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Lord Acton: Before my noble kinsman sits down, can he say whether in his opinion the amendment, whether it is introduced and voted on now or at Report stage, does or does not attract the Salisbury convention?

Viscount Cranborne: I am grateful to my noble kinsman. It always distresses me to see one of my kinsmen sitting on the Benches opposite. I hope that his peripatetic habits will one day propel him back to his proper place. While I defer, of course, to the judgment of your Lordships with greater experience in these matters, since the essence of the Bill before the Committee at the moment is tiny, any provision which appreciably delays, and delays probably for a very long time, the implementation of the substance of the Bill goes against my understanding of the Salisbury convention.

The Earl of Dudley: Can the noble Viscount tell us whether his grandfather, when he declared the Salisbury convention, took cognisance of the fact that a Labour manifesto not only needs to be published but also widely read?

Viscount Cranborne: My memory of my grandfather, whose ghost I suspect will stalk our debates perhaps even more than usual, is that he did not. Even in those days manifestos were not widely read documents. I am encouraged in my opinion by a whispered aside from my noble friend Lord Carrington, who confirms my view.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Marsh: Not for the first time, I find myself agreeing to a considerable extent with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I have a complete understanding of the problems which one has within families.

This is the first time I have spoken on this subject in the House but, like many of your Lordships, I have sat through many hours of debate here during which we have had some hundreds of speeches. For me, it was sad

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because I found myself sliding into an ocean of loneliness, which is unusual for me. Speaker after speaker from the hereditary Peers on the Opposition Benches expressed with fervour and enthusiasm their support for radical change in the House. Not only had they pursued that line for years--it was not a short-term thing--but in some cases for generations. I have missed out because I think the House does a very good job. It is at least as good as very many second Chambers, despite its somewhat eccentric composition. Given that eccentricity, it is better than some.

Paradoxically, the hereditary element has produced by random selection a cross-section of people wider than that of the life Peers, and both groups are more representative than the House of Commons. Some of my best friends are hereditary Peers. I keep it quiet outside this House! There are some who have vast wealth, as do some of the life Peers; and some are people of no wealth, like many of the life Peers. They are drawn from a wide range of different occupations. So I am not a great enthusiast for radical change in this Chamber. But it is too late; the opportunities have been missed.

I was, and still am, puzzled about the enthusiasm for reform yet the failure to obtain it. The Conservative Party has been in control of this country for 33 of the past 50 years, in two periods of office: 13 years in one stretch and 20 years in the other. Therefore, one wonders why they did not do something about the matter. The Labour Party, to my regret, right from its inception has found the existence of hereditary legislators totally unacceptable. But if anyone in this Chamber had not noticed that, along came the much maligned manifesto.

What does the manifesto say? Like most noble Lords, I always read the manifestos, then leave the country and have a holiday until the election is over. There is a view that these matters are terribly complicated and we could not be expected to understand the complexities of election manifestos. Therefore, perhaps I may remind noble Lords of what it said. It stated:

    "The House of Lords must be reformed. As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute. This will be the first stage in a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative ... A committee of both Houses of Parliament will be appointed to undertake a wide-ranging review of possible further change and then to bring forward proposals for reform". I am bragging, but I understood it immediately. It is pretty clear.

But then they said: "It caught us by surprise". I was puzzled. I had heard that view expressed previously, but I remember having a considerable argument with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, long before the election on the Labour Party's intentions. Then I remembered that four of my noble friends, the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, and the late Lord Bancroft, at the beginning of 1995--five years ago--produced a paper entitled The Second Chamber: some remarks on reforming the House of Lords. They already knew what the Labour Party's policy would probably be. The document, written in 1995 by four Back-Benchers on the Cross-Benches, stated:

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    "It was our understanding that the Labour Party intended, if elected at the forthcoming General Election, immediately to abolish the right of the hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords. We also understood that they would institute formal consultations--perhaps by means of a Speaker's Conference or Royal Commission--towards a more comprehensive reform of the Lords".

The document went on to deal with the proposal to abolish the right of Peers by succession to sit in the House of Lords:

    "We turn now to consider proposals to reform the House. To recapitulate our understanding of what the Labour Party propose, they intend to reform the Lords immediately on being returned to power. They envisage a short Bill to abolish the right of hereditary Peers to sit in the House, to be introduced in the first session of the new Parliament". I apologise for this, but it was public knowledge, and this is evidence. It went on to refer to the effect of the proposal for a short Bill:

    "The Labour Party's approach in effect splits the present debate on reform of the Lords into two parts. The relatively narrow question of the abolition of the right of the hereditary peers to sit in the House must be considered at once".

The document continued:

    "The parliamentary history of comprehensive reform of the Lords is not happy. Limited reforms, by way of short Bills, have proved far more successful". I assure noble Lords that none of those people was, or ever has been, a member of the Labour Party.

    "The shorter a constitutional Bill is, the better. A short Bill to deprive the hereditary peers of their seats would therefore seem a practical proposition, and there can be little doubt that, given a sufficient majority for it in the House of Commons, it would pass Parliament, even if in the last resort it was passed under the Parliament Acts, in the second session". I should state where I managed to obtain the document. My source was the Printed Paper Office. If the Conservative Party did not know in 1995 what everyone else knew, there really ought to be a shake-up in its research department. We know perfectly well that it was well known.

That decision has been taken. I have gone through life being disappointed: political parties do not agree with the things that I think are right. The objective now that we are presented with a clean sheet must be to seek to produce the most effective Chamber that we can. The opportunity is available to start afresh. There is no reason why some hereditary Peers will not reappear in this Chamber as life Peers or whatever. They can stand for Parliament or whatever. People can still continue, with this Chamber, seeking the best solution that we can provide.

To speak at this time of holding a referendum is a constitutional abomination. I oppose it on two grounds. First, in terms of practicality, what question will be posed? Who will put the question? How many months are we going to spend trying to explain to the public the problems that we have with delegated legislation and such matters? The suggestion is totally impractical.

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I pass quickly over the cost. We do not have many national referendums. I believe that the first, and last, was the 1975 referendum on membership of the European Economic Community--

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: What about Wales and Scotland?

Lord Marsh: No, with the greatest respect, "national" means in this context Great Britain. The referendum in 1975 cost £11,417,000. I do not think that cost should be the deciding factor in this argument, but noble Lords can amuse themselves working out what it would cost today, 24 years later.

I turn finally to my key point. In this, I am totally with the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. The Salisbury convention is the only way in which this Chamber works with the House of Commons. It is wrong, and always would be, for a second Chamber, particularly an unelected one--even if it were elected it would be a subsidiary chamber--to seek to impose its views on a matter on which the government of the day had been elected.

The manifesto is crystal clear beyond argument and the Bill fits without any deviation whatsoever. When I think of the number of things that this Government have done for which they had no manifesto whatsoever--in terms of student fees, syphoning £5 billion a year from pension funds with the ACT tax charges, and a host of other matters. On this matter the manifesto is clear beyond doubt. Not only will the Government get their way at the end of the day; they are entitled to get their way. To seek to say at this stage that basically all the last election obtained was a raffle ticket to enter a referendum is, in my view, a gross distortion and total irresponsibility.

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