Stanley Fink, Esquire, having been created Baron Fink, of Northwood in the County of Middlesex, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Harris of Peckham and Lord Howard of Lympne, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Benjamin Russell Mackintosh Stoneham, Esquire, having been created Baron Stoneham of Droxford, of Meon Valley in the County of Hampshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Rennard and Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Elizabeth Rose Berridge, having been created Baroness Berridge, of The Vale of Catmose in the County of Rutland, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord McColl of Dulwich and Baroness Morris of Bolton, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, we are clear that the status quo in Gaza is both a tragedy and unsustainable. We continue to call on Israel to ease restrictions on access to Gaza. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary raised the issue with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he visited Israel in November. My ministerial colleague, Alistair Burt, is currently in the region and discussed Gaza at length with the Israeli Co-ordinator for Government Activity in the Territories, General Dangot.
Lord Fowler: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is not the real problem the restrictions on the import of building materials, which are necessary to build and rebuild houses, schools and medical facilities in Gaza? We all utterly deplore the acts of terrorism directed at Israel but do not restrictions of that kind, affecting thousands of ordinary people in Gaza, gather in support for extremism rather than cutting it off?
Lord Howell of Guildford: Yes, my noble friend is completely right. The problem is obviously the lifting and easing of the blockade. We have had some small success: the Israeli authorities have agreed to shift from a total block on progress to a list of very limited permitted goods and are moving to a blacklist of goods that cannot go in. They have announced that they now are happy to allow in things such as steel-ready concrete, asphalt and cement for Palestinian Authority-approved civilian projects that are under the supervision of the UN.
There is, of course, a long list of ifs and buts. Frankly, we have not found that any of this so-called easement has yet made much difference on the ground but it is a slight move forward. Of course, consumer goods are allowed in. We will continue to press extremely hard to get a much more expansive and open regime to allow in the reconstruction items and materials to which my noble friend refers.
Lord Clinton-Davis: Opposed as I am to Netanyahu, is it not right to recognise that in recent days there has been a considerable relaxation over the movement of construction goods from Israel to Gaza? Is it not also right to recognise that there is currently recognition by the United Nations that Hamas is not exactly performing well? Does it not altogether oppose the United Nations regime?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I say to the noble Lord that no one on any side is really performing fully in the way that we want. The relaxation has been announced and we are watching to see whether it has an impact on the ground, although, as I said earlier to my noble friend, our analysis suggests that that impact is not very great so far. However, it is at least a step in the right direction, although we have to go further, as there are so many qualifications and safeguards. I also say to the noble Lord-and it is a perfectly fair point with which I know he will agree-that rockets are raining down all the time on Israeli territory from Gaza. Therefore, the Israeli authorities have to have some safeguards with regard to equipment going into Gaza, which might be used merely to develop aggressive military weaponry for use against them. There is a balance to be struck, and I think that sensible people all round have to recognise both the difficulties and the possibilities on all sides.
Lord Dykes: Is my noble friend hopeful of a resumption in negotiations between the immediate parties as soon as possible, despite the enormous difficulties that that would involve? Such a resumption would help to end the prolonged collective oppression of the long-suffering Gazan population.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I live in hope, otherwise I would not be doing what I am doing. Of course we want to see talks between sensible and responsible people, and of course the quartet wants to carry these things forward. We are working very closely with the quartet, as well as through the UN and the EU. However, particularly if Hamas is to be involved, the requirements are that it recognises Israel and that there is some sign of that going forward-we may hear about that in a moment. It must also renounce violence and abide by previous agreements. That is what the quartet requires to get things going again, but so far we are not quite there.
The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, two years ago the UK Government were co-sponsors of the text of UN Resolution 1860, which, among other things, emphasised the need to ensure a sustained and regular flow of goods and people through the Gaza crossing. Is it not now time for the Security Council to review the full implementation by all parties of those high-meaning and well-intentioned words?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The right reverend Prelate is of course right that this is what we want to see and what we want to press forward. In a sense, these matters are under review all the time. We are working very closely with the UN and the quartet, through DfID, our own aid department, and through constant dialogue with the Israeli authorities about getting the blockades lifted and getting some enterprise going. The Israelis have also announced-this may be a tiny glimmer that we should hang on to-that they will allow some exports from Gaza. Of course, that is essential if the economy is to begin to move forward. If we are to get people out of massive and miserable poverty there, the Israelis must allow business to flourish. Therefore, yes, there must be a review but a review is going on all the time and we must continue to be vigorous in our efforts.
Lord Turnberg: My Lords, despite the terrible antipathy between Hamas and Israel, does the noble Lord agree that we should build on the many positive grassroots interactions which exist between Gazans and Israelis? In the medical field, for example, there are many Gazan patients in Israeli hospitals, as well as doctors in training there, so should we not be building on those positive grassroots efforts?
Lord Howell of Guildford: Yes, that is perfectly true, and very high-quality treatment has been, and is, available in Israel to meet certain urgent needs from Gazan citizens. One could go further and say that it would be good if the tens of thousands, if not a hundred thousand, Gazans who used to cross the border every day to work in Israel were allowed greater movement on that front as well. I agree that there are things on which to build but overall we have to get some sense of agreement and understanding between Israel and the Palestine authority as a whole to get things going forward. We are just not there at the moment.
Baroness Tonge: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the head of the Shin Bet security service said this week that al-Qaeda-affiliated groups are behind a lot of the Gaza violence? Is he also aware that the same Shin Bet security service is saying that Hamas wants to achieve its aims through charity organisations, while other, more radical groups want the same goal through violence? Will the Minister agree that, this being the case, we should be talking to Hamas and including it in all our negotiations with Israel to protect Israel and prevent the situation deteriorating further?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I understand that from my noble friend, who has been absolutely tireless in pursuing these matters in great detail, and I congratulate her. Of course, accusations fly around and, as she knows better than I do, there is more than one aspect or wing and more than one associated policy within the Hamas group. There are people in Hamas for whom it would be invaluable to find common ground and to meet the conditions that the quartet requires, as I described earlier. However, I am afraid that there are also people in Hamas who are not interested in that but who are interested in violence and, indeed, presumably organise the rocketry into Israel every day. Therefore, we somehow have to find a way through this maze, and I think that my noble friend understands that very well.
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will support the recent compromise agreement reached through the conciliation procedure on the proposed European regulation on bus and coach passenger rights, and what further steps they are taking to meet the United Kingdom's obligations under Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the UK Government intend to support the compromise agreement reached by the Conciliation Committee in respect of the EU regulation on bus and coach passenger rights when it is put to the Council for formal approval. The UK Government are currently preparing a report on what the UK is doing to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. As regards the provision introducing mandatory disability awareness training for personnel dealing directly with the travelling public, will the Government take Transport for London's current approach of training all staff in disability awareness as the benchmark for all bus operators? Cannot the five-year exemption for drivers be viewed as unnecessary?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am not aware of precisely what Transport for London is doing, but clearly training for drivers and all staff involved in the transport system is nothing other than good practice. If the operators are not doing that now, they should be. On the point about seeking an exemption, we will be consulting on the implementation of any exemptions but will grant them only if necessary.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, is it the Minister's understanding that the Government wish to persist in the abolition of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, which is listed for abolition under the Public Bodies Bill? If so, can he explain why the Government want to persist with its abolition? The problems of disability and accessibility to transport crop up so frequently that it is very difficult to understand the Government's position and reasoning.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the Department for Transport will continue to ensure that transport policies promote equality, and these important issues will continue to be mainstreamed in departmental policy and delivery. The department will consult on the successor arrangements later this year.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, when I asked a Question on this subject last week, we had very good answers, but other points were raised by Members of the House. In particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, made the point that when she and her husband travel together, one on a disability scooter and one in a wheelchair, they are told that they cannot travel on the same bus. Therefore, there is a point in training bus drivers to be aware of the situation and to make all possible efforts, just as they do with enormous prams and buggies-they take two of them at a time. Obviously, if the places are already taken, no one would expect them to be offered. However, if there is space, would it not be logical to have two spaces for wheelchairs?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, my noble friend said there was some point in having training for drivers. Training for drivers is vital, as I am sure she would agree. The last time that we discussed the issue, I pointed out that there are costs associated with leaving unused spaces on buses for wheelchairs and mobility scooters. We must be careful not to take out too many seats from buses while ensuring that we make proper provision for disabled travellers.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Minister is making the right noises, but in government actions speak louder than words. Why did the Government not carry out a full impact assessment on the regulations in order that progress could be made as rapidly as possible?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, when officials negotiate in Brussels, they do the best job that they can for the United Kingdom. They ensure that we do not accept unnecessary burdens on the UK transport industry while protecting the vital rights of disabled travellers.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, further to the Minister's earlier Answer, will he explain-I am afraid that it is the same old question-why we cannot decide this sort of thing for ourselves? Why is it imposed on us by Brussels? Is it not getting beyond a joke?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, this is a shared competence, and the EU is bound by the principle of subsidiarity. EU actions should not be taken unless they are likely to be more effective than actions at national, regional or local level. We believe that member states are best placed to deal with local bus services.
Baroness Verma: My Lords, HMS "Manchester" provided power, clean water and food to the towns of Soufriere and Morne Fond St Jacques immediately after Hurricane Tomas. Crew also fixed the roof in Soufriere hospital. The Department for International Development has agreed to pay £212,845 to re-establish water, sanitation and health services in St Lucia and St Vincent. The Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, which DfID supports, also made a payment of $3,214,000 to St Lucia after the hurricane.
Baroness Benjamin: I thank my noble friend for that comprehensive answer. The devastation caused by Hurricane Tomas last October, which had practically no media coverage in this country, is still having an effect on the people-and on their financial well-being-of St Lucia and the neighbouring islands, St Vincent and the Grenadines. Lives have been lost and it is estimated that £500 million-worth of damage has been done to roads, agriculture, buildings and infrastructure. Thankfully, the United Nations made a plea for international financial assistance. What financial assistance will the British Government give to these wounded Caribbean islands, and will the Government of St Lucia be expected to pay back any funds provided to them-and, if so, when?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, the Government of St Lucia are leading the assessment of the damage caused by Hurricane Tomas and setting reconstruction priorities. A full report is expected later this month.
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Lord Palmer: My Lords, given that more than 60 per cent of the GDP of the island is generated by tourism, would it not be extremely helpful to abolish the APD to St Lucia and the neighbouring islands? I declare an interest as a residual beneficiary of an estate on the island.
Baroness Verma: My Lords, the Government cannot change the rules for Caribbean countries without objective justification. The APD on a return economy ticket typically represents a small percentage of the price. However, we are exploring changes to the aviation tax system, including a per-plane tax. Of course, any major changes will be subject to consultation.
Lord Chidgey: Is my noble friend aware that, as a result of World Trade Organisation restrictions on EU trade preferences, St Lucia and Windward Island farmers can no longer compete with the industrial-scale banana production of Latin America? What measures are the Government taking to assist the Windward Isles to diversify and revitalise their fragile and struggling economies?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, as my noble friend is aware, we do not give bilateral aid to St Lucia. All aid and help is provided through multilateral organisations. I will take back the point that he raised and hope to provide him with a Written Answer.
