not, to my knowledge, yet been passed through Parliament. The Committee will remember that we cannot vote in a parliamentary election, so we could have no input into the result.
For those reasons, I shall support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. I do not think, any more than he does, that this is a wrecking amendment. Even if it were—which it is not—I am not entirely persuaded that in a vital constitutional matter of this kind the Salisbury convention should obtain.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Richard
Many years ago, before I started agreeing with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, in the days when he was in the Labour Party, I used to find myself occasionally agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. For 30 years I have not agreed with much that he said, but this afternoon I thought he got it absolutely right. In my limited political experience, I can think of no measure that has been more clearly telegraphed in a manifesto and put before the country at a general election than this one.
Let us think about it. How does a political party get a mandate for a proposal which it wishes to make, indeed a proposal that it has been making at every general election since 1911? How does it get the mandate? It does what I am sure most of the Committee would think sensible. It puts it in the manifesto and the manifesto is then put to the country. The country then votes either for or against the party. The issue is whether what the Labour Party intended was presented to the country and whether the country was therefore clear about that, if the country wished to be clear about it.
The terms are absolutely crystal clear. This measure was put before the country as a free-standing measure, to be introduced irrespective of further measures of reform. Whatever one may think about further measures of reform— and no doubt we will discuss that in due course—the fact is that this was presented as the first issue to be dealt with, the first stage of a reform process—those were the words used—and the country elected us with a massive majority. In those circumstances, how noble Lords opposite can argue that we do not have the mandate and we do not have the authority to proceed in this way is beyond me.
The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, made some passing references to the fact that the Conservative Party had been in office in this country for rather a long time. The reforming zeal which is now emanating from those Benches did not exactly reveal itself for most of those years. I have to say to the party opposite that if a decade ago they had come up with a more moderate—in their terms—measure for the reform of your Lordships' 1044 House, no doubt by now it would have been in place for a decade and therefore the position might be entirely different. But they did not.
However the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, seeks to wrap it up—and of course I accept his words, he is a man of honour—the effect of what he proposes is to delay the implementation of a measure for which we have a clear mandate from the British people. Not only that, I have problems with the practicalities of the amendment. As I understand it, the referendum he proposes in Amendment No. 1 is a referendum on whether the House should be reformed in two stages. In other words, it is whether we should be able to implement the first stage before we implement the second stage. That presages a second referendum, does it not? The Royal Commission would report, there would be proposals for the second stage reform—again presaged in the Labour Party's manifesto—at the next election and the noble Lord would say that there had to be a second referendum on the second stage. So he would have two referendums: one to decide whether the first stage should be implemented before the second stage is implemented, and another one on the implementation of the second stage.
With great respect, that is constitutional nonsense. My party has a clear mandate for what it wants to do and I hope the Committee will back it.
§ Lord Crickhowell
I much enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. I wished that when I was at Cambridge many years ago he had been my history lecturer. That is partly because the lectures would have been enjoyable, but partly because he could have been one of those lecturers whose talks I could have decided not to listen to on the grounds that the advice he gave was unsound. I shall explain why I believe it was unsound.
It seems to me that one of the principles of an unwritten constitution is that it is dependent upon the retention of a balance of institutions. That is the only defence that we have against an over-mighty executive. In my view, it cannot be right that so fundamental a safeguard can be overturned simply on the basis that a party has achieved a majority, however substantial, in one general election. There I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said in an earlier debate that we had on the subject.
Like others in this House, I have had the fun of drafting manifestos. I would not belittle the importance of a manifesto, but I do not believe that when we are confronted with the removal of fundamental constitutional safeguards a reference in a manifesto is sufficient authority, particularly when the consideration of that item in the manifesto is acknowledged probably to have had only a minimal impact upon the result.
