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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: No, my Lords. I was simply pointing out that the other place is elected. Members have gone through the inconvenience of putting themselves up, answering questions and competing with others. Then the publicthe people in this country who clearly have the real powerhave the
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advantage of voting for them and choosing them; whereas many of us who have the privilege of sitting in this House arrive here by an entirely different means.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, looking at the parliamentary dobbins, and the unelected on the other side, I am not surprised that the noble Baroness takes that attitude. My view is: roll on the day that we are elected. I will tell the noble Baroness that if she likes to wait until that time, the constitutional crisis between this House and the other House will have been nothing compared to what happened before 1688. We will have a real crisis on our hands. I intend to vote vehementlynot only tonight but on any other night that it comes before this Housebecause I am against it. Furthermore, I am practising for opposition again in this House. I detest this Prime Minister. If I were to knock on doors in Arbroath or Montrose and say to people, "I want to be there, in the House of Lords. I wish to be elected, because I am going to help that nice Mr Blair get his legislation through". They are going to say, "Oh, no, we want you to get rid of the nasty Mr Blair". By the time that I am on the third doorstep, I will be changing my tune.
I will not be part of an upper House that will accept a modified power, but I will argue that we ought to have absolutely coextensive powers with those of the House of Commonsif not slightly greater. I anticipate that, if that is what we are being threatened with at that time, we will have an electoral system for this House superior to that for the House of Commons. We will certainly not have any dodgy postal vote system round the country such as we have experienced in the recent past. I warn the noble Baroness that I am not in the least impressed by the argument of an elected Chamber fighting against an unelected Chamber. I am practising for the time that we are going to be electedwith which I am threatenedand so I shall vote.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I found the noble and learned Lord's intervention extraordinary. He will be very cautious about asperity of speech, but I think that he has gone very near its mark.
Let us look at the position that we are in. In response to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about my demeanour, I of course thank him for his compliment about charm. I take in good measure the fact that he finds me scary. I do not necessarily think that that is how the whole House finds me, but I am content if it is so.
The Government do not rely on the Salisbury convention in our arguments; we rely on the fact that the amendments have been rejected twice by the elected House. As my noble friend Lord Carter pointed out, it is noble Lords opposite who are relying on what isI regret to saya perverse version of the Salisbury convention, according to which the
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Opposition can ignore the will of the elected House on the basis that they contend that we have not complied with our own manifesto.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, encourages the Government to rely on the Parliament Acts as a mode of general disposal for all our legislation. We need to pause long and hard in relation to that. The reason I say that that is the natural consequence of what he proposes is that, if history continues to repeat itself, this House will find itself in a position similar to this, time and again. We ask the other place to think again, and it does. We repeat our request, and it responds. Sometimes it gives this House huge pleasure when it responds, because it has the wisdom to agree with us. On other occasions, it has the audacity to disagree. It is entitled to its audaciousness because the people of this country elected it and did not elect us. Therefore it is entitled to have its say because, when the time comes, it is its Membersnot uswho will go back to the country and say, "I plead for your vote", and the people of this country will have an opportunity to reject them.
For so long as our constitution remains as it is, we in this House have the privilege of not suffering the consequences of our own conceit. Therefore, we have to think very carefully about how our conventions have evolved. The respect in which this House is held is rightly high because we have acted judiciously; that is our history. My noble friend Lord Carter is absolutely right to remind us that this would be the first time since 1949 when we would have departed from that.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, sought to suggest that this was really only a tiny little amendment, of no fundamental consequence. In case there is any misunderstanding, this is one of the most fundamental clauses in the Bill. The reason that it is of fundamental importance is that it goes to the very root of how we have constructed the way in which ID cards will be implemented. It goes to costs, in terms of facilities. We need to understand its very nature.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, spoke about Sweden, Finland and Denmark. I say to him that we have to remember that they have compulsory population registers. That is what we were talking about: the register. That is an important consideration.
Looking at the other issues that have been raised, I was taken aback that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, talked about abandonment of policies. I was trying to count in my mind how many policies noble Lords opposite have now abandonedimmigration policy, selective education, health passports and opposition to student fees. I would respectfully invite the noble Baroness to remember that the current leadership of her party has very little connection with that which went before. We have not abandoned these provisions or the way in which we dealt with this matter. We have affirmed and confirmed that what we said we were going to do we are about to do.
