Baroness Rawlings: UK legislation does now allow for the placing of references to products, services or trade marks in television programmes in return for payment. However, most importantly, the use of any product placement revenues is a matter for individual commercial broadcasters.
Baroness Benjamin: I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer. I am sure she is aware that the BBC is now almost the sole provider of UK children's television productions, and that, across the 30 channels, only 1 per cent of children's programmes are made here in the UK. I am sure she is also aware that the commercial broadcasters use the restrictions on advertising during children's programmes as a reason to stop commissioning children's programmes, because of the loss of revenue. With product placement in mind, will the Minister consider encouraging the commercial broadcasters to take up their public service responsibility to children and to use some of the revenue from product placement to start commissioning children's programmes once again?
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Benjamin for her enthusiasm on this subject. Her enthusiasm keeps the subject regularly on the agenda, for which we are very grateful. The Government understand the importance of children's television and will carefully consider relevant responses to the forthcoming review of the communications sector. However, the Government are not seeking to impose any additional regulatory burdens on broadcasters. The decision on how to spend the revenue from placement is entirely in the hands of Ofcom.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Can the Minister tell me how, or if, the public will be notified of product placement? Will they be aware that the television programme they are watching has a specific product placement element in it? Will there be a notification?
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Gardner for that question. Following Ofcom's introduction in 2011 of new rules for product placement on television, a large double P logo must appear on the screen for a minimum of three seconds
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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, as the Minister will know, it is very much early days in the application of the new product placement rules. However, can she assure the House that the department will work very closely with Ofcom to ensure that children's television remains solidly safeguarded from any creep towards the exploitation that product placement might entail?
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. We believe that it is right to be cautious initially so as not to alienate viewers, and special safeguards have been put in place on what may be promoted in this way. Some, such as restrictions on product placement of alcohol and prescription medicines, are set out in European law, and some in the UK regulations-such as the restrictions on foods high in fat, salt and sugar, which largely match the current advertising restrictions.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, following the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and given that we already have product placement, can we also encourage the feeding in of some of these resources to the production of quality radio for children? Surely this should be a particularly important area, not least because the BBC seems to be reneging somewhat on its commitment to quality radio programmes for children.
Baroness Rawlings: The noble Baroness has a good point. Although it is up to Ofcom to assess whether broadcasters are meeting their obligations on children's television, which includes the wireless, we also look to the broadcasters to consider allocating perhaps a percentage of their product-placement income to areas such as the Open University and libraries, to encourage more reading.
Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: Following the children's television theme, I should point out that there are other potential sources of income-and I apologise in advance for using an acronym. If the CRR is abolished in the next Communications Act, ITV has undertaken to put extra money into British content. Does my noble friend agree that this undertaking should specifically include children's programmes?
Lord Borrie: Will the Minister consider asking Ofcom to specify a quota for children's programmes? It could, of course, be updated from time to time. It would also ensure, in the public interest, that there is a sufficiency of children's programmes. I think that that is something that the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, would like to see.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend Lady Benjamin and the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, would like to have more programmes for children, and more money going into those programmes. However, Ofcom is independent and it would be wrong if we started to try to influence it in any way.
Lord Christopher: My Lords, is it satisfactory simply to brush so much aside by saying, "This is a responsibility of Ofcom"? The broadcasting companies must have signed a contract, and if that contract had been satisfactory it would have included provision for an appropriate contribution to children's programmes. Would the noble Baroness be good enough to enquire of Ofcom whether it is satisfied that these companies are fulfilling their contracts?
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, the last Government created Ofcom as an independent regulator. As I think I said earlier, as much as we would like to encourage various different programmes and practices, Ofcom is an independent body.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will agree that the Welsh television channel S4C has an enviable record in the production of children's programmes. Although the Government have no massive powers in this area, will they encourage the translation of more of those Welsh television programmes into the English language?
Baroness Rawlings: I am sure that the Government would love to be able to do that, and no doubt we can suggest something. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Roberts could write to them to suggest it.
To ask Her Majesty's Government, in the light of their programme of public sector savings, whether they will approve proposals to increase over the next three years the United Kingdom's current net contribution of £8 billion to the European Union budget.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, the UK cannot act unilaterally and is required to make its contributions to the EU budget under obligations imposed by the treaties. However, the Government are very concerned about the UK's growing net contributions and are working hard to reduce them within the constraints of the 2007-13 financial perspective agreed in December 2005. According
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Lord Vinson: I thank my noble friend for his carefully considered reply which is, I appreciate, configured by the limitations to his powers. However, does it really make sense to continue to pour billions of pounds into the economies of other EU countries, to bring fantastic infrastructure improvements to Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland, while here at home our infrastructure is in decay? Could we at least contemplate at some stage diverting those funds into our economy, which at this stage would be a classical contracyclical investment, not only bringing great strength to our economy and improving our infrastructure but creating, allowing for the multiplier effect, at least 250,000 new jobs just when they are needed? Surely we should put the interests of our unemployed first.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I completely agree with the need to invest in infrastructure in this country, which is why we launched the first ever national infrastructure plan last autumn, at the beginning of our suite of pro-growth policies. Approximately £40 billion to £50 billion will be invested in the UK's infrastructure each year over the next five years. As to the European budget, it is quite right that we should make our contribution; but it is completely wrong that the previous Government gave away a significant part of the UK's rebate. The European Commission's figures show that in this year alone, the amount of rebate given away by the previous Government in 2005 will cost us £1.98 billion. As the result of the action that my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor took in reducing by half the increase this year, we clawed back £350 million at the December decision. That is the scale of the challenge we face.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, would the Minister care to remind us of the size of the EU budget as a percentage of the gross product of the whole of the EU? Will he confirm that the percentage is roughly the same as it has been for some years?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, there are various ways of peeling that onion, but there is indeed a maximum limit of 1.3 per cent, or thereabouts, of European GNI, and a sub-limit in the current financial perspective of about 1 per cent of European GNI. However, those numbers leave considerable latitude for headroom, and the regrettable fact is that that permits the annual budget to go up, if we do not restrain it, by more than inflation year-on-year. Regrettably, there is not enough constraint on total expenditure and it can rise if we are not vigilantly on the case, as this Government are.
Lord Newby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in promoting growth across the EU, even more important than the EU budget is the completion of the single market? What are the Government doing to promote the completion of the single market, particularly in services?
Lord Sassoon: I am very grateful to my noble friend. Of course, we discussed some of the structural reform issues in a debate in the Chamber last Thursday. I can reiterate and confirm that the Government are working very hard indeed to be an active supporter of the whole 2020 structural reform programme. Completing the single market is perhaps the most critical component of that, and the Government are pushing very hard for that to happen.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, in the light of the huge increases in our net contribution, which will continue, is it not time that we had a cost-benefit analysis of our membership of the EU; or, perhaps better still, a referendum on whether we should remain in it?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, the analysis is carried out periodically by the Treasury. Reviews of the independent analysis of the benefits of our membership are available on the Treasury website. Europe accounts for 40 to 50 per cent of our exports. It is critical that we play a constructive part in Europe and that we work on factors such as those referred to by my noble friend Lord Newby to make sure that the market works better and that the UK takes full advantage of it.
Lord Liddle: My Lords, this is inevitably an extremely difficult issue at a time of stringency, but does the Minister agree that the rise in our contribution agreed in the 2005 budget deal was intended principally to meet this country's commitment to enlargement and the increase in the structural funds that went with it? Does he also agree that, if we had not made that agreement, Poland and other new member states with living standards of a third or 40 per cent of ours would have ended up contributing to the British rebate? As for the unfairness in our contributions, does he accept that at the end of this financial period the UK net contribution will be on a par with that of France and Italy-member states of similar size and wealth?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I do not begin to accept any of that analysis. In 2005, the Prime Minister, evidently without consulting his Chancellor, gave away in the rebate a total of €10.5 billion over the current financial perspective period. What the UK got in return is a complete mystery to me. We were promised some leverage in fundamental reform of the common agricultural policy and we got nothing. This Government will not see a repeat of that.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, an important part of the plans for reform of this House is the continued primacy
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Lord Kakkar: My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for his reply, which I think to an extent recognises the considerable anxiety not only among Members of your Lordships' House but among members of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the other place about the failure to address adequately the question of primacy of the other place. We all await with eager anticipation the statement from the Deputy Prime Minister and his draft Bill to determine whether they provide further insights into this important constitutional issue. However, I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that the profound constitutional implications that attend abolition of your Lordships' House and its replacement with an elected second Chamber require that any proposals that come forward enjoy genuine confidence. In this regard, will the noble Lord confirm that there will be a free vote on the Bill in both your Lordships' House and the other place?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I join the noble Lord and, I expect, many others in eagerly anticipating the announcement that will be made shortly by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister. With regard to understanding the profound implications of any change that might take place, again I agree with the noble Lord: they would be profound if this House became a wholly elected body, as I think is well understood by those who propose such a change. We would decide the issue of a free vote when we came to a final conclusion about what would appear in a Bill, if any, and when it would be presented to both Houses of Parliament.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I remind the Leader of the House of the conclusion of the Cunningham committee that, should any firm proposals come forward to change the composition of the Lords, the conventions between the two Houses would have to be examined again. Can the noble Lord assure me that if, as we understand will be the case, a Joint Committee is set up, it will be charged with looking at the conventions between the two Houses?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is proposed that there should be a Joint Committee of both Houses-an authoritative body of senior parliamentarians who would meet and examine the White Paper and the draft Bill. They could look at any aspects of them, which might include the conclusions of the Cunningham committee. My own view is that in the long term, if the composition of this House were to change, the conventions might change between this House and another place but there is no reason why they should. That will be up to decisions taken by the Members of either House.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: Will my noble friend take this opportunity to denounce the ludicrous reports that have appeared in the press that the size of this Chamber could be reduced by holding some kind of lottery? Is that not insulting to this Chamber and to its Members?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I dare say that I ought to say I cannot pre-empt a statement from my right honourable friend, the Deputy Prime Minister, but on this occasion I am prepared to confirm that it is an absurd suggestion and will not appear in the White Paper.