Lord Boswell of Aynho: My Lords, I declare an interest because my daughter is resident for much of the time in the Caribbean. Does not this episode underline the importance of a continuing, frequent and regular Royal Navy presence in the area, in order to give immediate assistance on such occasions?
Baroness Verma: My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. However, our DfID programmes are concentrated mostly on a regional presence and are there to assist in climate change, disaster and risk management, and to tackle crime and insecurity. I will take back my noble friend's question. However, we are doing quite a lot of constructive work through multilateral agencies.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, does the Minister agree that we should acknowledge the importance of €200,000 in humanitarian aid that the European Union is contributing, the considerable funding that goes towards disaster preparedness in the Caribbean, and the disaster management programmes there?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, the Government's policy on flu vaccination is informed by the expert advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. The JCVI last met on 30 December to review the latest evidence. The committee decided that there were no grounds to change the risk groups that are offered vaccination and recommended that efforts be focused on maximising vaccine uptake among all those in the risk groups. As with all vaccination programmes, the JCVI will keep this matter under review.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: I thank the noble Earl for his response. The latest figures show that approximately 780 people are in critical care, and there is still a long winter ahead of us. What steps are the Government taking in case the numbers continue to rise? Secondly, what steps have been taken to address the reported shortages of flu vaccines in some areas, with GPs and pharmacies running out of stocks?
Earl Howe: My Lords, the noble Lord's figures are slightly historic. Figures due to be published today will give a better picture. I spoke yesterday to the Chief Medical Officer, who told me that the rates to be published at 2 pm today will show a decrease from the figure that he mentioned. There has also been a further decrease since the new figure and it appears that the worst is over as regards the incidence of flu. On the second question, there have been reports of vaccine shortages. We have taken steps to address that by releasing stocks of the monovalent H1N1 vaccine from our national stock. That system is working well. There is an online ordering system, which GPs are using. They are also ordering stock directly from the manufacturers and we understand that that system is working well, too. The reports of shortages are, I hope, a matter of history.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, is my noble friend aware-I am sure that he is not-that over Christmas I presented myself at my GP's for a flu vaccination? There was no vaccine in the surgery. He gave me a prescription, but there was no vaccine in the pharmacy, where I was informed that the general flu vaccine in this country had run out because the suppliers had run out of stock. I am delighted that the swine flu vaccine is still available, but surely that does not help any attempt to be vaccinated against general flu.
Earl Howe: My Lords, we are very clear that the amount of vaccine produced for this season's flu to address the probable need for vaccination was more than adequate. It is up to GPs to order the quantity of
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Lord Hughes of Woodside: Will the Minister comment on reports in today's press that the Department of Health is intending to take back in house the ordering of flu vaccines because GPs have not done it properly?
Earl Howe: My Lords, almost all vaccines, except the seasonal flu vaccines, are procured centrally because central procurement provides a cost-effective arrangement that can take account of the variation in supply and demand. It also gives us the ability to track where the batches of vaccine have gone. We are therefore looking at taking into the department the procurement of the seasonal flu vaccine.
Lord Patel: Last time we discussed this subject, I asked the Minister why the advice given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States was so different from the advice from our committee on vaccination. My question this time is: is the Minister sure that the advice that he gets from our committee takes into account evidence that other countries gather and on which they base their advice? The CDC's advice in the United States is to vaccinate everybody over the age of six months.
Earl Howe: Yes, I am satisfied. The expert advice provided by the JCVI takes into consideration first and foremost the epidemiology of the disease in the UK, which may well differ from that in other countries. The noble Lord may be interested to know that, while the UK is experiencing H1N1 as the most prevalent flu strain, the prevalent flu strains in the United States are H3N2 and influenza B, so a very different situation applies in that country.
Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of an at-risk group who got vaccinated fairly early at the request of his doctor, which I acknowledge was based on expert advice. To follow on from the previous question, the plain fact is that that expert advice proved, in effect, to be politically unsustainable in one way or another. I think that that needs to be taken into account when we look at what we do next year.
Earl Howe: I can reassure my noble friend that the advice that the JCVI gives is subject to regular review. Clearly, before the next flu season, it will be looking again at the experience of the current flu season.
Lord Campbell-Savours: What lessons have Ministers learnt from the management of the vaccine programme over the past six months? Is there anything that they may be prepared to do differently next year?
Earl Howe: My Lords, the main lesson is one to which I referred a minute ago. We are considering bringing back into central procurement the purchasing of the seasonal flu vaccine, which is an exception to the normal rule. We purchase most vaccines centrally, apart from that one. There is a lot to be said for changing the ordering system so that we can keep better track of supplies and, perhaps, have more cost-effective procurement at the same time.
Baroness Hussein-Ece: My Lords, I read a report in the media last week saying that, in light of the high incidence of children under five contracting flu, the Government are preparing to examine new evidence from the advisory group that could allow for all under-fives to be vaccinated. Have the Government reached a view on this?
Earl Howe: We have not reached a view on this because the JCVI's advice remains unchanged. In fact, current evidence shows that children under five are not the age group with the highest risk of death. The age group with the highest risk of death from the flu that is circulating currently is middle-aged adults. Nevertheless, those with risk factors have the highest risk of severe disease and death from flu compared with healthy age groups. However, I can tell my noble friend that nothing is set in stone. We do not wish to constrain the JCVI in any way and we will listen to its advice, as we always do.
Baroness Thornton: My Lords, during the H1N1 pandemic, two organisations stood out as being essential to delivering a pandemic strategy: the Health Protection Agency, for its science, strategic planning and advice; and the PCTs, for their support and co-ordination on the ground. Both are due to be abolished in the next two years. Can the Minister inform the House about the Government's pandemic plans, including, for example, the ordering of sufficient vaccine, both after the abolition and during the transition?
Earl Howe: The noble Baroness asks an important question. The Government's plans are to create what we are calling Public Health England, which will be the new public health service based centrally, linked closely to public health efforts in local authorities with local directors of public health. A pandemic vaccination campaign would be mobilised through those channels. I am clear that we have proper plans for the transition, which the noble Baroness rightly mentions as being a time when we need to have a specific focus on public health protection. The present plan, as she knows, is to bring the Health Protection Agency functions within the Department of Health so that there is a clear line of accountability from the Secretary of State downwards. I am clear that that is right. We will still have the expert advice that we do now from the people who are currently employed in the Health Protection Agency. That is an additional safeguard.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, when I tabled this debate, I, of course, had no idea that it would take place against such a tumultuous parliamentary and constitutional background as we have seen in the House this week. I thank all noble Lords who are here today, particularly those who put their names down to speak. As it happens, the timing of today's debate could hardly be more apposite: if anyone wishes to see the parliamentary and constitutional effect of a coalition Government, they need look no further than what we have experienced in your Lordships' House this week.
This is the first peacetime coalition in this country for more than 70 years. Of course, coalitions are more familiar elsewhere. They are familiar in Scotland and Wales now and in many local councils. Coalition Governments are both commonplace and widespread beyond these shores and the experience of such coalitions has helped coalition government specialists to characterise coalition Governments as of particular kinds. There are coalitions of conviction formed on specific issues such as the Conservative/Liberal Unionist coalition in 1895, which was formed to resist Irish home rule. There are coalitions of necessity, brought about by specific external circumstances, such as the wartime Lloyd George coalition of 1916 and the Churchill coalition of 1940, and there are coalitions of convenience, determined by the politics of the parties involved.
We on these Benches would argue that the current coalition in Britain is of the third kind. On the other hand, the Government seek to argue that it is a coalition of an entirely new kind: one of co-operation, whereby two parties with different political views agree to co-operate for limited purposes and for a limited time in order to ensure effective Government. What is clear is that this coalition is different from previous ones in this country in a number of important respects. The first and most important is that this coalition has not been voted for as a coalition by the British people. In the past, the peacetime coalitions of 1918 and 1931
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Of course, constitutional reform was a major feature of the Labour Government, of which I was proud to serve as a Minister. But there are significant differences from the constitutional reforms under Labour and those being pursued by the coalition. The first rests on the lack of a clear-cut mandate for the reform programme that is fundamental to the coalition. The Labour Government signalled the vast majority of their reforms well in advance-although not all. We were rightly challenged in this House. Indeed, proceedings came to a complete halt as I recall over the reform of the Office of the Lord Chancellor. But virtually all our other reforms were heralded in our manifesto. On the whole, we did what we said we were going to do.
That is not so with the current coalition. Both parties have manifestos and campaigned on them. The Liberal Democrats even went beyond their manifesto undertakings in making specific and individual pledges over the issue of tuition fees. Liberal Democrat MPs signed a pledge not to increase fees, clearly implying that a signed pledge was somehow more secure; a better promise than a mere manifesto. So, for example, the 7 per cent more 18 to 24 year-olds who voted in the 2010 election, and voted Liberal Democrat, gave their support on the basis of that promise, which in the end turned out to be a false prospectus.
In the event, the formation of the coalition saw both parties in the coalition having to ditch their manifestos, first, in favour of an outline agreement between the two parties published on 12 May and then in a fuller document called The Coalition:Our Programme for Government, published on 20 May.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: From her considerable experience in the Foreign Office, does the noble Baroness agree that no other country, including Scotland with its more limited agenda, would dream of putting a coalition together in as little as five days?
The document was published by the Cabinet Office rather than by the parties concerned. Of course, it was a legitimate and sensible course of action to take for the coalition, but it has never been endorsed by the electorate in this country. I make that point as clearly as I can, because many people believe that we are likely to have more coalitions in the future, partly because of the breakdown of traditional voting patterns in this country and because there will be many more coalitions if a system of AV or proportional representation is introduced, as the Liberal Democrats want. However, it means that there are serious questions about how far any coalition government can rest on the old conventions of parliamentary practice.
The coalition has recognised that. The nature of its constitutional programme seeks to alter our institutions. So does its practice in government. For example, the Cabinet has been significantly altered by the coalition removing, in effect, the powers of the Prime Minister on the appointment and dismissal of Ministers and placing those in the hands of others on a party political basis, and by the explicit abandoning of the constitutional doctrine of Cabinet and ministerial collective responsibility in a range of policy areas, such as the crucial decision on the renewal of our nuclear defence system.
The proposal for a referendum on AV directly addresses the Westminster electoral system, while the rearranging of constituencies proposed in the Bill that we have debated this week will fundamentally alter Parliament in a way not done since the 1832 Act. I am not seeking to argue the merits of the Bill but merely to argue that, if enacted, these proposals will permanently alter the way in which Britain is governed. Given the fundamental point that no one voted for this programme, the constitutional ambitions of the coalition are bound to raise some very difficult questions.
The nature of the coalition Government has particular implications for this House because of the Salisbury convention, the best and most recent definition of which-best because it was agreed by all parties in both Houses-is contained in the report on the conventions of the UK Parliament from the Joint Committee on Conventions chaired by noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling and on which I have the privilege to serve. The Joint Committee laid out that the convention means that, in this House:
"A manifesto Bill is accorded a Second Reading ... A manifesto Bill is not subject to 'wrecking amendments' ...; 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".
The standing of the Salisbury convention is clear. Where a proposal from the coalition Government was contained in the 2010 general election manifestos of both the political parties in the coalition, that proposal would rightly be subject to the Salisbury convention. But it is those proposals alone that are subject to the convention and not the proposals in the coalition document, except where they appeared in both manifestos.