We have precedents before us. The principle of holding a referendum is not new. Referendums were held in 1975 and 1979, both concerned with fundamental constitutional change.What we seek is a broadly based consensus for change".Those are the words of the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, speaking at the introduction of the referendum Bill that 1045 was brought in to deal with the constitutional changes in Scotland and Wales. He went on a little later on that day, 17th June 1997, to say:Popular consent will add legitimacy to our proposals—in a sense it is the way to build the settlement into the system—to give it roots".—[Official Report, 17/6/97; col. 1113.]I believe there is a perfectly valid case for a referendum to support constitutional change and I do not accept the argument, however lively its presentation may have been, of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. Fortunately, the procedures of this House enable us to consider a proposition put to this House at various stages. Certainly a number of points have been made about my noble friend's amendment which may lead him to think that it would be better to bring it forward, having considered the points, at a later stage. I am not necessarily pressing for a vote today, but I have to say that if he were to press his amendment today I would support him.
I can understand the loyalty that my noble friend sitting beside me has for his grandfather's principles. I understand, too, the importance of the conventions of this House, but whatever commitments might have been given by the leaders of my party I am bound to say I have never felt wholly committed to a principle when it applies to a fundamental constitutional change which removes the safeguards upon which we rely. Although we may not have a chance to vote on this particular amendment in this particular form today, I do not think it should inhibit us from pressing—
§ Lord Goodhart
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, for giving way. I just wonder whether he is putting forward the proposition that a permanent Conservative majority in this House is a vital constitutional safeguard.
§ Lord Crickhowell
I am not suggesting anything of the kind, and the noble Lord really ought to do better than that. What we are being asked to do by having stage one without stage two is to go blindly down a path without an endgame—and we are learning in a particularly unpleasant war at the moment that not to have an endgame when you start to execute a policy is a particularly stupid and dangerous thing to do. Here we have, on a vital constitutional matter, a government going to the country without the faintest idea of what their endgame is going to be, without any proposition to give to the country, without the faintest idea of how these matters are going to be handled in the future, and dependent entirely upon the recommendations that are to come to us from the Royal Commission.
It is for that reason, and because constitutional safeguards are being removed without our having the smallest idea of what is to be put in their place, that I believe we are perfectly entitled to seek a delay and to ask for a referendum. I cannot believe that it is right to go through with a measure of this kind, removing fundamental safeguards, without the will of the country, firmly and clearly expressed in a referendum.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Viscount Mountgarret
I feel that too much attention is being given to the question of the manifesto and what was contained therein. It is irrelevant that the proposal happened to be in the manifesto. It need not be blindly followed. Let me give an example. Flexibility in all things is essential. A good general leading his troops into battle has a plan, and he decides to go straight forward to his objective. However, halfway there he finds there is some very good reason for changing his plan and going another way.
I believe that is exactly the position in this case. We all believe, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, that reform of your Lordships' House is desirable: it is necessary. I do not think there is very much argument about that; but, really, to have to rush at it in such a way without giving any detailed thought—as has emerged in later debates and many speeches—seems to me to be a fundamental mistake.
The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, merely follows a line which has already been set out by my noble friend Lady Saltoun. Namely, there was a manifesto commitment by the Labour Party that devolution would be on the table for Scotland and Wales. And what happened? There were referendums on that proposal. What is sauce For the goose is sauce for the gander. If the Labour Party wishes to change the entire constitution of this country then it is only logical that we should be entitled to ask the people of this country if that is what they wish. It needs to he a positive question, and not tied up with commitments on health, education, pay or what you will—in which I believe the people of this country are far more interested than they are in the constitution of your Lordships' Chamber.
Another question occurs to me, and other Members of your Lordships' Chamber will be able to correct me if I am wrong. I wonder whether Parliament has the power unilaterally to change the constitution of the country without receiving the positive support of the people. Parliament is there by the will of the people. Parliament has been invested with the power of upholding the laws and the conventions which lead to the understood and unwritten constitution of this country. If Parliament wishes to make a fundamental change to our constitution it seems to me that Parliament should be obliged, to be on the safe side, to go back to the people of the country and say, "This is what we suggest; we think it is in your interests but we would like to be sure."
I may be quite wrong, but that seems to me to be not unreasonable. For that reason I ask whether there really has to be a mad, lemming-like rush to get stage one through. It ought to be considered not only by the Royal Commission, but the people of the country ought to be asked first. For this reason, I support wholeheartedly the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and others. I hope very much indeed that, despite the powerful speech of my noble 1047 friend Lord Marsh, which I found very impressive and difficult to refute, your Lordships might feel that this amendment should be agreed to.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, as I am the first speaker in the debate from these Benches at this Committee stage, I would like to argue against the mass—now some 275—of amendments as a whole. I can do that in one sentence, which is that we want the Bill, the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill.