Lord Grocott: Have the Government, whichever part of the coalition, still not picked up the overwhelming voice of the British people as expressed in the referendum a week last Thursday, which showed by a majority of between two-thirds and three-quarters that the British people do not want expenditure, time and energy spent on fancy constitutional change, even if they are being proposed relentlessly by such an important and significant figure as the Deputy Prime Minister? Can I suggest something very helpful to the Government? They would save two precious commodities-time and money-if they did not go any further with these proposals.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is always useful and helpful to have some advice from the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who was a Member of the Government who published several White Papers on this subject in their period in office. We hope to publish only one.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: Does the Minister accept that even if there were to be no formal change in the powers of this House, in practice a wholly or largely elected House would find it very difficult to show the sensitive respect for the primacy of the House of Commons that this Chamber does with, from time to time, a few justifiable aberrations?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is a good point that a wholly elected House may well wish to use the powers of this House in a more assertive way and no doubt that is one of the issues a Joint Committee would wish to look at.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, following the question of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, did my noble friend see the statement by Mr Hilary Benn last week that the Labour Party is now committed to a 100 per cent elected House and that nothing less will do? Does he agree that the balance of responsibility and power between the two Houses will inevitably be affected by the number of people elected to this House and does he therefore think that the primacy of the Commons should be reflected in the draft Bill by at least keeping in the option of 80 per cent elected?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, my noble friend makes a good point. Different Members of either House will feel differently about the role of primacy of the House of Commons depending on what proportion of this House were to be elected. I noted too, as he did, that
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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, might I press the Leader of the House a little further on the point raised by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition? The noble Lord said in relation to the Cunningham committee report that the issues round the conventions "might" be revisited. I remind him that the Cunningham committee report was accepted by both Houses unanimously and was unequivocal in saying that the conventions must be revisited.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I would have to refresh my mind on the conclusions of the Cunningham committee, but I do not think that it was an absolute requirement that the conventions must be revisited. The committee stated that if this House were to be substantially reformed, that could have an effect on the conventions, which should be re-examined at that stage. I see no difficulty in that.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, we see negotiations towards a two-state solution as the only way to meet the national aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians and lead to a sovereign, viable and contiguous Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside a safe and secure Israel and their other neighbours in the region.
The UK is fully committed to supporting the Fayyad plan and helping build the institutions of a future Palestinian state, but a negotiated solution remains the only result that will actually bring peace and justice to the Palestinian people. We call on the parties to return urgently to negotiations.
Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. Does he think that the agreement signed by Fatah and Hamas is a step in the right direction for the attainment of statehood? Does he also feel that the work done by the Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, in building the Palestinian institutions and economy has created the apparatus of a state, and that these achievements need to be recognised?
Lord Howell of Guildford: Of course this step is not yet fully consummated, but we want to see the formation of a Government who reject violence. If Hamas is to be part of that Government, it must reject violence; that is our position. If that were to go forward on the basis of the rejection of violence, we would see that as a good basis for building further hopes and moves
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Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Would the Minister not agree that the tragic events of the weekend on the Syrian, Lebanese and Gazan border are just a taster of what we are in for as long as the vacuum in negotiations continues, and that the situation could get very much worse, given the instability in a number of Arab countries and the possibility that new Governments will be very sensitive to the views of radicals? Will he say what steps the Government are taking to urge the US President, who is to make an important speech on this matter in the next few days, to do something serious with the partners in the quartet to revive the peace process?
Lord Howell of Guildford: We are urging our allies and friends, including the United States, at all times. However, perhaps the noble Lord will recognise that a clear development in the region is the increasing determination of the surrounding Arab states to play for once a more forward part in these developments. Obviously we are deeply concerned by the events at the weekend, but if one can stand back from such horrors for a moment, it seems that they reinforce the urgent need for the Israeli Government and authorities to begin to move in a positive direction in a very fluid overall situation in the Middle East.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a premature declaration of a Palestinian state might destabilise the region rather than contribute to the emergence of a stable two-state solution?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The right reverend Prelate is right; it might do so. Of course one understands why there is a desire to move forward in this direction, but our position is that statehood must be built through the pattern of a negotiation that must be resumed, and that pressure should be put on both the Israeli side and on a peace-aiming, violence-rejecting Palestinian Government to move forward on that basis.
Lord Clinton-Davis: Is there any evidence of Hamas rejecting its present declaration about the death of Israel? As long as that continues, is it not a complete response to the present situation? Hamas must withdraw from its present declaration.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I understand what the noble Lord is saying; I think we all do. However, our attitude and approach to Hamas will change when there is proof that Hamas has changed, and that proof is not yet visible.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine:My Lords, while I welcome the slight change of tone I think I detect in my noble friend's remarks about Hamas, will he confirm to the House that Britain now does not require Hamas to recognise Israel as a precondition of negotiations, but that it naturally expects that to come before the end of negotiations?
Lord Howell of Guildford: We want it to be part of the negotiations and part of the recognition of the quartet principles. My noble friend talks about a changing tone. We all have to realise that the whole situation throughout the Middle East is changing. The foreign policy of Egypt towards Gaza is changing, and the Syrian situation is highly fluid. All around there is enormous change, and there is tragedy as well, as we have seen over the weekend. In these circumstances, we have to retain a very agile and clear view of where we stand and where we want to go.
Lord Turnberg: My Lords, does the Minister feel that the alliance between the PLO and Hamas, an organisation that is filled with terrorists and that has vowed the destruction of Israel, will help in the acceptance of a Palestinian state or hinder it?
Lord Howell of Guildford: It would help only if it produces a Government dedicated as a partnership for peace to negotiation. We are not there yet. The implication of the noble Lord's question is quite right: until we move to that point, it will not help; when we are at that point, it will help.
(a) the House of Commons passes a motion in the form set out in subsection (2), and
(b) if the motion is passed on a division, the number of members who vote in favour of the motion is a number equal to or greater than two thirds of the number of seats in the House (including vacant seats).
"That there shall be an early parliamentary general election."
(a) the House of Commons passes a motion in the form set out in subsection (4), and
(b) the period of 14 days after the day on which that motion is passed ends without the House passing a motion in the form set out in subsection (5).
"That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government."
"That this House has confidence in Her Majesty's Government."
(7) If a parliamentary general election is to take place as provided for by subsection (1) or (3), the polling day for the election is to be the day appointed by Her Majesty by proclamation on the recommendation of the Prime Minister (and, accordingly, the appointed day replaces the day which would otherwise have been the polling day for the next election determined under section 1)."
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, the new clause inserted by Amendment 20 would replace the existing Clause 2. It is focused on three purposes. It removes from the Bill as received from the other place ambiguities and vagueness about what is a Motion of no confidence and what is a Motion of confidence. It protects the Speaker of the House of Commons by removing him from the process of determining what is a Motion of no confidence or a Motion of confidence, and it improves the protection of parliamentary privilege. I see it as an exercise in damage limitation.
This new clause, unlike other new clauses tabled by noble Lords to replace Clause 2, makes no other changes to the Bill. It would do nothing to thwart the essential purposes of the Government in the Bill. It retains the two-thirds provision and the 14-days provision which the Government want. I have made plain in other debates that I do not like these provisions and, indeed, I think the whole undertaking of this Bill to establish fixed-term Parliaments is a bad idea, but in this House, presented with the will of the House of Commons, those of us who do not like it have, I fear, to accept that it is a bad idea whose time has come.
I believe that this new clause is also consistent with the conclusions of your Lordships' Select Committee on the Constitution. I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Minister and his colleague Mr Harper for meeting me and the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, the noble Lord, Lord Martin and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, who have put their names to the new clause. Of course, I have drawn
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Clause 2(2) as drafted-concerning Motions of no confidence and Motions of confidence-contains problematic ambiguities and vaguenesses. These were helpfully described by Dr Anne Twomey in her written evidence to your Lordships' Select Committee on the Constitution, at paragraphs 4.11 and 4.12 on page 152 of the compendium of written evidence. Such ambiguities do not matter where constitutional procedures are not statutorily prescribed. Indeed, they may be beneficial as they allow the determination of who is to be the Government to happen in response to fluctuating political realities. But in a statutory system, they are dangerous, creating a combination of uncertainty and inflexibility.
To the observations made by Dr Twomey, I would add that there is a further crucial vagueness in Clause 2 as drafted, in that there is no legal definition either already in existence or provided by the Bill as to what is a Motion of confidence or no confidence. The reason why this is so crucial and dangerous is that, as the Bill stands, it could in some circumstances lay the onus of interpretation, and therefore of decision as to the fate of the Government and whether there is to be a general election, on the Speaker. Although in some instances it would be entirely clear from the wording of the Motion that the vote was a confidence or no confidence vote, it would by no means necessarily be so. As the invaluable brief from the Library of the House of Commons says:
"Yet, despite their central importance, there is no certainty about the rules on the form and applicability of confidence motions in the UK Parliament, as it is established by convention rather than by statute or standing order of the House ... There is no standard formulation for confidence motions".
Motions may be regarded as Motions of censure or confidence according to particular circumstances. A Motion to reduce a Minister's salary was regarded as a confidence Motion in 1895. Motions in two debates on Suez in 1956 were regarded by the House of Commons as confidence Motions, though neither the substantive Motions nor the amendments were formulated as Motions of no confidence or Motions of confidence. In 1976, an adjournment Motion was treated as a confidence Motion following the defeat of the Government on their public expenditure White Paper. In 2003, Mr Blair made clear only after the debate and the vote that he regarded the vote on the Iraq war as a confidence vote. It is very hard to see how the Speaker could possibly have issued a certificate in some of these situations.
Under our existing arrangements, it is for the Prime Minister and the House of Commons to judge whether a Motion is a matter of confidence. Under the system that the Government have hitherto proposed, it would be for the Speaker. This, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, explained to us compellingly in Committee, would be a major extension of the Speaker's role and could be a very dangerous one. It could politicise the role of the Speaker, requiring the Speaker to decide a
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The new clause also seeks to provide clarity as to what is to be a Motion of confidence or of no confidence. Under the new clause, Motions understood politically to relate to confidence could in the future still be debated and voted on in a multiplicity of forms, just as they have in the past. But for the purposes of establishing constitutionally and legally, in the new context of this fixed-term Parliaments legislation and provision within it for an early parliamentary general election, whether a Motion of confidence or no confidence has or has not been passed, the Motion must have been tabled in the precise terms prescribed in the new clause.
