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Sir Norman Fowler indicated assent.

Mr. Straw: The right hon. Gentleman assents to that. If the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to take advice from us, he may wish to think again and to take the advice of The Birmingham Post, which that group owns. The paper is not particularly in favour of closed lists, and it is against proportional representation. Its view is

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straightforward, but a recent editorial said that the Conservative party was making a fool of itself by the way in which it was behaving. The editorial read:

    "The Conservatives cannot muster a decent opposition in the Commons, the party organisation has fallen into disrepair in the country, its ability to communicate any message to the electorate has virtually ceased. Yet it still has a chance to wield its power in the Lords . . .

    The Labour Government may be wrong in wanting closed-list PR but our democracy is based on the fundamental belief that the will of the majority in the Commons must prevail.

    It is hypocritical nonsense to defend 'democracy' by undemocratic means and shows the Tories' desperation to cling on to the last vestiges of power.

    Throwing out the Government's Bill is a monumental blunder by the Tories".

It was indeed a monumental blunder. The Conservative party has torn up one of the most essential conventions regulating the balance of power between the elected House and the other place. That convention was articulated, although it had been followed before, by Lord Salisbury, the grandfather of the current Viscount Cranborne. In a speech to the House of Lords in November 1964, Lord Salisbury spelled out what the convention meant.

Mr. Shepherd: This does not answer my question.

Mr. Straw: I am seeking to answer the point raised by the hon. Gentleman. He began his speech by talking about relations with the new Labour Government elected in 1964 with a very tiny majority. He said:

That is a reasonable statement.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield has said that closed lists were not specified in our manifesto. Even when our manifesto is clear and categorical, as it is on the two-stage process for the reform of the House of Lords--it could not be clearer about the self-contained stage one--the right hon. Gentleman still says that the Conservative party intends to tear up the basic fundamental conventions of the Salisbury convention--[Interruption.] That is what we all heard him say on Monday. Of course, the Conservative party may have changed its mind since then.

Let us leave that to one side. In order to justify the Conservative party's actions on this Bill the right hon. Gentleman is saying that, although the basic idea of proportional representation for European elections was in the manifestos of the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats, the detail was not. I must tell the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills that, when Lord Salisbury was making his statement, he did so against the background of the manifestos that had

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been brought before the British people in 1945. Those manifestos were far less detailed in every particular than those of any party at the last election. I happen to have before me the winning Labour party manifesto for 1945. It says that the Labour party intended to submit to the nation an industrial programme which included public ownership of the fuel and power industries. There is then an explanation about why that is to be done, but there is not a word about how. The list continues by saying that the programme will include the public ownership of inland transport. There is a little word about co-ordination and about why it is to be done, but not a word about how. It then talks about public ownership--

Sir Norman Fowler: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are in substantial difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman has tabled a guillotine motion which allows only four hours of debate in this House. He has now been speaking for 20 minutes on that motion--not the Second Reading--and we are now going back to the 1945 Labour manifesto. With due respect to the Home Secretary, I believe that it would be in the constitution and order of the House for him to make briefer remarks on this important guillotine motion.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Chair cannot be responsible for the content or length of speeches. The Home Secretary will have heard what the right hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Straw: I particularly heard the right hon. Gentleman saying that he was in some difficulty, and that is true. I have taken 20 minutes because I have given way to hon. Members. The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends would have been the first to complain had I not given way. Let us be clear, the content of the 1945 manifesto is absolutely central to the context of the Salisbury convention and the fact that the Opposition have broken that convention.

The 1945 manifesto said that the programme would include public ownership of the fuel and power industries, public ownership of inland transport and public ownership of iron and steel. No other detail was given, but Lord Salisbury did not use that fact, even casuistically to argue that they could accept the principle, not just to dissent from the detail, but to block the whole Bill. That is the difference between any previous action taken by the other place and the action being taken now by the Conservative Opposition in the other place with the full support of the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: I am sorry, but I do not have time.

I was reflecting on why the Salisburys, the Cecils and the Cranbornes--the same family--had been able to survive in power for five centuries or so when others, not including those in the Conservative party, had failed. I came across a quotation not from one of Viscount Cranborne's predecessors but from one of his predecessor's associates in the other place, the Marquess of Winchester, who was heavily involved in Tudor

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politics. He said--I translate from the Latin--that he had survived by being a willow and not an oak. That is how the Conservative party has kept its power in the other place until now. We are now seeing the Conservative party, a once great oak of distinguished lineage, breaking in the wind. Whether it has a future is gravely open to doubt given these tactics.

The motion is in no sense an abuse of parliamentary procedure. The abuse of parliamentary procedure is the action of the Conservative party which has broken the Salisbury convention in every particular. The Opposition have challenged the democratic will of the House and, above all, the democratic will of the British people.

5.57 pm

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield): That was an unconvincing speech. It did not even convince the four Labour Back Benchers who are here today. The Home Secretary was keen on quoting precedents. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dowd) wishes me to give way, I will happily give way to him. If he is a Whip, I suggest that he keeps the silence for which he has doubtless been appointed to that office.

The Home Secretary was keen on quoting precedents. He went back to the 1945 general election. I notice that he did not quote his own article in The Times on 4 February 1985, which was entitled, "Cut the Guillotine Down to Size." In those days, he argued that ill-thought-out legislation should not be forced through without change,

With this legislation, he cannot even claim a detailed mandate.

Let us get this straight: we all know that the closed list was not, and never has been, a manifesto commitment of the Labour party. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) totally destroyed that argument. In fact, the Home Secretary destroyed his own argument. On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), who is here today, interrupted the Home Secretary when he said that he would look at the Belgian list. The Belgian list is not a closed list so, if it was a manifesto commitment, it was quickly and easily broken by the Home Secretary.

On the abuse of power, let us go back to the War Crimes Bill and to the comments of the then shadow Home Secretary, Lord Hattersley. He made the point that my hon. Friends have been making. He said:

That is the point and that is what my hon. Friends were saying.

Obviously, I recognise that the guillotine procedure has been used before. However, I caution the Government to hesitate before guillotining a constitutional measure. There should be no doubt that the Bill goes to the heart of our constitution. The rules whereby Members of the European Parliament are elected are vastly important, above all to the public.

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Of course there are precedents of the guillotine being used even on constitutional Bills, although the BBC report this morning which suggested that the Maastricht Bill was guillotined is wrong. The whole point about that Bill is that it was not guillotined. It would be nice if the BBC gave parliamentary reporting the priority that it used to have.

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