Lessons from the process of government formation after the 2010 general election - Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Baroness D'Souza, Crossbench Convenor, House of Lords

  Many thanks for your letter of 28 October on the Salisbury-Addison convention and I am happy to respond.

  1.  As I am sure you are aware the Cross Benches do not act as a group and therefore there is no collective view. Furthermore, the Cross Benches are not party to, nor bound by, the Salisbury-Addison convention. However I have asked a number of colleagues for their thoughts and, as you can imagine, they vary considerably. I hope it is helpful to summarise these views?

  2.  The Convention cannot logically apply since the Coalition Agreement differs from both the Liberal Democrat and Tory manifestos and thus were NOT voted for by the electorate. A compromise solution put by some is that the convention should apply only to those bills which can be shown to be in similar terms in both manifestos.

  3.  The opposite view, the Coalition Government was in fact voted by the electorate if only by denying any one party an overall majority and therefore expressing a preference for some sort of coalition. This has empowered the Government to draw up an Agreement and thus the Salisbury-Addison convention applies.

  4.  The above option is favoured by many as a practical means of enabling the Government to define bills to which the convention would apply. This has led to a more philosophical discussion the main points of which are as follows:

    — The Wakeham Commission Report (January 2000) explained that there is "a deeper philosophical underpinning for the Salisbury Convention which remains valid……where the electorate has chosen a party to form a Government, the elements of that party's general election manifesto should be respected by the second chamber. More generally, the second chamber should think very carefully before challenging the clearly expressed views of the House of Commons on any issue of public policy." (Para 4.21)

    — Given that the Coalition Government commands a majority in the Commons and since there is no manifesto for the Coalition Government, the convention should apply to the programme for government.

    — While it is true that this programme has not been put to the people, to focus on the absence of a manifesto for the Coalition Government is to ignore the "philosophical underpinning" and to allow the House of Lords to ignore political realities in the Commons.

    — The Salisbury-Addison convention is just that—a convention which can develop. Circumstances change and adaptations based on the political realities of the Coalition Government have to seek to respect the basic principles that have always been embodied by the convention.

7 November 2010

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