HC Deb 16 February 1999 vol 325 cc745-832

Amendment proposed [15 February]: No. 2, in page 1, line 6, at the end to add the words

'except that—

  1. (a) 75 hereditary peers shall be elected as members of the House of Lords in accordance with subsection (2).
  2. (b) 14 hereditary peers shall be elected as members of the House of Lords in accordance with subsection (3).
  3. (c) the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Earl Marshal shall be members of the House of Lords.

(2) The electors for the purposes of subsection (1)(a) shall be the holders of a hereditary peerage.

(3) The electors for the purposes of subsection (I)(b) shall be the members of the House of Lords.

(4) The Secretary of State may by order make such provision about the conduct of the elections under this section as he considers appropriate.

(5) No order under this section shall be made unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing it has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.'.—[Mrs. Laing.]

4.21 pm

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord)

I remind the Committee that, with this, we are discussing the following amendments: No. 3, in page 1, line 6, at end add ', unless he or she is the first holder of a hereditary peerage.'. No. 25, in page 1, line 6, at end insert 'and any transitional arrangement enabling certain hereditary peers to continue their membership of that House shall cease to have effect on the expiry of the period of twelve months from the date of publication of the final report of the Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament announced in Command Paper No. 4183'. No. 16, in clause 4, page 1, line 14, leave out from 'force' to end of line and insert 'on a date not less than six months after the passing of this Act nominated by the Secretary of State'. No. 17, in page 1, line 16, leave out 'Session' and insert 'date'.

No. 18, in page 1, line 16, at end insert— '(2A) Prior to nominating a date for the coming into force of this Act the Secretary of State shall make inquiry and lay a report before both Houses of Parliament, setting out the names of all current hereditary peers who have played a significant role in the workings of the House of Lords during the ten years preceding the passing of this Act; and such hereditary peers shall be entitled to remain members of the House of Lords, pending the enactment of proposals for the wider reform of the House of Lords following the report of the Royal Commission and public consultation concerning its proposals.'. New clause 12—PEERAGE OF SCOTLAND— '( ) Nothing in this Act shall be taken to prevent sixteen peers from the peerage of Scotland from voting in the House of Lords.'. No. 10, in title, line 1, leave out 'End' and insert 'Restrict'.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

It would be folly to repeat the arguments made so eloquently, forcefully and passionately yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing), but I wish to reflect on some of the points that arose from her speech. She claimed no originality for amendment No. 2. Indeed, Labour Members suggested that it was in fact the Weatherill amendment.

Whatever its genesis may have been, the amendment has become the Alastair Campbell amendment, for it is quite clearly the amendment that the Government suggest, in chapter 5 of the White Paper, that they would be minded to accept. It is extraordinary that an amendment should be owned, in a sense, by a member of the Executive who has no place in either part of the legislature, but that is a measure of the pass to which we have come, and for which the Bill should be something of a remedy.

There appears to be a contradiction in the motives behind the amendment, for which, incidentally, I have no great enthusiasm. I accept my hon. Friend's point that the amendment will make a bad Bill marginally better. However, I believe that the Government intend the Bill to last for a long time, and I am keen to see the amendment carried only so that the settlement that arises from the Bill may be marginally better than it would otherwise be.

Last night, the Committee heard several Labour Members complaining that the opposite was the case, and that the arrangements that we are debating are for a transitional period. To me, the important transitional arrangement will be that made between this afternoon, when Labour Members vote against the amendment, and the day on which the same Members will vote for it when returns as a Lords amendment. They may comfort themselves with the thought that these are just transitional arrangements.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

I share my hon. Friend's concern about that transition, but he could go further. Given that the amendment is in fact the Alastair Campbell amendment, is it not interesting that the Government Whips will force Labour Members—most of them, at any rate—to vote against the amendment today but for it when it returns? That shows both the extent to which Parliament is being bypassed and to which Labour Members are simply Lobby fodder.

Mr. Swayne

That is true. Labour Members, who hope merely for a transitional stage, are trusting a great deal to the Executive. In effect, they are writing a blank cheque. I have no doubt that the arrangements that are being put in place are made to last rather than to be transitory.

The Government have said that there is urgency about proceedings on the Bill. Surely, if there were any urgency, the royal commission would have been set up 20 months ago and we would now be discussing its findings and putting in place the stage 2 reforms. The very fact that that is not the case leads me to suspect that the arrangements are built to last. Curiously, I support the amendment for that reason—so that the arrangements that are put in place, which I fear will last, are better than they would otherwise have been had the Bill been unamended.

Labour Members will finally vote for the amendment, when it comes back from the other place, for precisely the opposite motive. They will be voting for it in the hope that the arrangements will be transitory. It is curious that both sides of the House will at some stage end up voting for the provisions of the amendment for different motives.

I hope that Labour Members will be proved correct and that the arrangements will be transitory. In many ways, I have little enthusiasm for the amendment, although it bears my name among others. It would improve the situation, but the state of affairs is far from satisfactory. What is least satisfactory about it is that Back-Bench Conservative Members have tabled the amendment; it should have been the Government. In a sense, we have provided a service to the House by allowing it the benefit of line-by-line scrutiny of the amendment in Committee. Otherwise, the Bill would have ended up in much the same state as it is in now. I regard that as regrettable indeed.

Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool)

As debate on the amendment has continued, it has become increasingly clear that the Opposition are trying to flog a very dead horse and are doing so at inordinate length. That serves as a good example and a good taste of what the Government would have faced in the House of Lords had they not done precisely what they are doing, which is to create an arrangement whereby they can fulfil two objectives.

Those objectives are simple and straightforward: the first is to secure the passage of the Bill as expeditiously as we can; the second is to do so in such a way as to protect the rest of the Government's programme. The Government and, in particular, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, carry that dual responsibility. In the debate yesterday, the attacks of the right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) on my right hon. Friend, tearing into her and accusing her of astonishing and intolerable hypocrisy, smacked of enormous humbug. She is doing precisely what he would have done had he been in her position, given that he would bear exactly the same responsibility, which is to ensure the passage of this Bill as well as to protect the rest of the Government's programme. The facts of political life are that, if we are not careful, we may achieve only objective 1 at the expense of objective 2, unless we can obtain the good will of the other place.

4.30 pm

The reason why we have to go to some length to secure the good will of the other place in the passage of the legislation goes to the heart of one of the reasons why the Bill has been introduced in the first place, which is that, as we all know, the Conservative party has an in-built 3:1 majority against us in the other place. No matter what we do, no matter what we introduce and no matter how valid and well-drafted the legislation, if the Conservative party wants to, it can wheel out its battalions and stop the Labour Government carrying out their will, fulfilling their mandate and implementing their manifesto. It is to meet that potential obstruction that we have to take the measures that we are taking.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what proportion of peers in the other place take the Conservative Whip? How many, as a proportion of the other House as a whole, do so?

Mr. Mandelson

We hear constant rehearsal of that facetious and ridiculous point. If the Conservative Front Benchers are the only people in this country who do not understand and recognise that, one after another and time after time, so-called independent peers hear the arguments independently, weigh up those arguments independently, arrive at their views and their judgments independently and then vote Conservative independently, they must be the only people who are in such a state of self-delusion.

Dr. Fox

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mandelson

No—the hon. Gentleman made his point, but failed to do so satisfactorily.

It is precisely for that reason that Lord Cranborne and Lord Strathclyde decided that to give hereditary peers and their allies such an opportunity to frustrate the democratic will and the Government's mandate and manifesto would be an unacceptable use of unaccountable power by those Members of the other place. They recognised that the Government had a mandate and so, in a spirit of compromise on their part, they secured a small, temporary return as the price for our and their good will. That is a perfectly straightforward matter.

That is why I have no compunction and no hesitation about saying that I, along with the bulk of my right hon. and hon. Friends, will both vote against the amendment as it is proposed today and vote in favour of it on a future occasion, if it is offered to us to do so. That amendment in the other place will have been agreed as the price of the good will and the spirit of compromise that joins both Labour Members and those Conservatives who are democrats, who want it to be clearly demonstrated to the public that, when the Government have a mandate to implement a commitment in the manifesto on which they have been elected, they will be given the means and the power to do so.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I have not heard such unadulterated humbug for a long time. Why cannot the right hon. Gentleman secure that good will by voting for the amendment tonight? Surely those in the other place who want the amendment to be made will be happy if we do it for them.

Mr. Mandelson

Let me put it bluntly: the price of accepting the amendment will be the peers' good will and their commitment to ensuring the passage of the Bill through the other place without it being strung out, impeded, frustrated and filibustered in the way that some Conservative Members, as their behaviour demonstrates, appear determined to do in this place. We are simply not going to give them the opportunity to do that, and we deny them that opportunity in agreement with, and with the good will and commitment of, many members of the other place who take the Conservative Whip and who do not want to be seen to behave in as undemocratic a manner as some Conservative Members of this place appear determined to behave.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Will the right hon. Gentleman define, for the benefit of the Committee, consistency and blackmail?

Mr. Mandelson

If I thought it remotely relevant to my argument, I would do so. I recall the right hon. Member for South Norfolk yesterday accusing my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of bully-girl tactics. Save for the change of gender, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) would have to take exactly the same precaution as that taken by my right hon. Friend if he were faced, in the other place, with that built-in 3:1 majority against his party and its manifesto, which some Opposition Members would clearly like the Lords to deploy if they have the opportunity.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mandelson

No, I see no point in stringing out this argument any longer.

Of course we want to secure the Bill's passage and protect the rest of our legislation, which contains important measures concerning the fight against crime, the improvement of the health service, raising educational standards and industrial policies. Those myriad measures are absolutely essential for improving and transforming our society and economy. It is the duty of Labour Members to ensure that all those measures pass through both Houses of Parliament. It is precisely in order to do so that we are prepared to take the amendment at face value if it is moved and made in the other place and to agree to it in this House as the temporary and small price of securing good will for the passage of the rest of our legislation.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if we were to make the amendment today, their lordships might find other ways of trying to rescue another 91 of their Members, as well as employing all the procedural devices that he has outlined?

Mr. Mandelson

My hon. Friend touches on an important point, which makes it all the more important for us, in rejecting the amendment today, to give those in the other place, if they wish to make the amendment, the added incentive to allow us to protect the rest of our programme. I am sure that, as democrats, they will be happy to do so.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he and his colleagues are creating a significant precedent in sacrificing the democratic rights of this House to discuss a measure that is an important part of a Bill in order effectively to blackmail the other House?

Mr. Mandelson

I do not know how we are jeopardising anyone's democratic rights, given that the amendment has been moved and we have been discussing it at inordinate and ridiculous length. We shall then exercise our democratic right—at least on this side of the Committee—to vote against it. We shall then give Members of the other place the chance to exercise their democratic right to consider the amendment if they wish to table it and vote for or against it. If they vote for it, we shall then be able to exercise our further democratic right to vote for or against it when it returns to this place. That is called democracy: exercising one's right to vote. We are doing that in a way that will ensure the Bill's safe passage as well as the protection of our programme, which consists of important measures that, at the last general election, we were elected to implement.

Mr. Clappison

I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate, which was opened by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) with an excellent, powerful, well argued speech.

I listened with interest to the arguments made by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson); I appreciate the fact that he wanted to express to the Committee his views on this matter. I am slightly disappointed, however, that he did not say anything newer and more interesting than the authorised version that he presented to us. With his knowledge of such matters, it would have been interesting—I would have said this in an intervention if the right hon. Gentleman had been prepared to give way—to hear how long he considers that the transitional phase will last, and what he would like to happen at the end of it.

It was interesting to compare the speech by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool with the almost identical speech by the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan). I must say to both right hon. Gentlemen—especially the former—that I disagree with their view of the role of the Committee of this House in all these matters. Why on earth cannot we debate this amendment now? [HoN. MEMBERS: "We are."] That is only because the amendment was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest. If the Government had had their way, we would have had no opportunity to debate the matter.

Mr. Mandelson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clappison

I give way to the right hon. Gentleman, although he did not do me the courtesy of giving way.

Mr. Mandelson

What does the hon. Gentleman think we are doing if we are not debating this now? Moreover, if this debate is so fundamental to the passage of the legislation, will he please explain why it has not been initiated by Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen?

Mr. Clappison

In her opening speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest clarified the position on that. She moved the amendment, and both the right hon. Member for Hartlepool and the Liberal Democrats have tried, in effect, to bypass the Committee and say that it was very wrong of us to debate the matter now.

The President of the Council has been very coy, talking about a proposal that may be put in another place".—[Official Report, 15 February 1999; Vol. 325, c. 685.] It is hardly a state secret that something like that will happen. It is hardly hanging in the balance, with everything to play for. The Government's White Paper states that such an amendment may well be tabled in the other place. There has been speculation on the subject in all the newspapers and throughout the media. That being the case, why cannot we have a debate now, in the Committee of this House, before the matter is debated in another place? The right hon. Member for Hartlepool accuses us of filibustering when hardly a word has been said.

The Government have adopted a curious position on this subject. In yesterday's debate, we were repeatedly met by what I regard as counsels of perfection from Labour Members, with continual attacks on the hereditary principle, the number of Conservative peers and of Conservative hereditary peers. We have covered the background to this issue; we have discussed custard pie manufacturers, turkey breeders and people who did favours for Charles II.

I understand the arguments that Labour Members are making, but I believe that the problem in the amendment—for them and for the Government—lies in the way in which the Government are approaching the matter. On Second Reading, the President of the Council launched an all-out assault on the hereditary principle. She did so with some relish—I understand that she may have personal views on the matter—but it must be strange for members of the Government to understand that, after all that, we have reached a position where the Government may be minded to accept an amendment in future that will allow for a significant number of hereditary peers in the House of Lords: up to 91 of them.

On Second Reading, the President of the Council appeared to set things out as a matter of principle, when she said: if one went to the airport and was told that the pilot did not himself have a pilot's licence, but that there was no need to worry because his grandfather had a licence, one simply would not get on the plane."—[Official Report, 1 February 1999; Vol. 324, c. 611.] What the right hon. Lady and the Government are now saying is that if one goes to the airport, one will meet someone who will say, "I cannot fly the plane, but the grandfather of that chap over there is a pilot, so he can come in and fly the plane." That is the point. Let us face it, every single one of those 91 peers is—

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that, in politics, one puts forward one's preferred option but may give notice that, in future, one might accept a second-best option? Is that not what Conservative Members are doing by moving this amendment, which they themselves say that they think is second best to maintaining the status quo? Is not that exactly what the Government and the Liberal Democrats are doing by signalling that this might be an acceptable amendment in future?

Mr. Clappison

The problem that Liberal Democrats and Ministers must face is that, in all this, the Government have argued, "This is the first-best solution." The hon. Gentleman will have to answer the question, for how long will the proposed arrangement continue?

My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest did the House a service by bringing before the House the subject of the election in the House of Lords. How strange that election—an election of hereditary peers—will be!

4.45 pm

It is the only election that will occur because the other peers will be appointed. At the end of the day, we face the prospect that a substantial number of hereditary peers will remain in the House of Lords. Labour Members must face that fact. It may be, as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said, that those peers will receive the Prime Minister's blessing. However, they will not be genetically modified: they will remain hereditary peers.

In her speech on Second Reading, the President of the Council referred to the Earl of Dunmore, who travelled from Australia to take his seat in the House of Lords. The Government are saying to the Earl of Dunmore and to all other foreign residents of his ilk, "Sorry, chaps, you cannot come and sit and vote in the House of Lords any longer. But we will let you come along and choose other hereditary peers who can sit and vote in the House of Lords". I am looking forward to seeing how the procedure will work—particularly how the 62 hereditary peers resident overseas will choose other hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords. That will be very interesting.

Perhaps there will be some sort of "Blind Date in Ermine". There might be a "Lonely Peers" column in the House of Lords, which could read, "Foreign peer with villa in Tuscany seeks British peer with shooting in Scotland". That is what we could be reduced to. That is the sort of selection process that we face, and my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest has done the Committee a service by highlighting it. Who is to say how long this state of affairs will continue? It may be that the earls, viscounts, marquesses and dukes will sit in the House of Lords for a considerable time.

I read with interest the Government's account of the history of this matter this century. There have been three attempts to solve the problem of the House of Lords. In 1917—the first of three occasions when reform was debated—the Bryce committee produced far more detailed proposals that went much further than the present proposal. The Government say bluntly in their White Paper that, after the proposals were formulated: No time was found during the 1920s to put them before Parliament. Hon. Members must ask how long this proposed arrangement will last. As long as it does, I venture to suggest that we will have a tame and unsatisfactory second Chamber—it will certainly not be capable of robust scrutiny of the Government. The second Chamber will comprise a substantial number of additional Government appointees, hereditary peers and what are described as "independent" peers. We know that they will be independent because they will be appointed by the Appointments Commission—a Government body—which will tell us that they are independent peers.

We will have a tame second Chamber when we need a robust one, but I am sure that that is an entirely unintended consequence of reform. We know how much this Government—more than any other—welcome robust scrutiny of their activities. This Government look forward to challenging and vigorous debate and scrutiny, so a tame second Chamber is an entirely unforeseen consequence. I suppose that it is also wholly unintended that the Government's proposals include a formula that will provide for a vast increase in Prime Ministerial patronage. The Prime Minister has already created 105 life peers and he will also appoint the Appointments Commission. Under the reform, the formula for appointing peers will allow the Prime Minister to create enough peers to achieve parity with Conservative party peers. That means creating enough additional peers not only to overcome the small deficiency—

The Second Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) is straying into the next group of amendments. I would be grateful if he would return to the amendments currently before the Committee.

Mr. Clappison

I shall certainly follow your strictures, Mr. Lord. The Government must face the fact that they will exercise patronage by creating Labour peers to compensate for the 91 hereditary peers who will also be appointed to the second Chamber.

In conclusion, I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest has done the Committee a great service: this reform is not rooted in principle, it is not built to last, and it does not do what it purports to do. It may therefore meet every requirement of a new Labour reform, but it is not good for our constitution as it would produce a thoroughly unsatisfactory second Chamber. My hon. Friend makes a powerful case in her amendment.

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk)

A fellow Norfolk Member, the right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor), seemed puzzled that Labour Back Benchers might be happy to vote against the amendment today, but might be willing further to consider the position later.

In the many years before I came to the House, I learned not to trust the Conservative party. My goodness, I and other Back Benchers have found good reason not to trust the Conservative supporters in the House of Lords since we have been here. I shall be happy if the Bill comes back from the Lords essentially in its present form, and we bring about the abolition of the hereditary principle in the second Chamber. I am sure many other Back Benchers share that view.

If there is still mischief in the Lords, it is important that, through the Parliament Act, we can ensure that the Bill is enforced and we achieve our objective. That is why I shall be happy to vote against the amendments, and why I would be happiest if the Bill remained in its present form. For decades the hereditary principle in the House of Lords has been recognised as unsupportable, so we need waste little time discussing its abolition.

I listened with care to the speeches of right hon. and hon. Members who have been here much longer than I, especially the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who pointed out the future dangers if we vote against the amendment now, but are in principle willing to accept it.

The Committee deserves to know why we would be willing to support a Government compromise. The answer is, bluntly, not for the sake of compromise, or because that is what we want, but because we ask ourselves what the alternative is. Most of us came here to deliver the manifesto on which we were elected. Having seen the extent to which, in the first 18 months, the other place succeeded in thwarting the Government's intent and in delaying Government Bills, I wonder what would have happened in the Government's last 18 months if we had gone on in the same way. Undoubtedly, the closer to the election of 1997, the greater the Government's mandate and the stronger the authority for this place to impose its will on the other place.

I am confident that if we had not addressed the issue now and with firmness, the Conservative party, through its unelected, unrepresentative majority in the House of Lords, would have thwarted the Government's intent to deliver on their manifesto. If we had not taken a firm stance in this Session, there would have been further shenanigans, delays and filibustering in the other place.

I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that if they have to compromise in another place, we shall support them from the Back Benches because we want the Government to make progress on the more important matters—education, health, the reform of local government and so on. Those are the matters that affect my constituents and on which progress will be thwarted if we do not act firmly on an issue that figures little in my constituency mailbag, because my constituents do not have to deal with the problems that we encounter day in, day out in the House.

On behalf of my constituents, therefore, I shall vote against the amendment. I hope that the Bill will return without a similar amendment, but if that will allow us to get on with the more important business, I shall understand if my colleagues on the Front Bench are willing to compromise. Let us make sure that we get a good deal, and that those in the other place display an attitude of collaboration and co-operation in the best interests of the British people, not in the best interests of the British Conservative party.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

I should like to offer Conservative Front Benchers an opportunity to clear up one or two things. In common with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), I thought that the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) spoke with a lot of passion, but I cannot share his assumption that her speech had a certain charm and that the merits of her arguments had a certain compulsion. Those qualities certainly were not present, and sadly lacking was an explanation of why the amendment had been tabled by Conservative Back Benchers, not Front Benchers.

I should willingly give way to a Conservative Front Bencher who would explain to me, to the Committee and to the country whether those on that Front Bench will support the amendment. If they are to support it, why was Cranborne sacked? Surely this is all about trying to put together a political arrangement, using tactics, to make a measure work.

Dr. Fox

I will happily put the Committee out of its misery, faced with this particularly puerile line of questioning. Conservative Front Benchers will support the amendment, and Lord Cranborne was not sacked because of anything to do with the substance of the agreement, but for trying to negotiate away the Opposition's ability to oppose the Government in the other place.

Mr. Hancock

That is an interesting spin to put on it; as a turn of phrase on a set of circumstances, the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) would have been hard pressed to better that one. How right the right hon. Gentleman was to spell out the issues, and I share entirely many of his sentiments about the way in which this matter has been handled. Conservative Members seem to have a fixation that we have not had a chance to debate it, but that is absolute nonsense. About a dozen hon. Members have already participated in the debate on the amendment.

Conservative Members have talked about the lack of democracy and the lack of consultation, and what they would have done. The right hon. Member for Hartlepool was right to draw the comparison between what is being done now and what would have happened in the past, but he missed the subtle difference. I remember what happened in the past, when another major constitutional change—the abolition of the Greater London council and the metropolitan counties—was made. That change was not only put through the House in similar fashion to this measure, but there was a guillotine—not only in the Chamber, but in Committee, night after night. The results of consultation were not listened to.

Yesterday I heard gasps of, "Humbug, humbug, humbug", about what was going on, but Conservative Members have short memories about what they were up to in their previous existence in government. They certainly never listened too hard to the various consultation exercises that took place about the three reorganisations of local government that I have experienced in a 30-year career in local government. They never listened once to the people of Hampshire, or to the people of London, when they campaigned on the reorganisation of local government. Why on earth should they be listened to now?

It is heartening for hon. Members such as myself, who won Conservative seats, to see how many Conservative Members are going to the wire to defend the hereditary system in the House of Lords.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Does the hon. Gentleman not think that it is sad, particularly for his constituents, that he has given up his role in opposition and become part of the Government coalition? Is it not about time that he started opposing the Government, not backing them at every turn?

Mr. Hancock

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and I am grateful for the lead, because I am with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield. I hope that we reject the amendment—not only tonight, but when it comes back to the House, because I am in favour of the big bang philosophy. I want the serious constitutional imagination suggested by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) to be adopted, and, as a starting point, I want that to start and finish with a democratically elected second Chamber. I do not want compromise, I do not want fudge; I want the system to be changed, which is why I will vote against the amendment.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the only reason that we are even discussing phase 2 of the reform is that the Government have been put under pressure not to introduce a simple Bill to remove the hereditary peers and nothing else to reform the upper House?

Mr. Hancock

No, not at all; that is not the reason. The hon. Gentleman has missed the point of what has been going on for the past 18 months. We are using a political tactic to get a Bill through the House without sacrificing a whole raft of legislation, and much needed changes to legislation, which the nation needs.

Conservative Member after Conservative Member said yesterday that the measure is not a high priority for the people of this country. How right they are. However, it is a high priority of the House to establish a democratically elected second Chamber.

