HC Deb 02 February 1999 vol 324 cc741-834

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on amendment to Question [1 February], That the Bill be now read a Second Time.

Which amendment was, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: this House declines to give a Second Reading to the House of Lords Bill as it fails to address the role of the Second Chamber, its relationship to this House and its long term composition and hence, rather than improving the governance of the United Kingdom by establishing a sustainable, balanced and effective constitution, it merely adds to the incoherence of Her Majesty's Government's piecemeal constitutional changes."—[Dr Fox.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

4.23 pm
The Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

I quote: The idea of hereditary legislation is as inconsistent as that of hereditary judges, or hereditary juries; and as absurd as an hereditary mathematician, or an hereditary wise man, and as ridiculous as an hereditary poet-laureate". When Tom Paine wrote that in "The Rights of Man", which was first published in the early part of February 1791, he could scarcely have imagined that, almost exactly 208 years later, his criticism of the hereditary Members of the House of Lords would still be relevant, and would still be opposed by the Conservatives.

What exactly is the Conservatives' view of the hereditary principle in the legislature? Even after careful scrutiny of the speeches that they made yesterday, it is difficult to say with any confidence. Indeed, the Conservatives still seem to believe that membership of the legislature should be determined by what happened in a previous lifetime. The only other person who seems to believe in that principle is the England football manager. Perhaps the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) is already exhausted by the unequal struggle of trying to reconcile the conflicting wings of his team, and is even now sending his application to be the next England manager. He will plan, no doubt, to select a hereditary England football team, presumably with lots of players on the right wing, little ability up front, and an open goal at the back.

My hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Hope) did sterling service for the House yesterday in seeking to establish precisely the views of the Conservatives on the hereditary principle. In his opening speech, the hon. Member for Woodspring stated: We have made it perfectly clear that the hereditary principle in itself is not something that we challenge."—[Official Report, 1 February 1999; Vol. 324, c. 620.] However, in winding up, the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) stated that the Conservatives did not oppose the abolition of the hereditary peers' right to vote, in principle. We are growing accustomed to the Conservatives changing their policies from day to day, but we shall have to get used to them changing their principles from hour to hour.

I shall give the Conservatives an opportunity now to dispel our doubts. In a few weeks they will have the chance to make their views known to the royal commission. I look forward to hearing whether they will propose retaining a hereditary element for the future, long-term composition of the House of Lords.

I welcome the Conservatives' recent conversion to the cause of constitutional change. We did not hear a great deal about that during their 18 years in government. Indeed, the boast of the hon. Member for West Dorset last night that the Conservatives will make serious and radical proposals for reform, not only of the House of Lords but of the constitution of Parliament as a whole, sits uncomfortably with the Conservative manifesto on which he was elected. At page 49 the manifesto dismisses the need for radical change, and at page 50 it states:

We do not believe there is a case for more radical reform". The hon. Member for Woodspring, perhaps unconsciously, gave away the real reason for his conversion to the cause of radical constitutional change, when he said that we needed a stronger Parliament because of all the different trends that had emerged in our recent history. I suspect that his grasp of recent history stretches all the way back to the early hours of 2 May 1997, when a radically different trend among the electorate produced a radically different Government.

Since "The Rights of Man" was published, there has been a series of unsuccessful attempts to reform the House of Lords. The Roseberry proposals of 1908 were drawn up by a Committee of the House of Lords chaired by Lord Roseberry. The Committee concluded at an early stage in their proceedings that

it was undesirable that the possession of a Peerage should of itself give the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords, and that the dignity of a peer and of a Lord of Parliament should be separated". In March 1910, the House of Commons passed by 175 votes to 17 a resolution accepting that a necessary preliminary of reform and reconstitution is the acceptance of the principle that the possession of a peerage should no longer of itself give the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords". I repeat:

a necessary preliminary of reform". The 1917 Bryce conference was the first serious attempt to develop the preamble to the 1911 Act that it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis". It proposed that the membership of the hereditary peerage would gradually be phased out, with the existing peers electing a reducing number of seats in the House. The justification for retaining the rapidly reducing hereditary element was to provide continuity with the existing House of Lords.

The 1948 party leaders' conference was called to discuss the possibility that a more comprehensive reform of the powers and composition of the House of Lords could be achieved. It was agreed that the present right to attend and vote based solely on heredity should not by itself constitute a qualification for admission to a reformed second chamber". Instead, personal distinction and public service should be the criteria, to be applied to the hereditary peerage in the same way as to everyone else.

The 1968 proposals had their origins in a joint committee of Labour and Conservatives, to which official support was given, with its inspiration coming from Richard Crossman. The proposals had largely been agreed when co-operation broke down between the two sides over the Lords' rejection of the Rhodesian sanctions order. As a result, they were published in a White Paper in the name of the Government alone. However, hon. Members on the Conservative Opposition Front Bench in the Commons spoke in favour of the ideas when the White Paper was debated in the Commons. In the other place, the White Paper was approved by 251 votes to 56, including a majority of 108 to 43 among Conservative Peers.

It was agreed, in principle, that the hereditary peerage, and the in-built Conservative bias that resulted, undermined the legitimacy of the House of Lords. In volume 2 of his diaries, Dick Crossman wrote of the all-party consultations at the time: We really got an astonishing amount of agreement in a very short time. It is clear that the Tories and the Liberals really believe in a House of life peers … the vital thing is that they are willing to abandon the hereditary principle as a reason for membership of the reformed House of Lords".

