My Lords, I think by now most things have been said about the Bill. Nevertheless, I will repeat some of them because I want my views to be on record. The first thing I want to say is that the Bill is an outrage to democracy. No political party had the guts to include this measure in its manifesto. It is a measure that undermines the concept of marriage that has lasted for centuries. The Bill, as we have heard, was rushed through the House of Commons, ignoring the generally accepted rule that Bills with constitutional implications should be discussed on the Floor of the House rather than in Committee. That point was previously raised by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby. Under this circumstance, this House has not only the right to return the Bill to the Commons but the duty to do so, because it does not have the wholehearted consent of the House of Commons or, indeed, of this place or the country as a whole. I want it returned to the Commons because I believe that it should reconsider its position and either delay the Bill until the next election, when it can be included in the various parties’ manifestos, or hold a referendum on the matter later this year or early next year.
Some noble Lords have said that this House does not have the right to return the Bill to the House of Commons and no right not to give it a Second Reading, but it has every right to do so—and, as I have said, it has the duty to do so, so that the whole matter can be reconsidered. The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, said that there would be bad consequences for this House if we ignored a Commons Bill in this way. I have been here for 33 years and, whenever anything like this has come up, we have heard the same threat, but we are still here—and we will probably be here for a very long time yet.
Like other noble Lords, I have been inundated with letters and e-mails about the Bill, and the overwhelming majority of them have urged me to oppose it, which indeed I shall do by supporting the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dear. We have heard claims that the public are all for this Bill; we have heard all sorts of figures bandied around. My postbag and e-mails do not show that. Indeed, I well remember being told that an overwhelming number of people in the country supported AV and that it was more democratic. However, when we had a referendum on it, only about one-quarter of them thought it was a good thing. We had the same problem over regional government; when that was put to the vote, after it had been lauded by the then Government, who presumably believed that the people were for it, in the Prime Minister’s own constituency they voted against it by 3.5 to one. Therefore, we should be very careful about the claim that is being made that a large majority of the country is in favour of this legislation.
Those who have written to me find themselves in a situation where they feel that they cannot be heard. Indeed, I have to say that when the three parties agree to anything we lose our democracy. We are, in fact, in respect of this Bill, living in a one-party state, because the electorate can do nothing about it. Bills are rushed through. The major political parties believe, cynically, that since they are all in favour of it, at the next election people opposed to it will have nowhere else to go—that all the parties are in favour of it, so people cannot vote for an alternative. Of course, they can do other things, such as abstaining or voting against all those parties and all the MPs who supported the Bill. They cannot vote against Peers, of course. I will have great pleasure tomorrow in supporting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, and I thank him for moving it.