Of course, I recognise that there is a strong counterpoint to be put here, although I do not believe that it is an overriding one. That is, in being asked by Her Majesty to form a Government, the coalition enjoys the confidence of the House of Commons, meaning that what the Government do in the Commons and in this House must have commensurate authority. However, that does not detract from the legitimacy gap at the heart of the coalition, particularly in relation to constitutional reform.
Neither manifesto proposed a referendum on AV and neither proposed the reduction in the number of MPs proposed in the Bill discussed this week. Therefore, the Bill is not a manifesto Bill and not subject to the convention. The Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, which we shall debate shortly, was in the Liberal Democrat manifesto but not in that of the Conservatives, so, again, the Salisbury convention will not apply.
The House of Lords Reform Bill was in both manifestos. We will judge on their merits the proposals for reform when we finally see them, but we on this side of the Chamber are determined to give the proposals the scrutiny that the issues merit, just as we have given proper scrutiny to the coalition's proposals to change the voting system and the number of constituencies. We believe that the entire issue of further House of Lords reform should be put in a referendum to the people of the country. If a voting system which benefits the Liberal Democrats is worthy of a referendum, surely one of the key checks and balances in our constitution, this House, is equally worthy of a referendum.
The coalition has produced a number of other significant constitutional innovations. There is the Cabinet manual, at which I am sure many of your Lordships will have looked, but none of us has yet debated it. It was written by a small group of senior officials in consultation with some clever academics, but neither House has debated the full document. What is the status of the document? Can the Leader of the House tell us whether it is the first step towards a written constitution, as accepted by the Cabinet Secretary, or is it, as stated by the noble Lord in reply to a Question in this House from my noble friend Lady Royall, of a rather different nature? If it is of the importance and enduring significance implied by Sir Gus O'Donnell, surely we should debate it fully and soon.
Of course, some reforms are welcome and very helpful; for example, revealing the date of the Budget. Once, that was a sacking offence, but it is a sensible and right move. Similarly, setting out the dates of Recesses is laudable and, frankly, I wish that my party had done it years ago. But sadly, such a sensible approach is not applied elsewhere. Since 10 January, coalition Peers have joined us so fast that, including today's Introductions, the coalition majority is 71. It has risen from 54 to 71 in just seven working days. We have to ensure that this House remains a revising Chamber, not an approving Chamber. In effect, we have returned to the pre-1997 position. The Conservative-led Government have an unassailable majority in both Houses, not because of a landslide victory in a general election, but because of a coalition agreement. If, for example, the Conservatives had won a landslide victory at the 2010 election, they would have a majority in another place, but certainly not in here. By performing worse in the election than predicted, they have gained a stranglehold on both Houses.
That has serious implications because an important part of the role of this House is the role of the Cross-Bench Peers. As independents, they listen to, assess and make judgments on the arguments they hear, and they vote accordingly. They are a huge asset to us and a huge constitutional asset to the country. But that important constitutional role in this House as the provider of checks and balances is under threat with so many coalition Peers coming in.
The conventions on how we operate are indeed important. The Companion tells us that there is a firm convention that from Monday to Wednesday, the House will rise at 10 pm. The Companion describes a closure
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What is clear is that this kind of parliamentary innovation is of a piece with similar innovations in the coalition. I refer to the use, for example, of framework legislation, which is similarly problematic. The Public Bodies Bill has been extensively criticised on constitutional grounds. As has been well put in this House, in the Bill the Government are seeking to use Henry VIII powers on an industrial scale. That is just plain wrong. It is not a correct use of such powers, and those powers were rightly criticised by many constitutional experts as being something inapplicable in a modern democracy. Moreover, coalition Ministers have questioned the decision in this House to seek to vote down secondary legislation, specifically on tuition fees. There are clear provisions in the terms of the Cunningham committee-
Lord Lawson of Blaby: I have been listening to the noble Baroness with great attention because she always speaks in a very reasonable way, so will she give a reasonable answer to this question? She has talked about a number of things she considers appropriate and a number of things that she considers inappropriate. Does she consider a filibuster to be appropriate or inappropriate?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there will be different views. I have endeavoured in my remarks so far to put my points as reasonably as the noble Lord has expressed, but I should not have thought that jeering was quite the way we would want to conduct a serious debate of this nature. However, the noble Lord may think differently.
The Cunningham committee report stipulates precisely how attempting to vote down secondary legislation can be legitimately done. We stayed wholly and completely within the terms of those provisions, and we did so because they had been explicitly agreed in both Houses.
It had similar criticisms to make of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill and the Public Bodies Bill. Those criticisms were pungent and forthright. I just make the point that six members of that committee are coalition Peers. Two are Cross-Benchers, and only four come from the opposition Benches.
Coalition is different. This coalition is different from all previous coalitions. It is different in origin. It was different in its formation. It is different in its purpose. And it is different in its effect. We believe that many of the steps the coalition is taking in terms of the constitution and in terms of Parliament are wrong. Wrong in policy terms, yes, of course; but that is not the point that I am arguing. I mean wrong in terms of Parliament and wrong in terms of the constitution.
We believe that we are acting properly in defence of the constitution, as this House is meant to do. Do not just take my word for it. Think about what Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, Member for North East Somerset, and indeed the son of a distinguished Member of your Lordships' House, said in another place this week in the final stages of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill. He said of our all night session that,
Let me quote from another very strong Conservative supporter, Mr Simon Heffer of the Daily Telegraph, whose piece on the coalition's constitutional reforms in December contained, yes, very many sharp criticisms of my own party, but he went on to say that,
Discussions on coalitions in British politics cannot avoid including reference to Disraeli's famous comment. As the first speaker in the debate, I claim the right today to deploy the comment first. In a speech in the Commons on 16 December 1852, Disraeli said:
"But coalitions, although successful, have always found this, that their triumph has been brief. This too I know, that England does not love coalitions".-[Official Report, Commons, 16/12/1852; col.1666.]
In the fullness of time, we will see how prescient Disraeli was about this coalition in overall terms. But
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Lord Wakeham: My Lords, the first thing I would like to do is to congratulate the noble Baroness on proposing the Motion in, as we would have expected, a vigorous and forceful way. She may have been a bit luckier than she anticipated in exactly when her Motion came to be debated, but nevertheless it was a forceful speech. This is the first opportunity that I have of saying publicly to her, since she was very helpful to me on the committee we had dealing with expenses, how much I enjoyed working with her on that occasion. Once or twice I was not quite sure whether she was on my side but nevertheless she always made a constructive contribution to it and very much helped in producing the final result.
I want particularly just to talk about the parliamentary aspects of a coalition. Much has been written about these things, and the noble Baroness has added a number of things to it. As for her quotations from the Joint Committee on Conventions that she did with her noble friend who was around a few minutes ago, I think that she perhaps chose that part which suited her arguments best. Indeed, in its report the committee says it believes that the Salisbury convention has changed significantly and does not believe that it should be called the Salisbury convention any more. At paragraph 102, it also indicated that,
So we are in a new situation here. I do not want to dwell on the events of the past few days-except to say, if I may, that the exchange between my noble friend the Leader of the House and the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition, exactly a week ago today at Questions, was extremely helpful and was one which many of us appreciated.
It is more than 30 years since I started to be involved in the management of parliamentary business. I cannot see that the management of parliamentary business or the rules that govern it have altered substantially since then. Of course, there have been changes. The noble Baroness talked about the number of new Peers who have come into the House. At the beginning of this Parliament, I think that I am correct to say that more than 50 per cent of the House had been created under the Labour Government, so a number of new Peers have been brought into this House by both Governments. The main problem now is to find a seat to sit on, but we all share in that responsibility-and of deciding how we will go on in this place.
In the 30 years during which I have looked at parliamentary procedures, things have substantially deteriorated. To be fair, the rot set in in the House of Commons. I believe that the automatic timetabling of business was a great mistake. I very much regret that the present Government have not felt able to remove that from the House of Commons. Timetable Motions are, of course, sometimes necessary; in my
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Lord Higgins: Will my noble friend make it clear in his remarks about timetable Motions that he is speaking about the House of Commons, as a timetable Motion in this House would be totally new and extremely dangerous?
Lord Wakeham: I certainly have no desire for a timetable Motion in this House. I will try to explain why I think that it would be extremely undesirable. That is not to say that it might not be necessary, but I very much hope that it will not. The whole of my political career in, if you like, business management, has been to avoid such things, except, as I said, on certain occasions where both sides reckoned that it was the best way forward. I never reached the point that the dear man, Michael Foot, did when he moved four timetable Motions in one day in the House of Commons and, when pressed, said that the reason why he was doing it was that the Government had such a small majority that that was the only way to get the legislation through. Some of us agreed that that was probably right.
The basis on which I have felt that parliamentary business should be conducted is as follows. First, a Government who have a majority in the Commons are entitled to get their business through. It is not, in principle, the job of Oppositions to seek to frustrate the will of the Government of the country. Secondly, Oppositions should never lose sight of the fact that they will be the Government one day. That has always been the position, and therefore Oppositions should never do anything that they would disapprove of if they were in government. That is a proper constraint on Oppositions at all times. Thirdly, Oppositions have their rights in political debate, and it is the responsibility of the government Front Bench and government business managers to deliver to the Opposition the rights that they reasonably should have. That always has been, and it always will be.
Fourthly, in this House it is not always sensible to press matters to a Division when there is absolutely no possibility of the House of Commons agreeing with them. This House is a revising House and is at its best when it seeks to ask the House of Commons to look again, particularly where the House of Commons is singing-if I may say so-an unclear note on an issue. That is where this House is right. I can remember, when I first got here, first Lord Callaghan and then Lord Whitelaw each saying, "Of course I respect the right of your Lordships to press this amendment, but the question is: is it wise? Is it a sensible use of time to seek to pass amendments that have no prospect whatever of ever being taken up by the House of Commons?". That is something that we should bear in mind when we are doing it.
All of what I have been saying to you is, in fact, "the usual channels". That is how things should be negotiated. From time to time in our history it is impossible to negotiate a satisfactory arrangement. There is then no alternative but for the Government to do something-the Government have to get their business. So I am 100 per cent in favour of negotiations and I want to see them going on all the time. If it does not happen, then it is the Government's responsibility to propose a solution for which they will have to get a majority. I finish by saying that the sentence that I like best in this subject was said in a speech by the late Lord Biffen, who many of us were great admirers of, in which he said that the agenda for political debate needs to be fixed, so that the discussions can be fierce and competitive.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I broadly agree with everything that my noble friend has just said, but that is not surprising because he speaks with almost unique experience of both Houses of Parliament. I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, on a very timely debate, because we are after all in a different situation so it is good that we take this time. However, I have to say to her that, when a Labour supporter quotes Mr Simon Heffer, I tend to discount some of the rest of the argument.
Ever since the 1920s, when the Liberal Party descended into the doldrums, an almost total political duopoly has grown up in this country, at parliamentary level at least, between the Labour and Conservative parties. In 1951, we should recall, when Labour and the Conservatives won 96.7 per cent of the vote, the Liberals won only six seats. The electorate was largely settled in its political allegiance, often along social and economic, and even hereditary, lines. I recall in my first successful election in 1964-I was very, very young-banging on doors and often getting the response, "Oh, my husband is a union member, so we are Labour", or, "We are in business, so we are Conservative". Occasionally, people said, "We have always been Methodists, so my family are Liberals". Allegiance was automatic, but that is no longer the case.