We will need to be convinced of the need for any amendments to this Bill, and that goes for the Weatherill amendment also. We are certainly not convinced of the need for this amendment. It calls for a referendum. The use of referendums in the United Kingdom is novel, but it now seems to be accepted that advisory referendums may and sometimes should be held on major constitutional changes or those with constitutional implications—
§ Viscount Cranborne
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way, particularly so early in his remarks. By whom is it accepted that advisory referendums should be held, if he means by that pre-legislative ones?
§ Lord Goodhart
Pre-legislative referendums have been held recently in Scotland and Wales. There is not complete agreement, but a considerable consensus, among constitutional experts that that is an appropriate and sometimes desirable course to take. As the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, pointed out, the first and only United Kingdom-wide referendum was that held in 1975 on whether the UK should stay within the European Community. Since then there have been other referendums in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and London. We may have nationwide referendums on joining the euro or changes in the voting system for the House of Commons. All of those issues, except that relating to London, were very important ones with major constitutional implications.
But what is the proposed referendum here about? As I read it, the intention is that if the Government wish to bring the Bill into force before stage two they can do so only by a referendum. That referendum cannot be held until the Royal Commission has reported and the Joint Committee has reported on the report of the Royal Commission. Plainly, that is not a referendum on the simple question whether hereditary Peers should be removed from your Lordships' House. It is arguable whether a referendum on that issue would be justified. It is not an argument with which I agree because I believe that the position is quite clear. In effect we had two referendums on the issue in the January and December elections of 1910. The principle that hereditary Peers should leave your Lordships' House was decided in 1910 and has never been reversed by any party in this country since then.
My party and the government party have always wished to reform your Lordships' House by ending the rights of hereditary Peers. The Conservative Party has not, and does not now, say that hereditary Peers should remain permanently in your Lordships' House. Your 1048 Lordships' House voted in principle in 1968 for the removal of the voting rights of hereditary Peers. For these reasons, and also because there is a manifesto commitment—which is as clear as any manifesto commitment has ever been—I believe that a referendum on that issue would not be appropriate. But at least if the issue was whether hereditary Peers should remain here permanently it would be an important and arguable one giving rise to a clear and simple question.
What, however, is the purpose of the referendum proposed by Amendment No. 1? The question will be whether hereditary Peers are to leave immediately after the referendum or hang on for a year or two until stage two is implemented. That, frankly, is not a major constitutional issue, and your Lordships delude yourselves if you think that the public shares your enthusiasm for that point. It will be extremely difficult to explain to the public what it is all about. Do your Lordships expect major public interest in this question? If so, I am bound to say that you will be disappointed.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I am becoming rather confused and am trying to follow the argument. I know that it is my fault. The noble Lord talks about "my party". He uses "we", then "I" and returns to "we". Is he speaking for the Liberal Democrat Party? Is the Committee to hear what I call free-range contributions to the debate that we have heard from the Labour Party and other quarters of the House; or is the noble Lord just speaking for his party?
§ Lord Goodhart
The answer that the noble Lord might have concluded from the position from which I address the Committee is that I speak for the Liberal Democrat Party.
§ Lord Waddington
Perhaps the noble Lord will give way again. Is he saying that it is the policy of the Liberal Democrat Party to see created a wholly nominated House, with nominations solely in the hands of the Prime Minister of the day? If that is the view of the Liberal Party, it surely was not the view of that party in 1910 and 1911.
§ Lord Goodhart
I point out that in 1910 there were no life Peers. The position today is that we do not support a wholly nominated Chamber, but we are anxious that the matter should proceed in the two stages that have been made out and in which our party concurred in the Cook-Maclennan agreement before the previous election.
Reference has been made to opinion polls that show a majority in favour of retaining the hereditary Peers until stage two. That may or may not be so, but frankly I believe that the whole matter ranks extremely low in issues of public concern. I believe that the public neither expects nor wants a referendum on this question. Just imagine a "yes or no" campaign in this referendum. What would the referendum broadcasts be like? I believe that the whole question would raise apathy to new heights and there would be a wholly minimal turnout. Why delay the referendum until the report of the Joint Committee? Why not hold it now? The 1049 conclusion I reach—it may not be the intention, but it is surely the effect—is that there would be no time to hold a referendum before the next general election.
