My Lords, I have been in Parliament for 39 years and I cannot remember an occasion when so many individuals have sent me personal letters or e-mails so strongly opposing a particular Bill.
In my brief contribution, I want to address and focus on the constitutional position. I do so from a background of five years as the 58th Chairman of Ways and Means in another place, handling an equally controversial Bill of four clauses, which took 25 days, including three or four nights, but at least on that occasion every Member had their voice—indeed, I ended up with a vote of no confidence—but thankfully it was carried with a large majority. That is what should have happened with this Bill. This is equally controversial and it should have been handled in another place on the Floor of the House so that all Members could contribute. Sadly, that route was denied them and they ended up with what I would term as a stark Chamber-type Committee, which I think is a tragedy.
Some of us are told that we should not vote on Second Reading in the upper House. I went through the whole of Erskine May but could find no reference there as to why we should not. Furthermore, we had it confirmed by the Constitution Committee here in 2006 that, where there is a free vote, we can, if we so wish, vote against Second Reading, and that is equally acceptable where there is no mandate for the Government.
I then looked as dispassionately as is possible for a parliamentarian at how much work had been done in preparing the Bill. There has been no Green Paper, no White Paper and no royal commission. Much has been done on a whim, sadly, and that is not a good start for any controversial piece of legislation. It is made even sadder by the fact that three days before the election one of the candidates for Prime Minister stated that he was “not planning” to introduce same-sex marriage.
I therefore look now at the implications of there being a Second Reading. How many of us are aware of the thousands of pieces of legislation that will have to be amended by both Houses or of the hours that will be taken up with some further primary legislation and a huge amount of secondary legislation? We all know—do we not?—in our hearts how much attention is given to secondary legislation in either the other place or here. There will not be any real debate on those parts of the legislation.
Is that fair and just to the people of this country? Personally, I do not think so, and I say that based on my parliamentary experience. We must not forget that this House is part of the bicameral Parliament and is normally there to act as a revising Chamber. However, ultimately, in my view, it is there as a safeguard to Parliament and democracy as a whole and it carries out that role for all the people of the UK. Safeguards are not met by quadruple locks. Locks can be undone by any fiendishly good legislator anywhere in the world, and there are numerous examples of that happening.
Therefore, tomorrow I shall vote against the Second Reading. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for the considered manner in which he put forward his amendment and for the clarity and courage that he showed in doing so. As I sat here this afternoon, I said a quiet, short prayer to myself: I prayed that someone somewhere was listening to the many words of wisdom that will be spoken over these two days.