Dramatic changes have taken place over that period, but Britain nevertheless got used to a stable two-party pendulum. Up till 1979, the pendulum moved fairly regularly and fairly modestly; then came the minority Governments of Thatcher, Major and Blair. Curiously, as the pendulum swung less often-but often with more force-the mandate for Governments with large Commons majorities declined. Thatcher had a 43-seat majority in 1979 on only 43 per cent of the popular vote. She then got a majority of 144 seats on a lesser vote of 42.4 per cent in 1983 and a 102-seat majority on a very similar share in 1987. Then, in 1992, John Major won more votes than any Prime Minister before or since, yet he was returned with a smaller Commons majority of just 21. In 1997, Blair won only 43 per cent of the vote-far fewer votes than Major-but Labour won a majority of 179 seats.
All these capricious, irrational results can be explained by the gradual pluralisation of political choice, constrained by an intrinsically binary political system. However,
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So what does this mean? It means that, in the context of this debate, the public as a collective are quite clear that they want more than two answers to any given political question. Voters are no longer wrapped up in red cloth, blue cloth or even a golden sash. Party and class alignment are all but dead as voters float among the parties between elections and even during election campaigns-what psephologists refer to as "churn".
The verdict of the most recent general election was clearly that no one had really won. In the most propitious circumstances, the Conservatives could not defeat Labour, and despite astonishing scaremongering in the media about the dire effects of a hung Parliament, more people voted for the Liberal Democrats-and indeed for other, smaller parties-than at any time since the party's inception in 1989. It hardly betrays any secrets to say that the Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition was thought to be an impossible outcome. To their credit, however, the Conservatives were more prepared to embrace the facts of modern politics-that coalitions may be necessary to make government work-than were their Labour counterparts.
The coalition was a popular change: 59 per cent supported the coalition after the election and many-contrary to the hopes and assumptions of noble Lords opposite-still do. People like the idea of politicians working together and putting aside the pantomime partisanship that they see so childishly displayed in Prime Minister's Questions. Despite the popularity of the concept, of course, there has been disquiet about the consequences, to which the noble Lady has referred. The consequence is simply and inexorably compromise. Just as in every boardroom around the country, and in committees of all the organisations that we are all involved in, accommodations and common decisions are reached from different perspectives, so that now happens around the Cabinet table. Indeed, there is more open discussion of issues, as we understand it, than under the Blair and Brown regimes.
Again, the public seem to be relatively relaxed about that. Only the media-the square mile of the Westminster village-hanker for times when things were simpler, when one party would win perhaps 35 per cent of the vote, gain a big majority of seats and do what it liked. That was all very straightforward, but it no longer works for the public.
Manifesto commitments have been jettisoned in the past by majority Governments-for example, on electoral reform, tuition fees and privatisation proposals under the previous Government-whereas, with the coalition, the process is actually more transparent. The coalition agreement contains strands of policy that are clearly from one manifesto or the other. Indeed, those who were close to the negotiations-I was not there-can tell us that they usually chose the best policy of the
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It has been argued, and it was hinted at earlier, that a coalition Government is one that nobody has voted for. Technically, I suppose that that is true. However, what is also true is that the electorate has a much more likely prospect of seeing a broad preference than a wholesale endorsement of any one party's manifesto. Indeed, one thing that deters people from joining parties is that they think that all party members must share the same detailed commitments. That is obviously not true, but it puts people off. Sensible people think it weird, frankly, that anyone should say that they must wholeheartedly sign up to the policy platform of one party without a scintilla of qualification. With coalitions, there is a natural tendency to get what people want. That certainly happened to a very large extent to the voters of 2010.
We all face a difficulty in adjusting to this situation, but I think that the public have adjusted better than either the media or many in politics. Sensible people respond well to this spirit of compromise and to the sense that, where there is no winner, no one should take all. We had better get used to it. As Professor John Curtice has pointed out-I have not the time to go through all his reasons-the hung Parliament that occurred after 6 May was no one-off aberration. He has outlined three specific reasons why-even under first past the post, if that continues-we will have more hung Parliaments, so it is important that we in politics should adjust to that and respond to what the public clearly wish to achieve.
It is extremely important that the factors to which Professor Curtice refers, which make hung Parliaments a regular reality, impose some new disciplines on all of us involved in Parliament and in politics. Frankly, it is a good thing that we move towards where the public have already led. I do not accept that negotiation and agreement between adults should be painted as somehow grubby or as horse trading. At least the negotiation is a great deal more open than what happened in the elective dictatorship of recent so-called majority Governments.
All of us who are involved in the profession of politics-it is a profession-have a very important opportunity to respond to what the public are asking us to do. The Westminster establishment may not be used to these questions or such realities, but to my mind they now broadly reflect the enlightened view of the British public. Politicians should talk to each other more often. There should be no one monopoly on rectitude. It is one of the great features of this House that we never assume that we are the only ones in the right and that all those over there are inevitably wrong, which tends to happen at the other end of the building. That is the best hope for good government. The best hope is plural government, and that may often mean coalition government.
Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield: My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness for giving us an opportunity to debate these matters. The other place has been despatching to us near-JCB quantities of earthmoving constitutional legislation, which naturally has been absorbing a great deal of the time, attention and nervous energy of your Lordships' House. Relatively unnoticed among the rumble of these great Bills, however, the Cabinet Office sent us shortly before Christmas 148 pages of an entirely new constitutional document: the draft Cabinet manual, as minted by officials, defined by the Cabinet's Home Affairs Committee and approved at full Cabinet level by the commission.
It is, in my judgment, an artefact of considerable constitutional significance, although it is not, nor is it intended to be, the core of a written constitution. Essentially, it is the Executive's operating manual, describing those moving parts of the constitution and associated procedures that the Executive, both Ministers and officials, believe impinge currently on their work. To their credit, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary wish to have our views on the Cabinet manual before it hardens into a first edition. As it does not, in my view, embrace certain constitutional questions central to the work of your Lordships' House, it deserves serious attention, and I know that shortly the Constitution Committee of your Lordships' House will give it just that.
Before examining some of the detail, I must declare an interest. I, with other outsiders, helped the Cabinet Office a little with chapter 2 of the Cabinet manual, on elections and government formation, particularly its section on the hung Parliament contingency. I warmly welcome its publication, not merely because of the clarity that it adds to the delicate matter of the Sovereign's remaining personal prerogative of appointing a Prime Minister, but generally as a substantial step towards greater transparency in the engine room of central government.
On the appointment of a Prime Minister in hung circumstances, the draft manual refines the earlier version of chapter 2, which was given to the Justice Select Committee in the other place at the end of February 2010 and on which that committee reported before the election. With the experience in mind of the five days in May that led to the coalition's eventual formation, paragraph 50 of the draft Cabinet manual now makes explicit what was only implicit in the February 2010 version:
"The incumbent Prime Minister is not expected to resign until it is clear that there is someone else who should be asked to form a government because they are better placed to command the confidence of the House of Commons and that information has been communicated to the Sovereign".
The original unrevised draft was of critical use for those of us who sat in television and radio studios, for nigh on the whole five days in May, attempting to impersonate the British constitution and being asked constantly what should or should not be happening in
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I turn briefly to what is not captured in the 148 pages of the draft manual. There are two important omissions on the national security side: the placing of all the secret agencies on a statutory footing with the Intelligence Services Act 1994, and the associated parliamentary oversight arrangements, which are not covered. Also not covered are the conventions about how and when Parliament has a say in decisions of war and peace.
However, the most striking gaps, on the work of your Lordships' House in particular, are the lack of any interpretation of what constitutes a money Bill in the minds of the Executive and of any description of the current reach and vitality of the Salisbury/Addison convention of 1945. As a still recent arrival in your Lordships' House, I respectfully suggest that, from what I have observed here so far, both those questions are of real and immediate concern to many of your Lordships.
I do not think that we have had an executive view of the condition of Salisbury/Addison since Mr Jack Straw, as Leader of the Commons, gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Conventions, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham of Felling, which reported in 2006. Both Houses debated that report and it was noted with approval in each case, but the Cunningham report's recommendation that Salisbury/Addison should be the subject of a resolution in your Lordships' House, subsequently communicated to the other place and renamed the "government Bill convention", was not acted on. Given that, until last May, Salisbury/Addison was never faced by the political ecology of coalition and the question of what trumps which manifestos or coalition agreements, the time is right for a serious re-examination of Salisbury/Addison and its replacement with a Strathclyde/Royall/McNally convention.
The draft Cabinet manual lacks poetry. Not one of its phrases is likely to cling to the Velcro of memory. It is a very British document: a bundle of laws, conventions and procedures, just like the constitution itself. It is also, in parts, what these days we would call "aspiration", especially its chapter on the indispensability of proper collective Cabinet government. The Civil Service, being almost entirely herbivorous, to a man and woman, in its approach to government, must have purred with pleasure when Ministers endorsed this section. Whitehall's herbivores never enjoy command premierships, where collective corners are cut. Cabinet government has enjoyed a revival since last May, possibly because coalitions require higher levels of collegiate spirit and practice. As a fully paid up herbivore myself, I can only welcome this recognition by the coalition of the importance of being collective.
"When government programs require people to make sacrifices, they need to trust that the result will be a better future for
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The election process of 2010 left voters in no doubt that, because of the financial crisis that faced this country, sacrifices would have to be made by the population. They expected whatever party or parties were elected to have to do difficult things. The outcome of the election indicated that the electorate was unsure which Government would be best able to offer the best return on the sacrifice of jobs, homes, financial security and much else that might have to be made.
It is in the nature of coalition government, as the excellent Library Note prepared for this debate indicates, that manifestos upon which parties seek election, have to some extent to be set aside. As the noble Baroness has already pointed out, on previous occasions when coalitions have been formed, elections have followed in order to achieve a mandate from the people. This has not happened with the current coalition, and while such a process is not essential, what becomes important is that, constitutionally, the Executive do not take powers to themselves that do not represent the will of the people.
At the same time, it is in the nature of all Governments, coalitions or otherwise, that they be seen to govern. This means that a hierarchy of priorities has to be established, given the limits of elected time, fixed or otherwise. This Government, as the people expected, have had to make difficult decisions in respect of national debt. Inevitably, this has impacted upon the lives of many ordinary people, who, up until the point of receiving their redundancy notice, believed that the work they were doing was valued and worth while.
Many people see the present circumstances exacerbated by the failure of the market. Harvey Cox, a professor at Harvard, has observed that the market has been treated as omnipotent, possessing all power; omniscient, having all knowledge; and omnipresent, existing everywhere. When the market was in crisis, the Nobel Laureate, Paul Krugman, described it as, "a crisis of faith" and the financial journalists, Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson, in their book The Gods That Failed, spoke of the market as promising,
Whether or not such analyses are accurate, they reveal the dilemma for Government. To tackle such godlike powers holds many risks. The temptation therefore becomes the greater to return to those areas where some evidence of government can be seen; areas such as education, social welfare and healthcare. Legislation made in these areas does not exceed manifesto commitments made by either of the participating parties in the coalition. It cannot simply be a choice of the best parts-after all, who decides?
