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Lord Kingsland: Clearly that proposition has at least some support. However, in those circumstances, a member of the electorate would, in my submission, regard that as an irrational Bill and certainly not something that he had in contemplation when he read the Government's party political manifesto. Therefore, I do not believe that the Opposition would be bound by the Salisbury Convention.
As I understand it, we shall be faced with a Bill which seeks to replace a House based on a mixture of nominated Peers and hereditary Peers by a purely nominated House. That proposal does not go as far as the preamble of the Parliament Act 1911: it is a proposal that looks backwards rather than forwards and one
Perhaps I may put it in another way. We are talking about a constitutional Bill. It is not a Bill which seeks to change the law; it is a Bill which seeks to change the way in which we change the law. It goes to the composition of the sovereign Parliament, of the Queen in Parliament. The Salisbury Convention applies to a settled set of relationships between Commons and Lords, but this Bill seeks to change the nature of one of the two component parts of that relationship. In those circumstances, does the Salisbury Convention apply?
Perhaps I may give your Lordships a third example. In the manifesto of Her Majesty's Government we see proposals for other legislatures. We see proposals for a Scottish parliament, for a Welsh assembly, for another place, for a new London assembly and, indeed, proposals for your Lordships' House. In four out of five of those sets of proposals there is to be, or has been, a referendum before introduction. However, there is no proposal for a referendum in relation to the changes that are sought in your Lordships' House. I am not at all fazed by that because I happen to be deeply opposed to referenda as a means of democratic government. Nevertheless, your Lordships' House is not being treated in the same way as other legislatures and the electorate might take the view that that was unfair discrimination.
For all those reasons, in my submission the Opposition would be right to think very deeply about the application of the Salisbury Convention before this Bill comes before your Lordships' House. I do not say that it will not apply because that will depend upon what is in the Bill. But it is a factor that the Opposition will have to take into account. I give way to the noble Lord.
Lord Carter: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. It will perhaps help the noble Lord to know that there was an exchange of correspondence between myself and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in the summer of 1996 when the noble Lord confirmed that the Conservative Opposition would regard the Salisbury Convention as applying to a Bill to reform the House of Lords introduced by the Labour Government.
I turn now to the four claims that the Government have made for the Bill. The first one is that it is more legitimate. Well, that was much argued yesterday; I can find no rational basis for saying that a nominated House is any more legitimate than an inherited House.
The second claim is that it is more democratic. Many claims have been made in the name of democracy. Some of those claims have been made by frightful people to do frightful things--many of those in 20th century Europe. However, in order to have a true test of democracy, it
It has also been said that this House would be more representative. Yesterday, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, talked about the matter in great detail and said much about the origins, the education and upbringing of many of your Lordships who are hereditary Peers. However, with great respect to the noble Baroness, she has missed the point. The great merit of this House is that it is a part-time Chamber. Members go away and do other things, then come back here bringing with them their experience to the legislative process. Sometimes noble Lords are away doing things which are even more useful than those they would be doing if they were sitting here on your Lordships' Benches. That is a quality which your Lordships' House has and one that the other place increasingly does not have. In the other place, we are faced with something which is perhaps inevitable in a modern democratic society, although a sad fact of life from the point of view of representative government--a full-time political society.
Perhaps I may give just one illustration of how your Lordships' House plays a role that another place cannot. It is in the field of agriculture. There is hardly anyone in the other place who is now sufficiently expert in agriculture to take an informed view about the quality of agricultural legislation brought forward by the government of the day. Yet among Members of this House are, for example, my noble friends Lord Middleton and Lord Stanley of Alderley. We have Members of your Lordships' House, Members of Parliament, who are real experts. Indeed, we should not forget the noble Lord, Lord Carter. All of them are absolutely impartial in this. They bring real expertise to bear on the subject. That is something that only a part-time House can provide.