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

I am grateful to the Minister for the excellent history lesson that he is giving us on the previous proposals. Does he agree that the failure in all those systems was that nobody agreed on how we would end up with a better House of Lords, a better second Chamber or, indeed, no second Chamber? It is wholly wrong for the Government to try to achieve reform in two bites, instead of introducing proposals that had been accepted by hon. Members on both sides of the House and achieving reform in one go. Why are the Government carrying on with this illogical proposal?

Mr. Hoon

The proposal is not illogical, and, if the hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a few minutes, I will deal with his point in my brief description of the history of it.

The 1968 White Paper stated unequivocally that succession to a hereditary peerage would no longer confer membership of the House of Lords". It was proposed that existing hereditary peers could keep their seats, but not their voting rights. Their heirs would have no rights at all. What sank those proposals was their complexity, together with the decision by the Conservative Opposition to withdraw their support. The proposals were so complex that there were an almost infinite number of issues on which it was possible to delay progress.

It is clear that, in each of those efforts at reform, it was assumed that the inheritance of a peerage would no longer automatically give the right to attend and vote on legislation in the House of Lords. Each time, the complexity of those comprehensive packages led to difficulty and to eventual defeat. Although the key elements of the reform proposals—the need for a revising second Chamber, the extent of their lordships powers and the overriding need to remove the rights of hereditary peers—received widespread support, the minority opponents of each element combined to defeat the whole. That is why this Government's step-by-step approach is such a sensible and pragmatic way of achieving reform.

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

To add to what my hon. Friend was saying about the situation in 1968 and 1969, the objection was that we would create a massive amount of patronage. It was obvious that the Conservatives were quite prepared to exchange principle for power, as they saw it. We would have had an aldermanic Bench: people would have gone to the other House and received pay without having to fear elections. That stimulated Enoch Powell, Michael Foot and, to a certain extent, me to act.

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his observations. I have started to read one of his speeches from those debates, but he will forgive me for not having yet completed it. The Government have clearly sought to address those observations in the package of proposals in the White Paper.

The pragmatic approach that I have described was deployed by a Conservative Government, who proposed and passed the Life Peerages Act 1958. The purpose of that Bill, as described by Lord Home in the other place, was to propose reforms which would lead to the greater efficiency of this House and therefore for the better working of Parliament, and which would bring this House more nearly abreast of the times". That was an entirely pragmatic proposal, taken forward by a Conservative Government. It was a single-step reform, which was required to improve the legislative process.

Lord Home further explained that the 1958 Act dealt only with the life peers, and not the other matters which were being pressed on the Government, because we are convinced, after the lesson of fifty years, that if we try to get more we shall end up getting nothing at all."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 December 1957; Vol. 206, c. 610–13.] Quintin Hogg, then Lord President of the Council, added that it ill becomes those who have deliberately decided to do nothing to taunt those who have decided to do something on the grounds that what they have decided to do is too little."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 December 1957; Vol. 206, c. 845.] That certainly seems to be an entirely accurate summary of the present Conservative criticism of this Bill.

The then Lord Chancellor said: on no fewer than ten occasions during that period of one hundred years have unsuccessful attempts been made to alter the law … all unsuccessful because someone had forgotten that the best can so often be the enemy of the good."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 December 1957; Vol. 206, c. 936.] If a Conservative Government were right in 1958 to deal with the creation of life peerages in a pragmatic, single-step reform, why should it be wrong today for a Labour Government, implementing a specific manifesto pledge, to seek to remove in a first stage the rights of hereditary peers to vote?

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

On that manifesto pledge, my hon. Friend will recall that the manifesto specifically said that there would be a Joint Committee of both Houses in relation to the second stage, and used the words "to bring forward proposals". I know that there will be a royal commission, and I am told that a Joint Committee will sit after the royal commission. Will my hon. Friend put some beef on what, exactly, will be the procedure for the Joint Committee? Will it be able to reject the proposals of the royal commission and will it have a time scale? What are the rubrics for that Joint Committee coming forward with what our manifesto described as proposals for the second stage?

Mr. Hoon

For technical reasons, the Joint Committee cannot meet until the Bill has passed through Parliament. It will consider the parliamentary implications of any recommendations that are made by the royal commission. There will be a two-stage process: the royal commission will consider ideas in a general way, and will then put them to the Joint Committee, which will examine the specific implications for Parliament, both here and in the other place. Its suggestions will then have to be put before Parliament, which will legislate if necessary.

Mr. Mackinlay

What about the time scale?

Mr. Hoon

I shall deal with that in due course, when I have looked at the proposals for the transitional House.

I want to emphasise one point. If the Conservatives' main argument—perhaps their only argument—

Mr. John Major (Huntingdon)

I thank the Minister for giving way. It is most courteous of him.

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) has made an important point. After the royal commission has reported, its report will go to a Committee of both Houses. I consider that entirely proper, as Parliament itself is sovereign. Can the Minister assure me that the Committee will have an opportunity, if it wishes, to object to, reject or change the commission's proposals, and that, if that is the case, the Government will not automatically cast aside the Committee's views, but will recognise that Parliament will wish to have its say in what the reform is? Can I be assured that Parliament will not necessarily rubber-stamp the work of a royal commission whose members have been appointed by the Government?