5 pm

The Government have had to balance the necessity to get much needed legislation through Parliament to achieve improvements in education, health, social services and in many other areas with the need to avoid it being wrecked by an unelected, undemocratic other Chamber. The Conservative Opposition could not have failed to grasp that point. To do that, the Government have had to come up with a political compromise. I do not like it, and I am sure that few people in the Committee do.

It is interesting that a succession of Conservative Members have tried to support the hereditary system. The gay cavalier from Aldershot acknowledged the fact that he was right behind them; I can imagine him leading the charge to bring back hereditary peers. Sadly, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) is not present to continue his campaign.

Some Conservative Members, however, said that they did not like the current system, but that they wanted to get a few more hereditary peers kept on the books. I was somewhat confused about the spin they put on it. They wanted us to remember those people who do good work, all of whom we have met at some time or another. We meet them in parliamentary Committees and at outside organisations, and we know of the work they do. No one is under-selling the case that much good work is done by many good people who will no longer be Members of Parliament. The same could apply to this place. Yesterday, we argued against the idea of people being allowed to speak but not to vote. Hon. Members immediately reacted against the suggestion that that should apply in this place. It was nonsense, and it exposed the nonsense of trying to do the same in the other place.

The price of change is that some people will lose out. Any democratic process will encounter that problem, and people will be disappointed by the results at the ballot box. We have waited for the Government of this country to be decided universally by the ballot box for both Chambers.

I assume that if the people whom I represent were asked, they would not place this measure high on their list of priorities, but most of them would place it on a list of things that need to be done. The Conservative Opposition are fixated on the length of time that this process of reform will last. It was suggested that it could take several Parliaments or even decades. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) asked what was meant by "decades"? If taken to its ultimate conclusion, it could mean another millennium.

I do not know what evidence there is for hon. Members to hold that view. It is a terror tactic. That has been a familiar trait of the Conservative party in local government, and Lady Thatcher exposed the nation to such tactics when she gave the worst case scenario. She could then, with a defter and softer touch, say, "What a good job we've done. We told you that it could be that bad, but we have delivered this." It is a simple tactic used by the Conservatives to stir up the fear that the proposed reformed second Chamber will remain for generations to come. I do not believe that to be case. It is not in the Government's interest to allow us to wallow in that pitiful situation.

I want us to make progress and to reject this amendment and the others. What we really want is imaginative constitutional reform delivered to the people of this country with a deftness of touch, in the shortest possible time. If we do that, we will all be thanked by not only the present generation, but future generations.

Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea)

I object to the survival of any hereditary peers, even in this transitional second Chamber. It is not personal: I am not against any of the present incumbents. It is a pure point of principle. Many Conservative Members seem to have trouble coming to terms with that. I have counted the number of hon. Members who say that they are in favour of the hereditary principle and those who say they are against it. The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) said that she was against it, but it is clear that the amendment hides a deep division among Opposition Members.

I would accept the amendment only in exchange for a clear and tangible benefit. The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) did not seem to understand why the White Paper had said that the Government might accept it in the House of Lords, but not in the House of Commons. The White Paper spells that out very clearly: moving the amendment in the House of Lords would enable the first stage of the legislation to be agreed without any threat of deliberate frustration of the programme of a government". It is not that any Labour Member wants hereditary peerages as such to continue, but the Opposition are in no position to negotiate. They have no power or strength with which to negotiate. They have nothing to offer; they are not in the poker game. They therefore look rather wistfully to their party colleagues in the other place, who are in a stronger position. The Government have a majority in the House of Commons, but no majority in the House of Lords. Between them, the Conservative peers and the Cross Benchers have 80 per cent. of the votes, while the Labour party has 3 per cent. That is a fairly crushing majority. In the circumstances, it is understandable that the Government in the House of Lords will pay a good deal of attention to what Cross Benchers propose, and to the conditions on which they make their offer.

I shall not detain the Committee for long, but I want to make a point that I have made before. I cannot question the credentials of the 75 Members of the House of Lords who may be elected by the hereditary peers, because we do not yet know who they are, and the same applies to the other 14. The only two who are mentioned specifically in the amendment are the Lord Great Chamberlain—I must confess that I do not know who he is; I should be glad to be informed, but I think that it is a post rather an hereditary title—and the Earl Marshal. His, I know, is an hereditary post. If the amendment were passed, it would be the only hereditary post left in Parliament: the other postholders would be elected by hereditary peers, or by the entire House of Lords. The Earl Marshal's post belongs, by heredity, to the family of the Dukes of Norfolk.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

How does my hon. Friend know that they are legitimate, anyway?

Mr. Linton

I shall come to that.

There are many things for which people have been rewarded with a seat in the House of Lords. I have mentioned one or two of them before. There have been the founders of political parties, the custard powder manufacturers, the family who paid off George IV's gambling debts, the family who married William IV's illegitimate daughters, the Bovril tycoon whose great-grandson still sits in the House of Lords, and—as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) mentioned—the four descendants of the love children of Charles II.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

I hope that my hon. Friend will not continue with his list for much longer. He is making the House of Lords sound much more interesting than the House of Commons.

Mr. Linton

Indeed, it covers a multitude of sins, but I have no intention of going through the entire list of peers, lest—as my hon. Friend suggests—I make the House of Lords sound like something worth retaining.

Mr. Stunell

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could tell the Committee exactly how many of those hereditary peers are women?

Mr. Linton

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I think that the figure is 18. Those 18 have been able to take their seats in the House of Lords only since the Life Peerages Act 1958, or perhaps it was the Peerage Act 1963. Only a few years ago, there was a move to allow the eldest daughter of peers to succeed to titles, which would have transformed the position and brought much greater female representation into the Lords, but it was defeated by their lordships.

Mr. Peter Bradley (The Wrekin)

Just for the record, I should like to say that my hon. Friend has vastly inflated the number of women hereditary peers. The number is not 18; it is 16.

Mr. Linton

I beg their lordships' pardon. I underestimated just how out of date and out of this century they are. However, I want to discuss the credentials of the one hereditary peer who, under the amendment, would remain in the House of Lords, as of right, by heredity: the Duke of Norfolk. As all those other people were rewarded for giving money to political parties or to kings, or for marrying their love children, it seems particularly inappropriate that one should pick out of the entire peerage the Duke of Norfolk as his ancestors were rewarded and put in the House of Lords for regicide. That is to say, the original John Howard was the constable of the tower of London in 1483 when two of his most eminent prisoners—

Mr. Grieve

The hon. Gentleman should not try to give the Committee a totally bogus history lesson. The Dukes of Norfolk were around as peers of the realm a long time before 1483. Indeed, the probable reason why they hold hereditary office is that they have been around almost as long the current monarchy itself. The hon. Gentleman should not make bogus points.

Mr. Linton

Far from it.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. I find the history lesson very interesting, but the hon. Gentleman must keep to the amendments that are before us.

Mr. Linton

Thank you, Mr. Martin. I refer to the Duke of Norfolk only because he is specifically mentioned in the amendment as someone who should he picked for an hereditary post. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) is wrong, because not only was that person Richard III's right-hand man in the literal sense—he sat at his right hand at his coronation—but, three days later, he was made the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl Marshal.

A few years ago, I happened to read a small article in a local newspaper in Horsham; the single-paragraph story caught my eye. The Duke of Norfolk, or rather the heir to the Duke of Norfolk, had met a group of sixth formers to discuss the House of Lords. The paper reported that he had told them that his family ascribed their membership of the House of Lords to the fact that their ancestor had killed the princes in the Bloody tower. It may be that the Horsham weekly paper misreported him, or that he was not aware of the fact that there was a reporter in the audience, but many historians will confirm that version of events. In most historians' view, it is more than likely that that is the origin of the Norfolk title.

No Labour Member wishes the hereditary principle to survive in that form for its own sake. We will support it only if the great majority that the Conservatives and Cross Benchers have in the House of Lords forces us into a position whereby the arrangement is the only way in which to ensure the smooth passage of the legislation.

Dr. Fox

I realise that many hon. Members are waiting to speak, so I will be as brief as possible.

I welcome the chance to discuss the amendment, and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) on introducing it in such a remarkably spirited fashion. We are being treated to the most perverse part of the entire debate. The Government claim democratic legitimacy for introducing the Bill because the measure was in their manifesto; I do not think that any democratically elected Member would dispute any Government's right to introduce a measure that was in their manifesto. But, at the same time, they say that they will accept in another place something that is the opposite of the policy in their manifesto—they will keep a number of hereditary peers in the House of Lords. Only a Government with the moral double-speak of the current one could possibly contemplate maintaining such a position without blushing, yet the Leader of the House is quite cavalier about doing so.

5.15 pm

Another nonsense is that, had my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest not tabled and moved amendment No. 2, the Government intended that the issue should be debated only in the other place. As I told the Leader of the House yesterday, the Government planned that there should be no debate on the issue in the Chamber that the Government claim has democratic legitimacy, but it would be debated and decided in the Chamber that they claim has no democratic legitimacy.

Although the Government's position is deeply perverse, a much worse fact is that the House is being treated with contempt. Today, Labour Members will be asked to vote against amendment No. 2. However, when the Bill returns to the House from the other place, Labour Members will be asked to vote for the same provision. If Members in another place are good boys and girls, they will be blessed by his holiness the Prime Minister and their wishes will be granted, at least in the short term. For the Prime Minister, there seems to be only a fine line between divine and divine right.

We have had long Parliaments and short ones, but now we have a eunuch Parliament, in which votes mean nothing in themselves. There will no intrinsic merit in the votes cast by Labour Back Benchers—who are here only for the convenience of the Executive, casting their votes as the Executive wants. If Labour Members have to do intellectual and moral somersaults to reconcile conflicts, they will be expected to do so.

Mr. Mackinlay

Not so.

Dr. Fox

It is up to all Labour Members to make up their own minds.

More than anything, the Bill's passage shows that the Government have very little understanding of the importance of Members of Parliament and of our role—on both sides of the House—of scrutinising the Executive. It is deeply dispiriting to see hon. Members allowing themselves to be patsies of the Executive.

In the debate on amendment No. 2, the facts have been further twisted. The right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson)—the twister par excellence—managed to say that the Conservative party has a 3:1 majority in the upper House. Yet the Government's own White Paper states that 476 peers have taken the Conservative Whip, out of a total of 1,165 peers. Goodness only knows how 41 per cent. of peers could constitute a 3:1 majority. Ability and attention to detail have never been the strong points of the right hon. Gentleman, or of the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton)—who just said that Labour has 3 per cent. of votes in the House of Lords, whereas the White Paper states that there are 175 Labour peers, out of a total of 1,165.

Mr. Linton

I said that the Conservatives and Cross Benchers have 80 per cent. of the votes of hereditary peers—of whose votes the Labour party has 3 per cent., and the Liberal Democrats have 4 per cent. The figures are from the White Paper; the hon. Gentleman can check them. While he is on his feet, will he explain something that has been troubling me since he spoke in the previous debate? Does he, or does he not, support the hereditary principle?

Dr. Fox

That is a very good red herring, with which I shall deal later in my speech. The hon. Gentleman cannot be so selective in his figures. In a Chamber comprising 1,165 peers, there are 175 Labour peers. I should be the first to acknowledge that that is well below the number that would accord with Labour's voting strength in any recent general election. However, the hon. Gentleman should try not to twist the figures that he gives to the Committee—as the right hon. Member for Hartlepool did.

The hon. Member for Battersea asked me about the hereditary principle, and I should like to deal with that point—although you, Mr. Martin, may rule me out of order if I do so. I have not heard any Labour Member say that he or she is against the hereditary principle itself. Labour Members do not seem to be against handing property over to their children, or against the monarchy's line of succession. They should therefore not confuse the hereditary principle with an hereditary ability to vote in the House of Lords. However, I know that I am straying far from the territory covered by the amendment. I can tell by the benign look that comes over your face before you stand up, Mr. Martin, that I had better move on and deal with another point.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping)

Simply for the sake of certainty and of clarity, may we return briefly to the figures, and to whether the Conservatives have a 3:1 majority in the other place? The hon. Gentleman has already quoted from the White Paper, which says that the Conservative party has 476 peers and that Labour has 175 peers. The Conservative party therefore has, roughly, a 3:1 majority over Labour.

Mr. Evans

What about the Liberal Democrats?

Mr. Tipping

The Liberal Democrats have 69 peers.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. We are going back to the Second Reading debate, rather than keeping to the amendment.

Dr. Fox

The right hon. Member for Hartlepool said earlier that the Conservatives had a 3:1 majority over all others. That is where the numbers were twisted.

This is an exercise in the cynicism that we expect from a Government who treat Parliament, particularly their Back Benchers, with contempt. Perhaps, one day, Labour Back Benchers will develop a little self-respect and sense of history and realise that they are here for a purpose other than serving the Labour party—they are here to serve their constituents. The amendment would make a bad Bill marginally better and we shall support it.

In a supine effort even by the doorstep standards of the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) raised one important point about Lord Cranborne. We have never argued with the substance of the amendment. It was agreed with Lord Weatherill. Lord Cranborne was sacked for defying the authority of the shadow Cabinet and for trying to trade away something that is not tradeable: the Opposition's duty—it is not just a right or an ability—to oppose the Government in both Houses. It is the duty of the Opposition to scrutinise the Government and to bring the Government to account. That cannot be traded away. There can be no deal because we are not willing to trade away our ability to oppose.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

Was not Lord Cranborne negotiating with the Government to make the Bill closer to what he and his colleagues would like? The Leader of the Opposition had proved himself not only unable but unwilling to do that, saying that the Conservatives would oppose the Bill and defy the Government's mandate without giving an inch.

Dr. Fox

That was the Mensa version of doormat. That does not invalidate what I have said. A position cannot be negotiated on behalf of a party without the party's authority. That authority has to come from the leader of the party. All the Liberal Democrat Members want to be the leader at the moment, so I understand why they make little bids now and again.

In trying to secure support for the amendment in the other place, we shall not trade away our ability to oppose the Government.

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)

I shall not take more than a second of the Committee's time. The hon. Gentleman's repeated assertion that an attempt was made to persuade his party to give up its proper duty to oppose cannot be allowed to pass without challenge. No such attempt was made. We are talking not about proper opposition or proper scrutiny of Government legislation or other proposals, but about the possibility of organised disruption and hooliganism and a straightforward abuse of the power that the Conservatives have always enjoyed in the House of Lords. We certainly want that to be traded away.

Dr. Fox

Last night, the Leader of the House told my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest that she had no right to move the amendment—an amendment that the Government will support in another place—and that she was wasting the time of the Committee. The Government seem to regard any reasonable scrutiny of their policies as time wasting. They regard the unwillingness of both Houses to roll over and die when faced with their power as filibustering.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. Perhaps he was not in the Chamber at the time. I do not criticise him for that. I accused the hon. Member for Epping Forest of wasting the time of the Committee because she repeatedly demanded that I come to the Dispatch Box to say what I had already said and what was clearly on record as the Government's attitude. I thought that that was somewhat time-wasting.

Dr. Fox

It was entirely appropriate for my hon. Friend to say that the Government's position was not clear. The Government have said that they are going to force their Back Benchers to vote one way tonight and the opposite way the next time. There cannot be a more perverse way of carrying forward business in the House. If the Government have such moral double-speak, how can they be surprised that the rest of the Committee is confused?

Mr. Mackinlay

I understand the duty of the Conservative party to oppose and frustrate. Can the hon. Gentleman envisage any circumstances in which his party would accept Government proposals seeking an agreed way forward? Outside this place, many people consider that we are playing games. It should be within the capacity of men and women here to reach an agreed settlement on one reform fairly immediately. Are there circumstances in which the hon. Gentleman would be prepared to do that?

Dr. Fox

There are, and if we had had the royal commission some time ago, we could now be considering the results and moving on to subsequent reform. It would be far better to move to a single-stage reform by consensus than to have the current piecemeal approach. The last time such reform was proposed, it was frustrated not in the other place, but by Back Benchers on both sides of this House who did not want a challenge to the power of the House of Commons by the other place.

New clause 12, on which we may seek to divide later, relates to the Scottish peers and the Act of Union. Article 22 of the 1707 Act of Union provides for the number of Scottish representatives in the Parliament of Great Britain. Article 23 provides for the peers of Scotland to have all Privileges of Parliament which the Peers of England now have and which they or any Peers of Great Britain shall have after the Union". By the Act of Union, the Scottish peers—who had previously sat in the Scottish Parliament—were not granted seats in the united Parliament, but were granted the right to elect 16 of their number as a quid pro quo for the loss of their seats in the Scottish House of Lords.

The system was abolished by the Peerage Act 1963, which granted all peers of Scotland a seat in the House of Lords. Peerages created subsequent to the Act of Union were made as peerages of Great Britain, and there were no further creations of peers of England or Scotland. The schedule to the Bill repeals section 4 of the Peerage Act 1963, which repeals the section of the Act of Union that deals with the election of Scottish peers but deems that all Scottish peers have the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords.

I would like to know from the Leader of the House what advice the Government have had on whether the proposal contravenes the Act of Union. The Leader of the House may say that the 1963 Act has already altered the Act of Union. Although the 1963 Act did, in practice, amend the provision of the Act of Union for 16 Scottish peers to sit in the House of Lords, it did not run contrary to it. It did not prevent 16 peers from sitting; it merely said that all Scottish peers could sit in the House of Lords.

The House of Lords Bill repeals the 1963 Act, and prevents 16 Scottish peers from sitting. The Leader of the House may claim that the number of life peers who are Scottish is far in excess of 16, and that therefore the spirit of the Act is not broken. However, all life peers are peers of Great Britain, not Scotland—and, therefore, the letter of the Act of Union is most certainly broken. In the absence of any stage 2 proposals, there is no guaranteed Scottish representation in the House of Lords.

All this becomes much more important when we look at the piecemeal and incoherent proposals from the Government on devolution. This is a serious issue on which I would like the Leader of the House to reply. No doubt there was considerable legal discussion about this matter in Government circles before they published the Bill. For a Bill to break the Act of Union would be a serious matter—although, given the contempt with which the Government treat Parliament, it would not be at all surprising. It would be nice to have some answers, just for once. Perhaps we could have the same answer here that will be given in the other Chamber.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

I wish to intervene briefly in the debate—not least because of the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) about the Act of Union and the need for Scottish representation in the form of unelected peers sitting in an unelected second House of Parliament. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Act of Union represented the status quo in Scotland before the 1997 general election? The only defender of that status quo in Scotland was the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party, which was truly routed in the 1997 general election.

The will of the Scottish people was that the terms of the Act of Union be renegotiated and changed through the constitutional changes introduced by the Government in this Parliament, including the reform of the House of Lords—which the people of Scotland are completely behind. There is very little sentiment in Scotland for unelected peers to represent our country in a second Chamber of this Parliament. The hon. Member for Woodspring—who has been away from Scotland for some considerable time—shows how out of touch he is with genuine opinion in Scotland by tabling an amendment that would have no support, I suspect, even among the Scottish Conservative party.

I am delighted to be able to follow my Whips' instructions tonight and vote against amendment No. 2. I have no desire whatever to save the political skins of the Lord Great Chamberlain or the Earl Marshal, or any of the other 89 hereditary peers referred to in the amendment.

If the hon. Member for Woodspring is concerned about Labour Members being only half-opposed to the hereditary principle, I can assure him that I am opposed to it wherever it rears its head. There is no place in democratic politics for people to inherit positions of power and influence rather than being elected by their peers—by which I mean their ordinary fellow citizens.

5.30 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack

Does that apply to the monarchy, in the hon. Gentleman's view?

Mr. McAllion

Absolutely. I have long been a republican and have made no secret of that fact, along with several of my hon. Friends. We would argue in any referendum or debate for the establishment of a republic, as exists in most democratic countries.

Mrs. Laing

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his honesty and consistency. His position is perfectly reasonable. He disagrees with me, but he has every right to do so. Will he vote against the amendment and any similar amendment, whenever there is an opportunity to do so?

Mr. McAllion

Yes. I was coming to that. I am happy to follow the Whips' advice tonight, but I am less happy with the clear implication, and the view of many of my hon. Friends, that, although we are voting against the amendment tonight, we will be asked to vote for a similar or identical amendment from the other place, not because we agree with it or think it right but because it is a price that we have to pay: a Danegeld that the House of Commons has to pay to the unelected House because of the threat of what it may do if we do not.

The House of Lords threatens not only to block the Bill and frustrate the will of the elected House of Commons but to wreck the elected Government's entire programme. For that deeply undemocratic behaviour, we are expected to reward 91 hereditary peers with a job for life. Their power to frustrate the elected House will continue unchecked under the new arrangements.

It is deeply dangerous for the House of Commons to give in to that blackmail and to write into our constitutional arrangements a deeply undemocratic strain that allows the other House continually to check our will and to threaten disruption if we are not prepared to give in to their demands.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument closely. How many Government Bills has the House of Lords wrecked, and on what subjects?

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. There has been some leeway on these amendments, but I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to go as wide as that.

Mr. McAllion

Let us be honest about it: the amendment was not generated here; an agreement was arrived at in the other House before it was handed over to the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing). The question before us is whether we—the elected representatives of the people—give in to the House of Lords and accede to its demands by voting for the amendment. Should we give in to the demands of people who are not elected by anyone, be they hereditary peers or those who sit in the other House by virtue of the Prime Minister's patronage?

It would be deeply wrong of us to give up our democratic credentials to a House that is not elected and should not in any sense be able to tell us what we can or cannot do. That is why I will vote against the amendment and against any similar Lords amendment.

We are told that there is nothing that we can do and that, because the Government do not have a majority in the other place, they must always bow the knee to it because of the threat of disruption, but that is not an insurmountable barrier. If the elected House and the elected Government were determined to do something about the unelected House of Lords, they could do it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has told us time and again how the problems could be overcome by the creation of sufficient peers to ensure that we could abolish the unelected nature of the House of Lords at a stroke. The problem is that the House of Commons has not yet made up its mind what to do about the House of Lords. That is the real problem, and it is why we are confronted with this difficulty tonight.

Many hon. Members, including Labour Members, fear an elected second Chamber on the ground that it could mean some diminution of the power of this House. That is why a compromise involving some form of unelected second House has been developed. However, such a compromise takes us away from the point of principle and leaves us at the mercy of the hereditary peers, who say that what is suggested as a replacement for them is no better than the hereditary principle.

I beg the Government to have the confidence of their democratic principles and credentials. As a Scottish Member, I am acutely conscious of the constitutional theory that underpins the United Kingdom—the Act of Union, to which the hon. Member for Woodspring referred. Under our constitutional arrangements, sovereignty does not rest with the people. In every other democracy in the modern world—in America, France and Germany, for example—sovereignty rests with the people, but, under our arrangements, it rests with the Queen and Parliament. That means that it rests with an unelected monarch, an unelected House of Lords, and an elected House of Commons.

That traps us in the past. It prevents us from being the proper, modern and democratic country that most others are, and all our fiddling about with what should happen with a second Chamber will make us a laughing stock unless we come to terms with that reality. It is time that this House grew up and realised that it should move into the 21st century with the rest of the world.

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)

I begin by apologising, Mr. Martin, for my absence at the beginning of today's debate, when I was due to continue the speech that I began last night. I received an injection at lunch time and its effects meant that I could not be here earlier, but I am here now.

This debate is not about the eventual abolition of the rights of hereditary peers, which no doubt will come about sooner or later. It is really about the crucial matter of the composition of the interim Chamber between the time when this Bill is passed and the second stage of the process, which is the genuine creation of a modern, reformed House of Lords.

As I was saying in the last 60 seconds of last night's debate, the big question is whether the Government and the Leader of the House—whom I am very glad to see in her place—will let us have a proper debate, in this elected House of Commons, on that supremely important issue. I welcome the fact that the right hon. Lady is answering the debate, and I hope that we shall get a constructive response.

