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Lord Richard: My Lords, there is very little new to be said about the issue of compulsion or voluntarism and passports and identity cards. The issue has been flogged to death in this House and in the other place and has had another six lashes this afternoon from the
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noble Lord, Lord Phillips, so I do not propose to say anything about that bleeding corpse. People can decide what they want to do. However, I do want to say a word or two about the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the last time we looked at this and about what he has been saying in the short interim since then and this afternoon. He is trying to transform the discussion from one on identity cards to one of much greater constitutional significance. As I understand it, his argumentand it is right that this should be confronted by the Houseis that disputes between the two Houses should be resolved by the use of the Parliament Act. That is a novel proposition on any view. I do not think that anybody has gone quite so far as the noble Lord in claiming that the Parliament Act is arbitrational in character. It is not. It is not there to produce a consensus between the two Houses; it is there to recognise and establish the supremacy of the House of Commons over the House of Lords.
Indeed, if one follows the argument of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, his proposition would lead to the almost total sidelining of this House in relation to the passage of legislation. If there were no real discussion between the two Houses to resolve a contentious issue between them, all the Commons would have to do is sit there and insist, secure in the knowledge that, at the end of the day, it is bound to get its own way. I do not believe for a moment that that would be an improvement on the present situation. At least now there are some attempts to produce agreement. The Parliament Act is there as an ultimate deterrent, rarely, if ever, to be actually used.
When I contemplated what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, had been saying, I was reminded of a tone poem by Richard StraussI am sure that some of your Lordships will be aware of itcalled Till Eulenspiegel. The English translation of the title is, "His merry pranks and his jolly japes". I think that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has been somewhat mischievous in the way that he has the approached this issue. But the fact is that an accident of parliamentary arithmetic in this House has elevated the Liberal Democrats to a position of unprecedented power.
Lord Richard: My Lords, it is true. With the two main parties approximately equal, the Liberal Democrats hold the balance. All they need to do is to wait until a disputed issue arises in the House, ally themselves with the main opposition party and thereby create constitutional chaos. That cannot be right.
We have to begin to produce a sensible de facto working relationship between the two Houses. That ought to contain a proper disputes-resolution procedure, rather more formal than the present ones. Until now, it has been unnecessary because this House has had a somewhat restrained view of its powers and responsibilities. How often have we heard it saidwe heard it said again this afternoonthat the function of the House of Lords is to make the House of Commons think again? We have sent this issue back three times.
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Three times the House of Commons has thought, and three times it has returned it to us. Surely to goodness that is enough.
The Conservative Opposition have had experience of government. They know that the McNally thesis would make the legislative process virtually unworkable. The fact is that the British constitution works by a combination of accepted formal conventions and many informal understandings. After all, what else are the usual channels? To tear up those conventions and deny those understandings is a very dangerous course indeed. Of course Parliament can do it if it wishes, but I am bound to say that an arm's-length relationship between the two Houses and an over-reliance on the Parliament Act would not be an improvement on what we have at present.
So, for constitutional reasons, it is important that this House now accepts the will of the other place. I do not expect the Liberal Democrats to appreciate thatwhen all is said and done, their chances of actually forming a government are fairly remotebut I do expect the Conservative Opposition to appreciate it. They should realiseindeed, they probably now dothat the time has now come. I really think they should vote accordingly.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate until I heard the speech that we have just heard. It was remarkable for the noble Lord, Lord Richard, to turn the attack on the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for diverting the debate away from the merits of the case to the constitutional issues. I sat through the previous debate and I well recall the noble Lords, Lord Peston and Lord Richard, rising to their feet to say that they had no intention of discussing the merits of the case because, after all, that had been flogged to deathas the noble Lord, Lord Richard, put it today. They wanted to address the major constitutional issue that was before the House. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, intervened later in the debate to respond to that approach from those two noble Lords.
Lord Richard: My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord is wrong in his chronology. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, made an early speech. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, spoke. I spoke after him, not before.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, the fact is that this whole diversion was started by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I think that he will confirm that it was he who said that we should not be debating the merits of the Identity Cards Bill and that he had no intention of debating it for exactly the reason given a few minutes ago by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. He felt that it had been adequately dealt with. We then got into a debate on the constitution.
Those of us who have been in this House for some time remember that whenever we get to this point where the two Houses disagree and the Benches opposite look as if they are losing the argument, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and probably the noble Lord, Lord Peston, rise to their feet in exactly this way
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and say, "Well, of course, we don't want to discuss the merits of the issue. What we want to discuss is the major constitutional issue". However, there can be no doubt that when there is a conflict with the other House, it is perfectly within the constitutional arrangements for noble Lords to seek to find a compromise and an alternative solution that might be acceptable without going as far as the use of the Parliament Act. That appears to me to be what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has attempted to do today.
The Minister was commendably brief today. She made three points. She said that if we went down this road, it would introduce uncertainties into the Government's planning; that it would mean there being two separate processes, although she acknowledged that they were probably technically feasible; and that it would mean reworking the business plan with some cost consequences. If that is the Government's case, we are confronted with a choice between the Government keeping an election manifesto promise or breaking it, and a choice between personal freedom and some uncertainty for the Government. I have no doubt at all that, given those choices, we should go for personal freedom and the individual.
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, when this matter was last before the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, said to us that there was a straight conflict between this House and the other place; that there was no possibility of a compromise; and, therefore, that this House must bow. I was impressed by that argument and I agreed with her that there was no possibility of a compromise. On that basis, I and, I believe, a number of others on these Benches abstained. We could not bring ourselves to vote for compulsory ID cards under the guise of pseudo-voluntarism, but we took the Minister's point about conflict. We now have before us an apparent reasonable compromise. If people think it is not really a compromise at all but merely a smokescreen put up by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, with his customary skill, to make the same point as before, then the Minister was right. But if it is in fact a reasonable compromise, then the point that the Minister made last time goes, and it is wholly right that this compromise should go back to the other place for them to think again.
The only real reason the Minister gave why this was not a practical compromise, albeit a compromise that the Government do not likethe Government would always rather have their own way than compromise; everyone wouldwas that it was likely to cost somewhat more. I am perfectly happy to see, when one goes out with one's passport application, a sign that says, "You can now have your identity card, and if you do it all in this one moment, the fee will be so-and-so. If, on the other hand, you don't do them both together and you have to apply for an identity card in the future, either because you need one or because it is compulsory, the fee for that will be x. The fee for the present passport application is y, and x and y will add up to more than the joint fee you are now going to
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pay". So there is economic pressure on someone to decide to go the cheaper way. Although I do not terribly like identity cards, I do not feel strongly enough about them to worry about £25, or however much it may be.
Surely it is not an adequate reason for saying that this is not a compromise to which serious consideration should be given merely to say that it will cost somewhat moreno one knows how muchand that people should not be given the choice of paying that much more rather than being driven to identity cards by compulsion under the thin guise of voluntarism.
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