Amendment No. 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Gray, makes matters even worse because it would require approval by a majority of the parliamentary electorate. In the referendum of 1975, which dealt with a very high profile issue, there was a 64 per cent turnout. Just over two-thirds of those who voted in that referendum voted yes, but even so that amounted to only about 43 per cent of the electorate. The chances of getting more than 50 per cent to vote in favour of the proposition in a referendum of this kind are negligible.
In reply to the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and others, we do not believe that the retention of hereditary Peers makes a proper stage two any more likely. It has always suited the Conservative Party to preserve the status quo. After this Bill becomes law that will no longer be the case. In the unlikely event of the Government not committing themselves to stage two by the time of the next election, the Conservatives will he able to put forward proposals for a new second Chamber and gain support for doing so.
I believe that this is a wholly inappropriate question for a referendum. It is in practice a wrecking amendment, even more so when it delays the operation of the Bill for some two years. I add my voice to others—I refer in particular to the very powerful speeches of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Marsh—and urge your Lordships not to agree to this amendment.
§ Lord Strathclyde
It may be worth while if I make a short speech on behalf of these Benches at this stage of the debate before it goes on very much longer. I begin by making one or two comments on what some noble Lords have already said. In doing so I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, to the debate. He told us that this was the first time that he had taken part in the debates on reform of the House of Lords. He accused the Conservative Party of being surprised by the development that had taken place and by the fact that the Government intended to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House. I am not in the least surprised, and nor should he be. It was while we were still in government that we held a two-day debate in this House on the future of the House of Lords in which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, then Leader of the Opposition, made clear the position of noble Lords opposite—or at least as clear as it was then, which was not much clearer than it is now in terms of the longer-terns position. However, I recognise that he himself has, in modern parlance, moved on from the position then taken.
§ Lord Richard
Will the noble Lord confirm that on behalf of the Labour Party I made it perfectly clear at that stage that we would have stage one in which the rights of hereditary Peers would be abolished, and stage two would take place after consultation?
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
I am delighted to confirm that that was my understanding then, as it is now. The point I seek to make is that the noble Lord has come forward with his own ideas for longer-term reform. I welcome that as part of the general debate that needs to he had about the long-term future of this House. But the amendment raises a number of questions which the Government need to answer. In his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that what the Government intended for this House was widely known by the country. That may or may not be true; I do not know. But there were a number of other issues which were also widely known by the country, not least the whole situation on devolution.
The point is that the issue of the House of Lords seems to be the only matter on which the Government are not prepared to entertain a referendum. Since 1997 we have had referendums on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is proposed—I think in this Parliament—that there be a referendum on proportional representation; and at some stage in the future on the European single currency. I need to ask the Government this one immediate question. They will have considered it. When they were writing their manifesto they made a decision. The decision was to include a referendum on some important constitutional issues and not others. I wish to know the answer to this question; the House has a right to know it. What is so fundamentally different between those issues and the issue of Parliament itself? What reason did the Government have for not including the issue of the House in the referendums? As a party, we are not intrinsically keen on referendums, but the Government are. We have seen the evidence of that several times over the course of the past few months.
However, there is another reason why the Government are more committed to this. Recently, they published a White Paper, Modernising Parliament. In it they boasted of the importance of referendums. They say:People across the country have made clear what they want. Referendums and subsequent developments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have shown a clear appetite for change, and a determination to achieve it…The people of London have made clear how they want to be governed … All these developments will reconnect people with power in Britain … Parliament is not exempt from this process of reform, nor should it be".Yet the Government have made a decision that Parliament should be left out of this process of referendums.
All I wish to know—it is a relatively simple question—is this. What are the Government afraid of? Is it that they think hereditary Peers are so popular they might lose? I cannot believe that that is their reason; but it might be. If the amendment were carried, what justification would they have for reversing this in the House of Commons?
