Written evidence submitted by Baroness
Royall of Blaisdon, Leader of the Opposition, House of Lords
1. The Salisbury-Addison Convention is,
broadly, the means by which the elected government of the day
secures, in general terms, and subject to amendments passed during
the legislative process, its legislative programme as set out
for the electorate in the general election manifesto of the political
party which forms the government.
2. Since the convention was developed in
the late 1880s, the Convention has been subject to discussion
and definition. Perhaps the most authoritative recent delineation
of the convention was set out in the Joint Committee on Conventions,
chaired by Lord Cunningham of Felling, as follows (HL Paper 265-I
"99. The Convention which has evolved
is that: In the House of Lords: A manifesto Bill is accorded a
A manifesto Bill is not subject to `wrecking
amendments' which change the Government's manifesto intention
as proposed in the Bill; and
A manifesto Bill is passed and sent (or returned)
to the House of Commons, so that they have the opportunity, in
reasonable time, to consider the Bill or any amendments the Lords
may wish to propose."
We broadly accept and agree with this delineation.
3. The Joint Committee also noted the attempts
over time to define what constitutes a manifesto Bill, and we
note its decision (Para 113) not to recommend that such a definition
4. The Joint Committee also noted that any
further material reform would call into question the current conventions
of the Housewhich would in our view include the Salisbury-Addison
convention (Para 9.2):
"If the Lords acquired an electoral mandate,
then in our view their role as the revising chamber, and their
relationship with the Commons, would inevitably be called into
question, codified or not. Given the weight of evidence on this
point, should any firm proposals come forward to change the composition
of the House of Lords, the conventions between the Houses would
have to be examined again."
5. We strongly agree with this conclusion
of the all-party joint committee of both Houses of Parliament.
We believe that the proposals for further reform of the House
of Lords which are currently being considered by the coalition
government with the intent of bringing forward shortly a Bill
to reform the Lords should indeed prompt a further examination
of the conventions between the Houses. We believe that the best
means of this examination would be a Joint Committee of both Houses.
6. Our principal reason for supporting this
proposal, and its application now, is that we believe that the
establishment a whollyor partially-elected House of Lords
would put the conventions between both Houses immediately into
play. Indeed, we believe that the advent of a whollyor
partially-elected House would very quickly see the current conventions
between the two Houses disappearing.
7. This process would certainly includeindeed,
it would centre uponthe Salisbury-Addison Convention. So
our first contention in relation to the Convention as it currently
stands is that if the coalition government is successful in bringing
about further reform of the House of Lords, then the Salisbury-Addison
convention, unless re-addressed as proposed by the Joint Committee,
might well have relatively little future.
8. Unless or until such reform is secured
by the coalition government, though, the question of the Salisbury-Addison
Convention remains. Our view too, though, is that the formation
of the coalition government is already fundamentally changing
the nature and operation of the House of Lords, and the relationship
of the House of Lords to the House of Commons.
9. While not completely operating as a full
convention, it is unquestionably the practice and indeed the explicit
policy in relation to the House of Lords over many recent years
that no-one political party should have an overall majority. Without
this practice, the House of Lords cannot properly carry out its
major functionto act as a revising chamber, with the clear
and correct role of scrutinising, amending and improving legislation.
10. The balance of the composition of the
House of Lords prior to the 2010 election broadly supported this
practice. In nominal terms, Labour held 30% of the total House
of Lords votes, the Conservative Party 26%, the Crossbenches 26%
and the Liberal Democrats 10%. This has led to a House which,
though unelected, in effect was equivalent to a parliamentary
chamber which, looking at experience around the world, had been
elected on a proportional basis. No single party had a majority.
To get legislation through, a governing party had to win the agreement
with one or another groups in the Lords. Not agreement by politics,
but agreement on the issues concerned. So issues proceeded by
consensus. Legislation was subject to proper scrutiny, amendment
and improvement. The House was both able to carry out its principal
function, as a revising chamber, and did so.