I have recently been in conversation with many of the heads of schools in my diocese. They and other teaching professionals speak of themselves as being exhausted by the relentless stream of legislation,
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"There will be no more pointless reorganisations that aim for change, but instead bring chaos. Too often ministers have rearranged the NHS like they're shuffling a pack of cards ... It reveals an attitude to the NHS that sees it just as a bureaucratic machine to be taken apart and put together again".
Secondly, its not being a manifesto commitment means that the Executive have again decided upon a policy without the consent of the people, thereby undermining one of the fundamental principles of democratic government. The Prime Minister has asked the public to place their trust in the future in terms of what he has called the big society. It is a bold concept, but one still largely undefined, and at risk of seeming hollow in the light of the loss of jobs and security and the sword of Damocles of much top-down change.
"Society means a community of ideas; without shared ideas on politics, morals and ethics, no society can exist ... If men and women try to create a society in which there is no fundamental agreement about good and evil, they will fail; if, having based it on common agreement, the agreement goes, the society will disintegrate."
Society is based upon relationships, not on contract. There is no justified government without the consent of the governed. In society, we do together what we cannot do alone. There must be joined-up thinking that ties the aims of a big society together with the realities of a mandate from the people in respect of changes as radical as those currently being proposed. Government are required to seek common good under a mandate from the people and common good is the facilitating of society doing justice to the whole as well as to the parts.
Lord Hart of Chilton: My Lords, let me join others in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, on introducing this timely debate. I declare my membership of the Select Committee on the Constitution, but today, of course, I speak in my personal capacity and not on behalf of the committee, although I shall draw attention to several of the committee's reports in recent years when it has discussed the constitution. The first is the 14th Report of the 2003-04 Session entitled Parliament and the Legislative Process. That report noted a concern that a growth in the volume of legislation was not being matched by Parliament's capacity to scrutinise it effectively. It therefore put forward a number of recommendations aimed at improving matters, including a move to publish more Bills in draft, far greater pre-legislative scrutiny and an emphasis on evidence-taking and consultation.
It is a self-evident truth that the scrutiny of legislation is fundamental to the work of Parliament and subjecting legislation to rigorous scrutiny is an essential responsibility of both Houses of Parliament if bad law is to be avoided and the technical quality of legislation tested. It is also important that those affected by, or with knowledge of, or having an interest in, proposed legislation should have an opportunity to make their voice heard while legislation is being considered, rather than after it has taken effect. Parliament's influence is usually greater before a Bill has been introduced because Ministers will be more likely to accept change when a Bill is not in a settled state and the Minister is not at the Dispatch Box defending his position. That is why pre-legislative scrutiny is so important and why so many who gave evidence before the committee, including many members of today's coalition, some of whom are speaking in the debate today, were keen to emphasise its importance.
The committee was aware that not all measures of high political contention have been published in draft in the past and subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, but it did not necessarily regard this as a category for exclusion. As Dr Meg Russell of the Constitution Unit put it, such Bills,
"However committed a Government may be to a measure-and however opposed other political parties may be-that does not necessarily mean that the technical elements of its provisions cannot be improved through early debate and objective scrutiny".
These points are of even greater importance in the case of Bills which seek to change the constitution. In my view, such Bills should always be the subject of full consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny; subsequent committee reports have continually emphasised this, no matter which party is in power. For example, in the 17th report of the Session 08-09 on the Parliamentary Standards Bill, the committee said,
"The way policy-making has been rushed, the lack of public consultation and the limited opportunities given to Parliament to scrutinise the bill all, in our view, fail to meet the minimum requirements of constitutional acceptability".
"The House may take the view that the consequence of the Government tabling so many late amendments to the Bill is that the parliamentary consideration given in both Houses to the important aspects of constitutionalreform which this Bill is likely to effect has been substantially curtailed. ... This is no way to undertake the task of constitutional reform".
When it came to a consideration of the Constitutional Reform Bill-which I remember very well because I was standing next to the bomb when it exploded-and the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, there were many, now to be found on the coalition Benches, who protested that insufficient scrutiny had been given to the Bill's contents and that in the case of the Constitutional Reform Bill, it should be directed to a Select Committee. A delay of three months, they said, was nothing if it meant that the Bill was got right. The present Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, thought the Bill could be a candidate for carry over, with the delay that that entailed. So it is in
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This is not the place for a detailed consideration of the issues that each raises but it should be noted that they are the product of a coalition agreement produced at speed over a number of days. They clearly represent both the cement to hold the coalition together and the desire to show a determination to get a legislative programme under way with speed and vigour-to hit the ground running, as the Prime Minister so often puts it. Each has been criticised, however, not only by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution but by the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. The Commons committee regretted that the AV Bill was,
"It is acutely disappointing to us that we have needed to criticise the Government for the process it has chosen to adopt in the passage of its first two constitutional Bills, the other being the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. While we understand the political impetus for making swift progress in this area, bills of such legal and constitutional sensitivity should be published in draft for full pre-legislative scrutiny, rather than proceeded with in haste. We intend to inquire very soon, in co-operation with the Procedure Committee if possible, into how proper pre-legislative scrutiny of such Bills can best be ensured in future, whether through the House's Standing Orders or otherwise".
The reasons for pre-legislative scrutiny are of course obvious. Taking evidence and soundings allow arguments to be tested and developed. Issues which seem to be based on arbitrary opinions can be explored and explained. Consensus can be reached and alternatives discovered. In short, argument can be reduced to a smaller number of points and time can be saved.
In this context, the procedures of each House are complementary, one to another. In the other place, as everyone knows, Programme Motions and guillotines mean that scrutiny is curtailed. In this House, the Government have no formal control over parliamentary time, and all amendments tabled must be called and debated. That is precisely what has been applauded by many Members of the other House. In the other place,
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I conclude by saying that it should be axiomatic that every constitutional Bill be published in draft, consulted upon and subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny, with evidence being called and tested. Only the most exceptional circumstances should dictate otherwise, and there is none to justify the two Bills now before this House. In my view, gluing the coalition together for short-term political convenience and an early start on legislative programmes are not exceptional reasons. For the reasons I have given, many of the problems of the past few days could have been avoided if this process had been followed, and the issues hammered out by testing and looking at evidence to prove the propositions being put forward.
By definition, it is unlikely that coalitions will produce joint policies which will have been the subject of identical but separate manifesto commitments. Those policies will not have received public endorsement. On the contrary, they will be a mix and match to bind the parties together in their desire to push forward with a legislative programme to seek to justify the creation of the coalition. That is perfectly understandable, but it is not an excuse and does not justify the promotion of constitutional Bills and claiming for them a special status that exempts them from proper consultation and scrutiny. To do otherwise would lead to all coalitions wanting to adopt a similar course, thereby doing enormous damage to Parliament and its task of full and proper scrutiny.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, for introducing this extremely timely debate and enabling this House again to reflect in particular on the possible impact of coalition government on its deliberations. However, I take some issue with two assertions that she made, the first being that the coalition Government have a stranglehold on this House. It is very apparent from the proceedings on the Public Bodies Bill that the coalition has been able to dictate neither the content nor the timing of that deliberation. Indeed, there have been significant amendments passed by this House, against the wishes of the coalition, for the improvement and revision of the Bill.
The second issue that the noble Baroness raised, which is also questionable, is that legislation of Government is legitimate-and I think that she was speaking here about constitutional legislation-only in so far as it is reflected in advance by the manifestos of the parties putting it forward. She admitted the exception to that rule, which occurred in the lifetime of her own Government-the Constitution Act, which dispensed with the role of the Lord Chancellor historically, separated the Judicial Committee from this House and set up the new Supreme Court. That cannot be an
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The second point that I would wish to make about the history of the coalition Government is that it is very easy to overlook, when one is concerned with what is admittedly a new situation in modern terms, the extent to which Cabinet Governments have not been monolithic, although they may have been single-party Governments. I go back as far as I can recall, to the Attlee Government. The Bevanites and Gaitskillites were in constant tension with each other. They were not reflecting on the manifesto; they were reflecting different ideologies and practical approaches to the achievement of their respective goals. There was always a tension. Similarly, there was a tension-and the Government of the day did not speak with one voice-when Barbara Castle published her document, In Place of Strife. A minority of the Cabinet, including the Prime Minister and Roy Jenkins, supported her.
Within single-party Governments there are shifting alliances. Perhaps it may be considered that there is some attractiveness in the fact that in a coalition the differences of opinion are sometimes rather more clearly recognisable and understood and made more explicit. I hope that will be so. The coalition partnership agreement refers to that point in its foreword, written by the two leaders. It says:
I very much hope that that includes transparency in respect of the work of the coalition Cabinet and of the two leaders themselves. Their position as a coalition will command greater public trust if it is recognised that the differences of opinion are real and that the contribution to debate is not one of parties entrenched and firing against each other but a genuine part of the democratic debate.
We have had other examples of Government in which differences of opinion have been recognised in modern times-perhaps most notably in respect of the referendum on our membership of the European Union in which Tony Benn and his colleagues were permitted to speak out against the view of the majority of the Cabinet. That was a coalition in all but name. I prefer the version that we have now.
The major issue raised by the coalition's existence is whether it will confront what was recognised before the election as the biggest problem about the British
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I am very much in agreement with that overriding rubric, but I hope that the agreement includes recognition of the power of Parliament in respect of the coalition, and that Parliament's dialogue with the Government will become more than advisory and will, indeed, be informative and creative.
Lord Wills: My Lords, I too congratulate and thank my noble friend for proposing this important and timely debate and, indeed, for her skilful analysis of all the issues. It is a pleasure to follow the important and thoughtful speeches that have been made, including the one we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan. I very much look forward to hearing the rest of this debate.
Coalition government is a novelty in the recent history of this country but it is already becoming clear that it has significant constitutional and parliamentary effects. Some are inherent in the nature of coalition Governments; some are the result of the particular circumstances of this coalition Government. It is clear that these effects are likely to develop and evolve further in the months and years ahead.
I want briefly to rehearse what seem to me to be some of the most significant effects so far of this coalition Government and then to make a suggestion to the Government on how they might respond. These are clearly uncharted constitutional waters. Parliamentary conventions, for example, that depend on the primacy of the manifesto commitment have been cast into doubt by a coalition agreement that has jettisoned election commitments made by one or other or both of the parties to the coalition agreement precisely in order to secure that agreement. I make no judgment on this, I simply remark on the fact. Again, the doctrine of collective responsibility has been called into question
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In the past, one important way that your Lordships' House has tackled contested and contentious legislation is through negotiation and compromise. But this Government-again, I make no judgment on this; I simply remark on the fact-have clearly found great difficulty in reaching for this solution with this Bill. I do not think that that is because these are unusually stubborn Ministers; rather, it seems to me to be a product of the origins of the Bill in the coalition agreement.
We can all read daily in the media reports of deep unease among Back-Benchers in both parties to the coalition that their interests are somehow being sacrificed to those of the other party. This is inevitable when there is no history of co-operation between the two parties and there has not yet been any time for these parties to build up any real trust between them. This is only to be expected when a coalition has to be put together so quickly and unexpectedly.
