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Lord Strathclyde: It may be worth while if I make a short speech on behalf of these Benches at this stage of the debate before it goes on very much longer. I begin by making one or two comments on what some noble Lords have already said. In doing so I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, to the debate. He told us that this was the first time that he had taken part in the debates on reform of the House of Lords. He accused the Conservative Party of being surprised by the development that had taken place and by the fact that the Government intended to remove the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in this House. I am not in the least surprised, and nor should he be. It was while we were still in government that we held a two-day debate in this House on the future of the House of Lords in which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, then Leader of the Opposition, made clear the position of noble Lords opposite--or at least as clear as it was then, which was not much clearer than it is now in terms of the longer-term position. However, I recognise that he himself has, in modern parlance, moved on from the position then taken.
Lord Richard: Will the noble Lord confirm that on behalf of the Labour Party I made it perfectly clear at that stage that we would have stage one in which the rights of hereditary Peers would be abolished, and stage two would take place after consultation?
Lord Strathclyde: I am delighted to confirm that that was my understanding then, as it is now. The point I seek to make is that the noble Lord has come forward with his own ideas for longer-term reform. I welcome that as part of the general debate that needs to be had about the long-term future of this House. But the amendment raises a number of questions which the Government need to answer. In his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that what the Government intended for this House was widely known by the country. That may or may not be true; I do not know. But there were a number of other issues which were also widely known by the country, not least the whole situation on devolution.
The point is that the issue of the House of Lords seems to be the only matter on which the Government are not prepared to entertain a referendum. Since 1997 we have had referendums on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is proposed--I think in this Parliament--that there be a referendum on proportional representation; and at some stage in the future on the European single currency. I need to ask the Government this one immediate question. They will have considered it. When they were writing their manifesto they made a decision. The decision was to include a referendum on some important constitutional issues and not others. I wish to know the answer to this question; the House has a right to know it. What is so fundamentally different between those issues and the issue of Parliament itself? What reason did the Government have for not including the issue of the House in the referendums? As a party, we are not intrinsically keen on referendums, but the Government are. We have seen the evidence of that several times over the course of the past few months.
However, there is another reason why the Government are more committed to this. Recently they published a White Paper, Modernising Parliament. In it they boasted of the importance of referendums. They say:
A short while ago there was a question from my noble friend Lord Cranborne to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. Is it the Government's position that they prefer pre- legislative referendums rather than post-legislative referendums? I believe that the constitutional rule should
I am not sure why the Government are in such a flap over this issue unless they are nervous of the proposition which is outlined in the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway: that the Committee on Standards in Public Life should govern the referendum. If that is the case--if the Government decide to change their mind and have an amendment--it cannot be beyond the wit of Government or Parliament to pass a short referendum Bill, or to attach one to this Bill, if they so wish. I suspect that they do not wish it. Almost exactly two years ago we passed a referendum Bill in a little under two months. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, was running his referendum Bill. It was a good deal more contentious. It had a good deal less cross-party support, and yet it happened.
I also wish to quote the Government on subsection (2) of the amendment, about the joint committee of both Houses of Parliament. Are the Government still committed to this? I do not say that they will necessarily have made up their mind, but it would be useful to know whether they have considered the matter. Have they any idea how long they will give a joint committee of both Houses to take a view after the Royal Commission has reported; or on the balance of membership between both Houses? Do they envisage that the House of Commons should have a preponderance of Members or that there should be an even balance between the House of Lords and another place?
I should like also to know the answer to this question. I can see why the Government hide behind the important fig-leaf of the manifesto. But let us accept it as that; it is a fig-leaf. But are they opposed to a referendum as a matter of principle on the long term future of the second Chamber? Have they considered the proposition that obtaining the consent of a wider electorate by a specific question in the referendum may be worthwhile after Parliament has passed a second stage Bill; or, if they are so wedded to the idea of pre-legislative referendums, that whatever the Royal Commission comes up with should be put before the people of this country in a referendum?
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, may be right that no one is particularly interested in this issue. Is that what the Liberal Democrat Party is about: to maintain the position that the people of this country are not interested in the make-up of Parliament? I should have thought that this may be an opportunity to make people more interested in Parliament and its operations. That is one good reason for having this debate.
When the Government reply, I hope that they will be able to tell us the answer to two specific questions. First, what was the reasoning behind there not being a commitment to a referendum on this question when referendums were conceded on so many other issues?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for putting those two points. From around the House we have had a thorough and extensive debate. I would almost describe it as at times ingenious. While I am somewhat tempted to follow some noble Lords who have raised what could be described as Second Reading points, or discussion on future amendments, I shall not do so. But I must make one point. However ingenious one is, I do not understand how one can wrap discussion about this potential second stage of reform in the terms of this amendment. However, whenever and whatever one asked the people of this country hypothetically to vote upon in a referendum on the Bill, I cannot understand how it would illuminate the next stage of reform. That seems to be the issue concerning most noble Lords offering their views on the amendment today.
Whether or not we should seek a second stage referendum--if one can call it that--which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, raised is, as I said in reply to his remarks on the Business Motion today, a matter we would hope to proceed with by consent once the Royal Commission and the joint committee of both Houses (which we have no intention of abandoning) have reported. Let us hope that that consensus on the next stage of reform, of which we all speak with such enthusiasm, will come to pass and will enable us to undertake the long term constitutional issues which we need to do when considering a second Chamber fit for the 21st century with reasonable consensus between all those who are part of that discussion.
The arguments today have been thorough and in some instances subtle. I fear that those who have been subtle may find my response rather simple. Indeed, it is straightforward. But it is no less robust because of that. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the Government do not feel in a flap.
The general view of the supporters of the amendment seems to be--to encapsulate it in so far as it was described in specific terms--that the people have not made known what they want and should be given the opportunity to do so. I realise that I risk wearying some of your Lordships who have heard the manifesto undertaking, I must repeat it once again. The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who is not longer in his place, has already done so. It states:
I believe that we should look at the argument from another angle. I wonder how Members would react if there were, for example, a manifesto commitment which they believed to be a protection of constitutional privilege. There may be one; I stand to be informed. But if there were and the Government decided that they would not fulfil it because they did not believe that the public understood the fine print, there would be a great deal of concern. People would say, "You were elected on this programme. Why do you not fulfil it?". I believe that there would be uproar from the constitutionalists in your Lordships' House, and rightly so.
Again on the prominence of the manifesto, other noble Lords have suggested that few people voted Labour solely on the basis of the commitment to remove hereditary Peers. We do not know that one way or the other, but if it were to be true we cannot cherry pick over each party's manifesto. I gently ask those who make that argument how many people voted Conservative in 1987 solely on the basis of the proposals to introduce the poll tax?
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, whose views I enormously respect, have quoted the evidence of an opinion poll to suggest that people are against the reform. Perhaps I may respectfully quote something to him:
Lord Campbell of Alloway: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. It was very shrewd of her to find that quotation. I congratulate her. However, it is not a very fair quotation.
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