Let me note here that the new clause would allow for the possibility of the Prime Minister resigning and an early general election occurring in that situation. This is something that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and I have both been concerned to see accommodated within the legislation. The noble Lord has tabled a new clause which deals specifically with that. This new clause does not do so because I think it is unnecessary. Under the new clause, if the Prime Minister and the Government resigned, he could give way to another Prime Minister who would seek a vote of confidence. If the new Prime Minister secured the confidence of the House of Commons within 14 days, no general election would follow, and if he did not, there would then be an early election. Alternatively, a Prime Minister who resigned could ask the House of Commons to agree by a vote of two-thirds of its Members that there should be an early general election. In these ways, the Government's purpose is preserved, that the Prime Minister should not be free himself to determine the date of a general election. However, the flexibility exists to hold an early election following the resignation of the Prime Minister if the House of Commons judges it to be appropriate.
There is also the important consideration that tightening the definitions of confidence and no confidence Motions, and removing from the Bill the Speaker's duty to issue a certificate, may help to protect the House of Commons from the risk that proceedings in Parliament, contrary to the doctrine of parliamentary privilege and the principle so eloquently expressed in Article 9 of the Bill of Rights, would be questioned in court. Academic witnesses and your Lordships' Select Committee have taken the view that while the risk of
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I explained in Committee during our debate on Amendment 42 why, for my part, I do think that there is a real risk that the Bill as we now have it could increase the potential for intrusion by the courts, and the risk may come particularly from the European Court of Human Rights, into what should be strictly internal proceedings in Parliament. I will not repeat the points I made then. Much more important than what I said were the warnings given in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and the noble Lord, Lord Martin. It is among the many virtues of your Lordships' appointed House that we have among us former Speakers of the House of Commons. We recognise that they speak with particular authority concerning such matters.
My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer and my noble friend Lord Bach took me rather by surprise when they tabled their amendments to this new clause on Thursday. I knew, of course, that they were opposed to the 14-days provision; that is common ground among many of us. But the purpose of this new clause has been strictly focused on preventing unnecessary damage to the office of the Speaker and to the effective functioning of the House of Commons within the context of the Government's policy on fixed-term Parliaments. Ministers have responded constructively to these concerns, which have also been expressed by very eminent Cross-Benchers as well as by me. We negotiated to achieve the formulation in the revised new clause set out in Amendment 20. I gave the Minister my word that I was content with it and that I would table the revised new clause in exactly those words. So my noble friends have placed me in a delicate position. What matter, however, are the decisions the House will take, having looked at the new clause, the amendments tabled to it, and the other interesting new clauses that have been tabled. I beg to move.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the circumstances in which there can be an early general election is the outstanding critical issue in the Bill. If one looks at this problem, one sees yet further evidence of the Bill not having been thought out. I shall identify what appeared in Committee to be the three main problems with Clause 2.
The first was the involvement of the Speaker. We were privileged to hear speeches from the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and the noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn, both of whom made it clear, pretty well beyond argument, that the involvement of the Speaker
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The second issue was the lack of a satisfactory definition of a vote of no confidence, as referred to in Clause 2(2). That had two separate aspects to it. First, you could not tell what was meant by a Motion of no confidence. Did it include anything that would be understood to mean a Motion of no confidence, or did it mean only something that said, "This House has no confidence in the Government"? That first bit of the problem has been solved by the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Howarth because it makes it clear that the only sort of Motion of no confidence that would trigger an early general election is one that says, "This House has no confidence in the Government". The amendment is good in that respect. However, it does not deal with the other problem in relation to Motions of no confidence; namely, that there are many Motions that could be passed by the House of Commons that would indicate that it had no confidence in the Government.
The first and most obvious is the House failing to pass a Motion of confidence in the Government. For example, Mr Major's Government were defeated on Maastricht. They then put down a Motion of confidence in themselves. Had Mr Major's Government then been defeated on the Motion of confidence in the House of Commons-which they were not-there could not have been a general election at that point, because the only possible trigger for a general election would have been a Motion of no confidence and not a failed Motion of confidence. After Mr Major's Government had failed to win the Motion of confidence, the Opposition would then have had to put down a Motion of no confidence in the Government. If that had been won by the Opposition-that is, if a Motion of no confidence in the Government had been passed-that still would not be the end of it under this Bill, because there would then be a 14-day period in which either the existing Government of Mr Major could have sought to put together a majority to survive or an alternative Government could have emerged. So if the facts are taken and applied to an historical example, it produces a rather unsatisfactory result.
There are three other shots on the Marshalled List at how you deal with a Motion of no confidence. First, there is the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. He defines a Motion of no confidence as being either a vote of no confidence in the Government or a negatived vote of confidence; that is, the Government have put down a vote of confidence in themselves and it has been defeated by the House of Commons. The noble Lord then includes the 14-day period after that. It is in some ways better than a simple Motion of no confidence but it still keeps in the 14-day period. The
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The next alternative is in the amendment put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Hamilton of Epsom. The difference between that amendment and the other amendments is that it seeks to define a vote of no confidence as including not passing the Second or Third Reading of a Finance Bill or the passing of a Motion of no confidence in Her Majesty's Government. That is a third definition which also keeps in the 14 days. Or am I wrong about that? It does not keep in the 14 days.
The final definition-which is in every single respect perfect-has been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster. It states basically that if there is a vote of no confidence there has to be a general election, and that a vote of no confidence occurs where the Queen's Speech is defeated, a Motion of no confidence is passed, a Motion of confidence is negatived or the Prime Minister has indicated in advance that a particular vote is to be regarded as a vote of no confidence and that vote is defeated. The best example of that is when Mr Wilson was Prime Minister in 1976 and his public expenditure estimates were defeated one evening in the House of Commons, which was obviously a critical matter for his Government. He was keen to establish that the Commons had confidence in his Government and so he announced in advance that the next day's Motion on the adjournment would be a Motion of confidence. That was treated by Parliament as a Motion of confidence in the Government; it went in favour of the Government and he survived.
What should the House do in the context of this galaxy of opportunities that has now been offered to it? I respectfully suggest that the House should do the following: respect the work that has been done by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, the noble Lords, Lord Martin and Lord Pannick, and my noble friend Lord Howarth and build on it; and knock out the 14 days, which is a total waste of time and contrary to what the House of Commons would do. No one supported it during the course of debate. The way to achieve that is to amend the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and her colleagues and knock out the 14 days.
The one circumstance in which 14 days would be worth while is where a Government are formed after a general election and then immediately fail to get the confidence of the House of Commons. It would not be right to force a general election at that time. Everyone
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Lord Morgan: On the Baldwin point, it is quite important to know that in 1924 there was, as it were, an understood majority in waiting. It was not a random resignation by Baldwin. Therefore, it was clear what the outcome would be.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I completely agree with that but it does not change the basic principle that if the first party after a general election cannot form an Administration it should go to the next person most suitable to do it. That should be regarded as an exception.
What I would recommend to the House and what my party is going to do is to vote in favour of my amendments to the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Howarth. Those amendments have the effect of knocking out the reference to 14 days but leaving in the option of discussing whether there should be a new Government if the Government are in the Baldwin situation whereby they have never gained the confidence of the House of Commons. It is not perfect and lacks the beauty and comprehensiveness of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong. But it is a sensible, clear way in which to deal with the three problems-first, by knocking out the references to the Speaker and to 14 days and by at least giving us certainty about what is meant by a Motion of no confidence. For those reasons, that is the position of my party. I beg to move.
Lord Cormack: My Lords, we have made real progress. When the Bill was presented to this House on 1 March, there was a consensus across the House that it was very unsatisfactory legislation, that it had been very badly and in some respects carelessly drafted and that it was the duty of this House to try to make it better. During our Committee stage, we had some fascinating debates and we have, I believe, begun to make it better. That is signified by the presence of the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness on the amendment, which was very eloquently moved by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. The amendment has very significant support from some very distinguished Cross Benchers, including particularly two former Speakers of the House of Commons. So I am extremely glad that the last state is better than the first.
I have always been worried throughout my time in Parliament about the incomprehensibility of legislation to those who sent us to Parliament. It is my belief that legislation should be understandable to the ordinary, intelligent and well informed voter-and there are far more ordinary, intelligent and well informed voters than many would give credit for, as was made clear in the referendum that took place not so long ago. I have tried very hard in the amendments that I have tabled, first, to try to make this Bill more understandable and,
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However, I also tried to reflect the requests which came, particularly from the Liberal Democrat Benches, that the definition of a vote of confidence should be clearer and simpler. In my first amendment, I had a number of definitions not dissimilar from those listed in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster. I am the first to admit readily that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is correct in saying that none of us has got it absolutely right; there is no perfection in these matters. I also pay tribute to my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness, whom I have met on a number of occasions and who has been extremely anxious both to listen and discuss and to try and improve the Bill.
Having said that I will refer briefly, if I may, to the amendment in my name, which has the wonderful designation of Amendment 22ZA and which attempts to make the law a little more understandable. This amendment has been supported by my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom and I am most grateful for that. It says that an,
Frankly, I did not like the existing provision in the Bill that it should be two-thirds of the membership of the House. As it is bound to be a big vote, I can think how very unsatisfactory it would be if, because of some major problem with the weather or some accident in London that delayed Members getting to the House, there were a clear two-thirds majority in that big vote that was not quite two-thirds of those elected to the House-"including vacant seats", as in the Bill-so I have made it a two-thirds majority of those voting.
there will be an early general election. That is not a prescriptive 14 days. There need not be more than 14 hours. It might happen extremely quickly but it cannot drag on because across the House, at Second Reading and in Committee, there was almost universal distaste for long periods of bartering and horse-trading. There were many amusing references to what the Whips might get up to in another place-I am glad to
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We have debated this extensively at Second Reading and in Committee. Many of us have cited the famous example of Lord Callaghan who, as Mr James Callaghan, the Prime Minister, resigned in March 1979 immediately upon being defeated in a vote of no confidence in that House. His exceptionally dignified words on that occasion have been quoted in this Chamber more than once. He said that the House of Commons had spoken and it was now for the country to decide. It is really that Callaghan principle that I have tried to translate into my attempt at a new clause: if the House of Commons passes a Motion of no confidence in Her Majesty's Government, the Prime Minister shall forthwith submit to Her Majesty a request for a proclamation to dissolve Parliament and provide for a general election.
Then I have sought to give a simpler definition of a vote of no confidence, falling short of the number of definitions that I had in my first amendment in Committee and of the list provided for the House today by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, but saying that if the House denies a Second or Third Reading to a Finance Bill, that is clearly an expression of no confidence in the Government of the day because the whole purpose of voting supply is fundamental to the governing of our country. I also said that if a Motion of no confidence in Her Majesty's Government, tabled by the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, is passed, no matter whether the majority is one, as it was in 1979, or 101, that is it.
