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Mr. Grieve: I am fascinated to hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say, but I am confused. He may not have been present to listen to the language that his Labour Scottish colleagues used about Scotland's rights during the debate on Scottish devolution and the Scotland Bill. I can assure him that the language used by my hon. Friends has been far more temperate than much that we have heard from his Labour colleagues. Perhaps because he never bothered to attend those debates or was kept away by his Whips, he is unaware of the strength of feeling expressed there.

Mr. Cranston: I shall not rise to the bait. I shall simply say that abuse of the Scottish people does not, in my view, advance the argument.

I wish to develop one point that the hon. Member for Billericay raises in her Bill: the idea of holding a referendum. This is not an appropriate issue on which to hold a referendum now. It is not appropriate for reasons of the constitutional conventions that operate in this country.

It is unfortunate that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has left the Chamber as he said that the Labour party did not have an organised system for constitutional change. We have a very developed system. We went to the country on a manifesto involving devolution, human rights, the operation of government and, in particular, freedom of information. We also said that we would hold a referendum on the single currency. We went to the people on all those issues and sought their judgment on 1 May. We approached constitutional change as it should be approached: we argued the case, we incorporated it in our manifesto, we went to the people and were ultimately successful. That is not the case with the Bill, which has not been taken to the country and has not been argued properly.

On the subject of referenda--or referendums, as parliamentary counsel has now authoritatively decided that we should call them--as hon. Members know, many

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countries with written constitutions have provisions for holding a referendum to change the constitution. We can see good examples of that among two of our closest neighbours. The French constitution contains a provision stating that, for a change to take place, the legislature passes the necessary legislation, then matters are either taken to a referendum or there is a joint sitting of the two Houses.

Ireland may be a more appropriate example because its system is closer to ours. If the Irish constitution is to be amended, under article 46 of the constitution the amendment must be passed by the legislature and then taken to the people. Under the 1922 Irish constitution, the provisions were wider. Referendums were required not only for constitutional change but for other matters, whereas under the 1937 constitution they are confined to constitutional change. It is of historical interest that Ireland introduced that method of referendums to legitimise constitutional change. De Valera and others believed that Ireland had to break from the traditions that had hitherto operated. Australia also provides that a referendum must be held if the constitution is to change.

Although some countries with written constitutions require referendums, many important countries do not--Germany, another neighbour, is a good example. We tend to think of the United States as a country of referendums, but it has never held a referendum at national level; many have been held at state level, but the American constitution can be changed without the need to go to the people.

India may be a better example because its system of government is closer to ours. If the Indian constitution is to be changed, the matter is taken before Parliament and, except in some important cases when it is necessary to get the states' approval, changes can take effect by Parliament passing the necessary legislation by a sufficient majority. Even in countries with written constitutions, a referendum does not always have to be held.

We have a system of representative and responsible government. Members of Parliament represent their constituencies in various ways: we see our constituents in our surgeries and take up individual matters; we help groups within our constituencies; we effect introductions to Ministers; we lobby on behalf of groups in our constituencies; and we speak in this House. The hon. Member for Billericay would claim to be speaking on behalf of her constituents in introducing the Bill. That is how our system works. People are elected and they represent their constituents.

For many years, it was thought that referendums were not appropriate in our system of representative and responsible government. The old constitutional books make little reference to the holding of referendums. But, as we well know, in the 1970s important referendums were held. We must try to identify the factors necessary to trigger a referendum if we are to adhere to our constitutional conventions.

Some have argued that we should have more referendums and consult the people much more frequently.

When the constitutional unit carried out its important investigation into the conduct of referendums, it found evidence of popular support for referendums, and quoted the example of a poll in 1995 in which 77 per cent. of respondents were in favour of the use of referendums on certain issues. It also quoted more recent polling in Scotland and Wales in favour of referendums.

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Some literature argues for the much wider use of referendums. In particular, literature in the United States calls for much more initiative in terms of people being able to put particular proposals on ballots, and then a referendum being held to determine the issue. However, that does not help our system in trying to identify the appropriate matters on which a referendum should be held.

In her article, the hon. Member for Billericay referred to Dicey, who casts a long shadow over the constitutional debate in this country. He discussed the conduct of referendums and was especially concerned with home rule. As a die-hard Conservative, he was determined to advance any plausible argument to try to prevent Irish home rule. However, in trying to rationalise that, he spoke of issues of transcendent importance, and mentioned changes to the monarchy and Reform Acts. He said that those constitutional issues should be taken to the people.

More recently, some constitutional law commentators have advanced other reasons. Professor Bogdanor, a noted commentator on constitutional issues, has said that where there is a transfer of powers, that is an appropriate subject for the conduct of a referendum. Professor Brazier of Manchester has said that a fundamental change in constitutional structures should be taken to the people. A number of commentators say that referendums should be conducted on important constitutional matters.

It is difficult to accommodate those views with the constitutional history of this country. There have been important constitutional changes where referendums have not been conducted. For example, the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 did not involve referendums. The Maastricht treaty did not involve a referendum. The hon. Member for Billericay and a number of Conservative Members argued for a referendum, but the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) said no. Our constitutional history contains examples of important constitutional changes where there has been no referendum.

In trying to identify the matters on which it is appropriate to hold a referendum, the party commitments at elections are important. We should look back to the referendums of the 1970s and, in particular, to the 1975 referendum on entry to the European Community. That referendum was promised in the Labour manifestos for both the February and October 1974 elections. The Labour party campaigned for the referendum and took it to the people. The people "approved" the manifesto and, subsequently, a referendum was held.

I am suggesting that the hon. Lady has not taken the matter to the public. There has not been a debate. She needs to agitate the issue with the public. She should go out and campaign. She must convince her own party. The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who leads on constitutional issues for the main Opposition party, said that the idea was fraught with difficulties. If the hon. Lady campaigns, she may ultimately be successful. Her proposal would have to be incorporated in her party manifesto, and her party would have to be successful at an election. That is a long way down the track, I suspect.

To be consistent with the constitutional conventions and with the circumstances in which we have held referendums, and to continue to operate a system of

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representative and responsible government, as we have known it in this country, the hon. Lady needs to do much more than simply present a Bill.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I hope that I may catch Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye later. With reference to my hon. Friend's plea to have regard to constitutional conventions, may I say that if we are a modernising party we must disregard some of those conventions? Citing conventions as a reason for not introducing constitutional changes reflects a degree of conservatism. I want a radical approach to the constitution, including a greater use of referendums.

Mr. Cranston: I think that my hon. Friend misunderstands me. I said earlier that at the last election we went to the people with a programme of radical change. We promised, for example, to repatriate the European convention on human rights, and we are in the process of doing that. We promised freedom of information, and we are working on that. We promised devolution in Scotland and Wales, and we are delivering that. It was a programme of radical change, but it was consistent with our conventions because we incorporated it in the manifesto, took it to the people and got their approval.

In some cases we said that it was appropriate that there should be a referendum. We have already had referendums in Scotland and Wales. We said that the single currency issue is important constitutionally and economically, and we said that we should allow the people to have their say.

My argument is not about impeding change. Change must occur in an appropriate way and must be consistent with our constitutional conventions, which allow any party to incorporate a radical programme, to argue that change, and to go to the people on that basis, as we did at the last election. That is not what the hon. Lady has done. She has simply been lucky in the ballot and brought this little Bill into the House. She has not done the hard work--


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