Mr. Hoon

The right hon. Gentleman has, in a sense, answered his own question. It is clear that, ultimately, Parliament must decide on the recommendations of either the royal commission or the Joint Committee. It will be for Parliament to legislate, if legislation proves necessary—as it is likely to, given the likelihood of a fundamental change in the way in which legislation is passed.

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

I hope that the Minister will be as helpful to me as he was to the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). At what point might the Government wish to indicate their view—before the Joint Committee sits, or during its hearings? Certainly, we shall not learn about the Government's position during the consideration of the royal commission.

Mr. Hoon

It may not be entirely appropriate for me to say at this stage what the Government's position might be, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that Labour and other political parties are very likely to want to make their views known. That may give him some idea of Labour's thinking.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

The Minister's reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) was a little disingenuous. Did he mean that the Government would not have their own view—that the Government would not whip their troops? Will the Government allow Parliament truly to make a decision on this matter.

Mr. Hoon

Parliament always truly makes a decision on any matter. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should make such an observation, given his long experience of the ways in which this place works.

Mr. Major

I am sorry to pursue my point, but it is a genuine point, and I think the Minister may not have understood precisely what I was saying.

When the royal commission's report goes to a Joint Committee of Members of both Houses and, presumably, from all parties, the Committee will doubtless make specific recommendations. Of course Parliament decides; the question is, will Parliament decide on the Joint Committee's recommendations on a free vote, or will the Government, having made up their own mind, determine—using their large majority—to overrule Joint Committee views that may not be the views of the royal commission?

Mr. Hoon

The right hon. Gentleman tempts me too far down a road leading to something that is still in the future. Although we have clearly indicated the importance of the royal commission reporting quickly—I will deal with that later if I have time—we have also indicated that we would encourage the Joint Committee to resolve its responsibilities in terms of the parliamentary implications of any royal commission suggestions. Obviously, it is important ultimately that Parliament does decide, and it will be a matter for Parliament.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Does my hon. Friend understand the difficulty that faces the Government? The Bill is a simple one and no Labour Member would dispute it, but the new House coming out of the deliberations of the royal commission and the Joint Committee will be immensely complex. The fear of many people—I am one of them—is that the transitional deal that will preserve hereditary peers will become the permanent solution. With the Bill itself, we do not know what the Government view is, but we do know that the process will involve the most complex legislation. It could be so complicated that we end up with hereditary peers electing each other—and we have not even fulfilled the manifesto commitment.

Mr. Hoon

I have already made it clear that the Government take the view that the royal commission should report as soon as possible—by the end of this year if it can do so. That is a tight timetable for a royal commission, but it follows from that that the Government are determined that there should be a second stage. We have set that out clearly in the White Paper, but may I add this? My right hon. Friend and I were both elected on a specific manifesto commitment to remove the right of hereditary peers—

Mr. Benn

All hereditary peers.

Mr. Hoon

—of all hereditary peers—to vote. Of course, what we propose, which is contained in the Bill, is designed to achieve precisely that, so the Government have an interest in delivering the manifesto commitment on which Labour Members were elected. Therefore, there is no reason why we should want a transitional House to last any longer than it absolutely has to.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hoon

No. I must make progress. I have given way on a considerable number of occasions. I was hoping to demonstrate how important it is to analyse what precisely the objection of Conservative Members is to the Bill. We had a good deal of debate yesterday and I regret to say that their objections did not become particularly clear.

I hope that Conservative Members will not object too strongly if I suggest that there are some suspicions about their real motives in arguing for the reasoned amendment. Are they genuinely in favour of profound constitutional change, or are they simply using the amendment as a fig leaf to hide the embarrassing fact that they have little idea whether they are for or against the hereditary principle?

The suspicion must be that the Conservatives are using the reasoned amendment to frustrate not simply the particular change in the Bill, but any change in the composition of the House of Lords. It is they who want to kick reform into the long grass.

In contrast, the present Government set out clearly in their manifesto not only their principled position, but the means for achieving their goal. The Government are fulfilling their manifesto commitment. A Joint Committee of both Houses will be appointed to take forward the proposals of the royal commission, which has been established to ensure the widest possible public debate. In analysing the options, the royal commission has been given clear terms of reference.

The royal commission is to report by 31 December 1999. The tight timetable will provide for its recommendations to be completed in sufficient time for the Government to respond to them in advance of the next general election. It demonstrates the Government's seriousness and sense of purpose in moving forward towards a full reform of the second Chamber. Once the royal commission has reported, the Government will establish the proposed Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament to examine the parliamentary implications of the commission's report. It, too, will be asked to work to a tight timetable.

The time limit is much shorter than for most royal commissions, notwithstanding the need for the widest possible public debate and the need to find consensus.

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Gentleman has been generous in giving way, but, equally, he will appreciate that it is a most important matter. Everything that he has said so far concerns the composition of the upper House. Have the Government any idea at all what they want the function of the upper House to be because, if they change one House, they are bound to change the other?

Mr. Hoon

For reasons of brevity, I skipped over the terms of reference for the royal commission. The hon. Gentleman can find them in the White Paper, but they briefly are:

to consider and make recommendations on the role and functions of a second chamber; and to make recommendations on the method or combination of methods of composition required to constitute a second chamber fit for that role and those functions. Very clear guidance has been given to the royal commission on the matters on which we should like it to achieve consensus. Equally, we have to realise that the commissioners must be free to make proposals that can achieve consensus and command the support of the country at large. We hope that they will be able to do precisely that by the end of the year.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

The idea of a royal commission was first announced in July, by Baroness Jay, in another place. We have now had an announcement on the royal commission's chairmanship. When will the Government be able to tell us the size of the commission and who the other commissioners will be?