I suggest that, although the amendment is not perfect, it is a reasonable attempt to put into understandable language the provisions that could trigger a general election, allowing for more than just the vote of no confidence but clearly defining it. As I have said to the Minister on more than one occasion, when one tries to codify convention it is exceptionally difficult. I say again, as I have said before, that I would rather that we were not having to engage in this exercise but the Commons has decreed it and we must try, according to our rights and our duties, to make the Bill better. I suggest that the proposed new clause would make it better than what exists already.
Of course, if the House decided to approve the proposed new clause that has been supported by the Minister, either amended or unamended, there would be no opportunity to test the opinion of the House on this alternative. I will hold my fire on any votes that might take place beforehand to see whether we have the opportunity to vote on this one. Whatever happens today, though, I feel extremely pleased that the Minister has listened carefully and there is going to be an improvement in the Bill, in whatever precise form it leaves this Chamber today. We now have to let the debate follow its course and see what happens. As I sit down, I commend to your Lordships the idea of having a clause that is as understandable and comprehensive as can reasonably be expected.
Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: My Lords, I hope that the House will forgive me. I have to chair a committee upstairs at 4 pm so I rise perhaps a little prematurely to commend to your Lordships my Amendment 22ZB. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has already described what the amendment is intended to do; I do not need to repeat that, as he did so better than I could do myself. It loses the Speaker and the 14 days. It lays down precisely what is to happen if there is a vote of no confidence, and lays upon the Prime Minister the first duty to seek a dissolution of Parliament in the event of a vote of no confidence being passed. It defines with clarity what shall be regarded as a vote of no confidence for the purpose of triggering that Motion. That seems to be clear, simple and practicable. I strongly commend it to your Lordships as a way of resolving these problems in a simple and clear way and establishing a sensible procedure for the duration of the Bill if it becomes an Act.
Lord Butler of Brockwell: My Lords, I raise one question with my noble friend about his amendment. Under subsection (2)(a) of the proposed new clause, the Prime Minister would be bound to submit to Her Majesty a request for a proclamation leading to a general election if the Queen's Speech had been rejected. Would not that go against what happened in 1924, when there was indeed a defeat on the Queen's Speech, but one which had been expected, and an alternative Government was then appointed? Would it not be regrettable to make it inevitable that there should be a general election in a circumstance such as that?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Let me assist by saying that I think that the noble Lord is right. To add another prong to that argument, we have tabled an amendment to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, which covers that precise position.
Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: My Lords, my thought was that that sort of situation would be covered by the fact that the Prime Minister would be submitting a request for a Dissolution to Her Majesty. In all normal circumstances, of course, Her Majesty could act upon such a request. However, there could be circumstances in which Her Majesty might wish to say, "Before accepting this request, I wish to consider whether a Dissolution is the right course of action to pursue at this time". She could then have consultations with political leaders to find out whether that is the case.
My starting point, like other noble Lords, is that all the amendments are an improvement on Clause 2. The clause seeks to translate a convention into statute, which is extremely difficult to do as my noble friend Lord Cormack mentioned, and is for that reason very rarely attempted. The Government rest on the confidence of the House of Commons. If that is withdrawn, the Prime Minister by convention has the option of resigning or seeking the Dissolution of
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As we have heard, Clause 2 seeks to maintain these conditions but, in so doing, requires the Speaker of the House of Commons to be custodian of our present understandings of the convention. As we heard in Committee, that puts the Speaker in an untenable situation, having to make a decision that may be highly contentious politically, potentially sealing the fate of the Government.
The alternative, therefore, is to move away from flexibility to certainty or some degree of certainty. All these amendments, as we have heard, seek to do that. The one that comes closest to maintaining the current conventions is Amendment 22ZB of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, in that it retains the power for the Prime Minister to designate any Motion as one on which defeat will be treated as a matter of confidence. The others are more restrictive.
It strikes me that there are four, not necessarily compatible, criteria by which we can assess the amendments before us. First, to what extent do they retain the existing conventions? As I have said, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, comes closest, putting flesh on the bones of what Clause 2 seeks to achieve. If we wish to retain the flexibility of existing arrangements, that is the most desirable amendment. It does not replicate precisely the existing convention, as it precludes the option of resignation as an alternative to the Dissolution of Parliament, though in that respect it follows what has been recent practice.
My amendment is a close second in two respects. First, like Amendment 22ZB, it retains the capacity of the Prime Minister to move that the House has confidence in the Government. This enables the Government to seek the confidence of the House in the event of uncertainty, such as, for instance, following the loss of a vote on a major item of Government policy. Secondly, in the event of the House withdrawing its confidence in the Government, it retains the option, unlike Amendment 22ZB but in common with the other amendments, for an alternative Government to be formed without the need for an election.
As we have heard, all the amendments bar Amendment 22ZB include the 14-day provision. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, in his amendment seeks to remove that provision. I was not quite clear as to why, and certainly was not persuaded by the arguments he adduced in favour of removing that provision. If you remove it you create a problem, which he recognises by the tabling of Amendment 20C, which essentially corrects the problem created by his Amendment 20A, for which I do not see a particularly strong case in any event.
Secondly, do the amendments meet a test of certainty? In other words, are the conditions under which the Government are deemed to have lost the confidence of the House clear beyond peradventure? The existing clause clearly fails the test. All the amendments before us come close to meeting the test. As far as I can see, Amendments 20, 21 and 22ZA are sufficiently clear as
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Thirdly, do they cover all eventualities? The amendments of the noble Lords, Lord Howarth and Lord Armstrong, do not address what happens if the Government resign without having lost a Motion of confidence or an early election Motion being passed by a two-thirds majority. This is what may be called the Belgian question. If a Government fall apart and the Prime Minister tenders the resignation of the Government but under conditions where the Opposition are not ready for an election and cannot realistically form an Administration, what happens? The Bill makes no provision for such an eventuality. Subsection (3) of my amendment seeks to cover such a situation, as does my noble friend Lord Cormack in subsection (1)(b) of his amendment. My amendment provides that if, after 60 days, no Government have been formed an election shall take place. My noble friend provides a 14-day limit. I prescribe a substantial time to limit the opportunity for exploitation. A lot can happen in 60 days. However, for the moment, my argument is that we need to cover such an eventuality.
I appreciate the argument that has been advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, who argued that such a situation is so unlikely that the provision is likely never to be invoked. The same argument can be advanced in respect of the provision for an early election Motion. The circumstances in which one is likely to need and be able to mobilise a two-thirds majority or a unanimous vote are likely to be extremely rare. However, neither situation is impossible. It is possible for the House of Commons to fail to agree on any option, as happened in 2003 in the votes on the various options for the future of this House. It may, therefore, be desirable to cover all eventualities. In terms of covering all eventualities, subsection (1)(a) of Amendment 22ZA presupposes that the Motion will be passed on a Division. Subsection (1) of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, originally did likewise, but has now been changed to cover such a Motion being passed without a Division.
The amendments to Amendments 20 and 22ZB, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, seek to cover the situation following the meeting of a new Parliament and the Government's losing a vote of confidence. I can see why his Amendment 22ZD is desirable but, as I have said, I cannot see the argument for why his earlier amendment is required.
Fourthly, do the amendments limit or eliminate the opportunity for the Government to engineer an early Dissolution for their political benefit? The purpose of the Bill, as we have heard, is to ensure that there are fixed terms and that there is an early Dissolution only in exceptional circumstances. Those circumstances do not include enabling the Government to trigger an election at a time that is politically beneficial. If they did, it would undermine the whole purpose of the Bill. I know that, as the noble and learned Lord has said, he would find that quite attractive.
Lord Howarth of Newport: Does the noble Lord recognise that there could be a legitimate concern since he provides that an early general election is also to take place if, on a specified date, the House of Commons has negatived a Motion that this House has confidence in Her Majesty's Government? Does that not provide too tempting an avenue for the Prime Minister to contrive a vote of confidence, and to contrive to lose it? The noble Lord spoke earlier of the need to avoid exploitation; this is trying to do that.
Lord Norton of Louth: The noble Lord anticipates what I am coming on to. That is what I want to deal with. That is my whole point about this question. I know that some noble Lords would find it attractive if we undermined the Bill in this respect. However, if we proceed on the basis of what the Bill seeks to achieve, we need to identify any provision that could be exploited by the Government. The amendment that comes closest to being foolproof in this respect is Amendment 20 in that, apart from an early election Motion, the only way to trigger an election is through the House passing a Motion of no confidence in the Government. As the noble Lord touched on, there is no provision for the Government to move a Motion of confidence and then invite their own supporters to vote against it, as has happened in Germany and could, as he says, happen under my amendment and that of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong.
A Government could also trigger an election under Amendment 22ZB by the Prime Minister declaring any Motion one of confidence and ensuring that government MPs voted against it or stayed away to ensure that it was defeated. However, Amendment 20 is not completely foolproof. There is no restriction on who can table a Motion of no confidence. It could be tabled by a government Back-Bencher, possibly at the behest of the Prime Minister, thus enabling the Government to engineer their own defeat. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Cormack provides that a Motion of no confidence may be moved only by the Leader of the Opposition. That may be deemed unduly restrictive, but it prevents the provision being used by the Government for their own benefit-the very point that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, mentioned.
However, although my noble friend's amendment deals with what some may see as a loophole, it introduces a loophole of its own. Under subsection (1)(b), a Prime Minister could simply resign, and, if the Opposition take over, move a vote of no confidence-the outgoing Prime Minister presumably assuming the mantle of Leader of the Opposition-or deny them the opportunity to govern by voting down whatever they bring forward.
In short, each amendment has its merits, though none is ideal in terms of the criteria that I have adumbrated. That is more or less bound to be the case given that the criteria are not necessarily compatible. We are moving away from seeking to retain the existing conventions in favour of greater certainty.
My amendment seeks to provide for all, or at least more, eventualities than that covered by the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and to enable the Government to seek the confidence of the
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I commend my amendment to the House but do so in the recognition that the ideal may not be one of these amendments but one drawn from what is before us. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, to which my noble and learned friend the Minister has added his name, is certainly a massive improvement on what is in the Bill. We may be able to tweak it further, but our deliberations on the clause show what can be achieved through debate and constructive discourse. If we are not quite there, we are very close.
The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, it may assist the House if I clarify the procedural position once more as I think that a little confusion may have arisen. I make it clear that although we are having a debate on all the potential alternative new clauses, some of them with and some without amendment, they are alternatives and no issue of pre-emption arises. Therefore, it is possible for the House to take a series of decisions about individual amendments as they arise in the schedule. Some noble Lords may not have been certain about their alternatives after a decision had been taken on the first proposed new clause. I hope that might be of some assistance.
