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If this admirable proposal for a referendum were now to commend itself to your Lordships in principle--and that is how it is put before your Lordships--in context with the Bill as now amended, it would avoid pre-empting the Royal Commission's process of public consultation which your Lordships all know about. It would qualify the Bill as amended in breach of the manifesto to enable legitimacy to be conferred upon it and it would afford a requisite measure of protection, of safeguards removed by this Bill on which the people rely, as was put so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Ferrers, who I see is in his place.
As the nation would appear to be substantially divided against the Government, your Lordships may well conclude that verification of the wishes of the people on this matter of constitutional importance in the due exercise of the powers of governance is not only appropriate but wholly requisite. Was it of the essence of the deal that the guardianship function of your Lordships' House should be overridden? Who can tell? Who knows? I beg to move.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I was too late to ask the simple question I intended to ask of the Government on the previous amendment because I had mistaken what proved to be the winding-up speech of the noble Baroness as a mere intervention to ask information from my noble friend on the Front Bench. I do not want to be caught in that way again. Therefore I now ask a question relating to this amendment which is concerned with the state of public opinion. I hope that whoever delivers the reply on behalf of the Government will be able to tell us what is being done to draw the attention of the public to the public hearings of the Royal Commission on the future of this House which, as I understand it, have been conducted in something approaching privacy in some of our provincial capitals.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, it is with great diffidence that I find myself in disagreement with the noble Lords whose names are to this amendment. Obviously there is much to be said on the place of a referendum within a democratic society. That was why in the previous Parliament the government of the time were urged repeatedly to set up a Royal Commission which could consider a whole number of interrelated points which have now emerged without the benefit of that mature consideration; namely, referendum, second Chamber, method of voting and a whole number of others. That was not done.
If, as I believe, a society is democratic in so far as the mass of the people can influence the decisions which will affect themselves, in those circumstances it is obviously desirable that there are certain matters that should be directly addressed to the people at large. As I ventured to suggest on an earlier occasion, that is by no means the only method of democracy; nor is representative government. Probably the most effective is to vouchsafe to the individual who is affected by a decision the decision itself. That is why we now all embrace the market economy where every penny put down on a counter is a vote for one or other candidate for the favour of the customer. That not only means that he can choose what goods please him most, but by thereby doing he influences the whole shape and development of the economy. It was to the great credit of the Conservative governments who preceded the present one that they seized on that truth and vindicated it. I believe that it is now accepted almost universally in this country and indeed abroad.
But obviously there are certain questions that cannot be addressed to the individual himself. Someone else may be affected and that is the reason why we have a representative democracy, a parliamentary democracy. However, in the case of a referendum certain not only wide questions but also specific ones can be submitted. We have heard a great deal in the deliberations on this Bill about manifesto commitments which all too often slip into the old phrase of "manifesto mandate". Of course there is no such thing. It is quite unreal to pretend that voting for a party is a vote for everything in a manifesto. On the contrary my experience was--such as it was--that in general there was a vote against a party on very general grounds rather than a vote for a party, and particularly not a vote for the individual items in a manifesto.
However, it would be perfectly possible to put those questions. The state of California has referenda which go into such detail. Indeed, as your Lordships will remember from a debate in the previous Parliament, so does Switzerland. Therefore there is much to be said for a referendum although it still has to be decided whether it should be pre-legislative or post-legislative.
In my respectful submission, there are two overriding reasons why this amendment should not be accepted and I very much hope that the noble Lord will not press it to a Division. First, there is Clause 2, the Weatherill amendment, which was overwhelmingly approved by your Lordships. Although there has been perhaps a
My noble friend Lord Marsh pointed out in an earlier debate the difficulties that might arise in the other place. It would be quite deplorable for us to do anything to increase those difficulties or to make the position of the noble Baroness and my noble and learned friend more difficult. That is the first reason.
The second reason is that the proposed question virtually invites a repetition of the highly undesirable contention before 1914 of "the Peers against the people". That is how it would be represented. However, we have got away from that by means of Clause 2 in which the Government have conceded--at any rate, in the interim--the value of a chosen section of your Lordships remaining Members of this House. I refer to the hereditary element. Although these words were not used then, perhaps I may describe those noble Lords as the creme de la creme. I would be very surprised if those 90 Members are not only considerably superior to anything that can be proffered through the life peerage system to top up the Government's numbers, but also considerably superior to any similar body in any legislative system in the world.
Moreover, as a result of the retention of that element, the Royal Commission will be enabled to see whether some element of the hereditary peerage should be carried forward into its recommendations with regard to the ultimate composition of your Lordships' House. It may well do so. If it does not, that will probably be because the Government have so categorically declined to consider any further hereditary element that the Royal Commission may consider--I hope not, but it may well do so--that it would be useless to recommend the continuance even of the creme de la creme of the hereditary element.
As we have now got away from "the Peers against the people" and as the Government have now conceded the value of the hereditary element, if only in the interim House--that point should not be dismissed--it seems foolish to invite a recrudescence of a campaign of "the Peers against the people".
Viscount Trenchard: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway for introducing the amendment. I see no reason why reform of your Lordships' House, alone among the major constitutional changes introduced or proposed by the Government, should not be put to the people in a referendum, particularly as the Bill conflicts in two major respects with the commitment contained in the Labour Party's manifesto.
Those two respects are, first, that the Bill does not make your Lordships' House more democratic or more representative and, secondly, that the Bill as amended provides for the continued involvement in the affairs of your Lordships' House of 92 hereditary Peers.
The Bill fundamentally alters the composition of your Lordships' House and, in so doing, affects its ability to discharge its functions. Inevitably, the Bill alters the relationship of this House with another place. Therefore, it is a measure the effect of which is comparable in importance with the measures under which the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Greater London Authority were established. Therefore, I believe that that also should be submitted to the people for their approval.
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