Mr. Hoon

We shall announce those details in due course. I anticipate that it will not be a large royal commission. We want to ensure not only that the widest possible view is reflected in the commission's membership, but that the commissioners are few enough to be able to get on with doing their important work in a short time scale.

Mr. Mackinlay

I should like to clarify one point with my hon. Friend. He keeps saying that the Joint Committee will consider the "parliamentary implications". However, our manifesto did not say that—it said that the Committee would make proposals. Will my hon. Friend flesh out both the implications of our manifesto commitment and his definition of a "tight time scale" for the Committee?

Mr. Hoon

The Committee will make proposals based on the parliamentary implications of the royal commission's recommendations. I cannot do any better than that in answering my hon. Friend's question. That will be the role of the Joint Committee, which will follow the findings of the royal commission and make recommendations to the House, on which my hon. Friend and all other hon. Members will have an opportunity to comment.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

The Minister said that the names of those to serve on the royal commission will be announced shortly. Will the Government be consulting the Conservative party on a Conservative nominee to serve on the commission?

Mr. Hoon

The Conservative party is already well represented on the royal commission, and I am sure that Conservative Members will be delighted by the names of those who fill the other places.

Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House briefly mentioned the package of measures for the transitional House of Lords which have not been included in the Bill, because they are temporary administrative matters. However, they are an important and integral part of our proposals, and it is right that I should deal with them in more detail.

The Conservative party continues to maintain that our intention must be to create a "House of Patronage". Undoubtedly, from experience, they are aware of the potential for partiality in the exercise of the current powers of the Prime Minister to control access to honours. From 1979 to 1997, the Conservatives created 173 Conservative peerages to only 96 Labour ones. Excluding resignation and dissolution honours, the figures were 126 to 59. That imbalance added to the already dominant Conservative representation in the House of Lords.

The new Government's position is radically different. We have consistently made it clear that we do not intend the transitional House of Lords to be one that is under the Government's control. Our manifesto was explicit on that point: we said that no one party should seek a majority in the House of Lords. Are the Conservatives able to commit themselves unequivocally to supporting a second Chamber in which no single party should have a majority? If they are, what action are they willing to take to achieve such a Chamber?

We have also made it clear that the system of appointment of life peers will be reviewed. We have committed ourselves to maintaining an independent Cross-Bench presence of life peers. We have said that, over time, the number of party appointees should more accurately reflect the votes cast at the preceding general election. We shall deliver on those promises.

There are three elements to our proposals: first, the principle that will help to determine numbers in the transitional House of Lords; secondly, introduction of an independent appointments commission to nominate Cross-Bench peers; and, thirdly, the undertaking to forward to the Queen without interference the recommendations of other party leaders and the commission.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hoon

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must make progress.

I shall deal, first, with the principle. We have publicly committed ourselves not to seek more than broad parity between the Government and the main Opposition party. Consistency with our manifesto would have allowed us to seek about 40 per cent. more seats than the Conservatives have in the other place. We have, therefore, gone much further in restraining the Prime Minister's powers than we had to. Consistent with our commitment to maintain an independent Cross-Bench presence, we have undertaken to allow peers to be created in proportion to the numbers of the other parties.

Secondly, the appointments commission will be an advisory, non-departmental public body. As such, it will be accountable to Parliament, through Ministers, in the usual way. That answers one of the points raised yesterday by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell). The Prime Minister will relinquish entirely his power to recommend nominations to the Cross Benches, giving up that power to an independent appointments commission. There are two important aspects of this to draw to the House's attention. The first is that the very act of setting up the commission is an indication of the Government's continuing commitment to the retention of independent Members of the House of Lords. The second is the reduction in patronage that will follow.

The commission will be set up later this year. It will begin to operate when the transitional House comes into existence. It will include members of the three main parties, together with a majority of independent members. The appointment of the independent members will be "Nolanised" in accordance with the relevant rules of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. As those rules were drawn up under the previous Government, I am sure that Opposition Members will not be tempted to claim that the body in question will not be properly independent.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Exactly how are they to be "Nolanised"? What will be the process?

Mr. Hoon

The appointments will be subject to precisely the procedures that the Nolan Committee expects such bodies to use—right hon. and hon. Members are becoming familiar with those procedures.

The appointments commission will be encouraged to seek nominations from a wide field, and will be able to consider nominations from members of the public. It will take over the role of the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee in vetting all peerage nominations for propriety, for example to ensure that they are not proposed in return for party donations instead of public service. That, after all, is how we came by so many hereditary peers earlier this century.

Thirdly, control over names will be relinquished. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has committed himself not to interfere in the detail of other parties' nominations. Within the agreed numbers, and subject to approval by the appointments commission, the Prime Minister will pass on any names submitted to him by the other political parties.

Taking the Government's proposals together, the Prime Minister will in future have less influence than any of his predecessors over appointments and over the composition of the House of Lords.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way as I wish to raise an important point. Does what he has just said mean that the Prime Minister will have ultimate control over who is appointed to the commission? Everybody who is appointed to the commission is bound to have a political view, so how will the political balance be maintained?

Mr. Hoon

On the contrary, the position is precisely the opposite. As we set out in the White Paper, the chairman will be an entirely independent figure.