I begin by making the point that the removal of the Speaker's certificate as a requisite for calling an early general election certainly meets my principal objection to the original wording in Clause 2. I take this opportunity to thank the Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and the Government for accepting the need to safeguard the non-partisan position of the Speaker in their proposed legislation. I think that the noble and learned Lord realises that I should have liked them to have gone a little further on this clause, but I would not push my luck in such circumstances, and I am thankful for small mercies.
I hope that all parties in the other place will take the opportunity, when the Bill returns to the Commons, to place on record the importance of a Speaker's independence and never again put it at risk, as did the original clause. It gives me particular satisfaction to know that some of us were able to use our membership of this House to help remove a defect in the Bill that, to put it perfectly bluntly, should have been corrected in the other place-the elected Chamber. It proves, yet again, the indispensible role that your Lordships play in the legislative process, particularly in constitutional matters.
We have talked about perfection, and I regret that the amendment is not as precise or as perfect as I would wish. That is life. However, when considered along with other amendments, it is a reasonable way forward and we can make the best of what I regard as a poor and unnecessary item of legislation.
I wish to place my view on record in relation to the leeway, or what I call the 14-day cooling-off period, following a vote of no confidence, to give time to the Executive to cobble together and approve a new Government. That requirement in the Bill strikes at the very roots of my belief in the way our democracy works. For reasons that we all understand, we have a coalition Government who govern on the basis of a two-party agreement. I have no quarrel with that. I accept the need for coalitions when no party has an overall majority. Nor am I opposed to the principle of self-preservation-I practise it myself. However, if the Government were to lose the confidence of the Commons, this legislation would allow a different coalition, a coalition mark II, to replace it after 14 days of hard bargaining, wheeler-dealing or horse trading-call it what you want-without reference to the electorate by calling an election. That is wrong.
In that event, the Bill would be seen as the "elections avoidance Act"-and rightly so. Some might call it a "fixed Parliaments Act"-using "fixed" in its pejorative sense. I confess to belonging to the school of democrats who believe in the unfettered right of the Commons to send a Government packing, as it did in 1979, and in the integrity of the Prime Minister to come to the Dispatch Box to say what he would do. I also believe in the sovereign right of the people of this country to elect their Governments at elections. I maintain that these two rights are not incompatible and we should not tamper with them. They have served us well and are the basis of our parliamentary democracy.
This time, the Commons is the target of the constitutional meddlers. However, proposals for the abolition of this House will soon be put before us. The bottom line of my concern now is that the legislation restricts the traditional freedom of the elected Chamber to get rid of a failed Government and for a Prime Minister to go to the country to seek a mandate. Snap elections have become a derogatory term in some quarters. Many countries that I know are under the yoke of dictators and would love to hold a snap election. I would rather have a snap election at any time than a Parliament that is well and truly fixed in the way that many are and in the manner now proposed by this coalition.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I have listened with great interest to people who have a great deal more experience and expertise in this matter than I, and I think that we are gradually moving towards a very sensible conclusion. On all sides of the House, we need to express our thanks to my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness, whose personal intervention has moved us in a sensible direction. That is evidence, contrary to what was being said at earlier stages of the consideration of the Bill, that the Government are listening to your Lordships' House and have moved.
However, it is equally true, and I commend it for this, that the coalition has not been prepared to accept wrecking tactics which would undo what is, after all, a Bill which came to your Lordships' House from the other place, which, as we have already heard this afternoon, we all regard as retaining primacy in our parliamentary system. I very much welcome the constructive dialogue that has taken place during the
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By contrast, Amendment 20 has clearly benefited from the experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and the noble Lord, Lord Martin-two distinguished former Speakers-among others. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, was generous in saying that it seems to meet many of his criteria. I think that his phrase was that it was the nearest to being completely foolproof of the amendments before us. The simplification of Clause 2 also certainly meets the major anxieties that my noble friends Lord Rennard, Lord Marks and I had over the rather cumbersome process originally set out.
At this point, it is important to emphasise that the sole purpose of the legislation is to give new responsibility, new power to Parliament, rather than to reinforce the current opportunity of the Prime Minister of the day-who is, after all, a party leader; we should never forget that-to pick and choose the most favourable date for an election for his or her party. There was some confusion last week on that point. By legislating for a parliamentary safety valve to enable an early election to take place within the normal five-year period, the Government are right to insist that that must be on the basis of cross-party support in the House of Commons. We should not revert to a No. 10 partisan fix.
It is important for us all to recall that we do not elect Governments in this country. The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, perhaps led us slightly astray on that point. We elect Parliament, which then gives or takes away confidence from an Administration. Therefore, the simple decision of the head of a Government that he or she can no longer continue personally to lead a Government is not the critical issue. The critical issue is: what is the decision of our Parliament and, in this case, the primary House, the House of Commons?
Last week, there was some anxiety-some amusement, in fact-about the special circumstances of October 1974 and May 1979 and the fact that such circumstances might not provide a proper opportunity for an early general election and for the people to speak. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, in his place; he should be reassured. If the Bill had reached the statute book then, I am convinced that an early general election would almost certainly have been triggered by the House of Commons in those circumstances. He would have been elected and I would have been unelected. I think that the Bill proves able to deal with the circumstances we were discussing last week.
Lord Grocott: I was not intending to speak but it is just too tempting. I am delighted to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, thinks that a key determinant of our constitutional arrangements should be simplicity
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Lord Tyler: No, my Lords; I think that that is over-simple. It does not give the House of Commons a proper, responsible role and I think that there would be circumstances in which it certainly would not be appropriate.
Lord Cormack: Would not the circumstances where it would not be appropriate, to which my noble friend has just referred, almost certainly be coalition circumstances? Is not the real fear of many of us that the Bill has been designed to perpetuate the opportunity of coalition? Would not the public have the right to feel cheated if, as I devoutly hope does not happen, the present coalition collapsed and the leaders of the Liberal Democrat Party and the Labour Party sought to form a pact and a Government-a Government who would certainly not have commanded the support of the majority of the country last year? Do we not have to bear that in mind? Has not this been devised in a coalition climate to perpetuate a coalition climate?
Lord Tyler: I can only say to my noble friend that I was advancing the case for precisely this legislation long before there was ever the possibility of a coalition. It is extremely important to come back to my absolute core principle that the arithmetic of the House of Commons should be of issue. If, for example, the circumstances to which my noble friend refers occurred and there were in the House of Commons a solid majority for a change of Government in the midst of the present economic crisis, in order for that change of Government to take place without a general election it would be the House of Commons that decided whether the Government had the confidence to continue. Therefore, I do not think that that circumstance is an appropriate or proper reason for changing Amendment 20, which I think would be a useful amendment to the Bill.
The Bill recognises that, if it were acceptable or even necessary to call an early general election, the final decision should be left to Parliament and not to the individual whim of one party leader who happened to occupy No. 10. Even if there were not near unanimity among MPs, the safeguards in the Bill would ensure that, in the circumstances I have described, a vote of no confidence would lead to an early poll once it became clear that no alternative Government could be established and enjoy the confidence of the House of Commons. Amendment 20 deals very well with this problem. It deals with the questions that were raised last week, although clearly some people on that occasion and now might say, "Well, we know what a Motion of no confidence looks like when we see it". Frankly, I think that the amendment deals with the problem of definition rather better than that.
I think it was my noble friend Lord Forsyth who made the point that in almost all the circumstances
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The Government have moved substantially and my noble friend has put his name to Amendment 20. I think that the very serious problems enunciated earlier by previous Speakers of the other place have been dealt with, and removing the Speaker from a potentially very invidious position is very important.
I turn to the other amendments briefly because I suspect that they are not going to be pursued with quite the same enthusiasm as Amendment 20. The amendment in the name of my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Hamilton seems largely to enshrine the status quo. However, I do not think that the status quo is acceptable, as it involves all sorts of problems. I suggest that under their amendment a Prime Minister, instead of simply going to the Palace, as now, could engineer a vote of no confidence and therefore cut and run for an early election, which would destroy one of the major objectives of the Bill.
The proposal maintains the unfair partisan advantage conferred on one party leader as opposed to another. It is remarkable that when faced with the prospect of the first Prime Minister in history prepared to give up this important power to Parliament there seem to be some people in your Lordships' House who say, "We do not want to be given this power. We would rather you kept it, Prime Minister. We do not want the responsibility". I think that that would be a retrograde step.
The issue is also present in Amendment 22ZB in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, who has explained why he is not able to be here. Amendment 22ZB contains an extraordinary provision that any vote deemed a vote of no confidence by the Prime Minister, and party leader, should be a vote of no confidence. Rightly, the Bill and, indeed, Amendment 20 seek to avoid that. Those in your Lordships' House who lived through the Maastricht debates in the other place, particularly former Conservative MPs, will remember the pressure that was brought to bear night after night by the Whips threatening that it could be deemed a Motion of confidence that could bring the Government down and trigger an immediate general election. MPs should have the capacity to vote down the details of legislation they disapprove of without being pressurised by a Government trying to force them to take a view that is not truly theirs. I fear that Amendment 22ZB could be defective for that reason, if for no other.
There is a definite problem with that amendment since it might well be open to judicial challenge. The judicial challenge to the role of the Speaker would be very difficult but when the head of the Executive takes a decision, I think a judicial review might well be a prospect that we would have to face. I mentioned that
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I am slightly baffled by the amendments in the name of Members of the Labour Party and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I may just be being stupid but it seems to me that perhaps quite a major constitutional change is in prospect. The burden of their amendments seems to be that when a Government are newly elected-or, strictly, a Parliament-some special mechanism should be introduced in the days following the election.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I can assure the noble Lord that he is not being stupid. It is my failure for not explaining it adequately. Where there has just been a general election and a Government do not obtain the confidence of the House, the right course in those special circumstances, as in the case of Mr Baldwin in 1923, is that what the electorate may well have wanted from the election is somebody other than, as it were, Mr Baldwin. That is why those amendments are there.
I come to another point. It would seem that the noble and learned Lord has a problem with the two-week thought process-the cooling off period that the noble Baroness referred to. I would like to know whether he stands by the statement by Mr Christopher Bryant in the other House, who said:
"The Government-I think rightly-want to say that after a motion of no confidence, there could be two weeks during which the House could, if it wanted, pass a motion of confidence in either the same Government, presumably, or another Government, with either the same Prime Minister or a different Prime Minister, with a different set of ministerial colleagues".-[Official Report, Commons, 24/11/10; col. 359.]
