Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Lord Lisvane Excerpts
Lord Lisvane Portrait Lord Lisvane (CB)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, were it not for the thousands of human tragedies and broken lives that are part of the problem which this Bill attempts so clumsily to solve, we would be looking at surrealism verging on the point of becoming comic. A scriptwriter suggesting this scenario would be told to go away and come back with something a little more credible. But alas, we are faced with a proposal to put legal fiction into statute.

My learned predecessor John Ley, Clerk of the House of Commons in the middle of the 19th century, once said:

“To hell with precedent! The House can do what it likes”,

and 200 years ago, so it could—perhaps. However, now we have an infinitely more complex and nuanced relationship between Parliament and the courts. Still, a key element of our constitutional settlement and the protection of our freedoms is the rule of law and not what from time to time the Government of the day use a Commons majority to say what that is, whatever the courts may have said or may say.

I fear that over the next few weeks, if there are continuing disagreements between your Lordships and the House of Commons, we shall hear an awful lot of nonsense talked about the Salisbury/Addison convention—I immediately exclude from that possibility the lapidary contribution of the Convenor earlier in this debate. Other noble Lords have spoken and will speak about the legal complexities, but in the short time I have it may be worth taking a moment to look at the relationship between the two Houses.

The Salisbury/Addison Convention, as it became known, was not invented in 1945. If it had a progenitor, it was the third Marquess of Salisbury in the late 1880s. In an age of widening suffrage, he said that your Lordships’ House had an obligation to reject, and so refer back to the electorate, especially contentious Bills, usually involving a revision of the constitutional settlement. We have come a long way since then, of course, enacting the Parliament Act 1911 en route.

There is no doubt that a manifesto Bill has a special significance in the relationship between the two Houses—but this animal has become elusive. The Labour Party manifesto in 1945 was, with Attleian brevity, only eight pages long. It was a clear and specific checklist of intentions. Nowadays, manifestos may be 10 or 20 times that length, and they have taken on the character of a philosophical tract. Distilling legislative intent is not always easy.

In 2006, the Joint Committee on Conventions examined the so-called Salisbury/Addison convention. Its report is well worth reading. The committee did not support any attempt to define a manifesto Bill. It concluded that the 1945 convention, which was, of course, between parties rather than between the Houses, had evolved and it recommended naming the convention “the Government Bill Convention”. The logic of this was that, rather than struggle to find manifesto lineage in a Bill, it was better to treat the endorsement of the elected House as being sufficient democratic authority.

That is a reasonable position to take. I would not support voting against a Bill—even this Bill—on Second Reading. Rejection on Second Reading would be read by many outside this place as a suicide note. However, I counsel care and restraint in seeking to characterise the democratic authority I referred to a moment ago. Phrases such as “the will of the people” are not appropriate—as well as being, in terms, manifestly untrue.

If this Bill is given a Second Reading, I imagine that it will be significantly amended on Report. If so, I expect your Lordships’ views to be widely misrepresented—I hear echoes of “Enemies of the People”. Exchanges between the Houses are not a face-off. They are a constitutionally valuable way of identifying any common ground and of giving the Commons the opportunity to think again. We should not buy into the urban myth that there should be only, let us say, two exchanges. When the Bill for the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 was before Parliament, there were seven exchanges between the Houses—as I have some personal cause to remember. If on this Bill there are continuing disagreements, we should have confidence in the strength of our arguments.

My final point is that, when there are exchanges between the Houses, it is important to see them as disagreements not between the Lords and the Commons but between Government and Parliament. That, I think, puts them in their proper context.