The Government have moved a bit and are entitled to some credit for doing so. Their outward stance for the first 18 months of this Parliament matched their manifesto proposals. The Government proposed the simple, naked abolition of the rights of hereditary peers and the consequent mutilation of the existing House of Lords which, whatever its origins, in many ways works quite well. They had no constructive proposals for what would replace it. As I and others have said, that can rightly be described as an act of constitutional vandalism. Watching the Prime Minister at Question Time some months ago not merely defending but luxuriating in what he seemed to regard as an almost ritual act of destruction—with some Labour Members behind him baying in support—was pretty bewitching, but it was no credit to parliamentary democracy on the eve of the 21st century.

Behind the scenes, however—and fostered by a mixture of common sense and a recognition of the need for parliamentary tactics—more sensible discussions were going on. Yesterday, the Government seemed to describe those discussions as some sort of open consultation. That was pretty good nonsense, but Lord Cranborne and Lord Richard—the then Leader of the House of Lords—were thinking about and tussling through to something approaching a sensible compromise for the interim. The result was the Weatherill amendment, as it is now called, which the Government have openly acknowledged and in effect recommended in the White Paper.

We are not allowed to vote on that amendment because the Government are determined to keep the whip hand in the Lords. They threaten not to permit any sensible interim Chamber to be created unless they get their way and unless they get their business through in what they regard as a reasonable time scale.

I have never been a Whip, but the Government are, within reason, entitled to pass their business. However, they are not entitled to stifle debate. I am asking for a more open mind from the Prime Minister and from the Leader of the House, because I suspect that although the Weatherill amendment is significantly better than nothing at all, it is by no means the best option for an interim Chamber.

The substance of amendments Nos. 16, 17 and 18 is simple. They offer an alternative way forward for the interim Chamber. They would mean that the Bill should not come into force for six months after Royal Assent. During that time—although there is no reason why the thinking process should not begin immediately—the Government should, in the words of amendment No. 18, make inquiry and lay a report before both Houses of Parliament, setting out the names of all current hereditary peers who have played a significant role in the workings of the House of Lords during the ten years preceding the passing of this Act; and such hereditary peers shall be entitled to remain members of the House of Lords, pending the enactment of proposals for the wider reform of the House of Lords following the report of the Royal Commission and public consultation concerning its proposals.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

I do not necessarily disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument, but its underlying ethic is a little hypocritical. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was part of a Government who rammed business through Parliament, used more guillotines than any other and completely ignored the concept of parliamentary debate in many areas. He was the Solicitor—General in a Government who abused democracy and parliamentary debate. I am a great admirer of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I find it a little sickening to hear him use such abuse as an underlying argument.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

A soft answer turneth away wrath. I can only say that I heard the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) debate matters extremely effectively during the time when my Government were supposed to be abusing and stifling debate. He slightly overstates his case.

Amendment No. 18 explains in a nutshell my suggestion of the right way to proceed. The amendment can perhaps be improved on, but its substance has real merit. Labour Members should recognise that the amendment would allow the Government to achieve their key objective—the ending of the hereditary principle in the medium term. Although the number of hereditary peers involved would be rather more than the 91 proposed by the Weatherill amendment, my amendment would, like Weatherill, give the Government no grounds to fear any future defeat by what they like to describe as an influx of backwoodsmen.

I believe that my amendments improve on the proposal for 91. One great strength of the House of Lords is the sheer diversity of talent on which it is able to draw. Those talents come in significant measure from the life peers who resulted from the great Conservative constitutional reform of 1963, on which the Prime Minister has built by creating 105 new life peers.

Significant diversity also comes, however, from the ranks of the hereditary peers, and not only from among those likely to make up the 91. Many others have made, or could in future make, a real contribution to the upper House. They have helped to give it breadth and wisdom, but they have spoken comparatively infrequently, or their main work has been less public as members of House of Lords Select Committees.

It is invidious to give names, and I shall do so only to illustrate my point, as I did yesterday when we discussed the possibility of a right to speak but not vote. The group to which I refer includes peers who have played a huge role in matters to do with the environment, legal issues, trade unions and criminal justice. However, the number of their speeches during the past six years has been comparatively small.

To recap the statistics, roughly 90 peers have spoken more than 40 times in that six-year period. I take my figures from the parliamentary on-line information service—POLIS—computer in the Library of the House, to which I am indebted. About 250 hereditary peers have spoken between five and 40 times and have lent the upper House great weight in doing so. Another example that I did not give yesterday was that of Lord Ridley, who is recognised nationwide by those who understand the subject for his profound insight into local government. [Interruption.] No, Lord Ridley has a remarkable insight and if the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) knew him, he would recognise that fact. Frequently, he was a constructive critic of the Conservative Government when we were in power—[Interruption.]

5.45 pm
Mr. Edward Ganier (Harborough)

We just heard some guffawing from Labour Members. It may have resulted from confusion over the identity of the Lord Ridley whom my right hon. and learned Friend had in mind. I think that he is referring to the noble Viscount, whereas the guffaws might have been directed at the former Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. Nicholas Ridley.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

Yes, and I see that the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead accepts my hon. and learned Friend's tuition.

Another example is Lord Gowrie on the arts. Since he ceased to be a Minister, he has spoken in the Chamber six times, but to great effect. I mentioned Lord Runciman, who chaired the royal commission on criminal justice and who has spoken 12 times.

One can take a spread of distinguished peers, some hereditary and some created. It is interesting to note from the figures that some life peers who play an important role in the House of Lords, and who will be able to continue to do so, do not speak often, but when they do so it is to great effect. That is part of the richness of the wider aspect of the United Kingdom Parliament. I mentioned Lord Selbome yesterday, a hereditary peer who is widely respected as almost pre-eminent on the environment, as is Lord Alexander of Weedon—a life peer—on the City. Our old colleagues from this House, such as Lord Merlyn-Rees, Lord Whitelaw and the late Lord Tonypandy played a big part after going to the House of Lords, but only spoke about 25 times in six years. The Countess of Mar is another example, as is Lord Wedderburn, the distinguished Labour life peer.

Mr. Mandelson

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I do not know whether he was present throughout our proceedings yesterday, but virtually everything that he has said in the past few minutes was said by his colleagues then.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

I said it myself.

Mr. Mandelson

Others did as well. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman assure the Committee that he is not simply reading from some prepared sheet that is being circulated among Conservative Members?

Sir Nicholas Lyell

I can assure the House that I am reading from a prepared sheet, if the right hon. Gentleman will listen, and I wrote it myself. I am also quoting figures that I gave the Committee myself. The right hon. Gentleman is enjoying himself, waving his arm round and round—spinning, I suppose—but he was not in the Committee yesterday, or not for long anyway.

Mr. Mandelson


The First Deputy Chairman

Order. If we concern ourselves with who was in the Committee yesterday, we are straying from the amendment.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

You are right, Mr. Martin. Occasionally, I have wondered whether I might come across an old lady with a spinning wheel in some high room in this House, and now I have come across her.

We must also consider the work of the Select Committees of the House of Lords. I met Lord Merlyn-Rees this morning—he is a neighbour—and he told me that he regarded the work of those Committees as some of the most valuable work done by the upper House. Ten of the 20 members of the European Communities Committee, which is one of the largest and most influential Select Committees in the House, are hereditary peers. That Committee has six sub-Committees and the Chairmen of four of them are also hereditary peers. The Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee is unusual in having only one hereditary peer, Lord Ampthill; but hereditary peers play a significant role in the Committees on science and the arts and the in domestic Committees, which are in effect the usual channels in the other place.

The bottom line of my argument is that there are about 150—and perhaps as many as 200—hereditary peers who play a significant role in the work of the upper House and without whom it would be a poorer place. That number of hereditary peers is no threat to the Government, but their combined voices should cause the Government to check when they are wrong and would give no doubt welcome support when the Government are right. I am referring to hereditary peers of all parties and of none.

We look for constructive action from the Government. The Government have a duty to govern, which means that they have a duty to propose ideas themselves. Sitting haughtily in a corner and saying that there is a huge Conservative majority in the Lords that they are going to destroy, but that they are going to put nothing in its place to renew the upper House, is simply not good enough. The amendment offers a genuinely constructive way forward and I ask the Government to accept it.

If the Government are afraid to do that, for fear—as the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) explained—of losing the whip hand given to them by the threat of using the Parliament Acts, I ask the Government at least to recognise the strength of the argument, to discuss it with Lord Weatherill and others and to use it to build on the Weatherill proposals. In that way, they can ensure that, however short or long the interim period is, the interim Chamber retains as much as possible of that which is good in the current Chamber.

There is simply no need to destroy. Proper reform, in this area of the constitution above all, should be incremental and evolutionary and should proceed step by step. Removing the rights of hereditary peers is one step, but alone it is just not good enough. True reform must be constructive and build on the best of what exists. Amendments Nos. 16 to 18 offer a way ahead and I commend them to the Committee.

Mr. Mackinlay

I shall speak only briefly on this group of amendments. I reiterate my disappointment that the former Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Richard, was dispatched in July and that Viscount Cranborne, former Leader of the Opposition in the other place, was later dispatched by the Leader of the Opposition in this place. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition should have allowed them to explore exhaustively the possibility of agreement on an interim House, or of concluding the reforms in one Act, by consensus. I cannot help but feel that the opportunity to reform and democratise our Parliament is being jeopardised by the tactical considerations of both the Government and the Opposition.

It is not unreasonable to point out to my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench and to Opposition Front Benchers that there is still scope for them to come to some sort of agreement—one that would not jeopardise the Opposition's duty to oppose, but which, if enacted fairly swiftly, would give them opportunities to increase the parliamentary checks, balances and scrutiny that we all want. The amendment moved by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) does not achieve that.

In some weeks' time, there is to be a charade played out, in which I and my colleagues are to be persuaded to vote for the amendment. I am not happy about that. I shall remain deeply concerned that an unsatisfactory "interim" House will endure and the hereditaries stay. I implore my parliamentary colleagues to pause and consider whether there can be some sort of agreement that would be mutually beneficial, enhance the Opposition's opportunity to oppose and enable scrutiny to be provided.

In any event, the concept of the hereditary peers enduring in Parliament is unacceptable. At the general election, an overwhelming mandate was given for their being expunged from Parliament. The whole hereditary principle is alien to those of us who are socialists and to many other people who would not use that term but who, would call themselves democrats.

Yesterday, in what might have appeared a somewhat flippant intervention, I referred to the need for DNA testing—after all, who are the hereditaries? There is no prospect of DNA testing being introduced, but let us pause to think: there are people who sit as Members of Parliament by hereditary right, but is there no possibility of infidelity having occurred in their families over the past few hundred years? I do not believe that those people are all legitimate—hands up anyone who is certain that his or her lineage has not strayed outside of wedlock. Even if one accepts the hereditary principle, the position of the hereditary peers is absurd. It is legitimate for us to raise such matters.

I shall come in a moment to the point raised by the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) about the Act of Union, but first let me tell the Committee about the time I spent in another place listening to the tortuous case about who exactly was the legitimate Lord Moynihan; a case in which the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), who was then the Attorney—General, made representations. The legitimate Lord Moynihan had to fight his case over many weeks and witnesses had to be brought from the far east. Presumably, similar cases might occur in future if the amendment were accepted: perhaps, at the critical moment, the election of the representative hereditary peers could be held up by such disputes. The rules are unbelievably arcane and I invite those who are interested in such matters to look at the Moynihan case so that they can see for themselves how absurd the whole process is.

If that case does not persuade the Committee, let us recall the time of the Maastricht debates during a previous Parliament. A good peer upped and died and a Member of this place, Lord Douglas James Hamilton, thought that he might have inherited the title, but there was a vote in the Commons that evening, so Lord Douglas James Hamilton—[H0N. MEMBERS: "Lord James Douglas-Hamilton"] Yes, that one. He went down to the Victoria Tower and repudiated or renounced, whatever the term is, a peerage that he might have inherited. I use the word "might" deliberately, because the inheritance became the subject of a trial in which Lord James Douglas-Hamilton was challenged by his cousin.

I trotted down to the Victoria Tower after him and made a thorough nuisance of myself by asking to see the documents and the books. After insisting on seeing the register and the instrument by which the peerage was renunciated, I put all the questions I could to a bewildered man from the Lord Chancellor's Department. Finally, when I became exhausted, I asked him, "Are you telling me that someone can come down here and renounce a peerage that they might have inherited?" The man looked me straight in the eye and said, "Yes." I then asked, "Does that mean I could come down here tonight and renounce the peerage of Glenfiddich?" He looked at me and answered, "Yes." That is the sort of absurdity that surrounds the vital question of whether or not someone can sit as a Member of Parliament. This is all factual stuff.

Mr. Wells

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right—it is all factual stuff. However, he might like to recall the occasion on which that renunciation took place and the reason why it was so important: it was that Lord James Douglas-Hamilton represented the Government's majority in the House of Commons at the time.

6 pm

Mr. Mackinlay

That is an historical fact, but my argument is that we should tolerate no longer than is absolutely necessary even one hereditary peer in Parliament, because the whole thing is absurd. The pantomime that I described underlines that point.

The hon. Member for Woodspring, who is not present, raised, in a rather spurious point, the Act of Union. I refer to that because Conservative peers created a precedent on this issue—I went to the Lords to watch the case—when they sat in judgment on a peer of Ireland who wanted them to restore his right to sit in the Lords.

The First Deputy Chairman


Mr. Mackinlay

You allowed the hon. Member for Woodspring to raise this issue, Mr. Martin. He was referring to what would happen to Scottish peerages if the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Epping Forest were accepted. I simply want to draw attention to the fact that under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, the Irish peers withered on the vine and the last one to hold his seat was the grandfather of Richard Needham, who died in the 1950s. That Act accepted the fact that Parliament could abrogate the right of the peers of Ireland to sit here. After all, rightly or wrongly, a quarter of Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

That is relevant to our discussion because peers of Ireland who were sitting in the House in 1921, when the Irish free state was set up and Ireland became an independent country, were allowed to continue to sit here for the rest of their lives. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that that is a good example of the way that reform can be carried out in a transitional way that enables the country to continue to benefit from the wisdom of peers while changing its system? That demonstrates the evolutionary nature of reform, which is preferable to a destructive approach.

Mr. Mackinlay

I do not think that anybody should sit in Parliament by reason of birth, because that is an absolute absurdity. I understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point, but I reject it. I was drawing attention to the narrow point that there is no impediment to our doing away with the hereditary peerages. That would not in any way jeopardise the Act of Union with Scotland. Just as, in 1920, with the Government of Ireland Act, this place can decide to abrogate the right of Scottish peers to sit in the British Parliament. The end of the Irish peerage did not take immediate effect because those peers withered on the vine. During the previous Parliament, a case was retried by the House of Lords, which had a Conservative majority, who said that Irish peers had no right to sit in Parliament. That is the only point that I want to make.

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire)

I support the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing). They are not the best solution, which would be to keep what we have at the moment. The next best solution would be to abolish the House of Lords altogether.

I say that because we have in our country a system of government called the integration of powers. That means that the Executive are selected from the legislature. The chain of accountability goes from the Executive, through the House of Commons, to the people. The people are sovereign because the House of Commons is sovereign, and that sovereignty is maintained by the existing system. With, or perhaps because of, all the system's impurities in the House of Lords, to which the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) referred in a colourful way when he mentioned Lord Moynihan, who is present in the Gallery—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman should know better than to make such a reference to anyone outside the Committee.

Sir Michael Spicer

I apologise, Mr. Martin.

The essence of the present situation is that there is no real rivalry between the two Houses. That position would be maintained by the amendments or by the abolition of the House of Lords. In the past, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has persuasively argued exactly that by saying that to maintain the sovereignty of the Commons, we should not change the Lords except to abolish it.

If we decide to change the present system, almost any alternative that is likely to be proposed will create a new rivalry between the Commons and the Lords. That will certainly occur under an appointments system, to which we shall refer in later amendments, whether or not people are directly appointed by the Government. The Executive would clearly be in charge of the House of Lords even if Members of that House were directly elected, because the Executive would have the capacity to divide and rule the two Houses of Parliament.

That possibility was recognised in New Zealand, which is a good example because it had a constitution identical to ours. New Zealanders recognised that if they set up a system of rival Houses from which the Executive would be chosen and to which they would report, that would give the Executive enormous new powers to divide and rule.

If keeping the present system, in which there is no question about the sovereignty of the House of Commons, is not on the menu, we should change to a system that is similar to it. Of course the proposals are a dog's breakfast, a mess of pottage and all the other descriptions that they were given in yesterday's debates, but that is exactly my point. The sovereignty of the Commons and, through that, its ability to hold the Executive to account, will be maintained, and that is why I support the amendments.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

As Churchill said, the people are sovereign, and many of us take the view that the House of Commons is not in itself sovereign but is the ultimate expression of the sovereignty that lies with the people.

Sir Michael Spicer

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, and that is exactly my view of the House of Commons. That is why I believe that no House of Commons can bind a future House. The single currency perverts that principle because its effect is permanent and binds every future House of Commons. The sovereignty of the House is what matters.

Mr. McAllion

The hon. Gentleman has referred several times to the sovereignty of the House of Commons. If the Commons is genuinely sovereign, why do we have to accept the compromise being forced on us by the House of Lords?

Sir Michael Spicer

That is for the hon. Gentleman to discuss with his Front-Bench colleagues. The House of Commons can do what it likes, as he well knows, especially in this particular House of Commons. I do not believe that the House has too much power, however. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said, the House is the representation of the people's sovereignty and that must be maintained.

Mr. Garnier

The complaint of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) relates not to the power of the House of Lords, but to the power of the Executive over this House.

Sir Michael Spicer

But my point is that, at the end of the day, the House of Commons is elected by the people and from it the Executive are chosen. I conclude by saying that I support the amendments for the reasons that I have given.

Mr. Grieve

I shall try to be brief. The debate has certainly been interesting, but I found the comments of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) a little rich. It is only because we have been badgering the Government consistently for a long time that we have a feasible opportunity to discuss these issues, instead of the Government having an easy path to getting rid of hereditary peers and doing nothing else. I welcome this debate because at least we are beginning to have constructive discussion about options for the future of a truly representative and democratic upper House. In that regard, Conservative Members are probably far more radical than the majority of Labour Members.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), in speaking to amendments Nos. 16 to 18, made a compelling case, and I do not want go back over that ground. I was happy to put my name to several amendments because a mechanism by which the talent that exists among hereditary peers can be maintained in the interim Chamber is worth while.

My chief concern has always been, in relation to amendment No. 2, the possibility of representative peers, elected by their number, joining the interim Chamber. I am afraid that I take a slightly legalistic view on the issue. There are compelling grounds for believing that the amendment, if passed, will also help the upper House in its deliberations; but, quite apart from that, I am at a loss to understand the process by which we are embarking on reform.

If it were to be suggested that this House might wish to dispense with 300 parliamentary seats, it would be within our power to do so, and I would expect us to vote on it, and I would expect that, at the subsequent general election, there would be 300 seats fewer and that, thereafter, those seats would be redistributed. However, I would not expect us to expel 300 Members from the Chamber halfway through the currency of a Parliament. Yet what we are proposing to do in relation to the upper House, in relation to the hereditary peers, who do have rights—even if sometimes, listening to Labour Members, one wonders whether they have cottoned on to that—is to get rid of their right to represent themselves halfway through the currency of a Parliament—[Interruption.] Yes, without any right of representation thereafter.

Mr. McAllion

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Grieve

Not at the moment.

One thing that has especially puzzled me about the Government's ready acceptance of the Weatherill amendment is the fact that it occurred to me that they were aware of that issue, and realised that it would be a neat way of solving the problem. Before Labour Members say that it is a non-issue, I must tell them that I differ.

We spent a considerable part of last year discussing the incorporation of the European convention on human rights into our law, a move that I supported. I remember the Home Secretary saying that the European convention was not going to be the be-all and end-all—it was simply the foundation on which subsequent, better rights were to be based. How on earth do we square the principle whereby we have consistently denied peers the right to vote in elections and—rightly—will continue to deny life peers that right because they will still be able to represent themselves, with a system whereby, arbitrarily, halfway through a Parliament, we say to a whole group of people, who have also been deprived of the right to vote, "Out you go on your ear; you will have no representation for the rest of this Parliament"?

The beauty of the Weatherill amendment, and the reason why the Government should have tabled it instead of waiting for it to be brought from the upper House, is that it solves that problem in a way that I consider to be acceptable. However, I should be interested to hear from the Leader of the House the Government's view on that point.

Interestingly, my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) said that one of the problems with the present Government was that we could never understand what they were trying to do—they would not tell us. However, I must tell her that one of the problems is that the Government have reached such a pinnacle of arrogance that they seem to imagine, in their inclusiveness, that they know what each one of us thinks.

On Second Reading, I wished to ask the Leader of the House about that very point when she developed her arguments. I asked: Will the right hon. Lady give way? She replied: No, I am awfully sorry. I must get on. I feel confident that I could answer the hon. Gentleman's point. I said: The right hon. Lady does not know what it is yet. The Leader of the House replied: I do."—[Official Report, 1 February 1999: Vol. 324, c. 615.] The Leader of the House has many attributes, but that of being a clairvoyant and a witch was not one that I had thought that she would claim as part of her own. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Shame."] If that is the quality of the way in which debate is going to be addressed in the Committee, I hope very much that I have now enlightened her so that her clairvoyance may have proved to have been justified, and I hope at long last to have a reply to my question.

6.15 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

We are discussing a transitional Parliament. There are 200 to 300 active hereditary peers, and we are considering their right to sit, speak and vote in another place. Amendment No. 2 proposes that some 91 of their number should be retained. My preference under a stage 2 replaced House of Lords would be for an elected House of Lords. Under that system, some—at least 91, probably 100 to 150—of those 200 to 300 would be elected in any case. We are therefore talking about a transition.

The Government have made it quite clear that they will accept an amendment in another place but not an amendment in this Committee. Indeed, the House of Lords—I am sorry, the Leader of the House; I elevate her already, but I am sure that she would like to be elevated—made it quite clear that if such a proposal is made in the Lords and the Government's legislative programme is not being frustrated, we are minded to accept it."—[Official Report, 1 February 1999; Vol. 324, c. 609.] There we have it. The pressure—I was going to say, "the blackmail", but that would have been unparliamentary —to be brought on the other place is that, if its Members behave, they will be allowed to move that amendment. There we have it—the power of the Executive. That is what this is all about—patronage.

Patronage is being exerted in another way—a second, and even more insidious way—because, as I understand it, if this amendment is accepted in another place, it is also accepted that the Government will create sufficient life peers of their own political colour to make up the political balance.

I cannot understand what the fuss is all about. If amendment No. 2 were passed tonight, we would allow 91 of the most active, most eminent, most knowledgeable hereditary peers to remain and take part in the great democracy of this country—and yet the Government will not accept that. I cannot understand the gerrymandering that is taking place, purely so that they can use the Parliament Acts if their Lordships in another place do not behave. It is lack of principle; it is gerrymandering of our democracy. Future generations will judge it as such.

Mrs. Beckett

I congratulate the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) on winding up the debate in the spirit in which much of it has been conducted.

There is a group of amendments before us. What all but amendment No. 25, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), have in common is the desire to "save" some group of hereditary peers in the transitional House and to write that into the basic Bill as it leaves the Committee of this House. All but amendment No. 25, and new clause 12, which raises a different point, in one way or another seek to water down the Bill—as amendment No. 10 says, to restrict rather than to end the rights of hereditary peers.

The principle of the Bill, as it is put before the Committee by the Government, is that hereditary peers should cease to sit and vote by right of inheritance. The Government are not prepared to risk the existence and passage of that basic Bill. We made that point plain—I believe perfectly courteously and quite straightforwardly—on Second Reading. Yesterday, the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) moved amendment No. 2 in order to air issues that we all know may well be raised in the House of Lords, although it is not clear how the Conservative party will then vote, or whether such an amendment will be carried. Nevertheless, we have had a debate on the possibility that such an amendment will be tabled, and may be carried and return to the House.

I am sorry to say that we have had a rather strange debate in some ways—one in which, from the outset, some rather intemperate, not to say extravagant, arguments and language have been used. The Government have been accused of stopping debate on this issue. In fact, we were accused of preventing debate today, even after some hours of debate had occurred. We have done nothing to stop or to impede the debate. What we refused to do, and what we continue to refuse to do, is, as a Government, to put forward a proposal along the lines of that in amendment No. 2, because it is not our proposal.

