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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
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.
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'
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.
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.
"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 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.
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