Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, if the noble Lord is saying what he seems to be saying, he is undermining totally the argument of his noble friend the Minister, because she is saying that everybody has read the manifesto and that they are agreeing to it.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I do not mind disagreeing with my noble friend—I do it often. I am making the
15 Mar 2006 : Column 1241
central point that the elected House, which we all basically agree should have its way, has voted one way. I see that even the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is nodding in agreement with that—but he wants the other place to keep on having its way, I do not know how many times. The plain fact is that the other place must have its way. We have asked the other place twice and we have said no; to keep going on is wrong, and I shall certainly vote against the Motion proposed by the noble Lord.

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, we do not have a power of veto in this House—all we have is the power to delay things. If we keep on voting no, they will then use the Parliament Act. The only consequence of that is that the Home Office will have to wait one more year before it can have its new, shiny, half-a-billion-pound-a-year department to issue the ID cards. That will be the sole consequence. Therefore, we might as well push the matter to the limit to point out that the Magna Carta established the concept that the Executive should not have an unfettered right to do what they want. Since then, Parliament has tried to control the Executive. Unfortunately, the balance of power has changed in another place over the past century in such a way that the Executive to a large extent now control another place and what goes through. The strange doctrine has arisen that the Government have the right to get their business through Parliament—meaning that the Executive have a right to get their business through Parliament. That is the tail wagging the dog and is the opposite of what Magna Carta said. We need to remember that.

The other point, which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, made so well, is that if governments are being elected by a minority of the electorate, what they put in their manifesto statement is very important because that is what the people put them up there to do. For them then to say that they have changed their mind is very dangerous, because you effectively have then elective dictatorship. That is what we are seeing happen. To answer the earlier question, if they had more than 50 per cent or perhaps 60 per cent of the electorate voting for them, maybe we might rethink. But until that situation arises, let us leave it as it is. We do not have a power of veto but we do have a power of delay. I see no problem in using it. It might change things, because it will give people time to think about the issue a bit harder and see whether they really do want to push the Bill through in a year's time.

The right reverend Prelate said that people did not have to worry about things like this a century ago. In the 1850s Britain did not have passports and ID cards, and we could go to the Continent and do what we liked. The continentals could not; they had ID cards, and unless you were either a criminal and bribed your way or one of the ruling elite, you could not move around the place and work where you liked, which is part of the point of this entire debate. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Monson, because I am very annoyed that I will be one of the few people who will be liable to a £1,000 fine if I do not notify a change of
15 Mar 2006 : Column 1242
address quickly enough when I need to renew my passport. Most of the population will be quite free of that obligation.

Lord Carter: My Lords, with regard to the Parliament Act, we ought to be entirely clear what we are talking about. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, have said, "Use the Parliament Act". That Act has been used only once on a whipped vote on a major item of government policy, and that was the Parliament Act 1949. The Acts since—the Act changing the age of consent, the Hunting Act and the War Crimes Act—were all passed on free votes. The only other one was the European Parliamentary Elections Act, which, as I know the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Henley, will remember, was an arrangement between the two parties.

The official Opposition have to decide whether the killing of the Identity Cards Bill for a year or longer is the issue on which they wish to force the will of this House. I have just had a quick count: there are more than 20 former Members of the other House sitting on the opposition Benches. Perhaps they will win today. I think they intend to vote—it would be awfully hard for them not to do so today—but then the official Opposition will have to think very carefully indeed. Is this the issue on which they wish to create a precedent?

Former Chief Whips have a very long memory. If the official Opposition create this precedent, we shall eventually use it. It will be a long time before they are in government, but we shall remember it. This is a major step: the first time since 1949 that the official Opposition have forced the use of the Parliament Act, which has been suggested. It will be interesting if we hear again from the official Opposition whether they agree with the use of the Parliament Act. I will give way to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, if he will tell me whether the official Opposition are prepared to envisage the use of the Parliament Act on this Bill.

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I will probably be supporting them when they do.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I always thought the rules of the House were that you should listen to the whole of the debate before indulging yourself in it. However, on this occasion I am prepared to make an exception because of the kind invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Carter.

This House should always proceed with caution when it is trying to defeat the Government, even when it is asking the House of Commons to think again on a Bill it has passed. Generally speaking, we do that; I think we always do that. What is so unusual about this aspect is that the Government have already been defeated on two occasions, and therefore this is the third occasion on which we are dealing with this matter.

In this context, perhaps I may make three points. First, I think the House should proceed with caution and should deal with matters as controversial as this only when they are very few in number. This is the first
15 Mar 2006 : Column 1243
time in this Session that we have come to an issue of this kind. Secondly, we should proceed only on an issue where there is good deal of public support for what this House is doing. Thirdly, we should not proceed if there are issues to do with the Salisbury convention. My noble friend and the Government may disagree about the use of the Salisbury convention; I am entirely satisfied that there are no Salisbury convention implications if the House were to return this small point back to another place.

Let us look at the Parliament Act. The Government, in the House of Commons, have three choices: They can accept the will of this House, the amendment proffered by your Lordships; or they can amend it and seek some form of compromise. I must say that the ability to find a compromise between "may" and "must" is relatively limited, but there are great minds in the Home Office—perhaps they can find a way around this impasse. I am sure my noble friend Lady Anelay and, in another place, my right honourable friend David Davis would be very glad to meet the Home Office to discuss such a proposal. The third option is to do that which has been recommended by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. They would get their way but they would have to wait to get their Bill through the use of the Parliament Act. I have said many times that using the Parliament Act is a sign of failure of the parliamentary process. It may be that we have got to that stage. I do not think we have got to that stage quite yet. So I have no difficulty in answering the question of the noble Lord, Lord Carter. If the Government regard this as being so important that they should get their way, then the Parliament Act is there to do precisely that.

Lord Carter: My Lords, that was an extremely long intervention. Only one more sentence: it is not the first time this Session, it is the first time since 1949.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, if I had been asked a few weeks ago whether I subscribed to the doctrine advanced by the noble Baroness, I would have had absolutely no hesitation in agreeing with her. It is an intolerable idea that an unelected Chamber should hold up the will of an elected Chamber. However, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, pointed out, the noble Baroness has a skilled ability to move from being conciliatory to being scary. When she is being scary, she tells us that we are going to be elected. Well, roll on the day. Roll on the day that we are going to be elected.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page