11. The advent of the coalition has fundamentally
altered this balance, and so threatening the core role of the
House. The two parties in the coalition in the Lords now have
a nominal combined membership of 272, compared to 234 for Labour
alone. While actual votes on individual days may of course differ
from these totals, it is clear that the coalition now has a permanent,
inbuilt majority in the Lords over Labour, with which it can push
through its legislation.
12. We as an Opposition have so far managed
to secure some victories in the division lobbies through presenting
our case successfully to individual peers beyond our party. We
will continue to adopt and pursue this strategy wherever possible.
But we believe that the advent and operation of the coalition
in the Lords is placing the role of the House of Lords as revising
chamber beyond the reach of the House. We strongly believe that
the coalition must not, and must not be allowed to, us its majority
in the House of Lords to thwart this role, and to turn the House
of Lords into a rubber stamp for the House of Commons.
13. We believe that both these issuesthe
impact of further reform in the House, and the impact of the advent
of the coalitionare highly significant not only in themselves,
but as the governing context for consideration of the operation
now of the Salisbury-Addison Convention.
14. The coalition government seeks to argue
that the establishment of their government does not affect the
Salisbury convention. Indeed, Lord Strathclyde, the coalition
government's Conservative Leader of the House in the Lords has
said that Labour in the Lords "will need to remember, as
we always did in opposition, that the unelected House must not
challenge the clear mandate of the elected one." (House Magazine,
No 1358 Vol 36 Oct 4, 2010)
15. This has not always been the view of
the senior members of the coalition government in the Lords. Lord
Strathclyde, in a lecture given in 1999 as Leader of the Opposition
in the Lords, entitled Redefining the Boundaries between the Two
Houses, argued that most of the conditions that gave rise to the
Salisbury doctrine had gone, saying: "Some might therefore
conclude that the doctrine itself, as originally conceived, has
outlived its usefulness. I would be less dogmatic. Certainly it
needs to be re-examined in the new conditions that arise."
While he argued for the primacy of the elected House, he also
said of the House of Lords: "But, equally, it should always
insist on its right to scrutinise, amend and improve legislation."
16. His deputy in the Lords, and the Leader
in the Lords of the Liberal Democrats, Lord McNally, argued in
2005 that the design of the Salisbury Convention was even by then
no longer appropriate: "The Salisbury convention", Lord
McNally, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords, argued
in a debate in the Lords on 26 January 2005, "was designed
to protect the non-Conservative government from being blocked
by a built-in hereditary-based majority in the Lords. It was not
designed to provide more power for what the late Lord Hailsham
rightly warned was an elective dictatorship in another place against
legitimate check and balance by this second Chamber." (HoL
Hansard 26 Jan 2005 Vol 668 Col 371). In a later debate Lord McNally
went on to say : "I do not believe that a convention drawn
up 60 years ago on relations between a wholly hereditary Conservative-dominated
House and a Labour Government who had 48% of the vote should apply
in the same way to the position in which we find ourselves today."
(HoL Hansard 17 May 2005 Vol 672 Col 20). Lord McNally has also
in the past described the "traditional plea to the Salisbury
convention" as "the last refuge of legislative scoundrels"
(Cited in "Parliament", by Philip Cowley, in Blair's
Britain ed. Anthony Seldon CUP 2007)
17. Lord Strathclyde's formulation, "that
the unelected House must not challenge the clear mandate of the
elected one" is a reasonable shorthand version of the Salisbury
Convention. But it fundamentally rests on the concept of a "clear
mandate". A clear mandate is given when a political party
presents its proposed platform and programme to the electorate,
ahead of a general election. The most usual form of this in the
party's general election manifesto. From this stem individual
policies and proposals, including individual proposals for legislation.