Such suspicions may be understandable but when the Bill yokes together two different political agendas, with Part 1 representing, as it were, the Liberal Democrat part of the Bill, and Part 2 the Conservative part, it makes it very difficult for the Government to adopt obvious solutions such as splitting the Bill into two and adopting different timetables for the two parts, which would remove a lot of the problems that we have seen over the past few days. Compromise in one part of the Bill but not the other would inevitably lead to significant unrest in the parliamentary party whose agenda had been compromised and would weaken the coalition. It is this, in my view, which helps account for the unusual inflexibility of the Government over the Bill. Again, I am not seeking to pass judgment but merely to understand what is going on here.
Governments who are the product of a deal clearly find it difficult to do deals. It appears on the basis of this admittedly limited evidence base that if the deal that sets up a coalition is particularly rapid and pressurised, the more difficult it is for the Government to do a deal with the Opposition over legislation. As a result, there have been all-night sittings and passionate complaints from both sides of this House that the proper role of your Lordships' House has been sabotaged by the other side.
I am sure that as today's debate continues we will hear further examples of the effects of this coalition Government but I conclude my remarks by making a suggestion to the Government about one way they could begin to respond to these new circumstances for our constitutional arrangements. The Government have not rushed to recognise that their formation raises significant constitutional issues. In so far as they have done so, it appears that their actions have been piecemeal and reactive. They have been making it up pretty much as they go along. Again, I am not seeking to criticise the Government. It is perhaps inevitable that that should be the case in the light of the general absence of significant constitutional discourse on these issues
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Noble Lords have said that this may well not be the last coalition Government that we see in our lifetimes, and that the coalition is as much the product of political change as the cause of it. The politics of our democracy are clearly changing. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, set that out very well. The consequences of these changes need a properly informed debate that is not confined to the committee rooms of Westminster and Whitehall and should not necessarily be confined to the specific issues generated by the coalition Government. For example, how far would a move to a fully codified constitution help tackle these issues? Reference has been made to the Cabinet manual. That seems to me to be part of the creeping codification of our constitutional arrangements, and it should surely be scrutinised in the light of that wider debate. This debate should not be dictated by the Executive. It should start with the people whose constitutional arrangements we all seek to serve. Their views should be solicited through a range of mechanisms including deliberative exercises, such as citizens' summits, which should inform any policy formulation by the Executive before they present any proposals to the legislature.
This discourse needs to start with a set of rigorously researched, independently validated propositions. At the risk of repeating myself from previous debates, these could be provided by the working group on the constitution established by the previous Government. That included distinguished and expert Members from all sides of this House-lawyers, prominent academics and others-but, despite repeated requests from me, the Government have still to convene it. I am unclear why the Government are so slow to do that. It is a modest proposal, not in the sense that Jonathan Swift meant a modest proposal but a genuine modest proposal. It is as much in the interests of the Government as of everyone else that our discussions on this issue should be informed by such expert deliberation.
I would be grateful if when he winds up the Minister could give some indication of whether he will get this group-or a similar group; he does not have to accept it exactly as it was constituted by the previous Government-under way and, if he will, when. If the Government are not proposing to do that, I would be grateful if he could give some indication of why not.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, some time between 5.30 and 6.30 yesterday afternoon, it became apparent to me that your Lordships' House had entered a serious constitutional crisis, and I have decided to make that the centre of my speech today.
What has happened is that it has become apparent that a minority of the Members of your Lordships' House can use their power to block legislation that has
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The use of minority blocking has not previously been seen in your Lordships' House, at least during the 13 years during which I have been a Member. At the time of the debate on the House of Lords Bill in 1999, it was rumoured that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury-then Lord Cranborne and the Conservative Leader-had persuaded the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, to agree to the retention of 92 hereditary Peers by a threat to upset future government timetables in your Lordships' House. Whether that would have happened if there had been no retention of hereditary Peers, I do not know, but that was a case that involved a majority and not a minority of the Members of your Lordships' House. The problem now is that the powers of a minority in the House have been displayed to all who may become interested. That could well apply to other legislation at a later date, and particularly to legislation for the reform of your Lordships' House, where some Members may well wish to frustrate or delay reform in all or some of its steps.
Of course, the powers of minority decisions could go much wider than that. There could be frustration of almost anything. To my mind, the use of delaying tactics by a minority, whatever that minority may be, is damaging to the constitution and to the future of your Lordships' House. The Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, calls,
I believe that this is not in fact the issue. The problems have been created by Labour-Party delaying tactics. Those delaying tactics could arise whether the majority was a single party or a coalition, so it is not the coalition that is the significant issue here-it is the Opposition, the Labour Party itself. The real issue is the behaviour of a minority Opposition.
Some of the speeches made during the debate yesterday after the closure vote think that the problem can be settled for good by friendly negotiation. Negotiation is now undoubtedly desirable, but it is not enough for the future as a whole. The action of the Labour Party has, I believe, opened up possibilities which may well reappear later, perhaps to its own detriment. What can we do to meet this problem? For the present, it looks as if we have to leave the matters to negotiation, but for the longer term we are going to need legislation,
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I would hope that any such legislation would act in a way that prevents anything like we have been facing for the last couple of weeks happening again. It must not allow for the guillotine because it is central that we do not have a guillotine in your Lordships' House, and it must also prevent the misuse of time for debates. What has happened over the last two days is seriously damaging to the future of your Lordships' House and is something that is going to concern this House not just for the next few weeks, but for a very considerable time.
Lord Sewel: In making comparisons between what is happening now with what has happened in the past, has the noble Lord not excluded or failed to mention one very important factor? Now, the coalition Government have what is really an effective majority in your Lordships-an effective majority, not an arithmetical one-where the last Government were clearly in the minority? That is the very fundamental difference.
After 1999, or after 1997 perhaps, the then Prime Minister said-I think he was right-that the two largest parties should have an equal number of Members and the third party, which was, of course, my own, should have a proportionate share. The meaning of "proportionate" was never quite worked out. All that has happened here-and what happened between 1999 and now does not make any difference-is that two parties are on the side of the Government rather than two parties being on the side of the Opposition. We have to prepare for situations where one or both of these events may happen.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend Damian Green, the Minister of State for Immigration. The Statement is as follows:
As the Home Secretary, Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have made clear, the first duty of any Government is to protect the British public, and we will not do anything that puts our security at risk. The
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On 13 July last year, the Home Secretary announced that she was renewing the current order for 28 days' pre-charge detention for six months whilst the powers were considered as part of a wider review of counterterrorism powers. As the Home Secretary will be giving a full Statement to the House on Wednesday on the outcome of that review, it would be wrong of me to pre-empt her statement by giving details of the review today.
This Government are clear that the power to detain terrorist suspects for up to 28 days' detention before they are charged or released was meant to be an exceptional power. This has always been Parliament's intention, but under the last Government it became the norm, with the renewal of 28 days repeatedly brought before the House. This was despite the power rarely being used; since July 2007, no one has been held for longer than 14 days despite the many terrorists arrested since then. This is a testament to the efforts of our prosecutors, our police and our intelligence agencies. As I said, the Home Secretary will next Wednesday announce to the House the findings from the wider review of counterterrorism and security powers.
The Home Secretary will set out the detailed considerations of the Government in determining whether the current regime of 28 days should be renewed and, if not, what should be put in its place. In the interim, I can announce that the Government will not be seeking to extend the order allowing the maximum 28-day limit and, accordingly, the current order will lapse on 25 January and the maximum limit of pre-charge detention will from that date revert to 14 days.
We are clear that 14 days should be the norm and that the law should reflect this. However, we will place draft emergency legislation in the House Library to extend the maximum period to 28 days to prepare for the very exceptional circumstances when a longer period may be required. If Parliament approved, the maximum period of pre-charge detention could be extended by that method. In our announcement on the wider review, the Home Secretary will set out what contingency measures should be introduced in order to ensure that our ability to bring terrorists to justice is as effective as possible.
This country continues to face a real and serious threat from terrorism. That threat is unlikely to diminish any time soon. The Government are clear that we need appropriate powers to deal with that threat, but those powers must not interfere with the hard won civil liberties of the British people. There is a difficult balance to be struck between protecting our security and defending our civil liberties; the outcome of our counterterrorism powers review will strike that balance. It is this Government's sincere hope that it will form the basis of a lasting political consensus across the House on this fundamentally important issue".
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Private Notice Question in the other place as a Statement. However, it is disappointing that the Statement had to be dragged out of the Government by means of a PNQ this morning. When the Conservative Party was in opposition, it made much play of the need for the Executive to respect Parliament and parliamentary procedures. In office it has acted rather differently. I will return to that in a moment.
Keeping the public safe and striking the right balance between security and protection of fundamental liberties is one of the most vital challenges facing any Government. As a responsible Opposition, we seek to support the Government on issues of national security and on their review of counterterrorism powers, provided that decisions are made on the basis of evidence, solely in the national interest and following an orderly process. That is still very much our intention. That is why we said before Christmas that if the evidence shows we can go down from 28 days' pre-charge detention without impeding the police and security services in doing their job, we should do it.
However, the process has not been at all orderly; it has been delayed considerably. It was to be completed after the summer Recess, then in November, then by the end of the year and then last week. During that time there have been considerable leaks to the media. On only 15 January, the Sun reported that £20 million of extra funding would be required for the security services to implement the changes to control orders, which were agreed as part of the Government's counterterrorism powers review. That was followed by detailed reports by the BBC and other newspapers last week. For example, the BBC reported the coalition plans to replace control orders with a new range of restrictions to keep terror suspects under surveillance. One working title for the new curbs, according to the BBC, is surveillance orders. These would restrict suspects' movements but end overnight curfews and a ban on mobile phones if numbers were supplied. The Daily Telegraph reported the following from political sources:
There have been all these briefings and leaks in the media, but we are told today of the conclusions of the Government's review, as the noble Baroness has set out-of a reversion to 14 days and draft emergency legislation to be brought to extend the maximum period to 28 days in the circumstances that the noble Baroness described. We must, however, wait until next Wednesday for a full justification for this decision and the details; yet the powers to detain terror suspects for 28 days expire, as the noble Baroness has stated, next Monday. Why are we not receiving a full Statement today, before the reversion to 14 days? Have the police and the security services agreed that, on the basis of the evidence, the power to detain suspects beyond 14 days is no longer necessary? Will this evidence, if it is available, be published in the review outcome, which I assume with be published next Wednesday? Has the Minister's department established a leaks inquiry into the series of disclosures that we have seen in the media in the past few weeks?
This party is determined to do everything that it can to support the Government in any appropriate and necessary national security measures. However, the Government's conduct on this matter has not given us any confidence in their approach.
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I welcome the Opposition's intention to support the Government so far as they can in this very important policy area. When the full Statement has been made and the review published, I hope they will feel able to support the Government's position and proposed legislation in their entirety.
I will say something about the review. As the House would expect, I have been fully involved in it. The word I would use to describe what we have been doing is "painstaking". It has undoubtedly taken us longer than we thought it would. I make no apology for that. It is much more important to get the outcome right, get the balance right and go into all the possibilities. As we did the work, we found that there were more angles and aspects that we needed to consider than we had realised at the outset: otherwise, we would not have stated in public the timetable that we did. We have been at pains to do extremely careful work, and to ensure that all those involved in government agreed with the outcome. The Home Secretary will set this out in detail on Wednesday.