That flexibility was very admirable and a great deal more supportive, if I may say so, of the Government's position than would be implied by what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has said. It may be that he or one of his noble friends may wish to come back and say whether Mr Bryant was misled, or whether I was misled by that interpretation.
Amendments 20C and 22ZD have so many negatives that I am in something of a spin, even after the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, explained them to me. If the intention is to make a major change in the circumstances immediately following an election, there is a good case for that: it is a very attractive proposition. The fact that the leader of the party who seeks to form an Administration should bring both the Administration and his or her programme to the House of Commons for it to be endorsed at the outset of a Parliament would emphasise that we are not electing a Government but a House of Commons, which in turn gives responsibility and power to a Government. However, it may be rather too late in the passage of this Bill to introduce changes of that scale and radical intent.
We have made huge progress. As others have said, this is very much to the credit of my noble and learned friend, Lord Wallace of Tankerness. Again, it illustrates some very important points that we should all take account of. First and foremost, we have maintained intact the principle of the Bill that was sent to us by the other House. Secondly, if we pass the amendment and introduce a new Clause 2, that will remove any possibility of any weakening of the neutrality of Speakers of the House of Commons. That is obviously desirable. Thirdly, it still removes an important extra power from Prime Ministers and their Whips simply to decide that an issue of detailed policy is a matter of confidence. All three of these achievements are truly welcome. I hope that the House will support Amendment 20.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the House has been very generous in its consideration of the report of the Select Committee on the Constitution, which I have the privilege to chair. However, one aspect of our report has received scant attention, although the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, referred to it briefly. That is the question, also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, of government manipulation of the no-confidence process.
Having looked at all the amendments that have been tabled, I recognise, as do all noble Lords, that they are a vast improvement on what we were considering last week. However, it does not seem to me that these problems are met. I refer the House to the discussions that the committee had on this point with the Deputy Prime Minister. He accepted that it was not possible to exclude the possibility that the Government could manipulate Motions to this effect, but went on to say that,
He assumed that if a Government manipulated the process in that way, they would be punished. However, the committee held evidence that suggested that international experience does not necessarily confirm that impression. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, referred to examples from both Canada and Germany of occasions where Governments achieved precisely that purpose by manipulating votes of no confidence in themselves. Our evidence suggested that scrutiny of those decisions and subsequent elections that happened as a result of them did not necessarily produce an electorate who thought that this was, as the Deputy Prime Minister said, so "self-evidently grubby" that the Government should be punished. In both the most recent cases, in 2005 and 2008, in Germany and Canada, the Governments who behaved in this way were re-elected.
The House may feel that this is too small a point to consider at this stage of proceedings. However, if we are in the business, as everybody has suggested, of improving the amendments that were before us and putting into statute something that we have always understood in this country and in the history of Parliament to be a matter of conventions, we need to be very careful about this matter.
Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, I support-along with everyone else-Amendment 20 and a new Clause 2. I put on record my thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and to Mr Mark Harper, the Minister in charge in the other place. We said in Committee that we would like to meet the Minister, and it was good of him to meet us. I also put on record the great work done by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. In these situations, there is always someone who has to do the phoning, the texting and the e-mails, and it was the noble Lord. I am very grateful to him for keeping me and my colleagues fully informed.
I am glad that the pressure has been taken away from the Speaker. Things have changed, and if the certificate has to be issued by the Speaker-unless we pass this amendment, it will have to be-there is the new dimension. When there was a majority Government, the Speaker would have to look at what the Prime Minister said. If the Prime Minister said, "I consider this vote on the Floor of the House to be a vote of confidence in me", he would be one person alone that the Speaker would have to look to. However, where we have a coalition, the Speaker would have to look not only to the Prime Minister, but to the Deputy Prime Minister. If the Deputy Prime Minister said that he considered a forthcoming vote to be a vote of no confidence, the Speaker would have to look at that. I am glad that that pressure will be taken away because there is no doubt that things have changed as far as Speakers are concerned.
I had great affection for the late Edward Heath. He used to come and see me up in Speaker's House. We would have tea and a chat about old times. He used to reminisce about when he was Chief Whip. I thought that I had better ask him about my situation. I said: "The government Chief Whip comes to see me on a weekly basis, as does the opposition Chief Whip, and every second week the Liberal party Chief Whip comes. Did you have that in your day?". He said: "We didn't bother the Speaker. The Speaker was too busy for those things". That indicated that a change took place between the 1960s and today so that Whips now come to see the Speaker on a weekly basis. I can tell noble Lords that they were always moaning. They were never happy. They were like constituents at tenants' association meetings. You always knew that they would have a complaint. At least, if the government Chief Whip was happy, you could bet your boots that there was something wrong with the opposition Chief Whip. All these pressures have been taken away by what we have before us, and I am very pleased about that.
Lord Dobbs: My Lords, I rise with some trepidation after so many distinguished noble Lords. The first thing I want to do is to thank, like so many other noble Lords, my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness for his care, consideration and courtesy in dealing with various issues that I have raised with him. I have been able to support the Bill because of the two great principles of certainty and stability which it enshrines, but there is a third leg of that constitutional stool, which is simplicity, as my noble friend Lord Cormack, pointed out earlier.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, explained, there is a problem with the 14-day cooling-off period.
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How flexible our current system was became even clearer after that when the Liberals withdrew and everyone from Bill Brewer to Uncle Tom Cobbleigh got in on the act. That was the worst of the current system. Deals were done-not just with the Liberal Party, but with Ulster Unionists, Scottish nationalists, Welsh nationalists and even Irish republicans. Goodness' knows what would have happened if UKIP had been present there. Offers and inducements were made, from extra parliamentary seats to expensive pipelines to promises on devolution-even, I understand, to the occasional odd bottle of Scotch. The only reason why some of us can smile about it is because it was so very long ago.
The country was rescued from that misery by a vote of no confidence. Every man and woman in the other place that night understood precisely what that vote entailed. If the Government lost, they would fall. The stakes were extraordinarily high: so high that some Members clambered from their sick beds to get into ambulances and make that long haul to New Palace Yard-simply in order to be nodded through. A few, I believe, put their lives on the line simply in order to do that duty. How could we countenance a system which, after such an effort and such a sacrifice, responded by saying, "Thank you, but now you have another 14 days to cool off, to change your mind"? Fourteen days of dodgy deals, 14 days of pipelines and parliamentary fixes, 14 days to deny the electorate their right to decide-and every bit of it enshrined in law. Far from the Prime Minister giving up his powers to Parliament-
Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, the convention is that if the Government lose a vote of confidence in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister has the option of either requesting a Dissolution or resigning. Callaghan did not have to go to the palace: he could have chosen to resign.
Far from the Prime Minister giving up his powers to Parliament and the people in these provisions, he would be handing them over to party bosses operating in back rooms. I have been there and I have been one of them, and I doubt if things would become any more fragrant simply because those back rooms are no longer filled with smoke. Let us go back to something like 1979. Imagine the haggling: "No, I won't vote for you, Jim, because if I help defeat you on this no-confidence Motion, I will be able to squeeze even more out of you tomorrow".
A no-confidence Motion should be more than simply a hand at poker, with players raising the stakes both before and after the vote. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, I fear that Clause 2 as drafted would allow just that-with the players pleading that haggling is precisely what the law allows, precisely what the law approves of. Fourteen days of it: crisis, what crisis? But that is not what anyone here wants, so I urge my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace to look at this yet again. If he feels he must codify this matter of no-confidence Motions, he should ensure that this part of the Bill is made more clear. I am not against safety valves, not against 14 days in all circumstances. But 14 days should not be so inflexible that it becomes a charter for chaos and an excuse for political fixes. What we do today in good faith must not become an excuse for excess at some future date.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate-not just for their contributions to the debate on the Floor of your Lordships' Chamber today but for all their comments and amendments, which have reflected a view to try to find a way forward. As I indicated originally at Second Reading, and certainly in Committee, the Government were willing to listen to the views of your Lordships' House. In the debate on Second Reading, I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, who mentioned that you could have absolutely rigid fixed terms or the complete flexibility that we have at the moment. The rigid fixed term brings its own set of difficulties, but if you are going to have something less rigid, you have to have the mechanisms in place to provide for an early election. That is what we grappled with during our deliberations in Committee and has been reflected in our debate today.
Amendment 20 was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, with the support of the noble Lords, Lord Martin and Lord Pannick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd. It sets out an alternative version of Clause 2 and addresses a number of issues of concern, not least the Speaker's certificate and the certainty of the wording of a Motion of no confidence, both of which were raised in Committee. I am particularly grateful for the constructive way forward that has been devised by those who I know do not like the idea of fixed-term Parliaments but who nevertheless have accepted that the role of this House is to improve and revise and to bring forward amendments in that spirit. I was pleased to be able to consult not only the noble Lords, Lord Howarth and Lord Pannick, but particularly with the two former Speakers. This House has had the advantage of having their experience related to us both in Committee and in the debate this afternoon. On that basis, I have been willing to add my name in support of the amendment on behalf of the Government.
The amendment would retain the two triggers for an early general election and has clarified what a Motion of no confidence should say, and in that regard would not require a Speaker's certificate. There was also a suggestion in an earlier iteration of the amendment that perhaps there should be some reference to thejournal. Having considered it, we did not think that was appropriate either because it might then reflect other things in the journal that would be somewhat undermined by making it specific in this one. I think
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I will come back to the amendments to this amendment that were moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, because they raise issues that were raised by other noble Lords, but first it is important that I should address the points made by noble Lords in speaking to their amendments in the group.
Amendment 21, tabled by my noble friend Lord Norton, again would provide an alternative version of Clause 2 and retains some of the basic architecture. It sets out a mechanism to allow for an early general election in the event of a two-thirds majority on a Motion, and one to provide for an early election in the event that the Government lose the confidence of the other place and no Government who hold the confidence of the House are formed within 14 days. Having listened to the concerns expressed in this House, it is clear that there is a certain shared sense of the direction in which we have been moving. However, my noble friend seeks to provide that the failure to pass a Motion of confidence in the Government-an important distinction-should have the same effect as passing a Motion of no confidence.
