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Lord Elton: My noble friend Lord Strathclyde drew from the noble Baroness the Leader of the House a response which made it clear that there is no prospect of delaying implementation of the Bill until the findings of the Royal Commission have been published. I believe that that would be most helpful. I see that the noble Baroness looks startled, but my noble friend asked whether it would not be more sensible to await the findings of all the advisory bodies. I understood the noble Baroness to decline that offer--she certainly declined it on Second Reading--and that has frequently been signalled in advance.
Therefore, when replying to the debate, I hope that the noble Baroness or the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will be kind enough to separate the reasons for the resistance which I anticipate they will voice. I make that request because subsection (2) of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway would have the effect of delaying the implementation of the Bill until the Royal Commission has reported. At Second Reading, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made it clear that that was something which the Government would not accept under any circumstances.
I think that my noble friend should consider whether he is wise to couple the two requirements in his amendment; namely, that there should be a seeking of the opinion of the majority of the electorate and that this should be sought only after the Royal Commission has reported. The Government are committed to a two-stage Bill. We all regret that fact and think that it is wrong, but we have to accept their position and majority in the other place. It seems to me that my noble friend could usefully reflect between now and the end of the debate on whether in fact his amendment would have a much stronger claim to acceptance by the Government, and whether the Government would have much less ground in the view of the public, your Lordships and indeed those in another place, on which to resist a referendum for this change to the constitution, after having accepted referendums for so many arguably lesser changes to the constitution. If my noble friend were to remove that excuse for such resistance, I believe that his amendment would be a good deal stronger.
Similarly, there is no legitimacy in the view that there is no public support for the Bill. Indeed, 80 per cent of people in a MORI poll taken last October supported the removal of the hereditaries. With the greatest respect to those noble Lords who have spoken to the amendments, I have to say that I find it hard to believe that the latter have been tabled as a serious wish to consult people, or that the movers have had a sudden conversion to support the principle of referendums. I rather believe that the amendments have been tabled as a means of delaying the passage of the Bill. If we look at an outline of the timetable for implementation if the amendments were to be carried, that becomes even more evident. It is not just a question of waiting for the Royal Commission. I give way to the noble Lord.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: I am much obliged to the noble Baroness. Will she accept the assurance that I have already given that, whatever else we have done, none of us--that is, of the six of us--has tabled these amendments to delay the Bill? I give my word upon that. Will the noble Baroness accept it, or not?
Baroness Gould of Potternewton: Obviously I have to accept the noble Lord's words, but I think the consequences would belie that. I shall quickly go through the timetable that would be needed. First, we must await the findings of the Royal Commission and then we must debate them. We must await the findings of the Joint Committee of both Houses and then debate them. We must introduce a referendum Bill for the consideration of both Houses. We must then hold the referendum. I reckon that if we do that in under two years, or perhaps three years, we shall have done extremely well. There is clear evidence that the Bill will be delayed.
"a Campaign Organisation in receipt of core funding should be required to submit audited accounts to the Election Commission". Therefore acceptance of these amendments might imply that this House is determining not only how referendums should be conducted but also the establishment of an election commission. Although I am personally in favour of such a proposal, it requires proper and considered debate by both Houses of Parliament.
Baroness Gould of Potternewton: With the greatest respect, that is not what this amendment asks for. This amendment asks for the recommendations of the Neill committee to be the basis on which the referendum should be conducted. We do not know the outcome of the Bill that is going through. As it proceeds through the House many amendments may be made to it. The noble Lord cannot use that as an argument. As I say, I personally support the proposal for the establishment of an election commission--which I think is important--but it must receive proper and considered debate by both Houses of Parliament. The whole report of the Neill committee has to be seen as a package. That is why the Government will bring forward their draft Bill before too long. Therefore it appears to me that while these amendments may appear straightforward and simple they have far-reaching consequences beyond this Bill. For that, if for no other reason, the amendments should be rejected.
My clear understanding of the somewhat joky--dare I say--final exchange between the Prime Minister and myself, which I well recall, was that I looked forward to causing at least as much trouble during the current Session of Parliament for the Government in your Lordships' House as we had in the previous Session. By that I meant--I think I got what I can regard only as a positive response--perfectly clearly that I regarded the obligation of your Lordships' House to examine with care all the legislative proposals put before your Lordships, and within the established conventions of your Lordships' House for your Lordships to perform their perceived constitutional duty to scrutinise legislation and indeed to make suggestions and amendments for another place which another place in due course could reject or accept.
