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Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, will forgive me if I do not follow him in his views about the Scottish Parliament. Earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, was present. I welcome his remarks on Welsh devolution and the granting of primary legislative powers to that Assembly.

The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, gave his name to a convention—the Sewel convention—but it is the Salisbury convention to which most of my remarks will be addressed. Does it have legitimacy any more in
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the three-party politics that have emerged in this election? The question is whether Bills should pass through this House in their entirety or at all when their subject matter has been referred to briefly in the party manifesto—a party that has, by means of a defective and unfair electoral system, secured a majority in the House of Commons.

The Salisbury doctrine has a long history. I was amused that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor adopted the views of the third Marquess of Salisbury who, in 1885, promulgated its original form. It was a device to perpetuate the influence of the House of Lords at a time when the right to vote for the House of Commons was being extended to what he no doubt regarded as the lower classes. Lord Salisbury argued that this House had an obligation to reject and refer back contentious Bills to the electorate in a fresh election, so that the Government could obtain a fresh mandate for their measures.

Mr Asquith and Mr Lloyd George settled their hash with the Parliament Act of 1911. It is interesting to note that the preamble to that Act reads:

I imagine that it would have surprised Mr Asquith and Mr Lloyd George to know that "immediately" means getting on for 100 years before anything can be done finally to deal with this House.

In its guise in 1945, the Salisbury convention was an agreement between the Conservative and Labour Front Benches in this House specifically relating to the nationalisation programme of the then Labour government, so that the measures fully set out in the Labour manifesto in 1945 should not be wrecked in a way that would frustrate the expressed will of the people. The Lords could amend but not destroy or alter beyond recognition any Bill on which the country had, by implication, expressed its will. From that derives our practice of not voting against a Bill at Second Reading.

In that election, Mr Attlee had achieved 47.8 per cent of the vote; and Mr Churchill 39.9 per cent. The result of that agreement was that Viscount Cranborne, later Lord Salisbury, was able to restrain his overwhelming majority of hereditary Peers in this House from wrecking the government programme. Until very recently, the implied threat was that the hereditary Peers should behave themselves or a Labour government would abolish them.

Should that doctrine, formed under the two conditions that I have described—towards the end of the Victorian period and reinstated in 1945—apply in today's very different conditions? We say "No". The Government did not hesitate to abandon their manifesto commitment in 2001 not to introduce top-up fees.

Beyond the fact that the Government do not stick to their manifesto, there have been important changes. First, this House has such legitimacy as the Government will allow it. The hereditary Peers have
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had their come-uppance, with the Government promising to administer the coup de grâce at some stage. The Liberal Democrats are still working for a popular basis to this House, as pursued by David Lloyd George, by election through the ballot box rather than by appointment. But although in our present state we regard this House as being in a sense illegitimate, it is building a new legitimacy—what the late columnist Hugo Young once called an "anti-Napoleonic convention" to replace the Salisbury convention—by which we can properly claim the duty to fight authoritarian diktats from an over-powerful Government and their Ministers. The theme that ran through all our defeats of the Government in the previous Parliament was our consistent and constant support for civil rights and the rule of law.

Why may we claim such legitimacy? That is the second major change. The electoral system has delivered into the Government's hands a working majority, as many noble Lords have said, based on 35.2 per cent of those voting or 22 per cent of the whole electorate. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that the country had expressed a clear preference for the Labour Government. I do not think that those figures support his contention. In the previous Parliament the House of Commons was simply a passive agent of the Government and was rarely aroused. I am sure that the Government want to keep it that way, but we will not play along with it. The argument for proportional representation, a system of fair votes, is overwhelming. Although the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor attempted to laugh it off with comments about the views expressed by my noble friend Lord Oakeshott, the country will not laugh it off when they see the undoubted unfairness of the system under which we operate.

Of course, the elected Chamber will remain the superior Chamber, and, by and large, it should have its programme. It has, through the Parliament Acts, the instrument by which it can in the long term ensure that its will prevails. True, it has devalued that power by using the Parliament Acts for foxhunting, of all things, thereby ensuring that that issue has not been finally settled. The Government should not rely on an outdated convention but should argue for their programme on its merits. For example, the Government cannot claim to represent the popular will in seeking changes to education and health policy for England, a point that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, made. The Conservatives obtained 60,000 more votes in England than the Labour Party did, even though the electoral system, which I have described as unfair, delivered 90 fewer seats to the Conservatives. Taking into account the Liberal Democrat vote, the popular will in England was clearly against all manifesto proposals.

In the context of this debate, I shall use that observation to make two illustrations. First, the Criminal Defence Service Bill, which is about to be brought forward, is essentially a measure to cut back spending on criminal legal aid by £35 million. The manifesto declared that:

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So, I suppose, innocent people accused of crime are not to be included in the category of "vulnerable". The manifesto also called for greater competition in the legal services market to ensure that people get value for money. It sounds great, but the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has flagged up that commitment as a scheme of "bids for briefs" in which somebody—obviously, a government official, not the client—decides the representation of a person facing a serious criminal charge based upon the cheapest bid that can be put before him. That is not the way to serve the public interest. I ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, before the Bill goes anywhere, to negotiate and agree with those who understand how the courts work if the vulnerable are truly to be protected.

The second illustration is identification cards. The manifesto sold the idea of ID cards as a protection to the public. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said that support for it remained high. The manifesto said:

The central issue is not the carrying of an identification card. Noble Lords of a certain age will remember the little brown documents that we carried during the war. The sting is not the requirement to carry around an identification card like a credit card; it is the national register, the database upon which everything about the individual can be collected and made available in one place to the authorities. It will include address, marital status, credit standing, car registration, criminal record, benefits record and in due course medical records and so on.

The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said with great enthusiasm that she welcomed the technology. Does it mean that every individual who deals with officialdom, travels or applies for a job, pension or benefits must have his eye scanned and his fingerprints taken to ensure that he is the person recorded on his identification card? Why should the people who run government have immediate access to all the information that exists about a person? People ask, "Do you have something to hide?" but that is not the right question. The right question is: why do you want to know everything about me? The database is the ultimate control weapon in the hand of an authoritarian government, yet the ordinary citizen will have to pay for it, the cost being a hidden tax on every individual.

There are many other issues that I could illustrate. The manifesto is just an advertising document containing various slogans but when the legislation comes forward it is in much more sinister terms. The Salisbury convention has run its day and should be abolished.

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