The noble Lord asked a number of questions. I will endeavour to answer them. First, there will be a full Statement. The police and security services have made it clear that they are able to work within the limits that have been set. I do not wish to go into great detail because it would be wrong to anticipate the Statement. However, we will set out the considerations that lie behind the contingency that we will put in place because, like everyone else, we realise that the terrorist threat can change and therefore that it is right and proper to have an arrangement to enable us to respond to that, but with the sanction of Parliament. That will be one difference between the arrangements that we will put forward and those that were previously in place.
There has undoubtedly been significant and considerable press speculation about what the Government were going to decide. I have no doubt that journalists talked to people. However, there has been no leak and no statement by the Government of a kind that anticipated what they were going to say to Parliament. It is in response to the Urgent Question put down in the other House that we have chosen to respond to the part of the CT review that is urgent-the part that relates to the expiry of the pre-charge detention period-and to make it clear that it is the Government's intention to allow the 28-day limit to lapse and to revert in normal circumstances to 14 days. The evidence since 2007 shows that this has been sufficient time for valid charges to be brought.
Lord Owen: Is the Minister aware that although there is no collective view on the Cross Benches, we on these Benches, after a very difficult period in which our civil liberties have been threatened by suggestions
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Baroness Neville-Jones: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his statement. This House has indeed striven to be a guardian of civil liberties, and many noble Lords have played an important part in that role. As a House, we shall always strive to do that with due regard to the security of this country.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, this is indeed welcome news. I welcome, too, the proposal to put forward draft emergency legislation. There may be other contexts in which having legislation on the stocks could be useful. I hope the Minister will take back the view, which I suspect not only I take, that it would be useful to have an opportunity to scrutinise the draft legislation and not simply publish it, leave it there and hope it is okay. There needs to be a formal opportunity to scrutinise it.
On the 14 days, which will "be the norm", detention on the basis of suspicion for as long as 14 days is significant and must have an immense impact on an innocent individual. Has any progress been made on work, particularly intercept evidence-the noble Baroness will not be surprised by that question-that might enable a reduction to less than 14 days?
Baroness Neville-Jones: I thank my noble friend for her sentiments. On the 14 days, more detail will indeed be set out about the context in which 14 days will become the norm. Perhaps she will forgive me if I do not go into that now. Some of the detail will respond precisely to the points that she just made.
I have no doubt that the Home Secretary will have something to say about the use of interceptors' evidence. All I will say to the House at the moment is that the work that is being done on that subject-and a new round of work is being done-is continuing.
Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I apologise to the House for arriving late for my noble friend's Statement. As one of the survivors of the 90-day ping-pong between the Houses, when fortunately the robust position of so many of your Lordships at that time ensured that a very serious error was not made, I welcome the Statement that my noble friend has repeated today and look forward to further details that will emerge next Wednesday.
Lord Addington: My Lords, we now continue with the debate. I apologise for the slight change in the speaking order between myself and my noble friend Lord Greaves. Communication between offices, particularly after last night, was not perfect. I hope that the House will forgive us for slightly confusing what is going on. It is also unusual to be speaking in a debate when most of the people you wish to address your remarks to have not made it back in. But, with perfect timing, the noble Baroness has arrived. That is quite understandable.
The idea of the coalition and the constitutional settlement in this House has, as the noble Baroness rightly mentioned, been affected by what has happened over the past few days. I appreciate that I am biased when I make these remarks, but over the past few days we have heard a great many things a great many times. One is that we now have an iron majority on these Benches that can ram everything through. It is quite odd that a minute after we had our last big row on that, in which I had a small part, we then had a Government defeat inspired by a Government Back-Bencher. The Isle of Wight may not be an issue that will bring down Governments, but it proves that even under this new monolith of control, there is a degree of flexibility.
Also, there is the fact that this House could change things quite happily. Before there was a balance, which I do not always regard as having been the sunny uplands, having spent so much of it sitting over there and voting against the now Opposition party. Sometimes we found ourselves struggling to be heard; sometimes our current partners in the coalition did not agree with us; sometimes we found ourselves being the major opposition on Bills. There were changes going on, and a situation that was rather more dynamic than has been painted.
It was nice to hear the noble Lord, Lord Wills, speak for only eight minutes and make a coherent point. I hope that many of the people in this House will take on board the fact that you can do things efficiently and well.
If we are going to try to make this House work, we will have to take a long hard look at ourselves and how things function. I feel that various political parties have a habit of forgetting about their opponents and putting them in certain boxes, based on the last time they had a look at them. The last time that happened with the party opposite was sometime in 1997. I remember on one occasion about two years ago when I was here at about 10.30 at night having a drink that had been bought for me by a Member of the now Opposition. It was suggested to me and another of my colleagues that all we really wanted was to keep the Tories out-those were the exact words. "That's what you really want". As that Member of what is now Her Majesty's Opposition had bought me a drink I did not rant and rail there and then, but the fact that I was there at 10.30 at night to vote against that Government should have been some indication that we were not
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If we are going to continue with this debate, we must bear these things in mind-the fact that we do have a right to form alliances and coalitions; the fact that behaviour in this House will be affected by them; and the fact that if people are appointed to this Chamber for life, it will lead to time lags and blocks. If we are worried about how this Chamber functions, we must look at having periodical culls. I speak as a hereditary Peer who has felt the breath of the whetted axe at least once. I have voted for reform in this House; I have admitted to doing it with gritted teeth, but I did it. We are going to have to look at reform.
The fact of the matter is that it has been proven, or the House has been reminded, that a small group can delay things. Whether it was a filibuster or not does not really matter. Travelling at the speed of an arthritic snail amounts to the same thing, particularly on this occasion. If we are going to continue in this role, we will have to look at our own procedures. I do not like the idea very much but we do have a rather blunt instrument available to us at the moment-and I put my hand up as being a Teller when it was used. We must either accept its use more regularly or, if this behaviour continues, we must give the power to someone else. Alternatively, we must have a self-denying ordinance that we do not incessantly delay procedures. Unless these things are talked about, the nature of this Chamber will change.
Many of my noble friends have spoken about the nature of politics and the noble Baroness put great emphasis on what goes into manifestos. I can tell you one thing about the coalition document for my own party-and I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, might agree with me. We did not sit down and talk about the subtext that we would have to present to the Government if we did not win, if we came second. We assumed we were going to win. Maybe we were being very arrogant. Maybe the party that lost, when it wrote its manifesto on the basis that it was going to win, was being a little arrogant. Maybe the party that came best out of all the people who did not quite win was being arrogant. But we all did it. Unless you are going to make us go away and rewrite our manifestos and come back later, we are going to have to accept that they are guidelines and principles as opposed to a shopping list of what you are actually going to do.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, could the noble Lord explain why the Secretary of State at DBIS, Mr Cable, said that he would never have signed the pledge on tuition fees had he known that he was going to be in Government? How does he square those two things up?
Lord Addington: My Lords, I do not know if I can really explain that. Maybe it is part of the learning process, one that we will have to take on the chin. I put it like this. When tuition fees were first introduced by the noble Baroness's party, I opened a bank account for my daughter to pay her tuition fees. I looked to what was coming and listened to the academics, who were lobbying very hard for increases even then, saying
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To conclude, this House is going to have to learn to behave slightly differently, or bring in an outside authority, if we cannot behave ourselves and take our practices from another place, which are determined by an outside authority. We will have to accept that we as a House are stuck with our history, which means that we are here for life at the moment, and there is always going to be a time lag, and we cannot change our membership with elections.
Lord Plant of Highfield: My Lords, I shall focus, as my noble friend Lady Symons did at the beginning of her speech-and I thank her for inaugurating this debate-on the issues of manifestos and mandates in the context of coalition. Over the past generation at least, the party manifesto at elections has become rather akin to a quasi-contract between government and the electorate. It is clear why that should have happened. What is often called in the literature expressive voting, which is what the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, meant when he talked about people having a kind of loyalty to a party that they have grown up with and which is linked to social position, religious outlook and class, has declined tremendously in favour of what has come to be called instrumental voting, whereby people vote for parties in relation to how they see their interests at a particular time.
A manifesto might be a way of trying to address the issue of instrumental voting, so that people look at what they will get out of a Government, whether it is in their interests and so forth. The fact that there is a manifesto provides a basis for building up a degree of trust between the electorate and the Government. Acting on the manifesto provides the Government with their mandate and authority. That idea reached its zenith, for good or ill, in 1997, with the Labour Party's pledge card, which was very much promoted by my noble friend Lord Prescott. Indeed, all the pledges were fulfilled. That card was an attempt to forge a link between government and people in a narrow sense but also in terms of what the Government could be held to account to do and trusted to do.
The doctrine of the manifesto and the mandate becomes intensely problematic in a post-election coalition deal. The coalition agreement, according to Mr Vince Cable, superseded the manifestos of the two separate parties, but there is then a question of legitimacy, when some features of the coalition agreement were not part of either party's manifesto.
The counterargument to that has been that a coalition Government in these circumstances may claim legitimacy because they are governing in the national interest. Okay, nobody voted for that coalition and nobody voted for that coalition agreement, but it still might be claimed that they are legitimate. This is a controversial claim, just as what is in the national interest is a controversial topic. In saying that they are legitimate because they are governing in the national interest, the Government are judge and jury in their own case, as they determine the national interest.
The second alternative justification is that the electorate voted for a hung Parliament or coalition. This is a rather difficult claim to justify. You only need to read John Stuart Mill on the fallacy of composition to see how fallacious that kind of argument is. Certainly, you cannot attribute or impute to the electorate an intention to do any such thing. It is an outcome of millions of individual intentional acts, all of which were perhaps undertaken for quite different reasons, so you cannot do that.
The issue of how to legitimatise a post-election coalition brings us back to the issue of its mandate. This means that, for this Government, we must just say, "We are where we are. It is not ideal, but this is what we have got". It seems that we must be much more careful and deliberate in future coalition formation. If swing parties such as the Liberal Democrats-third or fourth parties-are going to claim legitimacy for coalition deals that they might subsequently make, they will have to be clear before an election who their preferred coalition partner is.
The idea of equidistance, which the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, argued for when he was leader of the Liberal Democrats, is not sustainable in an election campaign. Given that there has been this coalition, it is just not going to be feasible for Liberal Democrats to say in future that they are equidistant between the other parties and will make some coalition deal after the election in the light of how things turn out and what their interests are. The Liberal Democrats will have to commit themselves in advance at least to the idea that, other things being equal, this party rather than that party is the preferred coalition partner. That links to the issue of legitimacy. It is only if a party such as the Liberal Democrats do that that people can choose to vote for or against that preferred coalition, rather than its being the result of a post-election deal of the sort that we have now. That will be an important element of any future coalition. Equidistance is just not a feasible or morally legitimate position, because it perpetrates a kind of sleight of hand on the electorate.