A short while ago there was a question from my noble friend Lord Cranborne to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. Is it the Government's position that they prefer pre-legislative referendums rather than post-legislative referendums? I believe that the constitutional rule should 1051 be that the people are asked after Parliament has been asked. It is part of the locks that have withstood the test of time, although that was broken by the pre-legislative referendums in the case of Scotland, Wales, and London.
I am not sure why the Government are in such a flap over this issue unless they are nervous of the proposition which is outlined in the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway: that the Committee on Standards in Public Life should govern the referendum. If that is the case—if the Government decide to change their mind and have an amendment—it cannot be beyond the wit of Government or Parliament to pass a short referendum Bill, or to attach one to this Bill, if they so wish. I suspect that they do not wish it. Almost exactly two years ago we passed a referendum Bill in a little under two months. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, was running his referendum Bill. It was a good deal more contentious. It had a good deal less cross-party support, and yet it happened.
I also wish to quote the Government on subsection (2) of the amendment, about the joint committee of both Houses of Parliament. Are the Government still committed to this? I do not say that they will necessarily have made up their mind, but it would be useful to know whether they have considered the matter. Have they any idea how long they will give a joint committee of both Houses to take a view after the Royal Commission has reported; or on the balance of membership between both Houses? Do they envisage that the House of Commons should have a preponderance of Members or that there should be an even balance between the House of Lords and another place?
I should like also to know the answer to this question. I can see why the Government hide behind the important fig-leaf of the manifesto. But let us accept it as that; it is a fig-leaf. But are they opposed to a referendum as a matter of principle on the long term future of the second Chamber? Have they considered the proposition that obtaining the consent of a wider electorate by a specific question in the referendum may be worthwhile after Parliament has passed a second stage Bill; or, if they are so wedded to the idea of pre-legislative referendums, that whatever the Royal Commission comes up with should be put before the people of this country in a referendum?
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, may be right that no one is particularly interested in this issue. Is that what the Liberal Democrat Party is about: to maintain the position that the people of this country are not interested in the make-up of Parliament? I should have thought that this may be an opportunity to make people more interested in Parliament and its operations. That is one good reason for having this debate.
When the Government reply, I hope that they will be able to tell us the answer to two specific questions. First, what was the reasoning behind there not being a commitment to a referendum on this question when referendums were conceded on so many other issues? 1052 Secondly, can they tell the House whether they ever envisage a referendum on the long-term future of this House?
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for putting those two points. From around the House we have had a thorough and extensive debate. I would almost describe it as at times ingenious. While I am somewhat tempted to follow some noble Lords who have raised what could be described as Second Reading points, or discussion on future amendments, I shall not do so. But I must make one point. However ingenious one is, I do not understand how one can wrap discussion about this potential second stage of reform in the terms of this amendment. However, whenever and whatever one asked the people of this country hypothetically to vote upon in a referendum on the Bill, I cannot understand how it would illuminate the next stage of reform. That seems to be the issue concerning most noble Lords offering their views on the amendment today.
Whether or not we should seek a second stage referendum—if one can call it that—which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, raised is, as I said in reply to his remarks on the Business Motion today, a matter we would hope to proceed with by consent once the Royal Commission and the joint committee of both Houses (which we have no intention of abandoning) have reported. Let us hope that that consensus on the next stage of reform, of which we all speak with such enthusiasm, will come to pass and will enable us to undertake the long term constitutional issues which we need to do when considering a second Chamber fit for the 21st century with reasonable consensus between all those who are part of that discussion.
The arguments today have been thorough and in some instances subtle. I fear that those who have been subtle may find my response rather simple. Indeed, it is straightforward. But it is no less robust because of that. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the Government do not feel in a flap.
The general view of the supporters of the amendment seems to be—to encapsulate it in so far as it was described in specific terms—that the people have not made known what they want and should be given the opportunity to do so. I realise that I risk wearying some of your Lordships who have heard the manifesto undertaking, I must repeat it once again. The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who is not longer in his place, has already done so. It states:The House of Lords must be reformed. As an initial self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will he ended by statute. This will be the first stage in a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative".That is the unequivocal commitment which, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, stated, is rightly subject to the Salisbury convention. In spite of those noble Lords who suggested that at this stage we should rewrite the parliamentary constitutional undertakings about 1053 manifesto commitments, I do not think that many believe that that is an appropriate argument.