Certainly I hope that Amendment No. 31, or a version of it, will meet with the Committee's approval. I shall certainly do my best to persuade the Committee of its virtues. As I explained on the previous occasion I addressed myself to this matter in your Lordships' House, I certainly could not undertake to predict, or indeed to deliver, your Lordships' opinion; it is for all of us to try to persuade a majority of your Lordships during the course of our debates. But nonetheless I am absolutely certain that it would be wise for the Committee--if I may be so bold as to venture some advice, which is perhaps unwise of me--to consider the remarkably fine record, since the election, that your Lordships have established for criticising the Government's legislation. I may venture also to suggest that your Lordships' reputation has never stood higher because of the judgment that your Lordships have exercised during the course of your Lordships' legislative performance during the past nearly two years.
I turn to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. Like my noble friend Lord Waddington, I am greatly attracted by this amendment, not least because of the charming puff that my noble friend gave to the Bill that I have introduced into your Lordships' House, which among many other modest and sensible measures suggests that your Lordships' House might in due course be given the duty to determine what constituted a constitutional measure of legislation and, having so decided, to tell the Government that they had an obligation under those circumstances to submit that measure to a referendum for approval or otherwise. For that reason alone I am attracted to my noble friend's proposal.
I am also attracted to the reasons of my noble friend Lord Waddington for supporting my noble friend because he gave passionate expression to the view that I have often expressed--as has every single one of your Lordships so far--about our preferred route which has been encapsulated in the not particularly cosy mantra: no stage one without stage two. I associate myself enthusiastically, not for the first time, with everything that my noble friend Lord Waddington said about the Government's approach to this legislation. In fact I stand, like someone else not so long ago, astonished at my own moderation, and indeed at his, in support of that. I shall not weary the Committee with repetition of something which my noble friend was much better able to express than I.
However, I have to say both to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway and indeed to my noble friend Lord Waddington that I find myself in something of a difficulty about supporting the amendment of my noble friend Lord Campbell. The reason is very clear to me in the case of the inducement trailed by my noble friend Lord Campbell. The inducement was that he was merely bringing about a little earlier one of the admirable provisions of my Parliamentary Government Bill. I am grateful to him for that and for the additional publicity. Unfortunately, if I may say so with the greatest respect to my noble friend, my Parliamentary Government Bill is not yet law. Therefore the provisions which he and I both think so admirable in that Bill are not yet on the statute book, although, of course, I have every confidence that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will nod it through and encourage his honourable and right honourable friends in another place to do the same in very short order--thereby setting an extremely good example for your Lordships' House. But as the Bill is not yet on the statute book, it is with the greatest reluctance that I cannot find myself persuaded by my noble friend's argument, however much I should like to be.
My noble friend Lord Waddington is right about no stage one without stage two. All of us have repeated ad nauseam our criticism of the Government's approach to reform of your Lordships' House. I never thought I would find myself saying that I was getting bored even with the sound of my own voice in repeating these arguments. For the first time in my life, I have at least some sympathisers among noble Lords opposite when I make that observation. Tempted as I am by the prospect of supporting my noble friend's amendment, it is in direct contravention of what has come to be known as the Salisbury convention. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway was perfectly correct when he said that the amendment would in no way impede the provisions of the Bill. But it would impede the implementation of the provisions of the Bill, not only for a few weeks but probably for some months or even some years.
I yield to no one in my support for such a delightful prospect, but I would strongly advise your Lordships against supporting on the first day of Committee stage debate an amendment the effect of which would be to wreck the Bill. That would very clearly set out a pattern for the remainder of our debates, which might make it
Your Lordships may think my caution is too pusillanimous--and characteristically so--but I urge your Lordships at least to take a rain check before voting in favour of my noble friend's amendment and to think for a little while. Perhaps my noble friend will be inclined to bring back his amendment on Report after we have gained a little of the flavour of the debates we are about to undertake. Then we may be in a position to set my noble friend's admirable proposals in context, not as a matter of principle but as a matter of practicality in terms of the way in which your Lordships consider the Bill in the coming weeks and months.
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