The question was raised yesterday about what guarantees the Government could give that the transitional arrangements would actually be put in place. Having set out commitments for a transitional House in our White Paper, it seems clear that, if we had then included them in the Bill, we would have been accused of wanting to make the transitional House permanent. Our intention is to move on from the transitional House as soon as we can. The Government were elected on a clear and unequivocal commitment to reform the House of Lords, with a specific first stage of ending the rights of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords.

Whenever efforts have been made previously to remove the hereditary peers' rights to sit and vote, and at the same time to deal with the powers and the composition of the House of Lords, they have failed. Taking the process step by step makes it more, not less, likely that real reform will actually take place. Removing the hereditary peers first removes a first real obstacle to reform and change.

The Government are carrying out their promise as part of their wider constitutional reform programme because the House of Lords as presently constituted is an outdated relic. Its reform is long overdue and reform is essential if we are to create a modern constitutional democracy. Only after the removal of the hereditary peers can we create a modern Parliament for a modern Britain.

4.54 pm
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

To follow the Minister's Glenn Hoddle analogy, I am not sure what he did in a previous life, but it must have been quite dreadful for him to be given today's hot potato.

In opening the debate for the official Opposition, let me first pay tribute to the dedication and commitment of the many hereditary and life peers who have served Parliament well—the life peers since 1958 and the hereditary peers over several centuries. I know that the Leader of the House meant to say that yesterday, but she inadvertently completely omitted it from her speech.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

Does that extend to the 200 hereditary peers who could not be bothered to turn up in the last Session?

Mr. Evans

I was paying tribute to those who had given great service, dedication and commitment. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the attendance record of some of the life peers—even some appointed by the current Prime Minister—he will find it wanting.

At a recent conference on Lords reform, the Liberal Democrat peer Lord McNally spoke of the difficulty of getting life peers to serve on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill Committee in 1996. Only one life peer served on the Committee, to six hereditary peers.

I enjoyed hearing the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) referring yesterday to the modernising policy of previous Administrations. Even the introduction of the hereditary principle for peerages was a modernising move at the time. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that, even after the passage of the Bill, the second Chamber will lack democratic authority. The White Paper refers to all sorts of mechanisms to determine the composition of the future House of Lords and talks specifically about the down side of having a body that is wholly democratically elected.

There is no perfect model that would suit all systems of government. As hon. Members have pointed out, the composition depends on what we want the second Chamber to do. The Government have already decided, in the remit that they have given the royal commission, that this Chamber should remain the pre-eminent Chamber of Parliament, so they do not want a solely elected second Chamber. The new House will want to use all the powers at its disposal and may demand more, depending on how often its elections are and what form of electoral system is used if there is an elected element.

The unfinished business of 1911 will remain unfinished if the Bill is enacted. It leaves too many unanswered questions. The manifesto commitment has already been sacrificed. The Labour manifesto "New Labour Because Britain Deserves Better"—pause for laughter—says: As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute. So much for that promise, because we have already moved to a two-stage process.

Will the new House be more democratic? As the right hon. Member for Chesterfield said clearly yesterday, the answer is no. Leaving a House of nominated peers is not more democratic, as Viscount Cranborne said during a conference on the future of the House of Lords last year. He said: Why is it that a nominated peer is more democratic than an hereditary peer? I would say that neither of them is particularly democratic, but at least people like me do not owe our places to the living, but merely to the long dead.

Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford)


Mr. Evans

Talking of which.

Mr. Beard

The House of Lords has consisted of hereditary peers and life peers for 40 years. I have never heard the Conservatives question its legitimacy. Do they believe that the hereditary peers gave the House of Lords a mark of respectability that will be removed when it is left with people who are nominated for what they have done during their life time?

Mr. Evans

Viscount Cranborne put it succinctly. Why should a House full of nominated peers who owe their positions to the current Prime Minister and previous Prime Ministers—I think that the White Paper mentions eight—be any more democratic than the current House? We are not arguing for the preservation of the second Chamber as it is currently constituted. In his tour de force covering historical approaches to such reforms, the Minister said that the Conservative Front Bench supported the 1968 proposals to remove the hereditary principle. We are not arguing with that. We simply want a more effective approach to the reform of the second Chamber.

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

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Viscount Cranborne was slightly in error, since he, alone of all Members of the House of Lords, owes his place to somebody who is still living—his father? I believe that Viscount Cranborne is a peer by accelerated succession, which means that he has his place by virtue of one of the extra titles that his father is not using. Was not the hon. Gentleman wrong? [Laughter.]

Mr. Evans

Hon. Members may still be laughing at my reference to Labour's manifesto. However, the point is well made. The Chamber will be no more democratic if peers are nominated by the current Prime Minister or previous Prime Ministers than if they are there by dint of birth. We are looking for something that is far more effective, and we are not getting that with the proposed reform.

Yesterday, the Leader of the House referred to the Bill as simple. She should not confuse short with simple, because the intention behind the Bill makes it radical, and that intention is to shift more powers to the Executive. The Executive have already enjoyed an increase in the payroll over the past 40 years. The Executive constantly sideline the House in the presentation of policy, and use patronage and the stick over their Members to ruthless effect. We have Government by pager, supported by compliant, drip-fed Members of Parliament and abetted by the Liberal Democrats, who are no longer members of the Opposition but part of a coalition.