It is a little unusual, as you will remember, Mr. Martin, and as several hon. Members observed yesterday and today, for a Government to be attacked for arrogance, obstruction of debate and undermining democracy for daring to signal that they might be prepared to compromise. Yesterday, Opposition Members repeatedly asserted that debate on this proposal would in some way be restricted by taking place—as it may well—if the Bill returns so amended from the House of Lords. That is nonsense, as they well know. There is nothing in the Bill, or in any intention stated or signalled by the Government, to curtail debate on this matter. The Government have no quarrel with the Opposition raising the issue—it is perfectly reasonable that they should.

It is perfectly reasonable that Conservative Members should have a bit of a knockabout at the Government's expense at the possibility that we may vote against the amendment tonight but, in a few weeks or months, we may accept a similar amendment. We have no quarrel with their right to do so. However, I suggest, in all sincerity, that wilder assertions about honour, integrity and blatant abuse of power are a very strong currency that we should be wary of devaluing by using to bolster an otherwise rather weak argument.

Laying side the tenor of the arguments deployed in this debate, the proposal to modify the Government's Bill will come—if it comes at all—from Cross-Bench peers. It is not a party proposal: it is not a Labour proposal and, presumably, it does not come from the Conservative Front Bench—if it did, a Conservative Front Bencher would have moved it. The Government are prepared to look favourably upon such an amendment if it seems likely to smooth the passage to stage 1 of reform, and hence allow us to move more quickly to stage 2.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset)

I am terribly grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. Will she answer the question that we have asked repeatedly: is it not odd for the Government to take the view that something is beneficial for the constitution if their lordships cause no trouble but, if their lordships cause trouble, that very same thing is not beneficial for the constitution?

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that that is not the point. The Government would prefer the Bill that is before the Committee to pass on to the statute book. However, if it will assist the passage of this and other beneficial legislation regarding issues that, as the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) pointed out, are of much greater interest to the people of this country to accept something in the nature of a compromise, the Government are by no means unwilling to do that—despite all that has been said about our arrogance and insensitivity. I do not know why the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) finds that so difficult to grasp.

I understand and sympathise with the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase. He is anxious that the fact that there is no time limit on the transitional House could allow 90 or so hereditary peers—if such an amendment is accepted—to remain indefinitely. I understand his concern, but I ask him not to press amendment No. 25. It is not needed because, despite what has been said in the debate, the Government have no intention of stopping indefinitely at the transitional House.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

What is the right hon. Lady's reaction to the comments by Lord Weatherill, which were reported in The House Magazine? He said: It's within the bounds of possibility that the Royal Commission may say this"— the Weatherill amendment— has been working well—let's leave well alone. That would preserve continuity … Surely a consummation devoutly to be wished. Would the right hon. Lady be content to see stage 1 continue indefinitely? What assurances can she give the Committee that it will definitely end?

Mrs. Beckett

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is not asking two entirely contradictory questions. I shall deal with the first issue that he raised. He asked about an article—which I do not believe that I have seen—that appeared in Lord Weatherill's name. Lord Weatherill, like everyone else, will put his views to the royal commission, and the royal commission will make its deliberations and give its advice. We are some sufficient distance from that outcome not to need to reach a conclusion at this point as to what a response to such advice might be.

Mr. Clappison

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way, but she has rather glided away from my hon. Friend's question. What is her opinion?

Mrs. Beckett

We have made it quite plain that the Government wish to see the Bill that is now before the Committee on the statute book. In order to smooth the transition and to move more speedily to stage 2, we are prepared to consider favourably something such as the Weatherill proposal. However, it remains the Government's view that there should be no continuation of the right to sit and vote in another place on the grounds of heredity.

That brings me to amendment No. 3, which would allow a small number of existing hereditary peers to remain as Members of the upper House. If the wish is to preserve those peers of first creation who are there on the grounds of their own achievements rather than those of their forebears, the Government have some sympathy with it—after all, that is why the life peers will remain. However, that is unnecessary because the Government have made it plain that we have already made such an offer to those hereditary peers. However, if the amendment is designed to preserve them as Members of the upper House by hereditary right, it is not acceptable to the Government. The whole point of the Bill is that it severs once and for all the link between hereditary peers and membership of the House of Lords.

Several hon. Members—particularly the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell)—addressed their remarks to amendment No. 18. We do not dispute that some individuals who sit as hereditary peers have made valuable contributions to the work of the House of Lords. However, I reject—as I suspect many of them would—the apparent assertion last night by the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) that their contributions are innately more valuable than those of life peers. I think that most hereditary peers would agree with me that the majority of the work of the House of Lords is carried out by the life peers—and that is not a criticism of hereditary peers.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

The right hon. Lady is perfectly aware that that is not what I said. I said last night, and I reiterate now, that the contribution of hereditary peers is at least as valuable as that of life peers and I objected to the manner in which the Government were seeking to gag them.

Mrs. Beckett

If the hon. Gentleman did not intend to so impugn life peers, I am glad to have given him the opportunity to set the record straight. They will welcome that news.

However valuable the contributions of individual hereditary peers may be, the fact is that that is not why they are Members of the upper House. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire sought to introduce various mechanisms and—perhaps incidentally—further delay in order to preserve a larger number of hereditary peers on the grounds of individual achievement. His amendment refers to those who have played a "significant role" but does not propose who should be the judge of that significance.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman overlooks the fact that there is nothing to prevent any political party or the appointments commission from nominating as a life peer any hereditary peer who is thought to have made such a contribution. However, we do not believe that that is for Ministers to regulate; neither is it a matter for this Bill. I repeat that the removal of the hereditary right to sit and vote should come into effect at the end of this Session. We believe that that is sensible and that is why we ask the Committee to reject amendments Nos. 16 and 17, which seek delay either for an arbitrary period or in order to introduce a specific date. That risks a disruptive rather than a straightforward transfer to the transitional House.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

Very briefly.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

The key point that the right hon. Lady is almost addressing—I would be grateful if she would do so now—is that the Government are obviously thinking constructively about the 91 hereditary peers, provided that the amendment comes from the House of Lords and provided that the Government are not prevented from using the Parliament Acts. Will the Government think constructively about having a rather larger number than 91 on the same terms because there is a strong case for that?

Mrs. Beckett

I am sorry, but I doubt very much whether the Government will be prepared either to accept a further and arbitrary delay—as some of the amendments grouped with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's amendment suggest—or to exempt a list of named peers from the abolition of hereditary rights.

Mr. Gale

On a point of order, Mr. Martin. Before the right hon. Lady gave way to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), she said that she had very little time. Mr. Martin, will you confirm that this is the Committee stage of the Bill, that it is not time limited and that the right hon. Lady has all the time in the world to answer all the points that were made during the debate?

The First Deputy Chairman

The hon. Gentleman is correct: it is the Committee stage.

Mrs. Beckett

For the record, Mr. Martin, being mindful of the fact that the Committee had spent many hours considering this group of amendments, I thought that hon. Members might wish to move on to the other very interesting amendments tabled by Conservative Members.

Before I leave my last point, I reiterate that, regardless of whether some extra peers are added later by way of an amendment in the House of Lords, it should be absolutely clear that they will sit as life peers. They will sit as individuals on the basis of a contribution that they are judged by their peers to have made. Their heirs will not inherit their seats, and the link between the right to sit in the House of Lords and the hereditary peerage will be broken.

The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox)—who, I am glad to see, has been able to return to us from what I know is genuinely pressing business—asked me about new clause 12. He is entirely correct: we have had a good deal of legal advice about the matter. That advice is that the steps do not in any way contravene the Act of Union. The spirit of the Act was that there should be equal treatment between peers of Scotland and others, and that is the effect of the Bill.

I know that some have claimed that the provisions in the Act cannot be amended, but the Act has already been amended because, as the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, it provided only for 16 of the peers of Scotland to sit, and in 1963 that was amended to allow them all to sit. That is the measure that is being repealed. The provision of the Act of Union that allows for equal treatment is being observed.

6.30 pm

The hon. Member for Epping Forest made a number of accusations, among which was the accusation that, in not bringing what is not our proposal—or, indeed, that of the Conservative party—before this Committee for debate at this point, the Government were in some way acting to party advantage. I say—I hope she will think not unkindly—to the hon. Lady that that was a Freudian slip. If there is party advantage in the matters that we are debating today, it rests, and it has always rested, overwhelmingly with the Conservative party. It is hard to avoid the conclusion, listening to the debate as I have over recent hours, that Conservatives are seeking by hook or by crook to defend that advantage.

The Bill may yet, particularly in the light of that attitude and that fight, need to be subject to the Parliament Acts. If it be so, and the Government hope that it will not be so, the Bill as presented should be the Bill that leaves this House.

Mr. Evans

Is that a threat?

Mrs. Beckett

That intervention trivialises this place. It was not a threat. The hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends have, rather foolishly in my view, accused the Government of blackmail in what we are doing. We are putting before the Committee the proposals that we want to see pass into law. That is not blackmail. That is carrying out the principle, the purpose and the proposals in our manifesto.

If Opposition Members want to speak of blackmail, what would they call suggestions and indeed threats to use the powers of the House of Lords—what were the words?—and hooligan behaviour to disrupt utterly the Government's programme, opposing everything that the Government seek to do on health, education and crime at every step of the way? [Interruption.] I am sorry. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) and hon. Members on his Front Bench did not say that, but it was said in the House of Lords by Members of the House of Lords who, as he well knows, have the power to make good that threat.

The Government are not blackmailing anyone. We are making sure that we have the opportunity to put into effect in our legislation the proposals in our manifesto. It is simple and straightforward.

Mr. Hawkins


Mrs. Beckett

I am sorry. We have had many hours on the matter and all the points have been aired.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 125, Noes 326.

Division No. 68] [6.33 pm
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Johnson Smith,
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Key, Robert
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Beresford, Sir Paul Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Blunt, Crispin Lansley, Andrew
Boswell, Tim Letwin, Oliver
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Lewis,Dr Julian(New Forest E)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Lidington, David
Brady, Graham Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Brazier, Julian Loughton, Tim
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Luff, Peter
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Burns, Simon MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Butterfill, John McLoughlin, Patrick
Cash, William Madel, Sir David
Chapman, Sir Sydney Malins, Humfrey
(Chipping Barnet) Maples, John
Chope, Christopher Mawhinney Rt Hon sir Brian
Clappison, James May, Mrs Theresa
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Moss, Malcolm
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Nicholls, Patrick
Collins, Tim Norman, Archie
Colvin, Michael Ottaway, Richard
Cormack, Sir Patrick Page, Richard
Cran, James Paice, James
Curry, Rt Hon David Paterson, Owen
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Pickles, Eric
Day, Stephen Prior, David
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Randall, John
Duncan, Alan Robathan, Andrew
Duncan Smith, Iain Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Evans, Nigel Sayeed, Jonathan
Faber, David Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Fabricant, Michael Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Fallon, Michael Soames, Nicholas
Flight, Howard Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Spicer, Sir Michael
Fox, Dr Liam Spring, Richard
Fraser, Christopher Streeter, Gary
Gale, Roger Syms, Robert
Garnier, Edward Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Gibb, Nick Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Gill, Christopher Taylor, Sir Teddy
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Townend, John
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair Trend, Michael
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Tyrie, Andrew
Gray, James Walter, Robert
Green, Damian Wardle, Charles
Greenway, John Waterson, Nigel
Grieve, Dominic Whitney, Sir Raymond
Gummer, Rt Hon John Whittingdale, John
Hague, Rt Hon William Wilkinson, John
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Willetts, David
Hammond, Philip Wilshire, David
Hawkins, Nick Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Hayes, John Woodward, Shaun
Heald, Oliver Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Horam, John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hunter, Andrew
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Tellers for the Ayes:
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Mrs. Eleanor Laing and Mr. Desmond Swayne.
Jenkin, Bernard
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Ainger, Nick Davidson, Ian
Allan, Richard Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Allen, Graham Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Ashton, Joe Dawson, Hilton
Austin, John Dean, Mrs Janet
Baker, Norman Dismore, Andrew
Ballard, Jackie Dobbin, Jim
Barnes, Harry Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Barron, Kevin Donohoe, Brian H
Bayley, Hugh Doran, Frank
Beard, Nigel Dowd, Jim
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Drew, David
Begg, Miss Anne Drown, Ms Julia
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Bennett, Andrew F Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Benton, Joe Eagle, Maria (L 'pool Garston)
Berry, Roger Edwards, Huw
Best, Harold Efford, Clive
Blears, Ms Hazel Ellman, Mrs Louise
Blizzard, Bob Ennis, Jeff
Borrow, David Etherington, Bill
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Fatchett, Rt Hon Derek
Bradshaw, Ben Fisher, Mark
Brake, Torn Fitzsimons, Lorna
Breed, Colin Flynn, Paul
Brinton, Mrs Helen Follett, Barbara
Buck, Ms Karen Foster, Don (Bath)
Burden, Richard Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Burgon, Colin Fyfe, Maria
Burnett, John Gapes, Mike
Burstow, Paul George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Butler, Mrs Christine Gerrard, Neil
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Gibson, Dr Ian
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Campbell-Savours, Dale Godman, Dr Norman A
Cann, Jamie Godsiff, Roger
Caplin, Ivor Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Casale, Roger Gorrie, Donald
Caton, Martin Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Chaytor, David Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Chisholm, Malcolm Grocott, Bruce
Clapham, Michael Grogan, John
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Gunnell, John
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hancock, Mike
Clwyd, Ann Hanson, David
Coaker, Vernon Harvey, Nick
Coleman, Iain Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Connarty, Michael Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hepburn, Stephen
Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston) Heppell, John
Cooper, Yvette Hesford, Stephen
Corbett, Robin Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Cotter, Brian Hill, Keith
Cousins, Jim Hodge, Ms Margaret
Cox, Tom Hoey, Kate
Cranston, Ross Home Robertson, John
Crausby, David Hood, Jimmy
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hoon, Geoffrey
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hope, Phil
Cummings, John Hopkins, Kelvin
Cunliffe, Lawrence Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
(Copeland) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hughes, Simon (Southwaik N)
Dalyell, Tarn Humble, Mrs Joan
Darvill, Keith Hurst, Alan
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian Olner, Bill
Illsley, Eric Öpik, Lembit
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Osborne, Ms Sandra
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Palmer, Dr Nick
Jamieson, David Pearson, Ian
Jenkins, Brian Pendry, Tom
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Pickthall, Colin
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Pike, Peter L
Jones, Ms Jenny Plaskitt, James
(Wolverh'ton SW) Pollard, Kerry
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Pope, Greg
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Powell, Sir Raymond
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Keeble, Ms Sally Prescott, Rt Hon John
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Prosser, Gwyn
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Purchase, Ken
Keetch, Paul Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Kelly, Ms Ruth Quinn, Lawrie
Kidney, David Radice, Giles
Kilfoyle, Peter Rapson, Syd
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Raynsford, Nick
Kumar, Dr Ashok Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Lawrence, Ms Jackie Rendel, David
Laxton, Bob Roche, Mrs Barbara
Leslie, Christopher Rogers, Allan
Levitt, Tom Rooker, Jeff
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Rooney, Terry
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Linton, Martin Rowlands, Ted
Livingstone, Ken Ruane, Chris
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Ruddock, Joan
Llwyd, Elfyn Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Lock, David Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Love, Andrew Ryan, Ms Joan
McAllion, John Salter, Martin
McAvoy, Thomas Sanders, Adrian
McCafferty, Ms Chris Savidge, Malcolm
Macdonald, Calum Sawford, Phil
McDonnell, John Sedgemore, Brian
McGuire, Mrs Anne Shaw, Jonathan
McIsaac, Shona Sheerman, Barry
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Mackinlay, Andrew Shipley, Ms Debra
McLeish, Henry Skinner, Dennis
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
McNulty, Tony Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Mactaggart, Fiona Smith, Miss Geraldine
McWalter, Tony (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Mallaber, Judy Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Smith, Sir Robert (WAb'd'ns)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Snape, Peter
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Soley, Clive
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Southworth, Ms Helen
Martlew, Eric Squire, Ms Rachel
Maxton, John Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Meale, Alan Steinberg, Gerry
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Stevenson, George
Miller, Andrew Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Mitchell, Austin Stinchcombe, Paul
Moffatt, Laura Stott, Roger
Moonie, Dr Lewis Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Moore, Michael Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Stringer, Graham
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Stunell, Andrew
Morley, Elliot Swinney, John
Mudie, George Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Mullin, Chris (Dewsbury)
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Naysmith, Dr Doug Taylor, David (NW Leics)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Temple-Morris, Peter
O'Hara,Eddie Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W) Watts, David
Timms, Stephen White, Brian
Tipping, Paddy Whitehead, Dr Alan
Tonge, Dr Jenny Willis, Phil
Touhig, Don Wills, Michael
Trickett, Jon Winnick, David
Truswell, Paul Wise, Audrey
Turner, Dennis (Wolverht'ton SE) Wood, Mike
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown) Worthington, Tony
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Tyler, Paul Wyatt, Derek
Vaz, Keith
Vis, Dr Rudi Tellers for the Noes:
Wallace, James Mr. Robert Ainsworth and Mr. Clive Betts.
Wareing, Robert N

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)

I beg to move amendment No. 13, in page 1, line 6, at end add 'or shall in future be appointed a member of the House of Lords by the exercise of patronage'.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 15, in page 1, line 6, at end add 'or shall in future be appointed a member of the House of Lords by the exercise of patronage, by virtue of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876, by virtue of the Life Peerages Act 1958 or by virtue of being a bishop or archbishop of the Church of England'. No. 14, in page 1, line 6, at end add— '(2) In this Act "the exercise of patronage" means on the recommendation of a Minister of the Crown.'. New clause 3—Appointments Commission (No. 1)

  1. '(1) There shall be an Appointments Commission.
  2. (2) The Appointments Commission may nominate members to serve as members of the House of Lords, provided that no such person represents a registered political party.
  3. (3) A registered political party shall be entitled to nominate one member of the Appointments Commission.
  4. (4) The Speaker of the House of Commons shall nominate members of the Appointments Commission who represent no registered political party.
  5. (5) There shall be more members of the Appointments Commission nominated under subsection (4) than nominated under subsection (3).
  6. (6) For the purposes of this section, a registered political party is one registered under the provisions of the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998.'.
New clause 4—Appointments Commission (No. 2)
  1. '(1) There shall be an Appointments Commission.
  2. (2) The Appointments Commission may nominate members to serve as members of the House of Lords, provided that no such person represents a registered political party.
  3. (3) The Speaker of the House of Commons shall nominate members of the Appointments Commission.
  4. (4) No member of the Appointments Commission shall represent a registered political party.
  5. (5) For the purposes of this section, a registered political party is one registered under the provisions of the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998.'.
New clause 5—Appointments Commission (No. 3)
  1. '(1) There shall be an Appointments Commission to advise on the proportion of Members of the House of Lords who represent each registered political party and to nominate persons to serve as members of the House of Lords who represent no registered political party.
  2. 786
  3. (2) When advising on the proportion of members of the House of Lords who represent each registered political party, the Appointments Commission shall adopt the following procedure:
    1. (a) For each registered political party, the number of votes received by that party at the last general election shall be divided by the number of members of the House of Lords who represent that party.
    2. (b) The number of electors who cast no vote at the last general election shall be divided by the number of members of the House of Lords who represent no registered political party.
  4. (3) If the figure calculated under subsection (2)(b) is less than all of the figures calculated under subsection (2)(a), the Appointments Commission shall recommend that the party (or one of the parties) with the highest figure calculated under subsection (2)(a) may nominate a person to serve as a member of the House of Lords.
  5. (4) If the figure calculated under subsection (2)(b) is equal to or greater than all of the figures calculated under subsection (2)(a), the Appointments Commission shall recommend the nomination of a person who represents no registered political party.
  6. (5) Each registered political party shall be entitled to nominate one member of the Appointments Commission.
  7. (6) The Speaker of the House of Commons shall nominate members of the Appointments Commission who represent no registered political party.
  8. (7) There shall be more members of the Appointments Commission nominated under subsection (6) than nominated under subsection (5).
  9. (8) For the purposes of this section, a registered political party is one registered under the provisions of the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998.'.
New clause 17—Establishment and function of Appointments Commission
  1. '(1) There shall be an Appointments Commission
  2. (2) The function of the Commission shall be to make recommendations to Her Majesty for the creation of life peerages; and no life peerage shall be created except in pursuance of such a recommendation.
  3. (3) Before recommending to Her Majesty that a life peerage be conferred upon a person who is a member of a registered political party, the Commission shall consult the leader of that party, but shall be under no obligation to recommend any person nominated by the leader.'.
New clause 20—Creation of life peerages
  1. '(1) During the period while this Act remains in force, recommendations by the Appointments Commission to Her Majesty for the creation of life peerages shall be made in accordance with the following provisions of this section.
  2. (2) Not more than twenty two recommendations shall be made during any period of one year.
  3. (3) Not more than seventeen of the recommendations referred to in subsection (2) shall be for the conferment of a life peerage on a person who is a member of a registered political party; and such recommendations shall be made in proportion to the respective numbers of votes cast for registered political parties at the previous General Election.
  4. (4) This section does not apply to peerages conferred under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 or to peerages conferred by law and custom on archbishops and bishops of the Church of England.'.
Amendment No. 11, in title, line 2, after 'about', insert 'appointments to the House of Lords and'.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

The amendment, which stands in my name and those of several hon. Members, would curtail the use and the endowment of patronage in the appointment of Members of the House of Lords and, by parity of reasoning, thereafter any Chamber that replaces the House of Lords in due course.

Like the Bill, the amendment is poetically simple. Like the Bill, it is brief, but perfectly formed. Like the Bill, it is modest in its aims and in its aspirations. Also, it is entirely consistent with the aims of the Bill—so consistent that it has been a matter of disappointment to me and those who tabled the amendment that the Government have not felt able to adopt it in this otherwise outstanding legislation.

To understand why I say that the amendment is consistent with the aims of the Bill, it is necessary to analyse the true iniquity of the hereditary principle. In Committee, we have spent considerable time debating those iniquities. Primary among them is the obvious iniquity of power being delivered by inheritance. We have said on many occasions that, at the last knocking of the 20th century, it is entirely appropriate that we should, as a matter of urgency, set about creating a genetically modified, or at least a genetically nullified, second Chamber.

All those arguments ignore the true vice of the hereditary principle—deferred patronage. Not one person who sits in the House of Lords by reason of the hereditary principle did not, at some stage in his family history, owe that fact to either the patronage of politicians or the largesse of kings.

I have no hesitation in saying that history dictates to us that patronage is the curse and the blight of the British political system, and has been for 700 years. The way in which that patronage has been exercised over 700 years has always tended to corrupt for the simplest of all possible reasons: it is transparently the personal donation of favour. The personal donation of favour will always carry with it the reciprocal responsibility that should be aired, and reciprocal responsibilities are the handmaiden of corruption. I suspect that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, for whom I have boundless respect, would find it difficult to disagree with those remarks.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman think that Sir Winston Churchill was corrupted by the award of the honour of a knighthood for services to our country?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

The hon. Gentleman is one of the great mediaevalists in the Chamber, and one of the very few who has stood fast by the hereditary principle. I admire him enormously for that, but he has failed to listen to what I said. I said that patronage always tends to corrupt. Many people may avoid corruption, but the tendency to corrupt in the body politic is everything. I hope that that is a consistent and reasonable answer to the hon. Gentleman's interesting intervention

Sir Patrick Cormack

Do the hon. and learned Gentleman's objections to the hereditary principle extend to the monarchy?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Yes. I have no hesitation in saying that I am a republican, and have been for as long as I can remember. I am perfectly happy to debate that issue with the hon. Gentleman at any time and in a more convenient place. The two issues are not unrelated. Many republicans in the House will find it easy to support the terms of the Bill and the amendment.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

I think that, at this rate, my speech will take a long time. Yes, of course I shall give way.