I invite noble Lords to give real weight to what was said by the right reverend Prelate, who, if I may respectfully say so, expressed himself with great
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clarity, proportion and balance. My noble friend Lord Peston was right in his powerful intervention to remind the House of what our role is. The comments of my noble friends Lord Richard and Lord Barnett were also right. They have the sagacity to guide us, and I think that we should listen carefully.
We now have to make a decision. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, talked about a major difference. On driving licences, we already have a provision that if one fails to notify a change of address, a £1,000 fine is liable. We know that that is the case. On these provisions, I remind your Lordships that the scheme that will operate under the first stage differs from the compulsory stage. We have already said that those matters are to be returned to. I will not again go through, as I did last time, the difference between the database and the information you have to provide for ID cards. I set it out on the previous occasionI remind your Lordships that there are very few differences indeed.
We have once again had the privilege of having a very extensive debate. One has to ask just a couple of questions. What is new in the arguments that we have explored today which differs from the two occasions when we discussed the matter before? If the noble Baroness opposite succeeds in the vote, we propose to ask the other place to think again, but on what basis? What is the new fact that they have failed to give adequate consideration to on the previous occasion that we are inviting them to consider again? I have not detected one. In that case, are we simply going to ask them again and again and again, until theyand, frankly, welose the will to continue?
I hear reference to "the will to live", but I know that this House is more resilient. For as long as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, stays in his place, we can all know that we have a long journey yet to make.
I know that noble Lords enjoy these debates, but there is a time when we have to come to an end. I hope that we have now absolutely exhausted ourselves in relation to this issue and that we will not have to return to it againand we will not trouble the other place to shout even louder than on the two occasions that they have said "no".
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, the first thing to clarify is that, because the other place gave an amendment in lieu and did not simply reject our amendment, we are not at the end of the road. That may depress many of your Lordships, but I provide that information as a matter of fact.
The other thing worth saying is that last Monday, the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, in levelling his defence against our proposal to make the scheme voluntary, did not in any sense call upon the constitutional justification of the Commons' position that has been the mainstay of the noble Baroness's closing speech and has been the subject of speeches
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from various noble Lords. Mr Clarke attempted to justify the Government's case according to the issues that he raised in the other placenone of them were constitutional issues; they related to the merits and demerits of this Bill. It was those arguments that I sought to address in opening the debate on my Motion.
It is inevitable, I fear, that there will be repetition in the proceedings as we pursue them under the Parliament Act, because, frankly, the only tools at our disposal are to come back, come back and come back. It is scarcely surprising that no brand new points were raised in this debate.
What I accept completely is that this House should not return this measure to the Commons without grave and considered thought. I attempted to say that earlier, and the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, was kind enough to say that he still supported our arguments but, for constitutional reasons, would not support us in the Lobby. In my point that he picked up, I was saying that I believed that this was the exceptional case which did warrant taking the process to its conclusion. That process, as my noble friend Lord McNally said, was put there for a purpose.
The Parliament Act was not legislated for on a whim or without immense care and consideration. There were two elections leading up to itbut what was arrived at gave this place powers that we are now exercising. Apart from the merits of the Bill itself, the only constitutional issue is whether we are right this evening to take this one whole step furtherwhether we are right to put it back to the Commons in the hope that, even now, it may think again or, at least, may compromise again.
It is for each and every one of your Lordships to decide whether you think this is such an important matter. The noble Baroness talked about the respect with which this place will be held. Yes, there is a respect issue if we put the matter back to the Commons tonight. But there is another respect issue that is much broader and deeperwhether this Government should be allowed to pursue a measure on a compulsory basis, when they expressly and specifically said that it would be voluntary. I have to tell your Lordships that I have never had such a unanimous mailbag in my eight years here. That is not a long time. I have not had a single representation made by any organisation or individual in support of the Government's position in making this card compulsory for every citizen.
However, a great many organisations and individuals have said to me, "Relieve us of a step that we believe will take this wonderful country of ours one pace further along a road down which we do not wish to proceed". That is a road towards a managerial state, an intrusive state and a surveillance state. We have had a great deal of legislationI shall not bore noble Lords with itwhich has added to those characteristics since this Government came to power.
I end by appealing to your Lordships to share with me the sense that this is a Bill of the highest possible importance, the consequences of which will be long
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term and strategic and could go to the whole culture of our society. On that basis and that basis alone, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
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