The people have spoken precisely on this issue. As I said at Second Reading, to suggest that the British people did not understand, or were not aware, of the commitment is both insulting and dangerous. To those who say that no one ever reads the manifestos, that they are in the small print of people's understanding, it is with delight that I say that during the last general election campaign the Labour Party's manifesto was on the best-seller list of the Sunday Times for many weeks. To say that it was not understood is to be extremely insulting to the electorate which gave this Government an overwhelming mandate. As the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, made clear, there have been many opportunities, not least those suggested by the Cross-Benchers in your Lordships' discussions during the past few years, to preview the proposals which the Labour Party intended to make when it was elected, as it was in 1997.
I believe that we should look at the argument from another angle. I wonder how Members would react if there were, for example, a manifesto commitment which they believed to he a protection of constitutional privilege. There may be one; I stand to be informed. But if there were and the Government decided that they would not fulfil it because they did not believe that the public understood the fine print, there would be a great deal of concern. People would say, "You were elected on this programme. Why do you not fulfil it?". I believe that there would be uproar from the constitutionalists in your Lordships' House, and rightly so.
Again on the prominence of the manifesto, other noble Lords have suggested that few people voted Labour solely on the basis of the commitment to remove hereditary Peers. We do not know that one way or the other, but if it were to be true we cannot cherry pick over each party's manifesto. I gently ask those who make that argument how many people voted Conservative in 1987 solely on the basis of the proposals to introduce the poll tax?
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, whose views I enormously respect, have quoted the evidence of an opinion poll to suggest that people are against the reform. Perhaps I may respectfully quote something to him:to rely on opinion polls and say to another place that we represent the will of the people and they, the political representatives in the elected Chamber, do not, evinces more than a hint of hubris".That was the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, on 14th July 1993, at col. 275 of the Official Report, when he was speaking against an amendment to the Maastricht Bill to introduce a referendum. If I did not believe and understand the noble Lord's extreme sagacity and great honesty, I could say to him that of course we all change our minds. In my view, the amendment before us today is not so much a change of mind about the principle of referendums, which he so forcefully argued against in the context of the Maastricht Bill, but more about a policy which he does not particularly like.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. It was very shrewd of her to find that quotation. I congratulate her. However, it is not a very fair quotation.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I believe that many noble Lords who are making a lot of unusual noise would not have been aware that for a very long time similar amendments in my name have been in the "no date named" and before this House on the reasoned amendment. What I may have said in the past was when I was probably less foolish than I am today. But we certainly can change our minds and there is no doubt that on this issue, for a long period of time, I have not changed it. My point that it is not a meretricious job to suit this debate; it is a good fun arguing point and I give it to the noble Baroness—as such.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
I would never accuse the noble Lord of being meretricious and I acknowledge, as I did before he rose, that people do change their minds. I simply sought to illustrate the point that issues of constitutional importance arise. I am sure that those noble Lords who in 1993 took part in the extensive debate on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, otherwise known as the Maastricht Bill, would have been extremely pleased to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, in not wishing to promote any amendment to establish a referendum on that Bill.
That brings me to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about whether the Government were cherry picking on introducing referendums. I draw his attention once again to that well known document, the manifesto. The Government believe that the manifesto should herald where the people should be consulted on a specific point. That is precisely what we did. The noble Lord drew attention, for example, to devolution for Scotland and Wales and to an elected mayor and an assembly for London. The position on introducing referendums before those Bills became law was explicit in the manifesto, and that is the position which the Labour Party has always taken.
Let us take the example of Scottish devolution. The policy of the Labour Party has always been that it should be dependent on the agreement of the population and that was clearly set out in the manifesto. It was on points of such detail that the White Paper and the subsequent Bill were introduced.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. She said that the position of the Labour Party was always that Scotland was to have a referendum. Would she care to remind the Committee exactly on which date the Prime Minister decided to 1055 change the position of the Labour Party and opt for a referendum? If she does not, I will come back and tell her.
§ Baroness Jay of Paddington
I should be only too happy to have the noble Lord give us the calendar date, but I suspect that it will not help the discussion on whether it is right to preview issues on which one wants to hold a referendum in the manifesto. That is precisely what we did in relation to Bills on Scotland, Wales and the London government. They were raised as arguments against the position of not always having a referendum on constitutional matters.
