How Parliament Works by Rogers Robert Walters R. H

How Parliament Works by Rogers Robert Walters R. H

Author:Rogers, Robert,Walters, R. H.
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781317550280
Publisher: Taylor & Francis (CAM)

The Salisbury convention

Members of the House of Lords accept that the elected government of the day must be allowed to get its business through. The nearest that this idea has come to formal expression is in the Salisbury convention – an under standing reached between the Conservative opposition in the House of Lords (led by the fifth Marquess of Salisbury) and the Labour government immediately after the Second World War in 1945. The convention is that the Lords should not reject at second reading any government legislation that has been passed by the House of Commons and that carries out a manifesto commitment – that is to say, a commitment made to the electorate in the government party’s election manifesto.

The convention had its origin in the doctrine of the mandate developed by the third Marquess of Salisbury in the nineteenth century. He argued that the will of the people and the views of the House of Commons did not necessarily coincide and that the Lords had a duty to reject – and hence refer back to the electorate at a general election – contentious bills, particularly those with constitutional implications. As did the doctrine of the mandate before it, the Salisbury convention is perhaps more a code of behaviour for the Conservative Party when in opposition in the Lords than a convention of the House. The Liberal Democrats – whose precursors, the Liberal Party, were not privy to the 1945 agreement – have not considered themselves to be bound by it. Indeed, it is a moot point whether, following the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999, the expulsion of the hereditary members and the ending of the overwhelming numerical advantage of the Conservative Party, the Salisbury convention as originally devised can have any continuing validity.

In 2006, a Joint Committee on Conventions of the UK Parliament suggested that the Salisbury convention took the following form: that a manifesto bill is accorded a second reading; it is not subject to ‘wrecking amendments’ that would change the manifesto intention; and that the bill is passed and sent to the Commons. Interestingly, the Joint Committee also observed that the evidence it had heard pointed to the emergence in recent years of the practice that the Lords usually gave a second reading to any government bill whether related to a manifesto commitment or not.

In 2010, following the inconclusive result of that year’s general election, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties’ Coalition Agreement supplanted the party manifestos laid before the electorate so, at present, the Salisbury convention as originally conceived is a very dead duck indeed. Of greater significance by far is the broad acceptance that government bills will usually be given a second reading and dealt with in reasonable time. But whatever one’s view of the Salisbury convention, or a broader understanding on government bills, the right of the Lords to amend bills has never been compromised, and this leaves the House with considerable room for manoeuvre, as we shall see.


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