Sir Teddy Taylor

I shall try not to hold up the hon. and learned Gentleman for long. Do the objections about hereditary peerages that he quite sincerely makes apply also to life peerages? Who does he think should sit in the second Chamber? Is he proposing an elected senate, or nothing at all?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to learn that that is the kernel, the gravamen and the purpose of the amendment. Briefly, the answer to his first question is yes, and the answer to his last question is no. I shall come back to those issues if I may.

The Chairman

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman in full flow, but I hope that that is the end of that particular exchange. We must not have a Second Reading debate now: we must deal with the amendment.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

I accept your rebuke, Sir Alan, on my own behalf and on behalf of the lion. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor).

We should examine the principle and the historical vice of patronage—while, of course, staying well within the terms of the amendment. Those who, throughout history, have criticised and been in the front of voicing dissent about the use and the endowment of patronage have always found themselves in some considerable danger. If we make our dissent clear now in the liberal world that we inhabit, the only danger that we face is that we irritate our Whips. Terrible though that may be, it is a great deal better than being burnt.

It is worth recording that Henry VIII invented the unique torture of being boiled alive for anyone who dissented from the use of the king's patronage or his use of the prerogative to appoint whom he so wished, such as Cranmer. It has occurred to me—staying well within the parameters of the amendments, Sir Alan—that, had I made these or other observations at the time of Cardinal Wolsey, I would have been put on the barbecue a long time ago.

The Chairman

Order. It may help the hon. and learned Gentleman to know that those powers are not available to the Chair.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

That is why I provoked you, Sir Alan. I gather some comfort from the fact that, were such torture ever to be visited on me, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) would be on a nearby bonfire.

The true vice that underpins and underlines the amendment is not merely the principle of appointment by patronage to the House of Lords or to any such House that should replace it: there is a far worse evil. Governments of all shades and of all political persuasions have, since 1974, admirably shown that unelected peers can be placed in the House of Lords by the use of patronage, and ere their bottoms have hardly touched the red leather of the House of Lords, they are imported straight into the corridors of power and of government.

All parties of all shades of political opinion have made such appointments—the Labour party is as guilty as the Conservatives, if not more so. Since 1974, 140 unelected appointments have been made to the heart of government from the House of Lords. Those people were often elevated to the House of Lords for the express purpose of placing them immediately in the centre of government.

Not for those gifted and gilded people is the impertinence and inconvenience of election. Not for them, as for all hon. Members of this House, is the impertinence and inconvenience of the drudgery of tramping up more and more steps, of listening endlessly to our electors and our electorate, and of proselytising for our Government or for the Opposition whom we hope will replace the then Government. Not for them is the problem of listening to the lamentations of the poor, the sick and the disabled time after time, week after week in our surgeries and during our election campaigns.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I do not accept patronage, but it is interesting that Ministers are subject to patronage, and, for all I know, even Speakers and Deputy Speakers are chosen by patronage. What about my hon. and learned Friend's own profession as a lawyer? Do we elect judges and Queen's counsel? The barristers who apply to be QCs are appointed by the Lord Chancellor. Such appointments are all forms of patronage.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

I could not agree more. I am delighted that my hon. Friend made that point. I do not want to stray outside the bounds of the amendment—I see the expression on your face, Sir Alan. I am being tempted, but I shall not stray from the point, save to say that if my hon. Friend had listened to the many debates in which I have been involved on how judges and QCs should be appointed, he would know that I am as against the powers and the use of patronage in those circumstances as I am in this case. I have always regarded the vice of patronage as a particularly British vice, and we now finally have the opportunity to deal with it.

Mr. Winnick

Elect the judges.

7 pm

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

It is difficult for me to hear my hon. Friend, so if he does not mind I shall continue with my speech.

Opposition Members have referred to the high quality of Members of the House of Lords, not only the hereditary peers who not infrequently make their contribution but the life peers. I endorse what they have said. I also endorse what was said by the Leader of the House, both during today's debate and on Second Reading, when certain caddish imputations were made against the Leader of the House of Lords on the basis of her lineage. My right hon. Friend, immediately and spiritedly, leapt to her defence, pointing out that she is a woman of outstanding intellect and ability. Let me add that, as well as possessing a luminous intellect and an immense political capacity, the Leader of the House of Lords has the great attributes of grace and wit.

After that uncharacteristic fawning, let me also say that the Leader of the House of Lords has no place in Government. I have not the slightest doubt that, if she were elected to the House of Commons, she would be an adornment to Government, and I would be the first to say so; but she has not been.

Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley)

May I return my hon. and learned Friend to the subject of his amendment? Amendment No. 14 states simply—my hon. and learned Friend has spoken of the need to be short, concise and simple— In this Act 'the exercise of patronage' means on the recommendation of a Minister of the Crown. If the amendment were passed, the Government could not nominate anyone to the House of Lords, but, as I read it, the Leader of the Opposition or the other political parties could do so. Why does my hon. and learned Friend seek to punish only the Labour party and the Government?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

If my hon. Friend has not yet considered a career in the Cratchit area of the law, he should do so at once.

All appointments to the House of Lords are made on the recommendation of a Minister of the Crown. That is the prerogative of Ministers, although as a matter of convention they take account of recommendations made by the Opposition. However, I should be happy to discuss with my hon. Friend the possibility of a small technical amendment, in the spirit of statutory constructiveness. I always enjoy that, and I suspect that my hon. Friend understands full well what I was saying.

Two counter-arguments may well be raised against what strikes me—and, I hope, many others on both sides of this elected Chamber—as a transparently incontrovertible argument. The first is that the legitimacy of the electoral principle, which is fundamental to all my political beliefs, has been eroded by the power of the party political machine. Because the party political machine has so much power, it may be argued that a second Chamber consisting of nominated Members who have undergone, say, the Nolan tests is necessary to combat that power. My bisyllabic answer to that is "Rubbish". The party machine is only as powerful as we wish it to be: we can control our own party machines, and should not necessarily lie down in front of them.

In any event, although we all stand in the middle of the party machines, the fact that I am a member of the Labour party and have been for 30 years is simply a shorthand way of telling my electorate in the clearest terms what I believe, and have believed fundamentally for all that time. I need not stand on their doorsteps and tell them that I believe in the national minimum wage, that I believe in devolution or that I believe fundamentally in the precepts of the welfare state, because all that is implicit in the fact that I am a member of the Labour party and stand on that ticket. I must, however, persuade them that I will be industrious, and that I have the ability to listen to their lamentations. If I fail, I will fail the test of the electorate—and that happens.

It is sometimes said that it is axiomatic, and part of a well-known rubric, that in certain areas a donkey could be elected. In certain areas a donkey standing either for Labour or the Conservatives could indeed be elected, but in many it could not. I suspect that 50 or 60 former Conservative Members who lost their seats after the coming of the grim reaper in 1997 are saying, "I lost by only a few hundred votes. I might not have lost if I had been a better constituency Member." Others may be saying, "I won by only a few hundred votes. Thank God I was as diligent and conscientious as I was." The electoral principle is still fundamental to all that we do in this Chamber.

The second counter-argument, which the Leader of the House may raise, is that in the White Paper, although not in any statutory enactment, there is an undertaking on the part of the Prime Minister to divest himself voluntarily of certain of the powers of patronage that he holds, and to invest them in a commission. The commission will, of course, be appointed by him. It will deal with Cross Benchers, and the Prime Minister will aim for rough parity between the parties. That, incidentally, will mean the creation of some 95 Labour peers. When those 95 are there, to redress the balance in relation to the 90-odd hereditary peers who will remain when the rotten peg is kicked away—as it will be in due course—we shall have a built-in majority of 90-odd Labour peers. The next time—pray God, in many millennia—the Conservative party, or some other party, takes power, it too will redress the balance, and the whole wretched business will start again.

The time has come for us to take control of our elected destiny, and the Bill can enable us to do so. The amendment can undoubtedly be supported by those who believe in a wholly elected Chamber—of whom there are many—and by unicameralists like me. As I said the other day, it distresses me more than I can say to hear hon. Members on both sides of the House say that we need a House of Lords to act as a check on the Executive. We are the check on the Executive, and always should be. People say that we have not the time to be a check on the Executive, because of the overwhelming amount of legislation. That argument takes no account of the fact that devolution will take much of the burden from us, and the fact that the Executive should bear the burden of serving legislation to us in a form, and with an agenda, with which we can deal properly over a parliamentary Session, rather than delivering it to us in its present form.

Mr. Shepherd

If I heard the hon. and learned Gentleman correctly, he said that the amendment could be supported by unicameralists and those who believed in an elected House. What about the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876, relating to the Law Lords? What about the bishops? The amendment does not remove them, and the hon. and learned Gentleman has not commented on that aspect.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

I can only say that, in the overall sweep of the proposed measures, I have left the bishops behind. I have discussed the Law Lords with the hon. Gentleman, and I have no quarrel with the concept of their sitting in a second Chamber. As for the bishops, I would be minded to accept the hon. Gentleman's amendment.

Mr. Phil Hope (Corby)

The more I listen to the debate and the interventions from various parts of the Chamber, the more it seems that my hon. and learned Friend is plunging us into a debate on patronage in uncharted waters. Surely he recognises that the arrangements for a transitional House and for a royal commission that will operate according to a strict timetable and which will deal with those issues directly and comprehensively, offers a far better approach than the amendments.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

That intervention distresses me a little. I anticipated that someone would say, "That is the business of a royal commission. Whether we will be saddled with patronage into the next millennium is a matter for a royal commission of the great and good." We have seen them and they are the great and good, I suppose. I suspect that nothing very radical will come out of the royal commission; in fact, I would wager quite a lot of money that nothing radical will come out of it. The idea that the House of Commons does not understand the elementary principle of patronage and must therefore ask a royal commission of the great and good to tell us whether we should continue with legislation that would allow a second Chamber to be appointed by the patronage of politicians is an abnegation of our responsibility.

Mr. Hope

Surely the whole point about the royal commission is that the report will come back to a Joint Committee of both Houses and will be decided on by the House of Commons. My hon. and learned Friend's argument is completely defeated by the point that he has just made.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

There is a touching faith in royal commissions and in Joint Committees of the Houses of Parliament, but one of the problems with the royal commission is that its remit is far too wide. It has not been asked to tell us how to do something that we want to do; it has been asked what we should do.

There is no problem with the House of Commons saying to a royal commission, "You can go away and tell us by comparative studies"—and with a large and very expensive secretariat—"what the options are," but the two options that we are—

The Chairman

Order. I have allowed the hon. and learned Gentleman to embroider his arguments to make his case, but he has now embroidered far enough. This is not a general debate about patronage. It is specifically about whether patronage should be exercised in particular circumstances. He must come back to the narrow confines of his amendment.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

I accept that stricture entirely.

I finish with a unicameralist point, which falls strictly within the ambit of patronage and raises the question of whether we should press the amendment. It is as well that we realise in the House of Commons that continually clinging to the existence of a House of Lords, whatever the means by which it is elected—whether it be through patronage, whether people are pushed or driven in from the streets, or whether they are appointed by lottery—is an admission that it is an alibi for our shortcomings. For that reason, I have moved the amendment and will listen with interest to what the Government have to say.

Mr. Tyrie

I have much sympathy with what I have just heard from the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). I particularly agree that there does not seem to be any need for the royal commission to take a look at patronage. The terms of my new clauses are much narrower and more closely confined than the hon. and learned Gentleman's sweeping effort to attack patronage.

I have tabled two new clauses. The first, new clause 17, is designed to remove the direct power of patronage from the Prime Minister to appoint his people to the House of Lords. Its intention is to reduce the extent to which appointments, or the promise of appointments, to the Lords can be used as a tool of control. It is intended to increase the likelihood that appointments will be made on the ground of someone's capacity to play a constitutional role in the Lords, rather than merely as a means of bestowing an honour.

The main function of a second Chamber should not be to serve as some elaborate lollipop for superannuated commoners, or friends or cronies of the Prime Minister of the day. It should be a place that is not just capable of exercising some constitutional check on the Executive, but which is keen to do so. Therefore, new clause 17 gives absolute discretion to the Appointments Commission to make recommendations to the Prime Minister.

I may be a little optimistic, but my impression is that the White Paper half agrees with that approach. It reads on page 45: There would be a case for considering an enhanced role in overseeing this process"— pol itic al appointments— for the Appointments Commission, if it continued to function", that is, after the interim period.

Without my new clause, most patronage powers will still be in the hands of the Prime Minister, even after the Bill is passed. With it, at least some of those powers with respect to the Lords will be at one remove. He will, of course, appoint the appointees, which is why I have tabled new clause 20.

7.15 p.m

New clause 20 takes the powers of new clause 17 further. It limits the number of appointments that can be made in absolute terms in any one year. Even if a Prime Minister succeeds in exercising disproportionate influence over the Appointments Commission, the new clause will still restrict his power of patronage. It should eliminate the process of packing the Lords.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tyrie

I will in a moment.

The numbers set out in new clause 20 may look odd at first, but they are straightforward. Subsection (2) limits the overall number of appointments in any one year to 22. That figure is the average annual number of appointments to the House of Lords since 1958, when life peerages were introduced. Under subsection (3), only 17 of those would be permitted to be explicitly party political appointments.

At the moment, 25 per cent. of surviving peers created since 1958 are Cross Benchers and 75 per cent. have stated party political affiliations. I have applied the same 75:25 ratio in a rough and ready way to the figure 22 to arrive at 17. It comes out at 16.5; rounded up, it is 17. That is where the figures 22 and 17 come from.

Under subsection (3), political appointments would have to be made in proportion to the votes cast for each party at the last general election.

Dr. Starkey


Mr. Linton


Mr. Tyrie

I will give way to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) first.

Dr. Starkey

It was precisely that point that I wanted to take up. Has the hon. Gentleman done a mathematical model of how his proposals would work out? I confess that I have not, but it seems that, with the creation of 17 life peerages a year, it would take an unconscionable time for us to achieve anything near parity between the Labour party and the Conservative party. Has he been so good as to create the background computer model so that we know how many years the process will take?

Mr. Tyrie

I do not agree that that is the right approach to achieve proportionality. My new clause is not targeted at achieving that objective, but may I suggest another way to achieve proportionality, if that is what the hon. Lady so desires? We might, for example, introduce a retirement age at 75. A disproportionate number of elderly life peers are Conservative. I think that she will find, if she looks, that a retirement age of 75 would deliver exact proportionality between Labour and Conservative life peers.

Addressing that issue is not the purpose of the new clause; indeed, I would be straying from my intention if I did so. The purpose of the new clause is broadly the same as that of the amendment tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Medway.

Mr. Linton

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tyrie

I will, but then I must get on.

Mr. Linton

I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman's sights are set on the target of patronage, but would not the consequence of the new clause be to retain for ever the Conservative party's stranglehold on the House of Lords?

Mr. Tyrie

I have just tried to answer that point by pointing out that it will do no such thing. That is contingent on whatever other changes are desired. That is not the purpose of the new clause. I have already suggested one alternative route that I considered taking, which I have discussed with the Clerks; I may yet table an amendment as a means of moving in that direction.

Subsection (3) of new clause 20 would provide that political appointments should be roughly proportional to the votes cast at the previous general election. Applying that principle—bearing in mind the run of Conservative victories—should imply not a House of exact proportionality but one that would inevitably, because of the time lags involved, leave rather more Conservative peers in the upper House than the number of Labour peers there are now. If Labour succeeded in winning a string of general elections, the position would be reversed. Appointment by strict proportionality does not imply a House that is always in exact balance.

On that I pray in aid of my subsection the Labour party manifesto, which reads: Our objective will be to ensure … party appointees … more accurately reflect the proportion of votes cast in the previous General Election. Therefore, by implication, Labour is accepting the principle that numbers in the upper House should not always—because of the possibility of a string of general election victories by one party—be exactly even.

I shall not deal with the details of subsection (4) save to say that it would exclude bishops and judges from the provisions of the new clause.

I think that the practicality of my new clauses deserves a moment or two of consideration. The Registration of Political Parties Act 1998 gives us some hope that the new clauses could be practical amendments and provides, for the first time, clear definitions of what constitutes party political affiliation. All parties are currently in the process of creating formal registration systems. Although I did not consider it worth adding to the new clauses to deal with the matter, I think that a sensible approach to it would be that, when an applicant is being considered for a peerage by the Appointments Commission, he or she should be required to sign a declaration stating whether he or she had any party political affiliation.

The case for addressing the patronage issue has already been made eloquently today. However, I should like to address the issue in a different—perhaps less emotional, or less trenchant—manner than that of the hon. and learned Member for Medway.

Patronage has been a problem in Lords reform for very many years—going back well before the Life Peerages Act 1958. Many of those who considered the issues concluded that the power of patronage is a severe drawback, if not a complete bar, to the likelihood of ever enabling a fully appointed upper House to work effectively.

It is important to bear in mind that the Lords will become a fully appointed House, unless the Weatherill amendment is passed. It is worth recalling the conclusions of several of those who have given thought to the issue in the past. Winston Churchill, for example, in a 1925 memorandum to a Cabinet Committee—which, as it happens, was a Conservative one which was working up proposals for a partly elected upper House—wrote: Once a chasm has been cut between past and present mere nomination"— of peers— … will be a trumpery foundation. The nominated senators, or whatever they were called, would owe their position solely to the favour of a party leader. Although that was Churchill's view with a Conservative hat on, that was also his view when he was a Liberal. As early as 1907, in a political journal, he argued: Abruptly we may dismiss all those ingenious plans … for creating an august senate of unrepresentative persons. As it happens, for most of the interwar period, Churchill wanted an elected upper House. As he said: If we are to leave the venerable if somewhat crumbled rock on which the House of Lords now stands there is no safe foothold until we come to an elected chamber. I think that the reform that we are considering will find itself moving inexorably and inevitably in that direction.

Concern about the power of patronage in an appointed House was one of the reasons why Churchill concluded that an elected Chamber would eventually be the end point of any reform, and why he ended up supporting one.

Worries about the power of patronage have, of course, pursued more recent reformers. The original reform proposals thought up in 1958, which led to life peerages, were much more sophisticated than the ones that finally ended up on the statute book. The Conservative committee that was thinking through those proposals originally argued that, in the long run, there should be a ceiling on the number of peers serving in the upper House. Any ceiling inevitably means that the annual number of appointments becomes limited to vacancies by death.

Richard Crossman was one of the very few serious Labour thinkers on those issues—the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) also is a distinguished member of that group. Richard Crossman's 1968 proposals also contained a de facto limit on patronage. I shall not describe all the details of those proposals, as I am sure that the Committee would find it incredibly boring if I were to do so.

The Home report, which was produced by the Conservative party in the 1970s, also proposed capping the size of the House of Lords, at about 400. That would have limited patronage in much the same way as the 1958 proposals.

I quite deeply regret that a belt-and-braces approach—such as I am proposing—to the restriction of patronage is required. However, clearly, the worst fears of some of those who had concerns earlier in the century about the relationship between an entirely appointed House and patronage are now being realised.

No one would suggest that, over the years, all the abuses have been on one side. Historically, perhaps Liberal abuses of the power of patronage towards the beginning of the century are the most salient and the most memorable. But the problem has recently turned into a crisis, as every conceivable convention on the appointment of peers is being overridden by the current, Labour Government. I shall confine myself to only two such breaches of precedent.

The first is that the current Prime Minister is appointing a higher proportion of Labour peers, as against other parties, than ever before. More than 50 per cent. of his appointees take the Labour Whip. By convention, since 1958, the percentage has never risen above 50 per cent. Since 1958, Callaghan, Wilson and my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath)—all Prime Ministers—kept the percentage below 50 per cent.; not once has it risen above 50 per cent. Now, under the current Prime Minister, it is rising above 50 per cent.

The second precedent—and its breach is more serious—goes back hundreds of years. Packing the Lords has always been regarded as unconstitutional. On all previous occasions when swamping or packing was considered, it was justified on only one ground: the need to avoid gridlock between the two Houses. That held true in the very first case that I know of—in 1713, to pass the treaty of Utrecht—as it did during passage of the great Reform Act 1832, when, rather as with the treaty of Utrecht, the threat was to create a dozen or 15 peers. In 1911, the threat was to create about 100 peers, or possibly even 200 peers, to pass the Parliament Act 1911 and to end the gridlock.

The 1911 Act—with its limitation on the power of delay, followed by the further limitation, in 1949—removed the justification of packing the upper House to deal with gridlock, as it removed that gridlock.

The plain fact is that—right now—the Prime Minister is packing the Lords, in breach of a centuries-old parliamentary convention.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I should not like to suggest that the hon. Gentleman is being slightly selective in his rendition of history, but the reality is that—whatever one thinks about the creation of large numbers of life peers—over a number of years, previous Prime Ministers' refusal to appoint Labour peers created the disastrous imbalance. If those who support the hon. Gentleman's amendments had been prepared to put pressure on the previous Conservative Prime Minister, we might not be facing the current situation.

Mr. Tyrie

I do not have the figures to hand. For a time in the 1970s, of course, Labour did not make nominations to the upper House. Had it done so, those nominations would have become appointments. A very long-standing convention holds that some Opposition nominations for peerages should be accepted. As I said, there has always been an acceptance of the need for balance, which requires that less than 50 per cent. of appointments by any Prime Minister should be for his own party.

Historically, we have had an average of 22 peers appointed a year. We now have an average of 66—three times the previous annual rate. If that is not packing, I do not know what is.

7.30 pm
Mr. McWalter

Would the hon. Gentleman like to reflect on the fact that every Conservative Prime Minister finds the upper House already packed in his favour and any Labour Prime Minister is trying only to mitigate the damage?

Mr. Tyrie

Several hon. Members have referred to the effect that my amendment would have on the balance. I have tried to explain that it is not designed to deal with that. I am trying to deal with the exercise of patronage by the Prime Minister to control his party.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

The hon. Gentleman is giving us a scholarly account and a detailed remedy. Has it occurred to him that there is an alternative to the elaborate schemes of percentages and numbers? Let the people decide who is in the House of Lords—which I hope would not be called that—just as happens for the House of Commons. I was in the House in the early 1950s when successive Colonial Secretaries came forward with proposals for colonial administrations. They sounded exactly like the hon. Gentleman's proposal, giving a certain number to the Governor, a certain number to the white community, a certain number to the black community and so on. Democracy has a refreshing simplicity and acceptance. The hon. Gentleman should consider it when he gives further thought to the issue.

Mr. Tyrie

The right hon. Gentleman is right. I am not supposed to advertise in the Chamber, but I commend to him my paper on the subject. I came out in favour of an elected upper House some time ago. That remains my view, just as it has been the view of a large number of Conservative thinkers throughout the century, including Curzon, Churchill, F E Smith, Lord Home and Lord Carrington. I am not alone.

For much of this century, the Labour party has been in favour of unicameralism, as is the hon. and learned Member for Medway. Three times this century it has been part of Labour manifestos. I realise that I am being dragged into a digression, but it is important to bear in mind that the great divide in the Chamber on the issue—some divides cut across parties—is between the unicameralists and the bicameralists. The majority of bicameralists have been Conservatives. Unicameralism has always flourished better among Labour Members.

I shall conclude my comments on the scale of the patronage that we are talking about. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is interesting to hear that Labour Members feel that it would be a good idea for the Prime Minister to hang on to the patronage that he is exercising and abusing.

The figure of 66 new peers a year excludes several peerages that have been given to those who are registered as having given large donations to the Labour party but have decided to sit on the Cross Benches. That figure of 66 and my points about party balance understate the real situation. The Prime Minister is clearly abusing his powers of patronage, as they have been exercised by all previous Prime Ministers. I regret that the customs that had built up around appointments to the Lords have been so flagrantly abused and ignored. I regret that my amendments have become necessary, but they have and I urge the Committee to support them.

Mr. Benn

These debates have been among the most interesting ever. An understanding of our constitution and the House that is not normally available to us has emerged from our exchanges. I listened to the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) with great interest. The colonial parallel came readily to mind.

We boast of democracy, but, when I was born, women were not trusted with the vote until they were 30. We have had a Parliament for 700 years, but only in my lifetime has the principle of universal adult suffrage been accepted. I do not believe that democracy is as deeply entrenched in the hearts and minds of parliamentarians as some hon. Members believe.