There is the final question of the role that this proposal plays in the constitutional programme of the Government. The one thing that is absent from the constitutional proposals of Her Majesty's Government is reform of the House of Commons; in other words, reform of another place. I would go so far as to say that there is a cancer at the heart of our constitutional system which is increasingly debilitating the ancillary parts of our means of government. That is due to the simple fact that the individuals who keep the government of the day in power are also those who have to keep them under control. They are one and the same set of people. It is the nature of modern party government that the instinct to keep the government of the day in power is stronger than the instinct to control it.
Therefore, I have formed the view that the only way in which that balance can be successfully redressed is by a more powerful second Chamber in the form of your Lordships' House. That is the central issue that the Government have to face in looking at stage one in relation to stage two. It is not a question of how this House should be composed; it is a question of what functions and what powers it should have to redress a constitutional balance which got out of balance many decades ago. It would mean at least looking at the delaying powers of your Lordships' House and strengthening them, possibly for a whole Parliament and perhaps even, in certain circumstances, having the power to take the matter to a referendum where there is a serious conflict with another place. I can find no evidence that the Government have given any thought to this at all, or if they have they have kept it well disguised from the country. But considering questions of composition before considering questions of function and power seems to me to be wholly irrational and perhaps the strongest argument for making sure that stage one and stage two are intimately linked.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, has the onerous but honourable task of winding up the debate. I conclude my remarks by asking him some questions which I hope he will be able to answer. These questions relate to the next steps that I hope the Government will be able to take. Can he tell me first of all what terms of reference the Government intend to give to the Royal Commission? Is it, for example, going to look at questions of powers as well as composition? I see the noble Lord frowns, or rather I thought the noble Lord was frowning. I apologise for suggesting that he was frowning. Apparently he was not frowning. I see the noble Lord is not frowning but actually looking rather sunny.
Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I think that is a case of someone who listens but does not want to hear. When the noble Lord replies to the debate tonight, will he deal with the question of what the terms of reference are for the proposed Royal Commission, in particular in relation to those functions and powers of this House that will be necessary to balance the powers of the executive in another place? The noble Lord must have thought about the terms of reference of the Royal Commission--because if he has not, to suggest that one would be useful would be, to say the least, premature.
Will the noble Lord give your Lordships' House, if he can, some undertakings about how the Government will deal with the conclusions of the Royal Commission? What if the Royal Commission comes up with a solution that the Government do not like? What will the Government do about it? Will they simply ignore it and produce an alternative proposal of their own? Will they put it to a referendum? What kind of timetable do the Government envisage from the moment the Royal Commission reports?
Your Lordships can perhaps imagine certain Cabinet Ministers coming to the end of their career in another place contemplating other opportunities. The fact that a fully elected second Chamber would exclude them from elevation may be a factor which would influence the way in which they react to any proposal; for example, for a fully elected second Chamber. What about the attitude of another place generally to its own powers? It is accustomed to being, in effect, the sovereign Parliament. Will it give up those powers easily?
The House will recall that my noble friend Lord Cranborne in his opening remarks referred to wanting a copper-bottomed guarantee. In my submission nothing less than the clear commitment of another place to stage two will do before Her Majesty's Opposition can contemplate support for the stage one Bill.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, my first comment on the speech we have just heard is, "Gosh". I have rarely heard such a quite extraordinary speech. First of all, we had a reference to how unacceptable it would have been--this was in relation to the Salisbury Convention--if the Labour Party or any other party had put forward a proposition that people with either blue or brown eyes should be excluded from Parliament. Any political party that put forward such an entirely daft idea would never have become a government of this country. I find it hard to understand why a serious minded man like the noble Lord can put forward such a strange argument.
But, of course, he was faced with a difficulty of how to justify the serious hints that the Conservative Party is moving away from accepting the Salisbury Convention. He spent a substantial amount of time wriggling around on this issue. He told us how passionately opposed he was to the referendum and then he implied it would have been a great deal better if the Government had suggested there should be a referendum on this issue. However, I understand the embarrassment of the noble Lord all the more so, given the exchange of correspondence to which the noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred. It would, I think, be idle to pretend that after 60 speeches--
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