The coalition is led by a Prime Minister who is prepared to bypass the newspapers—which are only interested in tittle-tattle and trivia—to speak to the nation on the Richard and Judy show about Humphrey the cat, football and life at No. 10. No doubt the next stop for the Prime Minister's assault on serious political messages will be the next edition of Hello! magazine.

The Lords have been regularly chastised by the Prime Minister and his obedient followers at Prime Minister's questions. If the Lords dared to do their job, if they scrutinised legislation—and improved it, on certain occasions—and if they called on this House to think again when the legislation was sufficiently bad, their very existence was threatened.

The Bill is all about further enhancing the powers of the Executive. The so-called modernising of the House of Commons—half an hour of questions on a Wednesday, everybody home early on Thursdays, constituency weeks for Members—has nothing to do with keeping the Executive in check and everything to do with keeping Back Benchers in the dark.

We have a presidential style—as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield said yesterday—but without the checks and balances. Any reform of the second Chamber should have at its core the improvement of Parliament's work. The proposed reform does not do that. The Conservative party is not tied to the second Chamber as it is at present constituted. Indeed, many attempts at reform have been made by both parties. Viscount Cranborne stated: We would go quietly if a properly independent chamber takes our place. To be asked to go without that guarantee is to be asked to connive at the final victory of the executive over Parliament.

Mr. Mackinlay

I have listened to the hon. Gentleman with care, and he is being mealy-mouthed. Why do not the Opposition come out unequivocally—I would welcome it—for a democratically elected upper House, on a different basis from this House?

Mr. Evans

There are many ways in which we could go forward. We set up a commission under Lord Mackay to look into the various options, and Viscount Cranborne asked Lord Richard, when he was Leader of the House of Lords, to come forward with an options paper. If the Government were serious about proper reform, and about a consensual approach, they would have set up the royal commission 20 months ago. The fact is that they did not, and we are now being offered a cobbled-together, two-stage deal. I will have a little more to say on that deal, and the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) may agree with me.

Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that even a peer nominated by the Prime Minister in the interim, transitional House has more right to sit in the Parliament of this country than Lord Cranborne, whose only claim to be in the House of Lords is that he is the great-great-great-great-grandson of one of Elizabeth I's Ministers, Robert Cecil—who was, many think, the original "Blackadder"?

Mr. Evans

Perhaps one of the Whips could have a word with the hon. Gentleman, as he has clearly not been listening to the debate. I have already been chastised for the fact that Viscount Cranborne was appointed as the nominee of a former Prime Minister. Neither method of appointment is democratic, as the hon. Member for Thurrock suggested. We need to investigate ways of getting a more effective second Chamber, so we must consider its functions. The royal commission should have been sitting 20 months ago. If the Government had set it up as soon as they were elected, it would have reported by now and we would have been able to reform the second Chamber in one stage, instead of which we have two-stage proposals—and many of us believe that we may never even get to the second stage.

Mr. Nicholls

Will my hon. Friend help to protect the credentials of my noble Friend Lord Cranborne as an appointee? Does not the real reason why he does not have to wait until his father's death lie in the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) had him elevated in the peerage of Lord Cecil of Essenden? He is a genuine appointee.

Mr. Evans

That is the point I was trying to make—obviously rather poorly—and my hon. Friend makes it better than I ever could.

Instead of considered reform, bringing into balance the various arms of government and ensuring proper and full scrutiny of legislation, we are offered this two-stage exercise. My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) was absolutely right yesterday when he said that, after the next general election, the new Parliament will not even know the structure in which it is supposed to operate.

The reform follows other constitutional changes, none of which is yet operational. We will have the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, with new voting systems; European elections under a different form of voting, with the closed-list system giving more power to the parties; a London mayor and assembly; and a Europe demanding more powers, with co-ordination. We have to use the word "co-ordination" because we are not allowed to use the word "harmonisation", just in case people twig what is happening in the European Union.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Baroness Jay referred to the House of Lords reform as part of a jigsaw, but the trouble with jigsaws is that pieces go missing, especially when they are all thrown in the air at the same time, as is happening now.

Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston)

Regardless of whether it is done in one or two stages, does the Conservative party favour changing the composition of the House of Lords?

Mr. Evans

My hon. Friends and I have already said that we would favour a reform of the second Chamber; we do not expect hereditary peers to be part of the royal commission's proposals and we would not seek to reintroduce them. We have made it absolutely clear that we have broken with the past on the hereditary principle for our second Chamber. I cannot be any clearer than that.

If only we had had the royal commission up and running. We all want an effective Parliament with effective scrutiny from the second Chamber. If the Government had set up the commission at the outset, we could have been considering its proposals in detail, instead of which we have a halfway house that will not be for the better government of the country. Many of us still fear that we will not get beyond stage 1.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush)

We are pursuing this point because we do not have clarity from the Opposition. It is perfectly reasonable to ask whether, if the Conservative party were in government—or if it were only 18 months to two years ago, when that party was indeed in government—it would have argued and voted for the abolition of the right of hereditary peers to vote in the House of Lords. The answer must be yes or no.

Mr. Evans

The hon. Gentleman asked that question yesterday. I refer him to Hansard. My hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) said: Will he accept this perfectly clear statement from the Opposition; that there is not a chance in hell of the Opposition proposing the resurrection of more hereditary peers than will already have been put in that House by the Government?"—[Official Report, 1 February 1999; Vol. 324, c. 654.] We have no intention of reintroducting them. When we were elected in 1979, the matter was not a priority for us, because we were too busy clearing up the mess that we inherited from the previous Government.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Evans

No. It is wonderful to have all these smoke signals from Walworth road, but I must now make some progress.