Mr. Wells

Would the right hon. Gentleman like to reflect on those colonial constitutions?

The Chairman

Order. I do not think that any such invitation should be proffered and it should certainly not be accepted.

Mr. Benn

I could refer the hon. Gentleman to some of my writings on the subject, but I shall not detain the Committee.

These debates have clarified the position. The Government have no policy for a second Chamber. The Opposition have no policy for a second Chamber. I am not making a party point. This is a more serious point—nobody wants to change the House of Lords except to alter the political balance. The Conservatives are not as committed to the hereditary system as they make out. When I was 11, they got rid of a king because he wanted to marry Mrs. Simpson. If they had been committed to the hereditary system, they would have stuck with him through thick and thin. The Conservatives have done well out of the current system, so they want to hang on to it. Now that the Labour party has got to power, it sees the benefits of patronage.

Some people think that I am cynical, but I believe that there will never be a second stage. When the new Chamber is set up, it will have the legitimacy of everyone having been freshly appointed. Even the hereditary peers will just have been made life peers by the Prime Minister. No Labour Cabinet will go to them a year later and say, "By the way, we are slaughtering you and introducing a new system."

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner) shrewdly pointed out that we want to get our legislation through. The problems that we would have had if we had tried this two years ago during our first year's legislative programme will apply next time as well. In a couple of years, when the royal commission and the Select Committee have reported, how many Labour Members will want to go over the issue again when it could endanger the rest of our legislation because the new Lords will not want the changes?

I pay tribute to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), who made a classic parliamentary speech. We are planning to set up a second Chamber appointed by eight men and one woman—the Prime Ministers who have been in power since the Life Peerages Act 1958. Three of them are dead, so we are setting up a Chamber appointed by five men and one woman, claiming that it is better than what we have. It is not better than what we have. What we have is rotten, but we shall be entrenching patronage.

How does the Prime Minister of the day get his patronage? He harnesses the powers of the Crown. The possibility of other people creating peerages has been raised, but I am afraid that the fount of honour has only one tap—the Prime Minister. Nobody else can undo the fount of honour. The Labour Prime Minister—a socialist Prime Minister—is turning on the tap of royal patronage, allegedly to produce a better House. He will produce a House stuffed with people who have earned his approval—the largest number—or that of some other Prime Minister.

The hereditary system is unacceptable. I have always believed that we should be allowed to elect our Head of State. That point is not relevant or in order, but it anticipates a possible question. I do not say that with any hostility to anyone who holds hereditary office, because they cannot be blamed for that. If someone has a hereditary job, it is not his fault. When Harold Wilson rather foolishly attacked the 14th Earl of Home, Lord Home replied very wittily, "I presume that he is the 14th Mr. Wilson." That very clever response put Harold down in a way that did not always happen. It has nothing to do with heredity. With the balance of power that exists in the House of Lords, Labour Governments get four years and Conservative Governments get five—because the delay of a year is a veto when it comes to the fifth year.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk spoke with feeling about getting Bills through. I sat in many legislative committees in the Cabinet in which the party's leader in the House of Lords had to warn the Cabinet that a Bill would be delayed in the Lords. Bills are killed before they start because of the huge majority in the Lords.

As I have made clear, I am in favour of an elected House. We do not need the complexity suggested by the hon. Member for Chichester, who is skilled in history and knowledge. If every European constituency elected one man and one woman within the existing boundaries, we could have a second Chamber by 1 October. If we passed the amendment tabled by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway, that would take over from the second Chamber. The idea has such simplicity that I am sure it will scare some people.

Mr. Tyrie

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that there is much likelihood of securing a largely elected House from his own party?

Mr. Benn

This debate has brought the House of Commons back into existence, as people begin to realise that patronage applies not only in the House of Lords, but in this House. After all, the Leader of the Opposition summarily sacked his party's leader in the House of Lords because he disagreed with him. Certain penalties may be incurred in my party if one steps out of line. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) is having a little trouble because patronage is being extended in terms of the mayor of London. The debate has brought the Commons out of hiding. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway said with passion, we should have the right to decide and not be told what to do.

Mr. McWalter

Does my right hon. Friend accept that some of us may be unhappy with his suggestion, on the ground that it seems to set up a conflicting mandate—that is, it equals powers? Some of us are not of the view that a relationship similar to that between the United States Congress and Senate would be a real development, and we want to see some other way of entrenching our democracy.

Mr. Benn

I understand my hon. Friend's position, but the constitution of this country is loaded with conflicting jurisdictions, the biggest one of which is the Commission in Brussels, which can repeal our legislation without it ever coming to the House of Commons. Local government clashes with national government, and the Greater London council clashed with Mrs. Thatcher. Arguments may develop between the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the mayor of London and this House. There are more nuclear weapons in this country governed by the President of the United States—who is answerable to the Senate—than there are weapons of our own. I hope that my hon. Friend will not be too tracked into the idea that there must be only one centre of power. The real centre of power is Crown power, which never comes to us at all. We could go to war without ever asking the House of Commons—and we do.

The best way is to have a small, elected second Chamber, using every European constituency, with one man and one woman for each. We would have a small Chamber representing England, Scotland, Wales and so on, and at the critical moment when the Bill was passed—with the amendment tabled by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway—responsibility would be transferred. That is my conviction. I do not know whether we will do that. If we do not, it will be because neither Front Bench wants to lose the patronage that the present system and the new system give.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

The right hon. Gentleman is obviously concerned about the patronage being exercised by the Labour Prime Minister. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) said that we have the power to control the Executive. We are a small number on the Opposition Benches. There are a large number of Labour Members of Parliament in whose hands lies the power to control the Executive. If the right hon. Gentleman could persuade them that the Prime Minister was wrong in his excessive abuse of patronage, something might be done.

Mr. Benn

Patronage is an abuse, whoever has it. I do not want the debate to deteriorate into a silly exchange over different Prime Ministers and how many peers they have made. The existence of the power to put someone into Parliament without their being elected is an abuse of democracy. That is my conviction. It is quite straightforward; I am not attacking anyone who uses it. As I said to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), patronage is not just about the people who get it, but about those who hope for it. Every Prime Minister is surrounded by hangers-on who hope that, if they are nice to him, they will get a peerage.

I have never forgotten that, on the day Harold Wilson resigned, I went through the Lobby with him. Everyone in the Chamber must have been through the Lobby with the Prime Minister, and there are always people saying, "What a brilliant speech, Prime Minister … I did enjoy your question … Would you come to my constituency?" On the day Harold resigned, no one spoke to him at all. The man was stripped of his patronage by his own resignation. It made a profound impression on me, which I keep to this day.

7.45 pm

I must not anticipate a Bill—for which I now have all-party support—to take all the Crown powers, including the power of patronage, from the Prime Minister and put them into this House to be authorised by vote. If we did that, we would make the final advance towards a democratic system. In Britain, we are allowed to elect only a third of our constitution; we do not elect the second Chamber and we do not elect the Head of State.

The Prime Minister's powers do not come from the electorate; once he has a majority, they come from the Crown. Until we look at all those issues together, we will not make sense. Getting rid of a few old hereditary peers will not move us a little bit closer to the democratic society in which I would like to live.

Mr. Maclennan

I, too, have a memory similar to that of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) scorched into the back of my mind. Within five days of Harold Wilson's resignation, I went into the Members' Dining Room and saw him sitting there alone, clearly lonely. I took it upon myself to sit beside him; something I would have hesitated to do a week before, lest it be thought that I was currying favour with him.

There are other respects in which I found the development of the thinking of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield extremely interesting. At one stage, he was less enthusiastic about a second Chamber. I am happy to hear that he has thrown his weight behind an elected second Chamber. As others have said, there have been three occasions, at least, when the Labour party has campaigned for a unicameral solution.

Mr. Benn

For the record, I wrote a pamphlet 42 years ago on turning the Privy Council into a second Chamber. I do not hold to that view now, but please acquit me of being a unicameralist. I have always thought that a second Chamber had useful functions to perform.

Mr. Maclennan

I am happy to hear that, and I note the distinction between the right hon. Gentleman's position and that of the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), whose trenchant speech and powerful statement—that patronage tends to corrupt—is one with which we all ought to agree. We witness it in this place. When the hon. and learned Gentleman said that we were elected to control the Executive arm of Government, it was an aspiration that, no doubt, he and others have voiced to the electorate. However, we must have a realisation of the corrupting effect of patronage on the exercise of that power in this Chamber.

It is partly for that reason that it is so important that we have a second Chamber—perhaps one from which no Ministers are drawn in patronage, and which does not offer the opportunities to Governments to draw into their wake those who are elected to scrutinise their activity. I would like the royal commission to consider that.

I hope that our debate and its probable outcome will not be taken by the royal commission to show that the House, not having made the amendment, pins its colours to a second Chamber in which patronage is a predominant element. Such a Chamber would be basically undemocratic. The more it is appointed, the less democratic it will be and the less value it will have in our constitution as a watchdog and a restraint on the Executive.

I do not expect the amendment to be passed, partly because the Government are committed to the view that they should not take a stand on the second Chamber's composition and powers before the royal commission has reported. As they have such a substantial majority, they will undoubtedly carry the day.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

It is always interesting to hear the right hon. Gentleman's exposition of Government policy, which is often much clearer than when we hear it from the Treasury Bench. If the royal commission says that patronage is an essential part of a second Chamber, will the Liberal Democrats accept that?

Mr. Maclennan

Our view is a great deal clearer than that of the Labour party. We have decided in considerable detail how we believe the upper House should be constituted. We think that it should be predominantly elected, and we have held that position for many years. As the right hon. Member for Chesterfield said, election is essential.

I argued strongly within our party that the second Chamber should be filled entirely by election, and I believe that our constitution is tending in that direction. On that, I agree with more than one Conservative Member. Once we have unlocked the issue and exposed the anachronism and anomalies, the great good sense of the British public will be brought to bear on the subject, and the views expressed by Winston Churchill as a Liberal in 1907 will be seen to be contemporary and appropriate.

It is ludicrous to have different categories of Members, some of them elected, with undoubted legitimacy, and some appointed, with questionable legitimacy. A system with two classes of citizen in the upper House simply will not last, although it may be an acceptable staging post. That is why it is not unprincipled to advocate an incrementalist approach to a written constitution.

As the right hon. Member for Chesterfield said, we have no experience of the interactions involved; more's the pity, perhaps. Without the interruptions of wars or revolutions or events such as those that brought about the fifth republic in France, these exercises in Cartesian logic are something that the British public have found exotic and have not been willing to embrace.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

Why does the right hon. Gentleman resist the amendment, when it applies only to a transitional House and to new appointments made by patronage in that transitional House?

Mr. Maclennan

That is not how I read it. My understanding was that the amendment was designed to enunciate a principle that would have lasting force. I find it difficult to take exception to that principle; however, it is not part of the Bill, but part of what is to come. In that spirit, I hope that we can return to the matter and that the royal commission will take from this debate a sense that even those who are not willing to support the amendment will none the less judge the report by the extent to which it is committed to the principles enunciated by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield and by others, such as the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd).

Mrs. Dunwoody

I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that he would find it difficult to deal with two classes of Members. Am I mistaken, or does his party support, for European elections, precisely the creation of two classes of Member?

Mr. Maclennan

We support one class of Member: one elected by the British people. Election may be from different bases, but I am defending the principle of election. That is a unitary principle that cannot and should not be watered down. Granted, not all political parties have such internally democratic systems of presenting their candidates to the public as the Liberal Democrat party—but that is perhaps to follow a red herring further than is necessary in the interests of keeping in order.

I hope that the royal commission will understand that we want a legitimate second Chamber and that legitimacy is directly proportional to election. The less the Chamber is elected, the less account will be taken of it by the country and by the Government. The arguments may be wise, sophisticated, knowledgable and independent, but, if they are not delivered by elected people, they will not carry weight. The country needs a second Chamber that carries weight, which is why the principle of election should be given much greater weight than it has been given in the discussions hitherto.

Mr. Winnick

The amendment is superficially attractive, but I believe that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) has jumped the gun and that it is inappropriate for us to decide today the composition of a second Chamber. After all, a royal commission has been appointed, so why anticipate its findings? My hon. Friend and others are at liberty to make representations to the royal commission, but when he says that patronage should be completely excluded he is saying that there is no need for a royal commission to investigate the matter, because we can make a decision tonight. I do not believe that we should do that.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

I ask my hon. Friend exactly the same question as I asked the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan). If the royal commission says that the Prime Minister's patronage should be an important and integral part of appointments to the second Chamber, will he accept that?

8 pm

Mr. Winnick

I shall certainly deal with that in the course of what I hope will be my brief remarks.

As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway has already admitted, the amendment has united Labour Members with differing views about the composition of the second Chamber. In one respect, if in one only, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)—I do not want a single Chamber either. I believe that that would be wrong, and am very much in favour of a second Chamber. Others argue the related case that any second Chamber must be democratically elected or it will have no legitimacy.

I witnessed a similar sort of coalition in 1969, when Labour and Conservative Members united, even though normally their views were very different. How quickly time passes: I have gained some grey hairs in the intervening 30 years, but at least I am sitting in the same corner seat as I occupied then, and I was pleased to return to it after 18 years in opposition.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway asked me a question about the second Chamber. I believe strongly that a fully elected second Chamber would be a direct challenge to this House. If that were the Government's proposal, I would not vote for it. I hope that I am as democratic as anyone else. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield spoke about the changes and reforms pioneered, to a large extent, by Labour Members. If I had been around at the time, I hope that I would have fully supported reforms such as votes for women, universal adult suffrage, and the abolition of the property qualification.

I do not believe, in expressing my opinion tonight, that I have ceased to be a democrat. I have believed, strongly and for many years, that a fully elected second Chamber—the essence of the amendment, and a proposal also made by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd)—is the inevitable consequence of the removal of patronage. That is why I am speaking to this amendment.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)

I have never quite understood the argument about the legitimacy of a directly elected second Chamber and the potential for confrontation with this House. Would it not be possible to set the precedence of this House in statute, and thereby resolve the problem?

Mr. Winnick

Of course. If the second Chamber were to be a fully democratically elected House, I have no doubt that, in the very nature of things, we would set down certain superior powers for this House. No one is suggesting that the two Houses would have equal powers.

Sir Patrick Cormack


Mr. Winnick

What would happen in practice is that, in the event of a clash between this House and a fully elected second Chamber, that Chamber would have as much legitimacy as this House. It is bound to.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

Of course.

Mr. Winnick

I, however, want this House to be supreme, and to be the decisive voice in law-making—

Mr. Grieve


Mr. Fisher


Sir Patrick Cormack


Mr. Gordon Prentice


Mr. Winnick

I am sorry to arouse such controversy. That was not my aim. I used to leave that to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, but I just want to finish my point. When we were in opposition and there was a Conservative Government—and especially since we have been in government—how many times, when the House of Lords has rejected a measure, have hon. Members—Front-Bench and Back-Bench alike—dismissed that House's right to intrude in such matters? We have always claimed that we in this House decide matters, but that will not be possible with a fully elected second Chamber. We should have no illusions on that score.

Mr. McAllion

A Scottish Parliament will be a fully elected second Chamber. Why does my hon. Friend think that it will be unable to coexist with the fully elected House of Commons?

The Chairman

Order. If I may, I ask the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) to wait a moment before he responds. I think that we are getting involved in a debate that is too wide. The amendment is about the power of patronage to the House of Lords that will exist as a result of the passage of this Bill. It cannot be occasion for the much wider debate about an elected Chamber or a non-elected Chamber. Obviously, arguments against patronage might well refer to a preference for an elected Chamber, but only in passing: it is not the central part of the debate.

Mr. Winnick

I accept that, Sir Alan, and although I had a very good response to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion), your guidance means that I am obviously not in a position to give it.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that it is a little quaint to talk of patronage as if it exists only in the other place? In this House, the Chief Whip is the Patronage Secretary, and there are hon. Members who are desperate for patronage and anxious for preferment.

Mr. Winnick

I see that Sir Alan is wearing a worried and anxious look. Clearly, I would be in difficulties if I were to pursue that question—although I did earlier, when I mentioned judges, Ministers and the rest. Their positions are all the result of patronage, and the notion that, in itself, patronage is absolutely evil and must never be countenanced is nonsense. It is part of life—certainly it is part of every walk of political life.

Mr. Gordon Prentice

Can we not make a distinction between patronage that puts people at the heart of the legislature, and patronage in other areas of life?

Mr. Winnick

What about Ministers? They carry a tremendous amount of authority, but are not subject to any election to become Ministers. If I were able to pursue the matter, Sir Alan, I could mention people in very senior positions, perhaps outside Parliament, whose authority is very great and who are subject to appointment in all sorts of ways. Not least among them are the most senior judges in this country.

I conclude by saying that I have strong views, which I have expressed. Obviously, those who believe in a fully elected second Chamber have equally strong views. However, the purpose of the royal commission is to examine all such questions. It is right and proper that it has been set up, and it should have as much representation as possible from people with strong views such as myself, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway, and many others. It is not our function tonight to make a decision about whether patronage should be excluded.

Mr. Letwin

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify something of great interest to me, if not to the rest of the House? Is he asserting that there is no problem with the supremacy of the Executive at present, and no excess of patronage in our constitution?

Mr. Winnick

No, I am not saying anything of the kind. Part of the function of this House is to keep the Executive in check. One can criticise, as Conservative Members do, and say that we are not doing our job as well as we should. That is fair enough for the Opposition, although I personally believe that Select Committees are effective. If necessary, I will be controversial and criticise the Government. I do not lack the necessary courage, but I always bear it in mind that I was elected as a Labour candidate. I was not elected as an independent, any more than was the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). We must bear such factors in mind when deciding whether to take a certain line.

It is not for us tonight—although it will be in the future—to make the final decision about the second Chamber, which is what we would be doing if the amendment were to be accepted. In those circumstances, I hope that it will be rejected decisively.

Mr. Shepherd

I think that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) should accept his peerage as soon as possible, before the amendment tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) comes into effect.

I am truly disappointed in the hon. Member for Walsall, North, if only because he has a touching faith in royal commissions. We must remember that this House has not even had an opportunity yet to discuss the White Paper, with its extraordinary contentions. In point of fact, the amendments are a device to allow us to try to examine the shape of the House of Lords, or the second Chamber, in the future.

One of the most remarkable features of the House is that we are often denied the opportunity to discuss the most important, relevant and immediate subjects that confront us. The Bill is drafted almost to ensure that any comment we may make on the future composition of the House of Lords will be out of order. It is a nightmare, and it is nonsense.

I gave a cheer for the hon. and learned Member for Medway. It is a great privilege, of course, to be able to hear him without having to pay a king's ransom in fees, and for that reason, if for no other, some patronage should perhaps be put in his direction. I cheer, too, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) who has voiced what many Members of the House feel. The Committee has seemed to come alive, and we are having a debate on Back-Bench amendments that have brought out a large number of Government supporters. Our depleted numbers have been well represented too. The debate has even diverted from his journey to Downing street the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan). That is a rare privilege, and we should acknowledge it.

The debate has not, however, produced the principal actors in the drama. We hardly see the Prime Minister, so important and grand is he. He can boom forth an Act that will consecrate and secure his patronage without troubling himself with its passage, or troubling us with his presence in the House. That is how contemptuous the Crown in Downing street—the right honourable Prime Minister—now is of the House of Commons.

The Prime Minister's spinning wheel has also deserted the Chamber. It would be too much to expect the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) to attend a debate that is clearly beyond the control of the bleeper machines with which we are all issued so that we may be summoned to address the great issues of the day.

Mrs. Beckett

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that we have seen neither hide nor hair of the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Shepherd

What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition voted, and I give a cheer for that, but a vote is one thing. The tradition and custom of the House used to be that those who seek to govern us, and who govern us only because they have the support of the majority of the Members of the House, should occasionally attend the House, if only to salute those who slave away in the salt mines to try to give effect to their will.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

My hon. Friend may recall one of the formidable episodes of the previous Government. At 4 am once we were all at a low ebb, and through the door came, immaculately turned out, the then Prime Minister, ready to attend upon debates on important constitutional matters.

The Chairman

Order. I had more or less made up my mind that the encomium to Back Benchers given by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) should cease so that he could move on to the terms of the amendment.

8.15 pm
Mr. Shepherd

I am obliged to you, Sir Alan, for a ruling that exhibits the very limitations that restrict us. We are confronted with an issue, yet we may not address its substance. I am not qualified to comment on the dress sense of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), and I was not summoned here to do so. I agree, Sir Alan, that it does not seem greatly in order to try.

The House is attempting to wrestle with a matter of importance. There is a White Paper, and we have not discussed it. We are leaping into the dark with a flurry of explanatory footnotes. The right hon. Member for Hartlepool gave us his attention yesterday and has been here today. On Second Reading, he advised us that he, and he alone, was responsible for feeding us a royal commission. He has, of course, departed the scene now.

We are grappling with an horrendous process. The absurdity is that a growing number of Members across the Floor of the House are articulating a profound belief that we should rein in the powers of Downing street. Those of us who have sat here for more than one Parliament have transferred from one side to another of the Chamber. The complaints of yesterday, which we rejected so grandly when we were in office, are now our complaints.

What gels and cements subservience into us? I was elected only by the people of Aldridge-Brownhills, just as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield was elected only by the people of Chesterfield. Our authority is not on sufferance from the Prime Minister, even one whose general policy we might support. Before us is a proposal for the future that will curtail patronage.

The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross has not commented on the fact that his own party leader glues his party together by the exercise of patronage. There is no question about that. For all the right hon. Gentleman's grand phrases—and his even grander equivocations—about where he stood on the terms of the amendment, I was not sure whether he, a distinguished lawyer, knew whether he would vote for or against the amendment. At the end of his lengthy speech, I was none the wiser.

I earnestly ask the House to support the hon. and learned Member for Medway. He offers a chink by which to remove patronage as the basis for future membership of the House of Lords—the same reason for which I tabled amendment No. 15. After a period, when the present beneficiaries of patronage have suspired their last at the end of their labours, we would be left with a House passing laws, but constituted only of judges and bishops and archbishops of the Church of England.

No one in Aldridge-Brownhills thinks that a serious suggestion. My constituents would be puzzled if a House were satisfactory to the Government that merely contained bishops, however worthy they may be. No matter how much we may seek out the bishops for spiritual guidance—even, sometimes, for temporal advice—we should not seek them out to make our laws. As for Law Lords, I should gladly turn to them for advice on the meaning of the laws on which we have decided, but I cannot think in truth that they should make the laws that they themselves will judge. That is why the amendment is so important.

Mr. Swayne

On the subject of bishops, is there not a danger of Cardinal Wolsey's words being fulfilled? The cardinal wished that many things were reformed, but feared that others would come after who might reform upon the reformations, and so proceeding, there would be nothing left. I fear that we are being led in that direction, and that we are unpicking delicate questions that may leave the very monarchy exposed.

Mr. Shepherd

I wish my hon. Friend well on the Bench of bishops. As for the concept of the monarchy exposed, I merely have to think of Lady Bracknell. This myth has been exploded. The Scandinavian democracies of Norway, Sweden and Denmark have no hereditary peerage to act as legislators, yet their attachment to their present constitutional arrangements is in some respects perhaps even stronger than our nation's attachment to ours.

Mr. Rogers

Does the hon. Gentleman really believe that it is impossible to have patronage in Government and society? I will briefly tell him a story about Wales. We were in opposition for 18 years. After we came to power, someone asked me, "What are you doing trying to abolish all the quangos? We've been waiting for 18 years to be appointed to them". Last year, democracy was extended. Labour Members voted for that extension in the form of the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. I do not think that we have abolished any quangos in Wales. We will now have a democratically elected Welsh Assembly and more appointed—through patronage—quangos. The two will always be together.