From this in turn comes the concept, utilised in the Joint Committee's
delineation of the Salisbury convention, of a "manifesto
Bill". While the Joint Committee was understandably chary
about trying to define a manifesto Bill, it is axiomatic from
the term that the idea behind the Bill must have been contained
in the election manifesto from a political party seeking to be
elected to government and subsequently being elected to government.
18. This brings us to the first of the substantive
points on the Salisbury convention we would wish to make in relation
to the current coalition government. Both the parties which were
likely to be able to form a government on their own, the Labour
Party and the Conservative Party, presented manifestoes to the
electorate as part of their general election campaign in 2010.
So too did the Liberal Democrats, though every piece of polling
evidence and electoral history over the past 100 years suggested
that the party would be unlikely to be able to form a government
on their own. One of the effects of the television debates which
were such a prominent, notable and novel feature of the 2010 general
election campaign was to put aside these key differences between
the three main parties and in effect to present the three parties
as equivalent, with the policies and the proposals of all three
parties being given broadly equal time and consideration.
19. In one respect, the outcome of the election
was starkly clear. Our party, the Labour party, lost. We were
in government. We are no longer in government. However difficult
for us as a party, that is a clear outcome.
20. But no other outcomes of the election
were as clear. Neither the Conservative Party nor the Liberal
Democrats secured enough seats to form a government. Neither the
Conservative Party nor the Liberal Democrats received a mandate
from the electorate to put their manifestoes into practice.
21. Post-election discussions and negotiations
between the two parties led to the formation of a coalition government.
But the coalition government was precisely a post-election formation.
The coalition government could not and did not have a pre-election
manifesto which set out its policies and programme. Leaving aside
the product of any post-election discussions, what the two parties
had which had been presented to the electorate were their two
separate manifestosneither of which had received the endorsement
of the electorate in the form of sufficient seats to form a government.
22. Accordingly, it follows that neither
political party has a clear mandate for a manifesto Bill based
on the manifesto it put forward at the general election. The only
conceivably clear mandate for a manifesto Bill the coalition government
could have based on the manifestos from each of the constituent
party forming the coalition would be where either of the two parties
forming the coalition had put forward policy proposals in their
own manifestos which were in line with policy proposals put forward
by the other party forming the coalition.
23. So we believe that where a proposal
from the coalition government was contained in both of the 2010
general election manifestos from the political parties forming
the coalition, that proposal would rightly be subject to the Salisbury
24. Equally, proposals from the coalition
government which were only in the 2010 general election manifesto
from one of the political parties forming the coalition would
not be subject to the Salisbury convention.
25. The second point about the Convention
and the coalition government relates to proposals based on the
policy agreements contained in the coalition's programme for government.
In relation to this point, we believe the position of the Convention
is equally clear.
26. Regardless of the difficulty of defining
conventions, including the Salisbury-Addison convention, and of
defining manifesto Bills, as set out in the Joint Committee's
report, it is clear that the convention rests on the manifestos
of political parties standing in the election and hoping to form
27. It is equally clear that whatever was
in the manifestos put forward in the 2010 general election by
the two parties which, when the election was over, went on to
form a government, nothing that the discussions which led to the
formation of the coalition government or the subsequent policy
agreements which were set out in the coalition government's policy
programmes for governmentinitial and fullhad at
any time been put before the electorate, either as manifestoes
or indeed in any other form. So the programmes for government
agreed by the two parties forming the coalition fail the fundamental
test for the application of the Salisbury convention: that they
have been put before the electorate, usually in the form of a
manifesto, and so have a clear mandate for proposals which will
then form a manifesto Bill.
28. Accordingly, we believe that any proposal
from the coalition government stemming only from the post-election
agreements reached by the parties forming the coalition would
not be subject to the Salisbury convention.
29. Equally, we believe that any proposal
from the coalition government stemming from the post-election
agreements reached by the parties forming the coalition which
had also been contained in both of the manifestos from the parties
forming the coalition would be subject to the Salisbury convention.
11 November 2010