I turn to an issue which, interestingly, has not been raised today. The incorporation of the EC treaty on human rights into our law was very thoroughly debated. It was discussed in great detail in your Lordships' House last year because it was of enormous constitutional importance. As my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn said in his winding-up speech on Second Reading of this Bill, it was of the greatest possible significance to the constitution of this country. I have checked and can say that at no stage during the passage of that Bill was there a request for a referendum. That was taken as an issue which could legitimately be decided on the basis of the debates in this House and another place and on the basis of the manifesto commitment.
Why was that done? It was done because the Government did not believe that anybody who had voted for them and had understood their wish to fulfil our treaty obligations, which at that stage were many years old in relation to the human rights convention in Europe, could possibly challenge them in a referendum. It is exactly the same argument that convinces us that a referendum on the Bill, which is the first stage of the reform of the House of Lords, is unnecessary.
Perhaps I can point out that the relevant passage in the manifesto, which has been quoted twice this afternoon and on several earlier occasions, is longer than the main clause of this Bill. It is hard to imagine how a referendum question could possibly be more simple than that.
That brings me to some practical questions raised by noble Lords on what would happen if the amendment were accepted and the practicalities of the referendum that may then be forthcoming. Questions arise as to how such a referendum can be conducted and what sort of questions would be put. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, slightly tendentiously, said that the electorate would be asked, "Would you put up with a nominated chamber for ever?" That would not be the relevant question, nor would it be the relevant question in the context of the Bill.
Several noble Lords raised the question of whether the referendum would act as the guarantee of the second stage. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, suggested that that was one way of establishing that the second stage would occur. As I said earlier, I do not want to be drawn into discussions on later amendments. From the Government's perspective, Amendment No. 31, as it 1056 now stands, is precisely the guarantee of that. When we reach that amendment I am sure that the arguments will be made in that context.
I understand entirely the bona fides and integrity of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, in not seeking to delay the passage of the Bill, but I must repeat to him what was said by my noble friend Lord Richard and my noble friend Lady Gould: that if Amendment No. 1 were to be carried, the effect would be to delay the implementation of the Bill, on which we have a clear, unequivocal manifesto commitment. The manifesto commitment did not have in brackets "to be delayed until after the Royal Commission has reported", nor did it say that it should depend on the outcome of a referendum. It was to be carried out in view of the overwhelming support shown through the popular election of this Government for their manifesto which, I repeat, includes this commitment.
For all those reasons I ask the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, not to press the amendment but to take a rain check, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, rather sensibly suggested. If the noble Lord does press it, I hope that your Lordships will not support it.
§ Lord Coleraine
I challenge what the Leader of the House has said about the manifesto and the mandate. I believe that the Committee will be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, for introducing this matter into our debate.
We are a representative democracy, notwithstanding the intentions of some members of the Labour Party to change that. We have a representative House in the other place. It is for the representative House to decide whether something in the manifesto is given legal effect. It is for this House, as the advisory House, to recommend that the other House reconsiders. This has nothing to do with any form of mandate. The mandate arises in connection with the Salisbury convention and the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, asked why we need the Salisbury convention. The answer is simple. It was the quid pro quo by the hereditary peerage for the continuation of, theoretically, a completely unjustifiable arrangement. Once that arrangement is taken away, and legislation is introduced to take it away, the Salisbury convention becomes like the Cheshire cat with perhaps just the grin remaining. The convention has no fundamental validity now.
Perhaps I may be permitted to make one observation. I see the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor shaking his head. Perhaps he just has St. Vitus's dance. I have found this debate fascinating. Rather like the conviction of a metronome, I have gone backwards and forwards according to the views of the last person who has spoken, even though I have attached my name to Amendment No. 98, a referendum amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Lamont of Lerwick.
I hate referenda and I always have done. Incidentally, I believe that the word is "referenda" and not "referendums" as it is Latin. I hate them because they divide Parliament and divide the loyalty of the people. 1057 People are sent to Parliament to do a job. One person said the other day, "Why have referenda? We vote for people to sit in Parliament, we pay them a lot of money and then they turn round and ask us what to do".