Mr. Shepherd

That is the wisest of observations. Of course, you would not want me to go into the ways of Labour patronage in Wales, Sir Alan. I am merely dealing with the nature of patronage in the upper Chamber. I want to grasp the principle that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) described. The Prime Minister is anxious that the hon. Gentleman's concept of patronage should not come about in Wales and is making personal visits there—more, it seems, than he makes here. His candidate for the leadership of the Labour party—

The Chairman

Order. I do not want to hear any more of that.

Mr. Shepherd

Two Members from Cardiff would dispute that, Sir Alan.

We are dealing with patronage in the House of Lords and simple principles have been annunciated. The hon. and learned Member for Medway said something important. We are the elected representatives; we are capable of accomplishing these things. We have not yet discussed the White Paper, we cannot look to the future and we are being asked to leap in the dark. The amendment was a simple device to pull the carpet aside and enable us to suggest a way forward.

I do not have overweening respect for a royal commission whose members include a former Chief Whip, a former Foreign Secretary and great bureaucrat, and a former Back-Bench Labour Member. Why does that constitute the future for democratic Government? What Act provides for it? It is in itself an act of patronage.

Mr. McWalter

Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on the idea that those who dislike those making the appointments call it patronage and those who like the person making the appointments call it judicious selection on merit?

Mr. Shepherd

I am sure that we could think up acronyms that sum up our views—judicious this, judicious that or whatever.

Let us give it a whirl and go for it: let us make this our one statement to resonate with a royal commission which has only nine months to review all these matters, forgetting the years of service and understanding of democratic principles that are represented in this Chamber. I support the amendment tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Medway.

Mr. Mackinlay

I will come to amendment No. 13 in a moment. First, I must draw the attention of the Committee to new clause 10, in my name, which would at least put a declaration of intent on the face of the legislation—

The Chairman

Order. Although I have done the hon. Gentleman the compliment of selecting his new clause, it is in a grouping under clause 4 and it would not be in order to refer to it at this stage.

Mr. Mackinlay

I take your point, Sir Alan and I will refer to the arguments advanced by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). The thrust of his remarks was to cast doubt about whether there will be a second stage to this reform, to illustrate the problems of the interim House, how Members would be appointed to it and the patronage that would ensue.

Before consideration of the Bill by the House, I argued with Ministers that they should give Labour Members in particular, although not exclusively, some indication that they intended that there should be a second stage. Problems are presented by the so-called interim House, which many of us find unpalatable because of the amount of patronage involved. I tried to persuade Ministers that the Bill should contain some indication that there would be a second stage, but they said that it could not be done. The Parliament Act 1911 contained an indication of a second stage of reform, although it did not come about—it stated that it would lead to a democratically elected House. I do not think that one can pre-judge that, although I want a democratically elected House. The architects of this legislation should have put on the face of the Bill an indication that there would at least be some form of second stage. I regret that they felt unable to do so.

I fear that, five years from now, despite the protestations of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, we will not have had the second stage. That will in no way be a reflection on her. On the contrary, I am certain that she intends that there should be a second stage. However, I suspect that, some years from now, when some of us are asking when it will happen, she will no longer be Lord President of the Council. She will have moved on, or been moved on. Also, the Government will no doubt then face pressures similar to those faced by others who have been committed to radical reform of the upper House. They will say that there is not the legislative time. There will be other pressures—perhaps they will not be able to get the agreement of the Opposition. I believe that the whole matter will simply be kicked into touch.

8.30 p.m

I give notice, Sir Alan: five years from this date, if I am returned at the next general election, I intend to stand on a point of order and draw attention to the official record of our deliberations this evening. I shall either strike my breast while saying, "Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa—I was wrong," or I shall show that the Government's commitments on introducing a second stage have not come about.

The reason why I am so concerned is patronage—which is addressed by the amendment moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway. I do not believe that it is possible to construct a method of appointment that will avoid all the problems or the sins of patronage, while giving representation to minorities, dissidents, the awkward squad, the eccentric and the bloody-minded. I put it to the Committee that all those ingredients are essential if there is to be true deliberation in a parliamentary Chamber.

It so happens that the democratic process, albeit crudely and inadequately, succeeds in throwing up the bloody-minded, the eccentric, the difficult and the truculent. Therefore, like many other hon. Members, I am drawn inexorably to the conclusion that, instead of patronage, we should have a democratically elected Chamber.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mackinlay

Yes, although I notice that the hon. Gentleman has only dipped into this debate.

Mr. Butterfill

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be possible for the House of Commons to restrict the element of patronage available to the Prime Minister of the day by limiting the number of appointments that he could make and using alternative forms of patronage? My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) has pointed out that judges and bishops sit in the upper House, not through the Prime Minister's patronage, but through other means. We could extend such patronage to trade unions, the Royal College of Nursing and to other professional bodies. The power of patronage need not belong exclusively to the Prime Minister.

Mr. Mackinlay

Either the hon. Gentleman has not been listening to me, or I have conveyed my argument inadequately. I am complaining not just about the patronage of the Prime Minister, but about patronage in general. The hon. Gentleman describes the great and the good, the glitterati—that magic circle of people who run the country whether the Government are Labour or Conservative. The system that he proposes will not produce people who are prepared to challenge the system.

Let me illustrate that point. As some hon. Members know, I am concerned about the democratic deficit in relation to Gibraltar. Once, in an argument with a Minister on the subject, I said that there should be representation for Gibraltar at Westminster; out of frustration, I suggested that Gibraltar should be given a seat in the House of Lords for a representative. The Minister paused and conceded that there might be something in my suggestion, but then added, "You're not suggesting that fool Bossano are you?" I tell that story because "fool" is Government-speak for someone who is truculent—an irritant. If one is truculent or an irritant, one is, ipso facto, a fool and so disqualified from receiving patronage.

That is reflected in many ways. Many Members of the House of Lords are articulate people who contribute fully to debates. However, when deciding whom we want in the second Chamber, we have to take into account human nature: I would never appoint someone who irritates me, nor would my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition. We need some way of throwing the irritants up into the upper Chamber and the only way to do that is through democracy.

Despite the power of the arguments advanced by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway, I was truly shocked and horrified by his suggestion that we should have a unicameral Parliament. I believe that we need an upper Chamber of Parliament that has legitimacy and some powers to frustrate and irritate the Government, whatever party is in office. I suspect that my new Labour colleagues will not be in government for ever—I hope that they last for a long time, but the ebb and flow of politics will continue in the United Kingdom—but we as legislators have to step back and recognise that we have to build in the means to frustrate the Government, whatever their colour.

I want the view of the House of Commons ultimately to prevail and I want the manifesto presented by the winning party to prevail. However, the devil is in the detail and that has to be fully examined, and that does not currently happen in the House of Commons; the upper House has traditionally had the potential to fulfil that role. I believe that we need a second Chamber that is comprised differently from the House of Commons and that can force a degree of reflection on the excesses of the Government, or on the badly drafted legislation that, from time to time, passes with some dispatch through Commons procedures.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) says that such a Chamber would present a challenge to the House of Commons, but I do not accept that. Most democracies of a size similar to ours are bicameral and, overwhelmingly, they have a popular upper House that is entrenched in a written constitution. Lacking a written constitution, we could put a provision in primary legislation that the view of the House of Commons will ultimately prevail. That does not mean that there should not be a period of reflection. My hon. Friend suggested that, if an upper House is elected, it will be equal to this House. First, I have demonstrated that that need not be the case. Secondly, it presupposes that the election for the other place would be held on the same day and for the same proportion of Members as the election for the House of Commons.

In an earlier debate, I expressed my view that, instead of patronage, there should be a rolling programme of fixed-term elections to another House, so that there is never at one time a snapshot that gives that House a mandate. Every Member would have legitimacy drawn from the people who elected him or her. Unless there were a massive and continual loss of confidence in a particular Government, the governing party would, even in the worst-case scenario, have a substantial, if not the largest, wedge of seats in the upper House. Of course, on occasions, the Executive would have to negotiate, work hard and persuade.

One of the problems of this place is that we have parliamentary dictatorship. That phrase was coined by Lord Hailsham—Quintin Hogg—probably in reference to the period following the 1983 general election, when there was a massive Conservative majority. Now the Labour party has a substantial majority and, although I welcome that, we need to review in detail propositions put forward by any Government with a large majority.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend should recognise—this is, I fear, a consistent pattern—that, when Lord Hailsham spoke about the dangers of elective dictatorship he was talking about the possibility of the Labour party holding such power. It never bothered him when the Conservative party was in that position.

Mr. Mackinlay

That may well be Lord Hailsham's position. He chopped and changed a great deal and moved about like a yo-yo.

The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) referred to possible abuse. If I cannot persuade the Committee of my view on the basis of Quintin Hogg's expression, I ask hon. Members to reflect on the large majorities produced by our existing electoral system, which I expect will endure for a long time. Governments obviously want enthusiastically to support and push through their manifesto, but a braking mechanism is necessary so that details are considered and such foolishness as the poll tax legislation does not result. That is a classic example of legislation being pushed through the House with no brakes being applied.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Will my hon. Friend bear it in mind that the method of election can produce a direct form of patronage? For example, he might think that a bicameral system that used proportional representation or a system of closed lists, in which parties rather than individuals are chosen on the basis of their position on a list, would produce checks and balances, but I have very severe reservations about that.

Mr. Mackinlay

If I trespassed on to that subject, Mr. Lord, you would pull me up. Obviously, I have views about a revised electoral system and the methods of selecting and electing candidates for the European Parliament.

We are trying to minimise patronage and abuse, and we cannot, in this Bill, legitimately sustain the case for a parliamentary Chamber that does not have a democratic base. I say to my hon. Friends, and also to Opposition Members: surely we can trust the electorate. Why are we so afraid of democratic elections for a parliamentary Chamber? Of course there would be a change of culture and a change in the relationship between the two Houses, but so be it—I welcome that. At present, far too much is choreographed and so much is certain.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, if we had a wholly elected second Chamber—that option may eventually be chosen—enormous power would be given to the party machines and no Cross Benchers would ever be elected?

Mr. Mackinlay

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned Cross Benchers; they have no legitimacy whatsoever. Whom do they represent? Only themselves. Conservative Members have said that great contributions have been made by Cross Benchers, and indeed that is so, but many people who are not in the House of Lords would have made great contributions if they had been in the Lords. We can all think of wonderful people who, no doubt, if ennobled, would make wonderful contributions in the House of Lords. The choice of appointment is arbitrary. People who are Cross Benchers are those who have found the favour of a Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition. Even when the Bill is passed, with this fancy commission, the oligarchy of the great and the good will still make the selection. There will not be many people from Dock road, Tilbury on the list, will there?

Sir Patrick Cormack

The hon. Gentleman misses the point. Two hundred and six or 210 of the Cross Benchers are hereditary, so they are not there as a result of immediate patronage. However, as we know to our cost in this Chamber, in an elected Chamber people can be elected only if they represent a party and have a party ticket. That gives enormous power of patronage—of choice—to the party. That is the sort of Chamber that we would have.

Mr. Mackinlay

I am prepared to do battle in my party, as I do, and I will live with that. Every democracy has imperfections, and it is a fact that political parties are controlled by party managers, but, by and large, I believe that we have shown, in our respective parties, that we can cope with that, and we shall endeavour to fight our corner. I am catching the eye of the Deputy Chief Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley), who wants me to conclude. I shall do so in a moment, but that is an illustration of the fact that they want to choreograph everything. They find parliamentary debates irritating.

Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton)


Mr. Tyrie


Mr. Mackinlay

I will give way to one independent in the Chamber.

Mr. Bell

Is the hon. Gentleman maintaining that a Cross Bencher has no part to play in this House?

Mr. Mackinlay

A Cross Bencher who is elected demonstrably has a large part to play in this House, because he has the mandate of the people to whom he presented himself at an election, but an appointed Cross Bencher has no mandate, and can speak for himself or herself only. They may or may not make common-sense contributions. In a democracy that has reached the stage that ours has, we cannot have people in Parliament who have no electoral base; it is absurd.

I urge my hon. Friends to try to prove me and other doubters wrong, by demonstrating much more forcefully that there will be a second stage. I should like to know, either in the debate or elsewhere, how the Labour party will prepare its evidence to the royal commission and whether, after that evidence has been presented to the royal commission, I am expected to sign up to whatever is presented. In this very important constitutional debate, we need some relaxation of rules of party discipline. We need the freedom to generate ideas and express them to ascertain reactions.

I suspect that, if there were a free vote in the House of Commons, there would be at least a narrow majority for a democratically elected upper House. However, we may well not be presented with that opportunity. In the absence of any constitutional convention, hon. Members are "the constitutional convention". I hope that that will be borne in mind.

I believe that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, or whoever replies to the debate for the Government, has a duty on this occasion to flesh out how and when the Joint Committee will work. Will it be able to take evidence? Will its sittings be limited? What will be its size and scale? There is nothing to prevent the Joint Committee from comprising the whole House. I believe that the recent Australian Constitutional Convention embraced most of the Members of the House of Representatives. We need to know that, because we are acquiescing in something without knowing all the ground rules.

8.45 pm
Mr. Wells

Amendment No. 13 is a compromise. Unfortunately, it says: or shall in future be appointed a member of the House of Lords by the exercise of patronage". I would have preferred it to continue, "or shall be appointed by a member of the House of Lords by exercise of patronage"—in which case we would have left the House of Lords without hereditary peers or life peers, but with bishops and Law Lords only. In so doing, we would point up the fact that this Bill is a leap into the dark—as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said. It is a leap into the dark because we do not know the membership of the two Chambers committee. We now know some of the composition of the royal commission—and we are all drawing our own conclusions from its chairmanship and membership as to its remit. It is certainly not intended to engage in a serious discussion about important constitutional matters—if for no other reason than it is to report within nine months.

My starting point is not the same as that of the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). I would leave the House of Lords roughly as it is at present, with some major changes regarding retirement arrangements and size. It is a strange and a crazy place. I believe that the right to sit in a legislature by virtue of birth is crazy and unacceptable. However, I would leave the House of Lords undisturbed because it is doing some useful work—which I acknowledge and pay tribute to, as did the Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) and many others. Yet this Bill will not allow the House of Lords to remain as it is—we must face that fact.

It has been suggested that we should consider electing people to the House of Lords. That is clearly one option. It has also been suggested that we should continue the patronage system and appoint an unspecified number of people to the House of Lords by virtue of their success in life or, by some other means, provide the majority in the House of Lords that is necessary in order to pass without delay or obstruction whatever legislation the House of Commons has decided upon.

It is clear that that is what the Government intend: they are prepared to appoint at least 55 people in addition to the appointments that they have already made to the House of Lords to ensure that there is a rough balance between Conservative and Labour Members, without taking into account Cross Benchers who will support much of the Government legislation. The Government's objective is clear: they wish to create a Chamber that will be subservient to this place and will do what they say.

That appointed Chamber will be created by virtue of patronage of the grossest kind and the exercise of increasing Executive power. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and many other hon. Members have drawn attention to the immense power of the Prime Minister, which he gains by means of Crown patronage and by using the monarch in order to extend his power well beyond the capacity of the House of Commons to gainsay him or call him to account. Without this amendment, the Bill would leave us in that position.

The amendment would make us think about where we are going. I think that we are being driven inexorably down the route of a unicameral Parliament. There is no way that any Prime Minister or Executive will endorse a scheme of elections that will second-guess the House of Commons that they control. They simply will not do it: turkeys do not vote for Christmas and Prime Ministers do not vote for second Chambers that obstruct their power and control over the House of Commons. That is entirely logical.

An elected second Chamber may seem like a nice idea, but why do we need a second Chamber to second-guess the first Chamber if it is working properly? We must consider that question in relation to this Bill. The House of Commons is not working properly because of the huge patronage power of the Prime Minister, because we do not consider Bills properly, and because Select Committee procedures are incomplete. Much reform is needed. Once we pass the Bill, the House of Commons must reform and recapture the power that it has lost to the Executive over the years.

I commend the amendment because it will prevent the creation of a Chamber of which we cannot be certain whether it is temporary or permanent. The present one, as I pointed out earlier, has lasted 88 years. Once the Government get control of the second Chamber, they will have increased power of patronage. Lord Cranborne told me that, despite the House of Lords being dismissed as a useless debating chamber, he has people from the Conservative side of affairs who have given some service, usually to industry and business, but also to sport, the arts and so on, lining up to become life peers and wanting the exercise of patronage.

The House that would be created by the Bill without the amendment would fall in public opinion and would be seen to be made up of Tony's cronies. Presumably, after the Prime Minister has left office, it would consist of the next Prime Minister's cronies. That is a despicable way to appoint a second Chamber. We shall not get an elected Chamber, and we shall have huge arguments over that. An elected Chamber would quarrel with this Chamber.

We are therefore inexorably driven to a unicameral Parliament. If there is to be a unicameral Parliament, we must recapture the powers over the Executive that this House has lost, and we shall have to reform this House in great detail.

Mr. Fisher

I welcome the amendment, as it gives us the opportunity to discuss what role, if any, should be played by appointment and patronage in determining the membership of the second Chamber.

At last we are reforming the House of Lords and abolishing the hereditary principle. That is long overdue, and I congratulate the Government on fulfilling their manifesto commitment to end the hereditary principle. There are, however, two aspects of the House of Lords that I find unacceptable. The first is that its membership is, in large part, hereditary. The second is that it is not democratically elected. The Bill attempts to reform only the first of those two defects.

The amendment is important because it allows us to discuss the second defect. The question goes right to the heart of politics: how should any society decide who should govern, who should legislate and who should determine the membership of the bodies that legislate and govern? I believe that all the key legislative and administrative institutions, and above all Parliament, should be elected by the people, by direct democratic election.

Throughout this century, ever since the 1911 Act, we have tolerated the hereditary and unelected House of Lords because we could not change it. Here at last we have a Labour Government with a good working majority, a will to challenge the House of Lords and the mandate to reform it. I have waited for all that for the 35 years that I have been in the Labour party and all my political life.

That is wonderful, but we are planning to correct only one of the political defects of the House of Lords, and we seem to be planning to perpetuate the other. Is that the case? What will the royal commission consider? Is the Government's mind still open to a wholly elected second Chamber? I believe that it is for this Chamber and the Government to determine the principles on which the other Chamber should be constituted, and it is for the royal commission to consider the details.

Tonight we are discussing the principle—the shape. That should not be left to a royal commission. It is a matter that only an elected body such as ourselves—elected by the people of this country—should determine. There is an enormous distinction between the principles and the detail.

If the royal commission is not to consider the principles, why is it that the Government appear to believe in appointment and in patronage as the way of determining membership of the second Chamber? They do not believe in that for any other body. They have done extraordinary work in creating an Assembly for Wales and a Parliament for Scotland, and in restarting directly elected democracy in Northern Ireland. There is no element of appointment or patronage in any of that—everybody is directly elected.

What about local government, where the Government also plan reforms? If any Opposition Member proposed that the reform of local government should be based on patronage and appointment, rather than direct election, the Government would rightly ridicule any such suggestion and laugh it out of court. What about the European Parliament, to which there was indirect appointment, rather than election, until 1979? Would the Government want to return to an appointed European Parliament? If not—and, of course, they would not—why do they want to have a system of appointment built into the membership of the second Chamber?

Mr. Gerald Howarth

The hon. Gentleman talks about the European Parliament. Is he aware that a Labour Member of the European Parliament was effectively deprived, not of his membership of the European Parliament, but certainly of the Labour Whip, by the withdrawal of patronage by the Prime Minister on the ground that that Labour MEP opposed the closed-list system?

Mr. Fisher

That individual is a Member of the European Parliament for the duration of the Parliament, because he was elected by his constituents. He is a Member by election, not by appointment.

Mrs. Beckett

That person walked out.

Mr. Fisher

I give way to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Mrs. Beckett

I was not intervening on my hon. Friend, but should say to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), who clearly does not know what he is talking about, that nobody was deprived of the Labour Whip. A couple of people chose to leave the Labour party in circumstances where nobody was seeking to remove them. That was nothing whatever to do with the closed list and the hon. Gentleman does not know what he is talking about.

Mr. Fisher

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. We are discussing how to determine membership. Those people are Members of the European Parliament because they were elected to it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), whom I respect in many matters, does not want a directly elected second Chamber because it would have a legitimacy that would threaten this Chamber. I believe that he is fundamentally wrong—there is a great difference between primacy and legitimacy. That view was held by Mr. Michael Foot, and others whom I also respect, but it is a poor argument and simply not true.

Fundamentally, that argument lacks confidence in this Chamber and in our ability to design a remit for the second Chamber that would provide legitimacy of its own, but not legitimacy that had primacy over us. It would be for this Chamber—in determining our role and that of the second Chamber—to determine the separation of powers and maintain our primacy.

Mr. Grieve

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fisher

The Committee wants to move swiftly to a vote, so, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will not give way. He has already spoken.

If the amendment is put to a vote, I shall vote for it. I have never voted against the Government, and I shall do so with considerable regret and sadness, but this question goes to the heart of our politics. As several hon. Members have said, it is a simple question: who should decide who sits in Parliament? I believe that it should be the people. We are accountable to our constituents. That is what gives us our authority. That is why we are Members of Parliament. The same should be true of the whole of our Parliament—of the other Chamber, as well. The people should decide who sits in that Chamber, not Members of this House. We have our chance to extend that principle of democracy right across our Parliament. We should grasp it.

9 pm

Mr. Letwin

It has been a privilege for someone relatively new to the House to listen to the entire debate, which has been occasioned by the amendment tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) and colleagues from both sides of the House. His eloquence and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and others has been occasioned by the fact that this group of amendments takes us to the heart of the great issues that the Bill raises.

At the heart of the Bill is the question whether the Executive currently have an overweening power that must be addressed, whether the Bill in its current form and without amendment does that, or whether the Bill as drafted makes that problem worse.

On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) and I argued vigorously in the first day's debate that this country suffers from a lack of scrutiny of critical measures that come before us in this House and in the other place. There is a lack of scrutiny of the Administration, of the 3,000-odd statutory instruments that come before us, of the legislation by prerogative power in Brussels, of appropriations and primary legislation. We argued then and I argue now that, without any of the amendments, the Bill does nothing to solve any of those problems. In fact, it worsens them, because, as many hon. Members on both sides have said, it creates a second Chamber that is even more in the hands of the Executive—were that possible—than today's Chamber.

The question that we have been debating for the past few hours is how best to address that problem within the confines of the Bill. The amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Medway is a radical solution that, in many respects, attracts us. It would become yet more radical by intention if amendment No. 15 tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills were accepted. If the amendment was tabled with the purpose of allowing us to speak about the final solution for the House of Lords—if I can use that dreadful phrase, by which I mean the second phase—it has provoked the profoundest reflections, expressed in the right spirit. We owe my hon. Friend a great favour.

It is the duty of Her Majesty's Opposition to consider what has, alas, befallen us. We are not merely a debating society discussing a possible future phase 2. I think that it was the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) who said that, in the absence of a constitutional convention, the House is the constitutional convention. We face the reality that, as things stand, the House is so in the grip of the Executive that, de facto, it is they who are turning into the constitutional convention, and they have been able to introduce wide-ranging constitutional reforms with hardly a check. As a result, there is a great likelihood that we will have a second Chamber that is interim in name only. That point has repeatedly been made today, yesterday and on Second Reading by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

It falls to Her Majesty's Opposition—I hope that the Government will feel that it falls to them also—to consider the question of how we shall be governed in what may be a very long interim period. In that context, we see a problem with the amendment tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Medway. Although it serves admirably to force the issue and to push towards phase 2, were it to be implemented in the form in which he proposes it, and were there never to be such a phase or were there to be a prolonged interim period, the power of the other place would dwindle remarkably. If amendment No. 15 were also accepted, a further problem would ensue. Indeed, we might have a House that was no House at all: we might have unicameralism by default. In that event, hon. Members who seek that as a long-term solution would have achieved their goal, but I suspect that they are few in number, and that neither Her Majesty's Opposition nor the Government seek such a result at present.

We must address the serious question of how we are to deal with a Bill that will bring us an interim Chamber, and try to find a solution to the problem that amendment No. 13 rightly raises.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Does the hon. Gentleman really believe what he has just said? If the amendment were passed, it would concentrate the Government' s mind something wonderful, and it would not defer the long-term reform of the House of Lords that all Labour Members support root and branch; indeed, it would hasten it beyond our dreams.