The other problem with coalition in this country is that we have only the Liberal Democrats as a plausible third-party coalition partner. In other countries, there is a wider range of choices. Certainly, if the AV referendum is successful, I hope that there might emerge other possible swing parties. The Greens might be the most obvious; the nationalist parties might be, too, if they saw that there was a benefit in developing more United Kingdom-oriented policies as opposed to just pursuing a narrower, nationalist agenda. It seems to me that in those circumstances it is not going to appear all that acceptable to the British people to have a party, whichever it might be-it would be the Liberal Democrats in the circumstances that I am outlining-that receives a minority vote but is almost permanently in government as a swing party and in a position to join a coalition. There should have to be at least the opportunity for some kind of competition for the position of being a partner in a coalition and I hope that that will emerge over time. Overall, I am arguing that we should, if possible, avoid what happened this time with the post-election deal.
Lord Marlesford: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. What he said sounded very interesting, but I
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Lord Plant of Highfield: If the AV referendum goes through, more people may well vote Green or for the nationalist parties and so on, and it may well be that over a number of elections other parties will rise up the electoral ladder so that they can, as a minority party, be in competition with the Liberal Democrats. At the moment, the Liberal Democrats are the only feasible coalition partner that we can envisage in ordinary circumstances. However, if AV came about, other parties might grow sufficiently strong to be potential coalition partners. That is all I meant and I am sorry if I did not articulate it very well.
The thrust of what I am saying is that I think that it will be much better for the legitimacy of any future coalition to avoid purely post-election deals which would arise out of the third party claiming to be equidistant between the two major parties competing for government. That is bound to lead to questions about the legitimacy of the coalition-making process and the sort of document that we have at the moment, which, according to the Business Secretary, supersedes any of the manifestos. I think that that is highly unfortunate and that we need to be much more explicit with the electorate about those with whom deals are going to be made.
Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow-although it is a bit of a surprise to do it so quickly-the noble Lord, Lord Plant of Highfield, a graduate of the University of Hull. Unfortunately, another Hull graduate, my noble friend Lord Cormack, is unable to be with us to make his maiden speech today. He is presently recovering in hospital. I shall not follow on from the noble Lord's comments but I thought that he made an extremely stimulating contribution.
There are two aspects to looking at the constitutional dimension of coalition government. There is the formation of the coalition and the policy agreed as a consequence of parties forming a coalition. On the first, following what the noble Baroness said in opening the debate, it is important to stress the unique situation in which we find ourselves. We have had hung Parliaments before, resulting in minority government. We have had coalitions before, but not as a consequence of an indecisive election. In the 20th century, coalition Governments existed for a total of 18 years, but for 15 of those the Conservative Party could have governed as a majority Administration.
The invitation by David Cameron to the Liberal Democrats to enter into negotiations led to a series of events for which there was no precedent. In many respects, the lessons to be learnt were learnt from practice elsewhere as much as from our own history. As has been touched upon, the process was informed
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In the time available, I shall touch upon three aspects already mentioned in the debate: the draft Cabinet manual, the coalition agreement and the Salisbury convention. The last two are inextricably linked and lead to a consideration of how Parliament treats constitutional measures embodied in the coalition agreement.
The draft Cabinet manual now covers the situation in which no one party achieves an overall majority. It is designed to create the framework for the resolution of negotiations. At paragraph 49, it states:
This takes us beyond description of a political decision to a constitutional precept. It says that discussions "will take place", not that they may take place. This is not only questionable as a statement of practice but, if maintained, could give rise to legal challenge.
It is not intended that the manual should have any legal effect, but a political party excluded from discussions, even if there is no realistic chance of it being part of a coalition, could conceivably seek judicial review of the process on the basis of what is stated in the manual. This gives rise to wider questions about not only the legal status of the manual but also the extent to which it embodies statements of practice, and statements of what civil servants understand to be the constitutional position-in effect, between statements grounded in precedent and those that are not. This takes us wider than coalition formation. Given that, I do not wish to stray on to these matters, but rather invite my noble friend the Leader of the House to indicate if time may be found to discuss the draft manual. I think there is value in discussing before, and not simply after, it has become a Cabinet manual.
I turn to the coalition agreement. As we have heard, this occupies an unusual position as it is a post-election agreement-in effect, a post-election manifesto. It differs from election manifestos in two respects. In one respect, it is stronger; there are key provisions to which both parties are committed, and delivery is therefore central to maintaining the coalition. In the other respect, it is weaker in that it does not have the endorsement of the electorate. The agreement sanctions behaviour that is constitutionally distinct, though not without precedent: for example, allowing one party to abstain on a measure embodied in the agreement and, as a consequence, suspending the convention of collective responsibility for those Ministers in the abstaining party.
That distinctive status brings me to the position of this House. There are two consequences. One is in relation to numbers. A coalition of two parties necessitates certain changes in procedures and practice. It has been claimed-we have heard it today-that the numbers also create a majority for the coalition in the House, running counter to the principle, though possibly not
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What is of importance constitutionally is the implication for the Salisbury convention. As has been noted, the convention rests on the Salisbury/Addison agreement of 1945, essentially updating the thesis advanced by the third Marquess of Salisbury regarding the mandate. The basis on which the convention was advanced has long been spent but the convention has been maintained. There is some imprecision about the convention, in itself no bad thing because it allows for some flexibility and because a rigid application is not in my view compatible with a Conservative view of what constitutes "the people".
As my noble friend Lord Wakeham observed, the convention has in practice been extended, as the Cunningham committee reported, to Bills included in the Government's programme for the Session. We therefore do not vote against a government Bill on Second Reading. That practice in many respects protects the status of this House as a revising Chamber. We do not normally challenge the ends of a measure approved by the other place but we focus on the means. We engage in detailed scrutiny; that is our strength and our justification. We are here to probe and improve legislation, not to attempt to deny its passage, other than in the most exceptional circumstances. Exceptional circumstances may arise-Lord Simon of Glaisdale sought to adumbrate what these may be in an interesting debate that he initiated in 1993-so that we need to retain what is, in essence, a reserve power.
The Salisbury convention is relevant for present circumstances, and here I bring my points together. The constitutional Bills brought forward by government do not necessarily have their genesis in the manifesto of the winning party. Indeed, as the noble Baroness said, there is no single winning party. The fact that measures derive from a post-election agreement, one constructed in some haste and producing some measures introduced in haste, places a particular burden on this House to subject Bills to rigorous scrutiny. My view is that the circumstances therefore dictate two levels of scrutiny. One is our usual rigorous scrutiny of measures that are not of constitutional significance, and for measures that are, we must employ an enhanced level of scrutiny.
I listened with considerable interest to the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Hart and Lord Wills. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hart, I am a member of the Constitution Committee. I was the first chairman of the committee, and we produced a report on the process of constitutional change. We need, as a House, to revisit the means by which we examine constitutional Bills. It may not require a commission of the sort proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Wills-I believe I am one of those scheduled to be on it-but we need, in effect, to draw together and confirm, as a House, the principles developed by the Constitution Committee, as detailed by the noble Lord, Lord Hart. I believe
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In terms of detailed scrutiny under our existing procedures, I offer proceedings on the Public Bodies Bill as an example of good practice and proceedings on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill as an example of bad practice. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, says, but I believe that it is not too late for an outbreak of common sense on both sides to prevent the creation of conditions which will be to the long-term detriment of this House and therefore to the quality of legislative scrutiny. On the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, I believe that the will of the House was expressed eloquently last night by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and I trust that both Front Benches will act on the basis of what he said. This is not the time for finger pointing. It is a time for maturity on both sides, and the House should expect that.
This House is a Chamber of experience and expertise. It complements the other place. At times, Members must be prepared to put this House, and the health of our constitution, ahead of any tribal loyalties. There is a higher good than party, and it is essential that this House works, as a House, to fulfil the tasks detailed by my noble friend. As he said in his lecture, that right to scrutinise, amend and improve is also this House's purpose and its duty.
Lord Morgan: My Lords, that great man Benjamin Disraeli is renowned for two famous observations, both of which are being confirmed by the present Government. The first is that this country is divided into two nations, the rich and the poor-we have seen that confirmed-and the second is that England does not love coalitions, which is a view that has been confirmed in recent opinion polls, not to mention by the good people of Oldham and Saddleworth.
We have had three peacetime coalitions of Liberals and Conservatives in this country in recent times, and they have all been catastrophic. The coalition of 1895 dragged us into the Boer War and presided over the death of 27,000 Boer women and children in concentration camps. The coalition of 1918 took us into the Black and Tans period in Ireland and into the depression of the interwar years. Under the 1931-32 coalition, the social consequences of that depression got much worse. However one evaluates their effect on the country, the effect on the Liberal Party was particularly calamitous. The 1918-22 coalition saw the party divide into two and it ended the front-rank careers of both Asquith and Lloyd George; today, coalition still produces certain anomalies. It is rather striking to compare the fate of Lord Addison-Dr Addison was sacked in 1921-and
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Such coalitions have led to constitutional anomalies, and both the 1918 coalition and the current coalition have affected your Lordships' House in fundamental ways. The 1918 coalition attempted to flood the House of Lords through the sale of honours-the work of my countryman, David Lloyd George-and the current coalition has seen not the sale of honours but the creation of a large number of new Peers to enhance the already very strong majority that the Government have. As I have mentioned, in 1931 we saw the agreement to differ, with the Liberal Ministers resigning; now we have the agreement to differ over the views that will be taken in the referendum.
The current coalition is significantly different, though, as my noble friend Lady Symons observed in her admirable speech, because it is scarred by its origins in a deeper way than the earlier coalitions. The coalition of 1918 was scarred by the coupon-the private pact between the Conservatives and the Liberals to share out the seats in an arbitrary and vindictive way. The 1931 coalition was scarred by rumours of its originating in a bankers' ramp-the private negotiations between politicians and bankers and perhaps people at the court. The current coalition, again, is the product of a private negotiation. It is not the result of what David Lloyd George called the great assize of the people but the result of a secret conclave. Unlike in 1918 and 1931, the outcome was a Government for which no one has voted. The current coalition has arisen not openly through the popular will but privately through secret manoeuvres.
As has been said by previous speakers, including the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, the earlier coalitions were all formed before an election, so people knew what they were getting. There was a coalition manifesto in 1918 and also in 1931. In 1918, 5 million people voted for Lloyd George's coalition; in 1931, 13 million people voted for Ramsay MacDonald's coalition; no one, however, voted for the coalition that we have today. Indeed, many people voted Liberal Democrat on the basis of the avowals of that party that voting Liberal Democrat was the way to keep the Tories out of office, so we have this anomalous backdrop to the Government as a result
The implications for Parliament are quite numerous and have been broadly spelled out already. The Government have no clear manifesto. That is not the same as the divisions that might exist within parties. The Gaitskellites and the Bevanites adhered to the same manifesto in 1951 and 1955; on this occasion, there was no manifesto. That means that fundamental questions can be asked, as my noble friend Lord Plant observed, about the legitimacy of the Government. It certainly means that the Salisbury convention no longer has any meaning.
Incidentally, I am delighted that the convention is called the Salisbury/Addison convention. I wrote a life of Lord Addison, so I am glad that he has had his meed of fame at last. However, it is worth pointing out, given that the Government's programme of reforms is said to be the greatest since 1832, that the Great Reform Act 1832 followed two general elections, in which it was clear what people were voting for, even with the limited franchise that existed then.
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