The Government should learn that the constitution of this country is not like Cardiff Arms park, which can be flattened and rebuilt at a different angle, bigger and better than before. Even with all the problems that Cardiff Arms park has had, at least it has had an architect who knew what he was doing, unlike the architect of the current reforms, who does not see the bigger picture because he is concentrating on each part.

On the problem of the Scottish Parliament and the West Lothian question, for instance, all we are told is that there will be a reduced number of Scottish Members of Parliament after the next general election. The Scottish Parliament was supposed to be the answer to the rising tide of nationalism, but, since its announcement, support for the nationalists has risen.

We do not know what the arrangements for the Welsh Assembly will be and it is leaderless as far as the Labour party is concerned. Indeed, the Prime Minister, who should be in the Chamber to listen to this debate, is in Wales to support his Secretary of State for Wales, because he does not trust his party to put in the right candidate.

Under the European list system, for the first time in our history people will go into polling booths and will have to vote for a party, not an individual candidate. That is another constitutional change.

The White Paper describes the remit for the royal commission, when devising the second Chamber, in these terms: Having regard to the need to maintain the position of the House of Commons as the pre-eminent chamber of Parliament and taking particular account of the present nature of the constitutional settlement, including the newly devolved institutions, the impact of the Human Rights Act and developing relations with the European Union". However, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament will not start until July. Given the Christmas and summer recesses and the fact that the bodies will not work a five-day week, the royal commission will have little chance to see how the devolved bodies work and what sort of relationship they should have with this House.

Viscount Cranborne asked for a bedding-down period for the devolved bodies to reflect on how they will interact with this House, but we have not been given that opportunity.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

We are now nearly two years into a Labour Government. The proposal for the abolition of the House of Lords has been on the table all that time and it was a manifesto commitment. Is my hon. Friend not able to give the views of the Conservative party on the constitutional reform of Parliament? We will have to make representations to a royal commission in a matter of weeks and, therefore, it is not unreasonable that we should stand up today and say what we believe in.

Mr. Evans

I accept what my hon. Friend says, and we wish to see any reform of the second Chamber as part of a whole-picture reform of Parliament. I will talk later about the need for a more effective House of Commons to provide a check on the Executive. An effective second Chamber must also be part of keeping the Executive under check. We will make representations to the royal commission, but we will do so in terms of how we wish to see Parliament being settled after the reforms are implemented.

The Labour-dominated Scottish Affairs Committee recently stated: As far as we can see the Constitutional Reform is being conceived piecemeal. If there is an overall blue-print showing how all the pieces fit together none of our witnesses were aware of it. As Mr. Barnes put it, 'What the Government has done is to set free 2 devolved assemblies without thinking how the relationship between them is structured. That is even without the English dimension being taken into account. The West Lothian question has been acknowledged but not addressed by this Government, and now they are talking about introducing a structured version of the West Lothian question into the second Chamber.

The White Paper is a confused document that exposes the hidden intent behind the reform. All eyes are on the composition of the upper House, but few are considering its powers.

Mr. Phil Hope (Corby)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Evans

No, I have given way sufficiently, and I shall make some progress now. The White Paper states: For its functions to be properly performed, the House of Lords needs a degree of legitimacy which it does not now enjoy. It continues: The Government believes that the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords is a significant factor in the lack of political effectiveness and balance of the House. Page 11 states: The Government wants to see the House of Lords as a modern, fit and effective second chamber of Parliament for the 21st century. That seems to mean, "Let us get the composition right and the Lords will be more legitimate and better able to use its powers." However, page 40 of the White Paper lets the cat out of the bag when it reveals the Executive's fear that the second Chamber may be effective in bringing the Executive to account. Paragraph 24 states: But as well as being constrained by the Parliament Acts, the House of Lords also observes self-denying ordinances in the use of its powers over legislation. The most important of these is, as has been noted, the Salisbury convention. But usually the Lords, conscious of their absence of a specific mandate, their political imbalance and the existence of inheritance as one of the qualifications for membership, have restrained themselves in other ways, going further than the actual legislative constraints on their powers. Paragraph 25 talks about institutionalising the understandings under which the present House of Lords operates. Paragraph 26 boldly states: A better approach might be to reduce the theoretically available powers", such as the length of time the Lords should be able to delay legislation approved by the House of Commons".

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Evans


That has nothing to do with making a more effective House of Lords but everything to do with making a more dominant Executive. Let us consider this Chamber's powers to keep the Executive in check, and the powers of the Whips to encourage obedience—which are obviously working well in the case of the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). Then there is the power of the party machine in our constituencies and here, and also the tools available to the Executive, which include patronage and the spin doctors.

That may seem fine to a Government with a mighty majority, but such majorities do not last for ever, as Conservative Members found out to our cost. Part of the modernisation of Parliament must be strengthening the ability of Back Benchers to bring the Executive to account. Instead, the Executive are growing mightier and the Bill will increase that. We have a chance, with these reforms, for a fight back.

As for the transitional, halfway house arrangements, we must remember that the Parliament Act 1911 was only a temporary measure too, and that we had to wait 88 years to consider the matter again. All hon. Members are duty bound to remember where we have got to. I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary will provide some answers, when he winds up the debate, to the questions that I am about to pose.