Mr. Letwin

The hon. and learned Gentleman is right. It would concentrate the mind something wonderful, and, taken with amendment No. 14, it would concentrate it even more. Alas, that is the very reason why, I am presumptuous enough to guess, the Government will not accept either amendment. We therefore face a practical problem: we shall have an interim House that will not benefit from amendments of this kind for the very reason advanced by the hon. and learned Gentleman—that it would force an early move to a system to which we believe the Government have not the slightest intention of moving in the early future.

Mr. Gordon Prentice

Is it not nonsensical to suggest that the transitional House will extend into the indefinite future without collusion between the two Front Benches? If the Liberal Democrats and the official Opposition are calling for a directly elected Second Chamber, it simply is not practical politics—especially given the divisions on the Labour Benches—for the transitional House to continue indefinitely. It will not happen.

Mr. Letwin

I fear that the divisions of which the hon. Gentleman speaks—the divisions in the Labour party—will prevent the Government from moving rapidly towards a system that would split their party very fast. The Government may have the necessary courage; Opposition Members hope that they will. They may establish a royal commission that will produce serious results, but, in framing the commission's terms of reference, they have done their best to prevent such an eventuality. None of us has any more faith than the hon. Gentleman's colleague, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, that the interim solution will soon disappear and give way to phase 2. Even if it does, there will be a period during which the interim solution is the solution: during which—this is the serious aspect of today's debate—we shall have a House of Parliament formed by the Bill

. This is not just a debating society; we are making a constitution, for at least a period. The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) is bound to grant me that. I speculate that it will be a long period, and he thinks that it will be short, but for a time that will be our constitution.

Because the Government, however regrettably, will not accept the amendments, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester has come up with a different proposal: an attempt to control patronage by means of an Appointments Commission, whose members will be appointed by the Speaker and which will be free from prime ministerial patronage. Perhaps the Government will see fit to accept his proposal, which would be splendid. The Opposition, however—some of my hon. Friends may blame me for this—have learnt something from the excessively supine attitude of Liberal Democrats. We have sought to table new clauses that are eirenic, constructive and abominably nice from the Government's point of view—new clauses that make it as easy as possible for the Government actually and practically to address, within the spirit of their own measure, the problem to which their Bill would give rise without such amendment. That is the intention of new clauses 5, 4 and 3.

I put the new clauses in that order because we designed them to meet specific aims. New clause 5 is intended to give the widest possible effect to our intentions. If the Government reject it because they think that it goes too far, we offer them new clause 4; if the Government think that even that goes too far, why! in our boundless attempt to be "Liberal Democrat" and constructive in our pursuit of a less bad Bill, we offer them new clause 3.

New clause 5 is based on a document to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester referred and which should be familiar to Ministers. That document states: Our objective will be to ensure that over time party appointees as life peers more accurately reflect the proportion of votes cast at the previous general election. We are committed to maintaining an independent cross-bench presence of life peers. It is not a document that will appear unduly revolutionary to Ministers. It is, of course, the Labour party manifesto. New clause 5 should have the appearance of some legitimacy as it attempts to translate into legislative practice precisely the words that I have just read from the Labour party manifesto. In so doing, it tries to remove some—only some, but some—of the power of the Executive through the patronage of the Prime Minister under the Crown.

New clause 5 gives the Appointments Commission statutory existence in the first place. In passing, may I say that it is remarkable that the Bill does not do that? It is remarkable because, throughout the passage of the Bill, Ministers have said that they intend to have such an Appointments Commission and have made much of the fact that the commission, rather than the Prime Minister, will appoint Cross Benchers. Is it not odd, then, that there is no Appointments Commission mentioned in the Bill? Through new clause 5, we introduce such a commission. We also invoke a rule of double proportionality: first, that the appointments that the commission makes in respect of party representatives should be proportional to the results of the votes in the last general election; and, secondly, that Cross Benchers should be appointed in proportion to the number of people not voting in the last election.

I do not describe those devices as grand or wonderful. They are simply a constructive attempt to get through to Ministers something better than the ghastly, overweening patronage in the Bill. What better source for that can we possibly find than the proposals in the Labour party manifesto?

Mr. Winnick

The hon. Gentleman criticises at every opportunity the patronage of the present Government. As an Opposition spokesman, there is no reason why he should not do that, but the Prime Minister has said that he will give up the veto on nominations by the Conservative party and other political parties. Is the hon. Gentleman aware—obviously, he was not in the House at the time—that, following the 1983 election, Michael Foot, then Labour leader, made a number of nominations and the then Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, vetoed nearly all of them? That was excessive patronage by the then Prime Minister over nominations by the Opposition party. That was an abuse of patronage.

Mr. Letwin

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raises that point because the next thing that new clause 5 does is precisely designed to address that. It puts in the hands of the Speaker the appointments of the Appointments Commission. It distances the commission entirely from prime ministerial patronage. That is surely an aim that Labour Members, Conservative Members and Ministers should share.

New clauses 4 and 3 are merely variants on that theme. They attempt to give, by statute, registered political parties—hence without the Prime Minister's veto of which the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) speaks—and the Speaker, via the Appointments Commission, a clear role in appointments which distances those appointments from the Prime Minister.

I cannot understand why Ministers should find it difficult to accept one or other of the new clauses—of course, in some revised form if Ministers object to their drafting. Any one of them would at least represent an important advance on a Bill that will create a new Chamber that may last a long time, and will have the disastrous effect of putting in place a huge number of new placemen.

Mr. Winnick

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene so soon after my first intervention.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that what Lady Thatcher did in 1983 was a great abuse of patronage, which has never been repeated by the present Prime Minister and that there has never been the slightest suggestion that he would do so?

9.15 pm
Mr. Letwin

The hon. Gentleman sorely tempts me to start repeating some of what my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester said about current patronage, but I shall not, because I do not want now to engage in party political bickering. We are talking about a Bill that very soon will create a new House. Surely it falls to us to try to remedy the problems to which the hon. Gentleman alluded—regardless of which party gives rise to the problems or the Government who are responsible for them. Many hon. Members have spoken eloquently to that purpose in this debate, and I do not see why we should allow ourselves to descend into party political bickering when such a matter is under consideration.

It may be argued that there is no need for this group of amendments. I half suspect that, in his reply, the Minister will tell us that there is no need for them. He will tell us, perhaps, that the Neill Committee, the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee and I know not what other worthy bodies—of which there are many—can be appointed by the Prime Minister but that their members can, nevertheless, display an admirable independence. That is perfectly and abundantly true.

Members of the Neill Committee have been—to the Government's considerable discomfiture—extremely independent-minded in their critique, for example, of the recent Welsh referendum. We shall owe to them much of what I hope will be enacted by passage of the Referendums Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), and in the Government's future legislation. I do not for a moment deny that we will owe such future provision to the independence of those committee members.

Before the Minister makes that argument today, however, I hope that he will reflect on the fact that his own logic is utterly destroyed by his own proposals. If the Minister really believes that the Prime Minister will be able to appoint or select Members of the upper House on a basis that will ensure their independence, the Government do not need an Appointments Commission.

It is very odd that the Leader of the House should have made such great play of the fact that the Prime Minister will hand over selection of Cross Benchers to such a commission. If the Prime Minister is capable entirely of selecting an independent Appointments Commission, why not simply select an entirely independent set of Cross Benchers? The fact is that the Government have admitted that there is at the very least a problem of appearance, and possibly—

Mrs. Beckett

We have the Nolan principles.

Mr. Letwin

We know that; there are all sorts of Nolan principles, which could apply also to the selection of peers—why not? They cannot because the right hon. Lady and her colleagues admit implicitly that there is a problem at least of appearance and perhaps in reality.

The Government believe that we need an Appointments Commission. Why not therefore move one stage further, at least, and hand the selection of that commission to the Speaker—as all hon. Members have confidence in that source? Alternatively, why not allow the registered political parties to make, without a veto, political appointments to the Appointments Commission? We offer either alternative, or both, with or without the Labour party manifesto's own proportionality rules. We offer a complete menu of possibilities.

Today, it falls to the Government to show the Committee that they really mean not to increase—as, unfortunately, we suspect that they do mean to increase—patronage by adopting at least one of our proposals, given that they are, alas, unlikely to adopt the far more radical proposals of the hon. and learned Member for Medway or my hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills and for Chichester.

Mr. Tipping

This has been a wide-ranging debate. Some hon. Members may think that it has ranged too widely. Although the debate has sometimes been emotive, we can be proud of its vigour, and of the light that it has shed in the Chamber. I intend to stick to the narrow parameters of amendment No. 13, and shall perhaps be the only hon. Member to do so.

As we know, the Bill is a simple one, and will remove hereditary peers from the other place. It is fascinating that, although the Bill focuses on hereditary peers, for the past two and a half or three hours the debate has focused on life peers.

Mr. Shepherd

I am slightly puzzled. It sounds as though the Minister is winding up, and I am not sure why he should be. Other hon. Members seem to want to speak to the amendments in Committee.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. That is a matter for the occupant of the Chair.

Mr. Tipping

I am sure that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who has much more experience in these matters than I do, will know that it is a matter for the Chairman. I look forward to hearing your decision, Mr. Lord.

The focus has been on life peers and how they should be selected in the interim stage. The other main subject of the debate has been the powers of patronage. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) made a strong speech on the subject, describing his amendments as short but perfectly formed. I thought for a moment that he was applying the description to himself. However, the deficiencies in his amendments became clear when he was challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) and by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills. If my hon. and learned Friend's amendments were passed, Labour Ministers would not be able to appoint to the interim House, but Conservatives would.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

If amendment No.13 and new clause 17 were both passed, would it not be possible for the prerogative to be exercised by the Appointments Commission? That would not result in the interim House dwindling away as the Minister suggests.

Mr. Tipping

I listened carefully to the interesting and scholarly speech of the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie). We are talking about trying to balance the numbers of Labour and Tory peers, but his new clause would result in Tory peers keeping control of the House. He has not done his sums. When we challenged him on how long it would take to achieve equity in the upper House, he did not have the answer. It would take a long time. One of the themes of the debate is that, when the Conservatives are faced with losing influence and power in the upper House, they switch to arguments about how peers should be found for the interim Chamber.

Mr. Tyrie

It is a shame that the Minister is suggesting that my new clause was an attempt at a party political fix. It was nothing of the sort, despite the mutterings of the Leader of the House. I made it clear that I am sympathetic towards other proposals, which would not necessarily sit with this group of amendments, that would result in roughly equal numbers of Labour and Conservative Members in the upper House. I referred to the possible introduction of a retirement age of 75. I have done my sums on that idea, which would leave Labour with six more Members than the Conservatives. It is a travesty to suggest that I have been engaged in a party political fix.

Mr. Tipping

The hon. Gentleman may confuse his intention with the effect of his new clause, which would be negligible change. I would have more sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point had he not made so much play of what he called the Prime Minister's abuse of power. I know that he has consulted the record carefully, but he has not told the full story. Conservative Prime Ministers have used their powers of patronage to a similar extent to the present Prime Minister.

Mr. Lansley


Mr. Tipping

I shall not give way any more. I have been generous with my time. I have listened to a great many speeches from Conservaive Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley pointed out deficiencies in the amendment. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills had to table a new amendment to make up for those deficiencies. My hon. and learned Friend would say that he was not worried about the technicalities or the drafting, but that he was interested in the big picture—the vision thing. However, the vision thing about which he tried to tell us—as is often his way—was the abuse of patronage by the Prime Minister.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) was simply wrong to say that the Opposition could appoint by recommendation to the House. Does my hon. Friend the Minister accept that?

Mr. Tipping

If my hon. and learned Friend consults the record tomorrow, he will see that he acknowledged the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley. We are aware of the dangers inherent in prime ministerial control of access to the fount of honour. We have suffered from that in the past, and that is why the current Prime Minister—unprecedentedly—has taken steps to reduce his sole powers of patronage.

Let me remind the Committee of those steps. First, we have committed ourselves not to seek more than broad parity of numbers with the main Opposition party, and to allow proportionate creations for the Liberal Democrats and other parties, including Cross Benchers. That is a smaller share of the overall strength of the House than we proposed in the manifesto, and we will still be in a 2:1 minority in the House.

Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has promised that we will not interfere in the details of nominations from the other party leaders or from the Appointments Commission. That is the first time that such a public commitment has been given. Conservative Members may complain, but their record on constitutional change during their 18 years in power can be described only as a black hole.

Finally, we have undertaken to set up an independent Appointments Commission to make recommendations for Cross-Bench peers. I will not go into the detail of the arrangement now, but there is one issue to which I wish to draw attention. The new body will take over the functions of the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee in relation to all peerages. That means vetting them for propriety. The standards of propriety in question will be those recommended by Lord Neill in his report on the funding of political parties. The arrangements for ascertaining whether a peerage has in any way been bought will be strengthened. That will apply to all peerages, including those recommended by the party leaders.

The hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) who spoke—or, perhaps, wound up—for the Opposition, spoke at length of the deficiencies in the amendment tabled by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway, although he was, in principle, sympathetic. He felt that it would not be acceptable to the Government—or, perhaps, to himself—for reasons that he spelled out. At a very late stage, the hon. Gentleman mentioned for the first time new clauses 3, 4 and 5.

The hon. Member for West Dorset described, quite rightly, new clause 3 as the minimalist position, built on—in a step-ladder approach—by new clauses 4 and 5.

He tried to persuade us that the appointments body that he would ask the Speaker to set up would be better than the Appointments Commission that we recommend. He said that our Appointments Commission would be set up under the Nolan rules. I remind him that those Nolan rules were introduced by the previous Conservative Government and were strengthened by this Government.

Mr. Letwin

If the Nolan rules are good enough for the appointment of that commission—and if there is no problem with something appointed by the Prime Minister under the Nolan rules—why not use the Nolan rules to appoint Members of the other place?

9.30 pm
Mr. Tipping

It remains to be seen whether the Nolan rules can be applied to the body that the hon. Gentleman recommends. It is not clear what accountability would apply to the form of commission proposed in new clause 3. Is Madam Speaker being asked to apply Nolan principles? Will there be a fixed term of membership? What rules will the commission have to follow in selecting names? With the greatest respect to Madam Speaker, has she the necessary resources? I believe that a tried and tested set of procedures, instituted by the Tories and strengthened by us, is preferable to what the new clauses would do.

Hon. Members of all parties have been gripped tonight by the idea of the interim House. How long is that interim House to remain? Let me remind hon. Members of our manifesto commitment to remove hereditary peers from the second Chamber. We have set up a royal commission with an independent—a Tory—chairman, to report by the end of the year. What the White Paper says is our intention. The royal commission is being asked to report by the end of 1999, to enable the Government to make every effort to ensure that the second stage of reform has been approved by Parliament by the time of the general election.

We are determined to honour our manifesto commitment. We have begun, as the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) said, an evolutionary, step-by-step process. I am confident that we can keep to the timetable.

Change is occurring. There has been a remarkable change in the attitude of Tory Members towards hereditary peers. There has been a change in the pace of debate. There is now a real desire for open debate both with and within the royal commission. Let us have the confidence, after years of struggle, to achieve that change. This time, it is in our grasp, if we take the route that the Government have recommended and reject the amendments and new clauses.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Because of patronage and the current lack of pressure, some of us thought that there would not be a vote on the amendment, as there have not been votes on many other controversial amendments. In case there is a vote, I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) appreciates that quite a few of those who will vote for the amendment utterly reject his arguments and his scenario for the future. The amendment would achieve what I want to achieve, but not what he wants to achieve.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

I cannot think of a better solution than to have the hon. Gentleman voting with me but rejecting all the arguments that I have made.

Sir Teddy Taylor

The last thing that I want is to form a popular front, but, as the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) pointed out, people might look at the record, and I would not want them to think that I was supporting the hon. and learned Member for Medway because of his absurd arguments.

The idea that abolishing hereditary peers and putting life peers in their place gets rid of patronage is a load of old codswallop. There is far more patronage involved in appointing life peers than in the succession of hereditary peers.

If we get rid of hereditary peers and have an elected House instead, as the hon. and learned Member for Medway would like, the Government should appreciate what we are doing to the constitution. I have just come back from Scotland. The House of Commons has always followed the idea that one person should represent an area and be answerable to its people, but now in Scotland people will have a Euro Member, although goodness knows what he is meant to do; a Westminster Member, with no power to handle Scottish affairs; regional Scottish Members, although no one knows what they are meant to do; directly elected Scottish Members; and councillors. It is nonsense. People might have five separate representatives, all of different parties. Instead of trying to deal with people's problems, they will simply blame each other.

We will not help if, on top of that mess, we tell the people of Glasgow that we want them to elect a senator as well. I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Medway, who has great ideas on legal matters, will appreciate that, if we go down that road, we will have an army of politicians and create confusion where we used to have a good system.

The House of Lords performs the limited job of making the Executive stop and think for a year. Basically, that can be done by the hereditary peers, who in no way try to overturn the political views of the House of Commons. The figures in fact show that more proposals from Conservative Governments have been stopped than proposals from Labour Governments. If we are to abolish that useful, limited constitutional safeguard, it would be better to have no second Chamber at all.

If we go ahead and have another elected Chamber, it will cost a lot of money and create much confusion. In addition, it will destroy many of the principles of our democracy that have worked well. It is very easy to muck everything up. People should appreciate that our constitution has served us well. I and others will vote for the amendment, but certainly not for the absurd, republican views expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Medway.

Mr. Grieve

I shall be brief. The speech made by the Parliamentary Secretary was a classic of new Labour, in that what was being offered was new patronage—a sanitised version of the old patronage. I can understand why he made it, but it was not good enough.

I have had serious reservations about the direction in which the second Chamber should go. By having a directly elected second Chamber, can we achieve and keep some of the qualities evident in the independence of the present House of Lords? That question has caused me some concern, and I have sometimes wondered whether some form of appointed—or partially appointed—second Chamber might not be sensible.

However, I am bound to say that the more I have considered the matter, the more convinced I have become that the general thrust of what the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) says is correct. I believe that we need an elected second Chamber, and that we should apply ourselves creatively to determining the system of any election that might be held, the timing of that election and the criteria governing it. We must try to ensure that those who go to the second Chamber, which will have more limited functions, will be able to reflect a greater spirit of independence from party control than is evident in this House. That would create a good system of checks and balances for the future.

On that basis, the hon. and learned Member for Medway has done a great service to the House by providing the vehicle for this debate. He is to be commended for what he has done.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 51, Noes 269.

Division No. 69] [9.39 pm
Allan, Richard Jones, Ms Jenny
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) (Wolverh'ton SW)
Barnes, Harry Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Livingstone, Ken
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Llwyd, Elfyn
Bennett, Andrew F McAllion, John
Best, Harold McDonnell, John
Brake, Tom Mahon, Mrs Alice
Butler, Mrs Christine Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Caton, Martin Mitchell, Austin
Chaytor, David Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Clapham, Michael Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Sanders, Adrian
Cummings, John Sawford, Phil
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Sedgemore, Brian
Dawson, Hilton Shepherd, Richard
Etherington, Bill Skinner, Dennis
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Fisher, Mark Stott, Roger
Flight, Howard Swinney, John
Flynn, Paul Taylor, Sir Teddy
Godman, Dr Norman A Wareing, Robert N
Grieve, Dominic Wise, Audrey
Hancock, Mike Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Tellers for the Ayes:
Hopkins, Kelvin Mr. Bill Michie and Mr. Bowen Wells.
Hurst, Alan
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Beard, Nigel
Ainger, Nick Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Begg, Miss Anne
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Benton, Joe
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Berry, Roger
Ashton, Joe Betts, Clive
Austin, John Blears, Ms Hazel
Banks, Tony Blizzard, Bob
Barron, Kevin Borrow, David
Bayley, Hugh Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben Grocott, Bruce
Brinton, Mrs Helen Grogan, John
Buck, Ms Karen Gunnell, John
Burden, Richard Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Burgon, Colin Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Burnett, John Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Hanson, David
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Harris, Dr Evan
Campbell-Savours, Dale Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Cann, Jamie Heppell, John
Caplin, Ivor Hesford, Stephen
Casale, Roger Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Hodge, Ms Margaret
Chisholm, Malcolm Hoey, Kate
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Home Robertson, John
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Hood, Jimmy
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hope, Phil
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Clwyd, Ann Hughes, Kevin (DoncasterN)
Coaker, Vernon Humble, Mrs Joan
Coffey, Ms Ann Hutton, John
Coleman, Iain Iddon, Dr Brian
Connarty, Michael Illsley, Eric
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Cooper, Yvette Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Corbett, Robin Jamieson, David
Cousins, Jim Jenkins, Brian
Cox, Tom Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cranston, Ross Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Crausby, David Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Cunliffe, Lawrence Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack Keeble, Ms Sally
(Copeland) Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Darvill, Keith Kidney, David
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Kilfoyle, Peter
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Davidson, Ian Kumar, Dr Ashok
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly) Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Laxton, Bob
Dean, Mrs Janet Leslie, Christopher
Denham, John Levitt, Tom
Dewar, Rt Hon Donald Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Dismore, Andrew Linton, Martin
Dobbin, Jim Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Lock, David
Donohoe, Brian H Love, Andrew
Doran, Frank McAvoy, Thomas
Dowd, Jim McCafferty, Ms Chris
Drew, David Macdonald, Calum
Drown, Ms Julia McGuire, Mrs Anne
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) McIsaac, Shona
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Edwards, Huw McLeish, Henry
Efford, Clive Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Ellman, Mrs Louise McNulty, Tony
Ennis, Jeff Mactaggart, Fiona
Fatchett, Rt Hon Derek McWalter, Tony
Fitzsimons, Loma Mallaber, Judy
Follett, Barbara Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Foster, Don (Bath) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Gapes, Mike Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Martlew, Eric
Gerrard, Neil Maxton, John
Gibson, Dr Ian Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Meale, Alan
Godsiff, Roger Merron, Gillian
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Miller, Andrew
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Moffatt, Laura
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Moore, Michael Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Smith, Miss Geraldine
Morley, Elliot (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Mudie, George Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Mullin, Chris Smith, Sir Robert (WAb'd'ns)
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Soley, Clive
Naysmith, Dr Doug Southworth, Ms Helen
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Squire, Ms Rachel
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Starkey, Dr Phyllis
O'Hara, Eddie Steinberg, Gerry
Olner, Bill Stevenson, George
Öpik, Lembit Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Osborne, Ms Sandra Stinchcombe, Paul
Pearson, Ian Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Pendry, Tom Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Pickthall, Colin Stringer, Graham
Pike, Peter L Stuart, Ms Gisela
Plaskitt, James Stunell, Andrew
Pollard, Kerry Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Pope, Greg Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Powell Sir Raymond Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Prentice Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Temple-Morris, Peter
Prescott Rt Hon John Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Prosser, Gwyn Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Prosser, Ken Timms, Stephen
Purchase, Ken Timms, Stephen
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce Tipping, Paddy
Quinn Lawrie Touhig, Don
Radice, Giles Trickett, Jon
Rapson Syd Truswell, Paul
Raynsford, Nick Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Rendel, David Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Roinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW) Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Roache, Mrs Barbara Tyler, Paul
Rogers, Allan Vaz, Keith
Rooker, Jeff Vis, Dr Rudi
Rooney, Terry Wallace, James
Ross, Ernie(Dundee W) Watts, David
Rowlands, Ted White, Brian
Ruane, Chris Whitehead, Dr Alan
Ruddock, Joan Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Wills, Michael
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Winnick, David
Ryan, Ms Joan Wood, Mike
Salter, Martin Worthington, Tony
Savidge, Malcolm Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Shaw, Jonathan Wyatt, Derek
Sheerman, Barry Tellers for the Noes:
Shipley, Ms Debra Mr. Graham Allen and Mr. Keith Hill.
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)

Question accordingly negatived.

THE CHAIRMAN, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause had been adequately discussed, put forthwith the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 68, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

To report progress and ask leave to sit again.—[Mr. Robert Ainsworth.]

Committee report progress; to sit again on Monday 22 February.

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