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Lord Bridges: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, has raised a point to which I attach great importance. It emerged during the debate on the Salisbury/Addison convention which was touched on last week during our consideration of the Government of Wales Bill. It concerned the effect of a commitment made in the Labour Party manifesto for the Welsh Assembly elections. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, said in terms on 19 April, as reported at col. 1102 of Hansard, that the commitment that Assembly Members would not be available for appointment to fill a regional vacancy was to be regarded as a manifesto commitment in terms of the Salisbury convention, although the commitment was made in the manifesto issued in the context of the Welsh Assembly elections. So far as I know, until it was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, this aspect has not been properly examined. Perhaps I may suggest that if we are to accept the terms of reference of the Joint Committee, this point would merit his attention. If every political party were to raise an issue in the context of an election to a devolved assembly and not in its principal political manifesto, the assumption is likely to be made that the party did not regard the issue as one of national importance, however significant in the regional context.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I listened closely to what the noble Lord who has just sat down said. As I understand the position, a commitment made in the Labour Party manifesto in relation to the Welsh Bill was not in respect of an Assembly election in Wales, but was in the Welsh manifesto issued at the time of the general election. That puts the matter in an entirely different context from that expressed by the noble Lord. The fact is that all parties do this. There is a national manifesto, a Welsh manifesto, a Scottish manifesto and, I suspect, one for Northern Ireland, although I confess that I have not looked into that for many years. In those circumstances, it is impossible to argue that the matter was not a manifesto commitment. If it was such a manifesto commitment, the question this House has to ask itself is what effect that would have.

I am not against setting up this committee, but I am not sure I entirely share the optimism floating back from the Government Front Bench on this, for 21 July is pretty early a date by which to produce a major report on these major issues. On the whole, your Lordships seem to agree both that the committee should be set up and with the terms of the Motion—and accept that there is a certain amount of give in those terms. For example, it talks of "codifying the key conventions"; I suspect that deciding what those key conventions are will not be a speedy matter for the committee.

One accepts that these problems exist; but if one wants the committee established I suggest that we do not go on making major speeches—in effect, Second Reading speeches—on what is not legislation but a suggestion for a committee. Frankly, I hope that the
 
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House could now move to accept it or to divide on it, if people want that, because this debate is not getting very far.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I know from the noble Lord's previous speeches that he is an expert on the Salisbury convention. Is he now saying that that convention applies to these sub-manifestos as well? As he knows, there is always a Greater London manifesto and, often, regional manifestos. The legitimacy of the Salisbury convention is that a proposition has been put to the general electorate, so the electorate in County Durham has, in some ways, supported that proposition. But should the elector in County Durham be careful to ensure that there is nothing in the Welsh manifesto to which he or she objects? If so, we are getting into a real mess.

Lord Richard: My Lords, with great respect to the noble Lord, it is extraordinary to propose that the population of Durham should have the final say on something that affects only Wales and the Assembly elections there. If the Welsh people have shown, by the election results, that they have appreciated the importance of a manifesto commitment then, under the terms of the Salisbury convention, this House should accept that.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down—

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords—

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, the situation is much simpler than the noble Lord, Lord Richard, believes. The Government do not take point (A) at all seriously. Yesterday in Grand Committee, in fact, the noble Lord, Lord Warner, recommended that we should not pursue the arguments that private clubs should be exempt from the anti-smoking provisions of the Health Bill. Yet that was what the Labour Party said in its manifesto. So, when that Bill comes back here on Report, I will vote, on that issue, for the Labour Party manifesto and I hope that the noble Lord will as well.

Lord Tyler: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, was seeking to clarify the situation, but I fear that he has made it even more complicated for me. For example, if the people of Wales had supported something yet had not been lucky enough to have created the government of the day—which could easily happen—whose manifesto is then relevant to Wales?

I would take this point a step further; I have a specific question for the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. It is implicit that the committee we are seeking to constitute this afternoon can go no further than the existing conventions. It cannot, for example, take a partial view of them nor take half a convention, or what is still relevant of it, and codify that. I hope that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House can say whether this is all or nothing. That is of critical
 
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importance. As a number of your Lordships have already said, the Salisbury/Addison convention has strict limitations. Not only was it a deal between two parties—rather than all parties and the Cross Benches—but, strictly speaking, it is a time-limited anachronism. Let me just illustrate that to your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, referred to the possibility of a hung Parliament. What is equally possible under our present electoral system is that the government of the day—the governing party—could easily find themselves in office without the biggest single portion of the votes. Our present system easily lends itself to that. That is already the case in England.

Lord Tebbit: Or in a coalition, my Lords.

Lord Tyler: My Lords, if the noble Lord and I were in a coalition, it would be some coalition.

Your Lordships' House has to think very carefully about the terms of this Motion. If this new Joint Committee is to find itself hide bound by the terms of the remit we vote for this afternoon, it will be in an extraordinarily difficult position. The date is irrelevant. If the measure comes back to us on 21 July without clarification whether the committee is allowed to vary the existing conventions, it will be doomed to failure. This is critical not only to this issue but to the reputation of your Lordships' House. This is not just an issue for Westminster, for the so-called chattering classes. Your Lordships' House is held in high regard, as I know as a new recruit to these Benches. If we do a disservice to this issue at this stage, we will do a disservice to ourselves.

I hope that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will clarify whether the committee is stuck with this remit to such an extent that it cannot even review the existing conventions. If that is the case, we do a disservice not just to ourselves but to the relationship with the other House as well.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I am always surprised by the importance some people attach to party manifestos, even when time has passed and they ought long ago to have been accorded a decent burial. I should like briefly to refer to the speech made by my noble friend the Chief Whip. He said—and, I think, very rightly because the point has been largely ignored—that the House of Lords that we are dealing with now is much changed from the one which we started with some years back. I agreed with his questions but I was disappointed by his apparent readiness to assent to this Motion, which makes me very anxious and very nervous. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, on this.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, nailed the point absolutely when he said that we must preserve the right to say no. He then—characteristically, if I may say so—offered to go ahead with good will. I wonder whether he really has any grounds to be satisfied that the Government will reciprocate his goodwill.
 
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I shall not detain your Lordships long. My chief anxiety about this measure is that it is my underlying belief that the Government find not just the House of Lords but, from time to time, the other place a source of serious inconvenience. To remove or to weaken Parliament would be a useful step forward in facilitating progress by the Government. Your Lordships face, any moment now, the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. If ever a measure presented to Parliament was calculated to fan the anxieties that I seek to express—that the Government lose no opportunity to rob Parliament of its rights and opportunities to perform its duties—that is it.

I have raised my next point before. The decline of respect for Parliament as a whole is very largely due to the way it has allowed itself to become the washpot of the Government. If there is a vote on the Motion, I shall unhesitatingly join the Not-Contents Lobby. This matter is much too serious to be satisfied just by giving the nod to such a Motion. I believe if we pass it, we shall be enticed further down a road that I do not want to go down.

4 pm


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