Following on the specific points made about this in the Constitution Committee's report, we certainly did reflect on this long and hard. The reason why we came down against it in the end has been anticipated by my noble friend. It is that one of the objectives is to try to minimise the opportunity for manipulation. I accept, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, has indicated the Deputy Prime Minister has accepted, that there is no way this is going to be foolproof, but there are some things you can do to make it more difficult. We have reached the judgment that a Motion of confidence would be easier for the Government of the day to table and then have voted down than for the Government to lose a Motion of no confidence. The noble Baroness also mentioned Germany in 2005. The position there was that there was a general consensus for an election but that they did not have a trigger mechanism to do so. However, we do provide for it where there is consensus for a Dissolution that is supported by a two-thirds majority of Members of Parliament.
My noble friend Lord Norton wishes to add a third mechanism leading to an early general election. Where a Prime Minister felt unable to continue in government, his or her resignation could bring about an early election. The Bill does not prevent a Prime Minister from resigning or tendering a resignation on behalf of the Government, but, under the Bill as it stands, an early election would not follow automatically. As I have indicated, should there be a consensus that an early election should take place, the Bill provides for this under a two-thirds Dissolution vote. However, if there is no consensus, the alternative provision-for a no-confidence vote followed by a period of 14 days' government formation-prevents a situation in which a Government stagger on without the confidence of the House.
My noble friend has suggested a government formation period of 60 days following the Prime Minister tendering the resignation of the Government. That could undermine the principle of fixed-term Parliaments by allowing the Prime Minister to trigger the government formation period at any stage in the Parliament. If one is looking at ways of minimising the opportunity for manipulation, that is one reason why we would not wish to go down that road. I also believe that 60 days is too long a period for there to be no effective Government in place. I hope that on reflection my noble friend will not-I think he indicated that he had some sympathy for the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth-press his amendment.
The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Cormack and supported by my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom is a further variation that suggests the exact wording of the Dissolution Motion and frames the 14-day government formation period in a different way from that proposed in the Bill. It provides for two scenarios that would determine a Motion of no confidence. Where a no-confidence Motion is passed in those circumstances, the Prime Minister must request Her Majesty to dissolve Parliament.
There may be circumstances in which, within a fixed-term period, a viable, legitimate Government may be formed from the composition of the House after a no-confidence Motion. As my noble friend Lord Tyler reminded us, it is Parliament that is fixed; it is not the Government who are intended to be fixed by the legislation. The Government can exist only if they enjoy the confidence of the other place. That is why Clause 2 provides for a vote of no confidence to trigger a period of 14 days for possible government formation. If the Government have not been able to secure the confidence of the House of Commons, Parliament will be dissolved. At present, the Prime Minister decides whether, after the loss of confidence, to ask Her Majesty for Dissolution, as in 1979, or, as my noble friend Lord Norton pointed out, to resign, thereby creating the opportunity for another Government to be formed from the existing House, as in 1924.
Lord Cormack: I know that the Minister is trying very hard, but some of us remain very concerned about this 14-day haggle period, as I would call it. Would he be prepared to insert at Third Reading, "a maximum of 14 days"?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I am not sure that it is necessary to insert "maximum". Perhaps I can assure my noble friend that 14 days is a limit; it is not an expectation or a requirement. Let us take as an example the situation in 1979, after Mr James Callaghan was defeated on that famous evening in March. If, rather than saying, under existing constitutional arrangements, that he was going to the Queen to seek Dissolution and take his case to the country, he had said that he would table a Motion for Dissolution the following day and that if it was supported, as inevitably it would have been, by both parties and had two-thirds of Members voting for it, there would have been no need to wait for 14 days before the election took place. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, looks
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Lord Wallace of Tankerness: In these circumstances, yes. Had this Bill been in place, that could have happened. Perhaps I may reassure my noble friend Lord Cormack that 14 days is a maximum, but if there is consensus in the House that there should be an immediate election, it would be possible the following day for a Motion commanding the support of two-thirds of Members for an early election to be passed and there would be no need to wait for 14 days. I hope that is clear. It is an important point that perhaps has not always been fully appreciated; there may have been an impression that after every Motion of no confidence there would have to be a period of 14 days before there could be an election.
The proposed new power in the amendment for the other place to vote explicitly for an early Dissolution deals with the circumstances in which it would be appropriate to move directly to a Dissolution and a general election, as I have said, and there may be other circumstances. There has been some suggestion that the situation in 1951 could have led to that happening.
My noble friend also proposes that an early general election should be called if the Prime Minister tenders the resignation of the Government to Her Majesty and if within 14 days no new Prime Minister has accepted Her Majesty's invitation to form a Government. Therefore, my noble friend's amendment would still provide for an alternative Government to be formed without a general election taking place. The difference is that my noble friend's amendment would provide that a Prime Minister's decision to resign can trigger an early election, whereas the triggers that we are proposing involve a parliamentary procedure and deny, as far as is possible, the Prime Minister's ability to trigger a Dissolution against the will of Parliament. Under my noble friend's amendment it would also be possible for a Prime Minister enjoying a working majority in the other place to resign, sit out the 14 days and perhaps try to thwart the creation of another Government. We fear that that could, inadvertently perhaps, bring the sovereign into an unintended and undesirable political conflict.
Given that there is agreement to the trigger for an early election, with two-thirds voting, and my assurance that 14 days is the maximum, I hope my noble friend will be willing to withdraw his amendment.
The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, provides yet another model. His amendment would provide that a vote of no confidence in the Government should lead to an immediate Dissolution, and some of the comments I have already made apply to that situation. Another problem is that the only person who might have the authority to make a judgment on the fourth prong of the amendment-where the Prime Minister deemed a particular Motion to be a Motion of confidence-would be the Prime Minister. That would hand back to the Prime Minister one of the weapons that the Bill takes away from the
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The amendment would also provide that if any of the Motions set out in the clause were passed, the Prime Minister would have to seek Dissolution. That is what happened in 1979 but it is not what happened in 1924, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, noted. The answer given by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, does not meet that point because, again, it raises the question of bringing the monarch into a politically charged situation. Also, under Clause 3, the prerogative power of Dissolution is being removed and it is not clear how that situation would be dealt with. By leaving it up to the Prime Minister to decide whether any vote should be taken on a matter of confidence, the amendment would allow the Prime Minister to bring pressure to bear on Back-Benchers, a point made by my noble friend Lord Tyler. In a Bill that seeks to take power from the Prime Minister and give it to Parliament, a provision that would increase the power of the Prime Minister vis-à-vis his Back-Benchers does not sit easily. The Government believe that the amendment would, in practice, hand straight back to the Prime Minister the power to decide when to precipitate a general election. The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, is not in his place-he is chairing a committee-but, in those circumstances, I hope he will reconsider and withdraw his amendment.
The amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, seek, as I understand them-as with the amendments of the noble Lords, Lord Armstrong and Lord Howarth-to do away with the 14 days except where a Government have not enjoyed the confidence of the House to start with. They help to focus the issue.
In bringing forward this Bill, the Government have sought to recognise the many conventions that exist. We have sought to recognise that, in triggering an early election, we respect the two consequences which convention has it flow from a defeat by the Government on a Motion of no confidence in the House of Commons. The first is that there could be a Dissolution and the second that a new Government could be formed. The occasion in 1979 is an example of when there was a Dissolution and the one in 1924 an example of when a new Government were formed. I accept that the noble Lord's amendment seeks to deal with the situation in which the Government have been defeated in the very early days of the Parliament.
It is important to remind ourselves that it is not just the Government who are saying that this is the position. In evidence to your Lordships' Constitution Committee, Professor Vernon Bogdanor, who is no fan of this Bill, said in response to a question from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, on 27 October:
"The King's private secretary enquired of the other parliamentary leaders whether they were prepared to form a government and only when he was told that they weren't was a dissolution granted. If one of them had been, that alternative would have been perfectly possible under our present constitution".
We seek to maintain what is possible under the present constitution and indeed put a limit on it, because there is a limit of a maximum of 14 days to try to reform a Government. It is important that we try to maintain the existing constitutional conventions. By providing that a no-confidence Motion leads to an immediate general election in all other circumstances, we would be enshrining in statute the Executive's ability to trigger an early election, if one follows the amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord. That is complicated. In Committee, he said that he was against complication, but he seems to be complicating the matter even further if in some circumstances the 14 days would apply and in other circumstances it would not.
I fear that the noble and learned Lord's amendment could undermine the purpose of the Bill. He said at Second Reading that we should try to minimise the opportunity for manipulation. By going straight to Dissolution, you make manipulation a bit easier than if you have the 14-day provision for an alternative Government to be formed. In these circumstances, having reflected on what has been said in discussion in Committee and in today's debate, I very much hope that your Lordships will support unamended the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, it has been a very important debate. It is absolutely clear what the critical issue is in the debate-the 14 days. As ever, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, expressed our constitution exactly accurately when she said that the Commons should be able to boot out the Government and the electorate should then determine who should be the Government. Under what this Bill proposes-the 14 days-when the Commons told Mr James Callaghan that he had to go to the country he could have said, although of course he did not, "Hold on a minute, I'll see if I can get some Ulster Unionist support or some support from these rebels and see if I can hold on for a few more months". That would have been absolutely contrary to the basic principles of our constitution which the noble and learned Lord says he wants to reflect in this new Bill.
The genesis of this Bill, if we believe Mr Nicholas Clegg-and we do believe him on this-came from his wanting to increase confidence in politicians and in
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We on the Labour side have had no part to play in putting together the variety of amendments that have been put down. I have discussed them with various people but they have, in effect, been tabled in relation to the individual views of the House. Yes, we were not so worried in the Commons about the 14 days, but we had not had the benefit of a Committee stage on the Bill in which where there was real focus on those issues. Because I detect quite a strong feeling around the House against the 14 days, the only way in which it can go wrong this afternoon is if by not choosing our amendments carefully we end up with the Government getting their way without the 14 days being there. I respectfully advise Members of the House, as I will advise my own group, to vote for my amendments, because they will ensure that the 14 days goes-except in relation to a Government who have never obtained the confidence of the House of Commons. If the 14 days is removed, I can see real force in the Government's amendment. It gets rid of the Speaker and creates some certainty about what a Motion of no confidence is, so that many of the problems will have been resolved.
