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Coalition Policies

Volume 722: debated on Monday 8 November 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many responses they have had to their consultation on The Coalition: Our Programme for Government; and how many of those solely endorsed coalition policies.

My Lords, no fewer than 9,500 comments were received in response to the publication of The Coalition: Our Programme for Government. Departmental responses are still available to view online and I have asked for a copy to be laid in the Library. An exercise to count the number of comments which solely endorsed coalition policies could be carried out, but only at disproportionate cost.

My Lords, I suggest that it would not take too long. Is the Minister aware that 9,500 people made comments, gave suggestions and put forward ideas, yet not one government policy was changed or even tweaked as a result? The responses are not on the websites—they have been taken offline—so we will be pleased to see them in the Library. Does the noble Lord accept that this was a disappointing PR exercise? Does he think that it should be done again? If so, will he assure this House that it will be a case of the Government not just noting the responses but actually listening to what people have to say?

My Lords, I cannot agree with the noble Baroness even though she puts it most charmingly. It was a useful exercise and we learnt a lot from it. Each department has given its thoughts and ideas on what has been said; those are available on departmental websites. But they have not gone back to each response, partly because, although it was a commentable document, it was not part of a consultative exercise. We learnt a lot and I am sure that in due course we will repeat it.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there have been fundamental reappraisals of government policy, particularly in the field of criminal justice and prisons? Was there consensus endorsement of that policy? Will he thank the Secretary of State for these profound changes in policy and make sure that they are converted into legislation before long?

My Lords, it is very good of my noble friend to point that out. The whole process of creating the original document, Our Programme for Government, was done extremely quickly, with maximum co-operation between the two parties, which is one reason why I believe that it was a success.

My Lords, in his response to my noble friend the noble Lord twice said: “We have learned a lot”. What have they learned?

Would the noble Lord, Lord Richard, believe me if I said that the volume of correspondence generated far exceeded our expectations? The process of moderating these websites and sifting comments and ideas proved to be more resource-intensive than we had anticipated. However, we remain committed to canvassing the public’s views on a range of issues using on and offline channels.

My Lords, is my noble friend not concerned that, with the decline of religion in this country, consultation runs the risk of becoming the opiate of the people?

My Lords, not everybody is keen on consultation, but on the whole it is a good idea to give people as many opportunities as possible to comment on government policy, and I am rather pleased that 9,500 bothered to reply to this document when it was issued.

But if I heard the noble Lord correctly, he stated this was not a consultation. In those circumstances, is it not true that manifestos have now become a mockery and that the British people’s confidence in politics has been further undermined by having been presented with policies over which they have had no say? If this Government had been open and honest with the public when drafting their coalition policy—and if they had wanted to give a lead to the rest of Europe—should they not have put it to them in a referendum?

My Lords, when the noble Lord said that manifestos have become a mockery, he must have been talking about the Labour Party’s manifesto.

My Lords, bearing in mind the welcome initiative by the coalition, does my noble friend envisage that after future general elections each Government will publish their programme for the forthcoming Parliament?

Of course we do that already, vis-à-vis the Queen’s Speech, but we would not have needed to publish this document if there had been a clear majority by the Conservative Party. It was needed because we got together with our Liberal Democrat allies to create the coalition.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his utterly charming responses this afternoon. Does he believe—I do not—that the Salisbury/Addison convention should apply to policies which are outlined in the coalition agreement?

Broadly speaking, yes, I do, because they have the support of the majority in the House of Commons and were overwhelmingly and clearly pointed out in the respective manifestos. There are one or two exceptions where that is not the case but, as I said before, we will recognise them when we see them.

As it is not necessarily feasible to go through and analyse every single response, can the Leader of the House at least tell us how many people wrote in saying they thought it would be a good idea to spend £100 million on a referendum on the alternative vote?

My Lords, the noble Lord is of course right that it is far too short a time to look at each one but I flicked through the responses usefully over lunch and, for instance, here is one taken at random:

“We want referendums on national issues as we were promised”.

Another is:

“We want FAIR VOTES NOW!”.

Here is another one:

“I am concerned that having an elected upper house will mean that there is less accountability rather than more”.

I thought that one would go down well.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that, as the alternative vote was a manifesto pledge of the Labour Party, when we come to discuss it next Monday and following from then, that party will stand firm on its commitment to the alternative vote?