HL Deb 21 November 2001 vol 628 cc1125-8

2.44 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will call a referendum on the abolition of the monarchy.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg)

No, my Lords.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that unambiguous Answer. However, has he taken into consideration that opinion polls in recent years have consistently shown decreasing support for an hereditary monarchy? Does he accept that most people now believe that an elected head of state is more relevant to the 21st century?

Noble Lords


Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, I am glad of all the support that I am receiving. In view of those and other factors is it not necessary in a democracy such as ours to ascertain the views of the electorate on such a fundamental issue?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the Government believe that the national interest and desire is for the country to remain a constitutional monarchy in its present form. The Sovereign personifies national cohesion, Commonwealth unity and political stability. We believe that support for the monarchy in the United Kingdom is rock solid. In surveys over the past 30 years it has been consistently above 70 per cent, while support for a republic has varied between a mere 15 and 20 per cent. The noble Lord mentioned opinion polls. The Queen's approval rating in opinion polls is a very substantial distance beyond that to which politicians and other groups might reasonably aspire.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord's totally unambiguous Answer is widely welcomed throughout the House and by this party in particular. But what does the noble and learned Lord think the general public will make of a senior Back-Bencher and former chairman of the parliamentary Labour Party asking a Question such as this?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the noble Lord is well entitled to ask the Question which he has asked, and the Government's position has been clearly stated by me.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, as my noble and learned friend is considering the issue of a referendum, will he use whatever influence he may feel he has with the Government to try to persuade them to hold a referendum on the siting of the national football stadium so that football fans and other citizens can be given the opportunity to back the superb bid by Birmingham and Solihull, made on the back of their international airport, their railway station and their motorway network, to place the home of the national sport at the heart of the nation?

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I have ruled out a referendum on the subject matter of the Question, but I have noted the support for the noble Lord's observations on the different subject which he addressed.

Lord St John of Fawsley

My Lords, would it not be singularly inappropriate, and, indeed, curmudgeonly, to hold a referendum at the same time as we celebrate the Queen's Golden Jubilee? Would it not be more appropriate for the Government to organise a national vote of thanks to Her Majesty for the way in which over 50 years she has discharged her duties with skill, dedication and diplomacy?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord speaks for almost everyone in the House. His question gives me the opportunity to say that the timing of the Question is not of the best on the eve of Her Majesty's Golden Jubilee, marking 50 years of dedicated service by the Queen to the nation and the Commonwealth.

Lord Paul

My Lords, the monarchy is such a tremendous asset to this country. Why do we want to confuse the public by a referendum?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, my belief is that the public have no interest in a referendum on this subject.

Lord Smith of Clifton

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord use his professional knowledge to instruct the House whether the presidential style assumed by Mr Tony Blair is lese-majesty?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, we have a strong Prime Minister; we do not have a president.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords, does not the Question of my noble friend Lord Dormand illustrate the vigorous independence of Back-Benchers in your Lordships' House which the Leader of the Opposition claims to espouse?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, Members of this House are independent as well as some being affiliated to parties.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead

My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that, in conducting its duties and commitments to the voluntary and charitable sector, the Royal Family provides an invaluable service to the nation and to the people who sometimes get left out of the statutory services net?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I can agree with that question wholeheartedly. The Prince of Wales, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Princess Royal are well known as supporters of voluntary causes. I mention, for example, the Save the Children Fund, of which the Princess Royal has been president since 1970, the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme, the World Wildlife Fund, Macmillan Cancer Relief and the Outward Bound Trust. Last, and certainly not least, I mention the Prince's Trust, through which the Prince of Wales has made a difference to the lives of tens of thousands of young people, including many of the most disadvantaged.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor aware that I agree entirely with what he said about the monarchy but that I deplore, and believe it to have been entirely reprehensible, that my noble friend should have been shouted down in the manner that he was in asking a perfectly pertinent and legitimate question?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I have already said that the noble Lord was well entitled to ask the Question that he did.

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