If the proposed new clause were put in, as amended with my provision, the House would then be asked to vote on adding in more clauses. If the new clauses proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Norton of Louth, Lord Armstrong and Lord Cormack, were put in, we could have more than one Clause 2 at that point-an unusual result, it seems to me, but one that appears to be possible in the light of what the Lord Speaker said. That is what the House authorities are saying, but that result would seem to be possible only on the basis that, at Third Reading, we would have to make a choice between the various Clause 2s that were in. However, I recommend simplicity to the House: do not get us into that complication but vote for the amendment to get rid of the 14 days, which is the first vote that will be had. Then we can all comfortably rally around Amendment 20.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence.
"With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on the Armed Forces covenant, which is being published today along with other important documents on how we are taking forward our pledge to rebuild the covenant.
The Government have no higher duty than the defence of the realm, and the nation has no greater obligation than to look after those who have served it. The men and women of the three services-regulars and reservists, whether they are serving today or have done so in the past-their families and those who have lost a loved one in service all deserve our support and respect. That obligation is encapsulated in the Armed Forces covenant. The ties between the nation, its Government and its Armed Forces are not the product of rules and regulations, or of political fashion. They are much deeper than that. They have endured for generations and they go to the heart of our national life. So the Armed Forces covenant does not need to be a long and detailed charter. It should be a simple and timeless statement of the moral obligation that we owe. We are therefore publishing today a new version of the covenant, written for the first time on a tri-service basis.
The covenant is enduring but it will mean different things at different times. The expectations of today's service men and women are rightly different from their predecessors. Alongside the covenant, we have published guidance on what we believe it means in today's circumstances. It sets out a framework for how the members of the Armed Forces community can expect to be treated, and the aspirations and expectations that we believe are implicit in the covenant.
The covenant and the guidance do not, however, describe what the Government are doing to put this into effect. That is why I am also publishing a paper entitled TheArmed Forces Covenant: Today and Tomorrow, which sets out the practical measures we are taking to support the covenant. It brings together the commitments we have already made with the new measures that I am announcing today.
A number of these measures take forward the ideas of Professor Hew Strachan, who led an independent task force on the covenant last year at the request of the Prime Minister. His report was published on 8 December, and I would like to record the Government's thanks for the extremely valuable work that he did. We are today publishing the Government's full response to this report.
One of Professor Strachan's most important recommendations was the introduction of a community covenant. This will strengthen communities and build new links between them, local government and the Armed Forces. We expect it to be launched next month, but I can today announce that we are allocating up to £30 million over the next four years to support joint projects at a local level between the services or veterans' groups and the wider community.
I will now turn to the matter of the Armed Forces Bill, which the House will shortly have a further opportunity to consider. This contains provision for an annual report on the Armed Forces covenant, which is designed to strengthen this House's ability to scrutinise how we are fulfilling our obligations. In this way, the existence of the covenant is being recognised in statute for the first time, as promised by the Prime Minister last year.
In deciding how best to recognise the covenant in law, the Government have had to maintain a careful balance. On the one hand, we do not want to see the chain of command undermined or the military permanently involved in human rights cases in the European courts. On the other, we must ensure that the legitimate aspirations of the wider service community, the Armed Forces charities and the British public for our Armed Forces are met.
We believe that a sensible way forward that will give the right kind of legal basis to the Armed Forces covenant for the first time in our history is to enshrine the principles in law, provide a regular review of the policies that will make them a reality, ensure that Parliament has a chance to scrutinise this review through the annual report, and that the report itself is widely informed, consultative and transparent. I believe it is right that the Government are held to account on delivering the principles underpinning the covenant by this House, and not by the European courts. That is what our approach will ensure.
I want to highlight two important aspects. First, the Government will set out on the face of the Bill the key principles we believe underpin both the covenant and any report on its implementation. Ensuring that members of the Armed Forces community do not suffer disadvantage as a result of their service, and that where appropriate they receive special treatment, are at the heart of the Armed Forces covenant. I can tell the House this afternoon that the Government will bring forward amendments, before the Third Reading of the Bill, to require the Secretary of State to address those principles in preparing his report to Parliament and to recognise the unique nature of service life.
Secondly, the Government have always been clear to the House on their commitment to consult stakeholders on the annual report. First, we intend to consult widely in the preparation of the report-internally through the chain of command, and with external stakeholders. We will be actively interested in evidence about how the whole range of public bodies is performing, not just Whitehall departments. Secondly, before laying the report before the House, we will give the members of the external reference group from outside Government an opportunity to comment on the report, and we will publish any observations alongside it.
We are working with the external reference group to update its terms of reference in line with its significant new role. The Government place great importance on maintaining our dialogue with bodies such as the service families federations and the major service and ex-service charities in telling us what is happening on the ground, and I should like to pay tribute today to the invaluable contribution they make to the welfare of the Armed Forces community. I would like to pay a particular tribute to the contribution to this debate of the Royal British Legion, which continues to do such outstanding work in support of our Armed Forces.
The Armed Forces covenant is not just about words, it is about actions. The men and women of our Armed Forces judge us by what we do to improve their lives and those of their families. Since taking office, this Government have taken a series of important measures to rebuild the covenant. Let me mention some of them. We have doubled operational allowance; we have included service children within the pupil premium; we have introduced scholarships for the children of bereaved service families; and we have taken action to improve mental health care.
These measures are especially impressive when set against the background of the dire economic situation in which this Government must operate. There is much still to do. I have always been clear that our commitment to rebuild the covenant is a journey we are beginning, not something we can do overnight. And I believe our people understand that.
But we are continuing to take action. I am today announcing additional measures that will tackle some of the problems experienced by service personnel, families and veterans. I have already mentioned the new community covenant grant scheme. We are also setting up a new fund of £3 million per year, over and above the pupil premium arrangements, to support state schools catering for significant numbers of service children. We will launch a veteran's card that will allow access to discounts and privileges. In helping injured personnel, we will guarantee that veterans suffering serious genital injuries have access to three cycles of IVF, wherever they live. We will increase from 25 per cent to 50 per cent the rate of council tax relief for military personnel serving on operations overseas.
In addition, between now and the Summer Recess, I expect there to be further announcements, which again underline that this is a priority across the whole of government, and not just defence. Today, Ministers are chairing a meeting with key stakeholders to discuss and agree ways to improve access to housing for our people. My right honourable friend the Health Secretary and I are looking forward to the report from my honourable friend the Member for South West Wiltshire on how to further improve the supply of prosthetics for injured personnel. We will consider how to ensure that guaranteed income payments made under the AFCS are not required to be used to pay for social care provided by the public sector.
The obligation we owe to our service men and women, set against the commitment and sacrifice which they make, is enormous. In the current financial climate, we are not able to do as much to honour that obligation, or to do it as quickly, as we would like, but we can make clear the road on which are embarked.
Our understanding of the covenant will change over time, as will the way in which government and society meet it. The framework we have set out today provides the flexibility we need so that not only the Government but all of society can fully pay the enormous debt we owe our Armed Forces, their families and our veterans. I commend it to the House".
Lord Rosser: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in the other place by the Secretary of State for Defence and for the advance copies of the three reports on the Armed Forces covenant and the Statement itself. We of course endorse the Minister's comments on the support and respect that our Armed Forces merit and deserve from all of us. We welcome today's Statement and will examine the details closely, including the amendments to the Armed Forces Bill which the Government propose to bring forward.
"Ark Royal" has since been decommissioned and, until today, it looked as though the Government were determined that the Prime Minister's pledge on the military covenant would suffer the same fate. The Government brought forward proposals which would reference the covenant in law but without a formal definition. The Royal British Legion said that it was "nonsense" to suggest that that would deliver the Prime Minister's pledge. The Royal British Legion, the public, the media and Members from all sides of both Houses of Parliament have been pressing for amendments to be made to the Armed Forces Bill currently in the other place to honour the pledge and enshrine the military covenant in law.
In February, amendments were tabled in the other place to the Armed Forces Bill which called for a statutory instrument to establish a "written military covenant". They were voted down by the Government. In mid-March, the Prime Minister said that the proposals in the Armed Forces Bill were the "right thing to do", at the same time as the Royal British Legion said that the proposals were "completely counter" to his original pledge.
The Armed Forces Bill has now been delayed for the major rethink which the Government announced in Parliament today, after first announcing it in the media over the weekend. We do not have to look far to find the reason for the welcome U-turn: the likelihood of defeat in the other place and the certainty of defeat in your Lordships' House. The Government are not changing their policy because they want to but because they have to. If that is to be disputed, why has the Armed Forces Bill been delayed? I had been asked for a day for Second Reading, and had agreed it, only for it to be postponed. Why have the Government been speaking and voting against implementing the clear pledge given by the Prime Minister on board "Ark Royal"?
In recent months we have seen pensions for injured soldiers and war widows cut; we have seen allowances cut; we have seen warrant officers sacked by e-mail and announcements of redundancies leaked to national newspapers; and we have seen the pay of service personnel frozen. We hope that today's Statement is the start of a fresh approach to how this Government support our Armed Forces, although I acknowledge the commitment that the Minister has shown, does show and, I know, will continue to show to our Armed Forces.
The covenant is made in recognition of the fact that a career in the Armed Forces differs from all others. It recognises that service personnel agree to sacrifice certain civil liberties and to follow orders, including to place themselves in harm's way in defence of others. In return, the nation recognises its obligations and helps, supports and rewards those in the Armed Forces. As the Minister put it in repeating the Statement:
"The Government have no higher duty than the defence of the realm, and the nation has no greater obligation than to look after those who have served it ... That obligation is encapsulated in the Armed Forces covenant".
In his foreword to the report, The Armed Forces Covenant: Today and Tomorrow, to which the Statement referred, the Secretary of State for Defence also acknowledges the steps taken by the previous Administration.
The Government will now set out in the Bill the key principles which they consider underpin both the covenant and any report on its implementation. With that objective in mind, the Government will bring forward amendments before the Bill's Third Reading in the other place. Can the Minister confirm that that means that the Government will not be accepting the amendments tabled by Mr Philip Hollobone MP in the other place, which were supported by the opposition Benches there, as well as by a number of Members on the government Benches?
Is it the Government's intention to seek to draw up the amendments they are bringing forward on a cross-party basis and in discussion with the Royal British Legion and forces' families? In the light of the strength of feeling that the Government have caused through their lack of enthusiasm until now for delivering on the Prime Minister's pledge, it is surely vital that they do their utmost to make sure that there is now agreement across the board on this vital issue so that the covenant is taken out of the cut and thrust of party politics.
The Statement referred to the introduction of a community covenant, which was one of Professor Strachan's recommendations. The amount allocated is £30 million over the next four years. Can the Minister say a bit more about the kind of joint projects at a local level that the Government have in mind?
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