The convention has evolved
97. We are persuaded by the strength of the argument
that the Salisbury-Addison Convention has changed since 1945,
and particularly since 1999. Indeed, this was tacitly admitted
by the Government which said, in written evidence, "For a
convention to work properly, however, there must be a shared understanding
of what it means. A contested convention is not a convention at
continued validity of the original Salisbury-Addison Convention
is clearly contested by the Liberal Democrats.
98. The Convention now differs from the original
Salisbury-Addison Convention in two important respects. It applies
to a manifesto Bill introduced in the House of Lords as well as
one introduced in the House of Commons.
It is now recognised by the whole House, unlike the original Salisbury-Addison
Convention which existed only between two parties.
99. The Convention which has evolved is that:
In the House of Lords:
A manifesto Bill is accorded a Second Reading;
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.
100. In addition the evidence points to the emergence
in recent years of a practice that the House of Lords will usually
give a Second Reading to any government Bill, whether based on
the manifesto or not. We offer no definition of situations in
which an attempt to reject a Bill at Second Reading might be appropriate,
save that they would include free votes. But to reject Bills at
Second Reading on a regular basis would be inconsistent with the
Lords' role as the revising chamber. In practice the Lords have
the means to express their views on the principles of a Bill without
rejecting it at Second Reading, by tabling a non-fatal motion
or amendment at Second Reading.
The practicality of codification: definition of
a manifesto Bill
101. Each section of the Convention which has evolved
over recent years refers to a manifesto Bill. One of the main
problems to be addressed in deciding whether it would be practical
to codify the Convention is how to define a manifesto Bill.
102. When agreeing the original Convention in 1945,
Viscount Cranborne said that he believed "it would be constitutionally
wrong, when the country has so recently expressed its view, for
this House [of Lords] to oppose proposals which have been definitely
put before the electorate"(emphasis
added). Over 50 years later Baroness Jay of Paddington, the Leader
of the House of Lords, restated that position: "it must remain
the case that it would be constitutionally wrong, when the country
has expressed its view, for this House to oppose proposals that
have been definitely been put before the electorate."
(emphasis added). How then can the question of whether a proposal
has been definitely put to the electorate be decided?
103. The Leader of the House of Commons argued
that the final decision on what a manifesto is "has to be
a matter for the Commons as the body having primacy, it cannot
lie in the role of the Lords for the Lords as an important but
necessarily subordinate chamber to say, "Well, it may have
said X but we think Y, or, to pick up your phrase on the 1945
manifesto, 'There is a difference between really important election
commitments and those which are unimportant.'"
Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State for Constitutional
Affairs and Lord Chancellor, considered that the Convention "would
not be convincing if it depended on a very fine reading of each
.it needs to be a general sensible reading
both of what is in the manifesto and broadly what the government
stands for in determining what is covered by it."
104. The Opposition agree with the Wakeham report
that "'It is not possible to reduce this to a simple formula,
particularly one based on Manifesto commitments.' The Convention
was pragmatic in origin - and should continue to be addressed
in pragmatic fashion from case to case."
105. The Liberal Democrats consider, however, that
"manifestos are not - and, in our view, can never be - detailed
enough to constitute a reliable, still less a justiciable
basis on which to draft legislation."
Manifestos are now much more complex and less precise than they
were in 1945.
This position has to be seen in the context of the Liberal Democrats'
view that the Lords should not reject any government Bill at Second
or Third Reading.
106. Lord Williamson of Horton, the Convenor of Crossbench
Peers, thought it was reasonable "to consider what are the
core elements on which a party goes to the electorate to have
a mandate and you have to be careful, because every word in a
manifesto may not necessarily be part of a core programme, that
that does not tie too much the relations between the two Houses."
107. We agree that legislation often cannot easily
be identified as a direct transportation from a manifesto. As
several of our witnesses pointed out, the manifesto on which the
Labour Party won the 1945 election contained 8 pages: that on
which it won the 2005 election was 112 pages long
and it would be unrealistic to expect that many, if any, voters
agreed with every line of the manifesto.
108. Another potential difficulty relates to how
the Convention would apply in the case of a minority government.
The view of the Leader of the House of Commons "is that if
any coalition or arrangement as in 1977 gains the support of the
democratically elected House and endorsed by a motion of confidence
then the programme for which they gain that endorsement should
be respected by this House [of Lords]."
109. In the Liberal Democrats' view the "circumstances
would be entirely different because the question of how the minority
government managed to get its manifesto through would involve
negotiation within the Commons."
110. Lord Strathclyde believed "If a government
has a majority in the House of Commons, a government has a majority
in the House of Commons and so the same conventions should apply.
Equally where a government is trying to push through some very
unpopular measure with a very, very small majority, with a substantial
government rebellion, I think it is a clear signal for the House
of Lords to take extra special care in examining that measure."
111. There is also the question of whether the Convention
applies to matters included in regional manifestos.
The Leader of the House of Commons confirmed that the specific
issue on which he was questioned was in the UK manifesto but added
"even if it had not been a reference in the Welsh manifesto
would have been sufficient."
112. There are other obvious difficulties in deciding
whether a Bill is a manifesto Bill. But those difficulties are
not new. They have existed since the original Salisbury-Addison
Convention was articulated in 1945 but have not prevented the
Convention from operating effectively in the various political
circumstances which have prevailed since then. The Government
noted that the House of Lords had voted down a government Bill
only three times since 1992. "Once was on the second introduction
of the European Parliamentary Elections Bill in 1998, when the
Bill had been reintroduced with a view to passing it under the
Parliament Acts and killing the Bill on Second Reading was necessary
for it to receive Royal Assent in time to allow the necessary
secondary legislation to be made. A second occasion was on the
Sexual Offences Amendment Bill in 1999, which was a Bill to which
a free vote had been applied. Only the third, the Mode of Trial
(No 2) Bill in 2000 which was voted down on Second Reading after
its predecessor Bill (which had started in the Lords) had been
subject to wrecking amendments in Committee, was a Government
flagship policy Bill, but was not a Manifesto Bill."
113. We do not recommend any attempt to define
a manifesto Bill. Nor do we consider that the difficulties
in identifying a manifesto Bill are so substantial that they would
prevent Parliament from articulating a convention concerning the
House of Lords' practice in relation to manifesto Bills. Given
the view of all our witnesses that the House of Lords has not
breached the original Salisbury-Addison Convention, we think that
there is little likelihood that it will breach the current convention
in future. We also expect that it will be as possible to deal
pragmatically with any problems which may arise in the future
as it has been in the past.
114. In order to ensure that the convention now reflects
an agreement between both Houses, and to give all parties and
non-aligned Members in both Houses the opportunity to express
their views, each House should have a chance to debate it. However,
although both Houses have an interest in the convention, it concerns
primarily the behaviour of the House of Lords. We therefore
propose that the Lords be given the opportunity to debate and
agree a resolution setting out the terms of the convention, and
that the resolution be then communicated by message to the Commons.
The Commons could then hold a debate on a motion to take note
of the message.
A new name
115. In our view the Salisbury-Addison Convention
has evolved sufficiently to require a new name which should also
help to clarify its changed nature. We recommend that in future
the Convention be described as the Government Bill Convention.