The Labour Party let this particular rabbit out of the hutch way back in 1975. Now we are lumbered with the prospect of referenda. There is a perfectly sound argument on this occasion for having one. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell said that the constitution depends upon having stable parliamentary institutions. This Bill removes those safeguards on which people rely. It is a pretty fundamental removal. I believe that is a perfectly sound case for having a referendum.
The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said that to hold a referendum would be an abomination. That is a pretty strong word. We have had lots of abominations. We have had the abomination over the European Community, over Maastricht, over Wales, over Scotland and possibly over the European currency. However, the noble Lord asked, "How on earth can we explain the problem to the people of the country?" If it is so complicated, that is a very good reason for having a referendum. One could put a simple question, "Do you approve of screwing up the second Chamber, yes or no?" Maybe the answer would be clear.
The wording of a referendum is always difficult. I have the greatest respect for my noble friend Lord Cranborne, whose advice I always value and admire. I am not sure whether this goes against the Salisbury convention. The Salisbury convention allows the Bill, for which the Government have a mandate, to go through. We would simply be adding an amendment for the other place to consider. That is not delaying the Bill at all. The Bill may be delayed if another place were to say no, and it came back to us and we said, yes, and it went backwards and forwards. We would be giving the other place an option to consider. I do not believe that that contravenes the Salisbury convention.
There are sound arguments on both sides. I hope that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway will consider it prudent not to press this amendment today but to think about it. Perhaps I may suggest that the Government should think about it too. It is not all that easy. Now the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, shakes his head in disagreement. Perhaps he has St. Vitus's dance too. I hope it does not mean that he has a closed mind. He always says he has an open mind and I hope he has an open mind on this occasion too.
§ Lord Nunburnholme
I am reminded of Matthew Prior, who said,Be to [their] faults a little blind…
And clap your padlock—on [their] mind". That might be a little difficult in both instances. Good laws evolve from common sense; likewise constitutions. The proposed reform is a forced, unnatural act which is bad for one simple reason. The executive will have total control over Parliament, which means the death of democracy. The pre-supposition that the pre-eminence of the House of Commons should be preserved is not sacrosanct. The United States manages government perfectly well, though nothing is ever perfect.
1058 The first Chamber should always be discouraged from displaying an adversarial manner except when driven to it, and then its powers should be awesome against individuals, Cabinet Ministers and even the Prime Minister. The use of impeachment should be reintroduced in extreme cases. I rest.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
It will not be too long before I rest too. We have had a good debate and a good-hearted debate on a serious and emotive problem and I appreciate the spirit in which this matter has been discussed.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Strabolgi)
Perhaps I can interrupt the noble Lord. The Committee is now considering Amendment No. 2 and that must be disposed of before we return to Amendment No. 1 because it is an amendment to Amendment No. 1. Unless the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has other things to say on Amendment No. 2, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Gray, to deal with his amendment.
I do not need to say very much. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway indicated that he is prepared to accept my amendment. If it persuaded the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and his party to accept the main amendment, I might have withdrawn it. Instead, I commend it to the Committee.
§ On Question, Amendment No. 2, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, agreed to.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I apologise to the Deputy Chairman; I wanted to take my rest too soon. I am grateful to the House for accepting Amendment No. 2 as consequential.
I thank all Members of the Committee for the spirit in which this matter has been discussed. With respect to the views that have been expressed, I do not believe that if Amendment No. 1 were to be carried it would be contrary to the Salisbury convention. I am not prepared to accept a view to the contrary because this situation has never arisen before and I therefore cannot accept that advice.
This is a Cross-Bench and Back-Bench Conservative amendment and we therefore had to have a majority view as to whether we would divide the Chamber tonight or take the advice of my noble friend Lord Cranborne to take a rain check and come back on another day. By a majority we have decided to take that advice. I often take the advice of my noble friend Lord Cranborne, often when I do not agree with it—I do not agree with it tonight—and am still content to do so, largely because he is supported by my noble friends Lord Ferrers and Lord Crickhowell. In those circumstances one begins to wonder whether one can do other than once again thank the Committee for the spirit in which this debate took place and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment No. 1, by leave, withdrawn.1059
Lord Mackay of Drumadoon moved Amendment No. 3:
Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—