Second Reading

Part of Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill – in the House of Lords at 9:13 pm on 24th March 2010.

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Photo of Lord Tyler Lord Tyler Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Constitutional Affairs 9:13 pm, 24th March 2010

I was going to come to that point but, since the noble Lord overstayed his welcome by so many minutes on that occasion, I do not intend to do so simply to respond to his intervention.

Those who have been defending the indefensible today are going to fall heavily into that dinosaur trap. That is what the Government want them to do. For decades there has been a growing consensus, inside and outside Parliament, on the need to put the Civil Service on a modern statutory basis, on the urgency of the next steps towards comprehensive Lords reform and, more recently, on the clarification of the parliamentary standards legislation. We should not let Ministers play more games with those proposals that have broad agreement. Given that there has been such strong support across the parties in the other place for so many of these remaining reforms, pontificating about constitutional outrage begins to sound very hollow.

The same applies to the AV consultative referendum. I happen to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that the question that the Government have come forward with is not the one that we should be putting to the electorate. As he says, we should be following the New Zealand formula. If we do not get acceptance in principle, though, which is what a Second Reading is all about, then the public should be asked this question-not MPs, nor even Members of your Lordships' House. Then we can move to discussing what sort of questions should be put to the people.

Let us recall, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said, that the biggest single majority in the whole of this Parliament, 178, was in the other place in favour of a referendum. It would be extraordinary if, led by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, Members on these Benches were to deny the public's right to have a view on how they elect the other place, and to do so in this House.

I come to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. After several days of being told that this House should not vote to stop the orders that we have seen in recent weeks, for us to do that on this issue would be quite extraordinary.

The public, who will be watching, would be outraged if this still unelected House-now or later, before or after the general election-stopped them from having their say on fair votes. If any Member of the House does not want a fair voting system, fine-let them vote in a referendum. I am sure we can permit them to do that. Let them persuade others that a system which gives a party 55 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons in return for 35 per cent of the votes should be kept. Let them try to argue that. Let them argue, too, that it is right that not one single Member of the current House of Commons enjoys the support of more than half of the people entitled to vote in that constituency-not one. That is surely an important issue for the public to consider, and it is right that they should be given that opportunity.

We on these Benches will consider carefully the case for getting that single vital change through. If we are given the necessary time, we will co-operate on the other elements where progress can and should be made. After interminable discussion, we could at least show the public that we are taking action to revive our democracy, and we will try to meet the crisis of confidence in Parliament. But if the whole Bill fails, the public will know that the Conservatives-unelected ones at that-stood in its way. It will also be all too obvious that this is exactly the outcome that Ministers were hoping for.