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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.
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
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 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 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.
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.
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 matter 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.
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