As regards guarantees, what security of tenure will there be for people appointed to the transitional House? Will they remain there if and when stage 2 comes into operation? If there are no guarantees, what incentives will be used to encourage people of sufficient calibre to offer themselves as transitional Lords?

The White Paper talks about maintaining a significant independent Cross-Bench element. At present, there are 317 Cross-Bench peers—119 lifers and 198 by succession. What will be the total number of Cross Benchers after the reform? If Cross-Bench and other peers cross the Floor of the transitional House, will a system be put in place under which parties can renominate them to that body?

Very few people in this debate have mentioned the costs involved. At present, the cost of maintaining the House of Lords, including building maintenance, is £42 million. The Government have stated that they want the reformed House of Lords to contain a large number of working peers, some of whom will need offices. What support will working peers be given to meet office costs and secretarial allowances?

The royal commission has been asked to spread the net wider when it comes to peers sitting in the House of Lords: indeed, the Minister of State himself talked about "the people's peers". If the Government do not intend that only wealthy people will be attracted to the upper House, what plans do they have for a pay structure for the new peers? I am sure that all hon. Members will accept that people without some wealth would not be able to live in London under the current per diem arrangements.

Who appoints the appointments commission? I know that the guidelines are set out in the White Paper, but there will be political nominees to that body, and who will choose them? We all remember the Jenkins commission farce, when Lord Alexander was announced as the Conservative nominee, even though no one had bothered to consult the party about who it wanted as its representative. Will the three political parties nominate their own appointees? How many nominees will there be? Who will appoint the independent members?

I intervened on the Minister earlier to try to find out whether we would be able to nominate our own political candidate for the royal commission. I think that I was given the answer no. The Government have decided who will be the Conservative nominee—Lord Wakeham—and they think we should be grateful. That is hardly inclusive or proper consultation with a political party. It hardly gives us confidence about the consultation.

How long will the transitional House last? Without giving an answer to that question, the Government are asking for a free ticket without timetable, direction or final destination. A former Minister has said: I have concerns about the reform. If all the Government is going to do is to abolish the Hereditary Peers to sit and vote and then kick the second stage into touch it will be a great missed opportunity. That former Minister was Lord Richard, in the New Statesman on 31 July 1998. He continued:

Whatever you do to the House of Commons is going to make the 2nd chamber more troublesome for the Commons. There is no getting away from that and a lot of MPs on both sides are worried. I have no idea what the PM's views are. I've not talked to him about it. I don't think his mind has been engaged in this in any concentrated way. The Government know all the possibilities for stage 2, but they have no clear idea of where to go. We fear the same as Lord Richard and the right hon. Member for Chesterfield and others of independent spirit on the Labour Benches—that the second stage simply will not happen.

I have no doubt that the royal commission will sit, just as the Jenkins commission sat. The royal commission will present a report, just as Jenkins did. If that report does not come up to expectations, however, what will happen to that report? Jenkins is now sitting on a shelf somewhere in Downing street. What will happen if the royal commission's report does not come up to standard? What guarantee do we have that, even after the Joint Committee has seen it, the commission's report will not end up gathering dust on a shelf, just as the Jenkins report on proportional representation has done?

We have been given no guarantee. Stage 1 is happening without stage 2, and hon. Members know that that is the reality. It was Bagehot who said: With a perfect lower house it is certain that an upper house would scarcely be of any value. If we had an ideal House of Commons, it is certain that we should not need a higher chamber. Never have we needed an effective second Chamber more than we need it now.

I have seen wrecking amendments in the past, but the Bill is a wrecking Bill, like all the other wrecking constitutional Bills since May 1997. The Government's approach is incoherent and clearly incomplete. They are not finishing unsettled business from 1911, but creating unsettled business for well into the future. The House has the chance to do something that its Members normally leave to the upper House—to ask the Government to think again. Tonight, let us do just that.

5.23 pm
Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)

As I always do, I listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) yesterday. In particular, I listened to that part in which he said that many of us wanted to keep life peers in the House of Lords because Prime Ministers had such joy in creating them. With a wave of his hand, the right hon. Gentleman said that I was one of those Prime Ministers who had created that sin. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that I found absolutely no joy in creating life peers. Every time I created one, nine people turned up saying that it should have been them.

Mr. Benn

For every peer created, there are nine hovering around Prime Ministers, saying, "What a brilliant speech you made." The penumbra of patronage is even more dangerous than the patronage itself.

Sir Edward Heath

With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I must say that, when people have been turned down, they do not come saying nice things—exactly the reverse. The right hon. Gentleman said that I was one of those who had created a large number of peers. Therefore, I was inspired to turn up the figures—which are quite interesting.

As we have heard many times, the process started with Harold Macmillan in 1958. I was his Chief Whip at the time, and I remember that one of his main reasons for creating life peers was to bring to the upper House people with experience in business, administration or overseas affairs who would not normally be there. He believed that such people could make an extremely valuable contribution to general debates. His choices were admirable, but they did not fit the Bill. If one follows their careers in the House of Lords, one will find that they seldom contributed anything of unique interest that they had gained from outside experience.

It then became purely and simply a political affair. Life peers were created for a variety of political reasons—often because it was felt that individuals would be less trouble up there. As I have been blamed for running away with this process, I shall give the right hon. Gentleman the figures. I found that Harold Wilson created 226 peers, Lady Thatcher created 216 and my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) created 171. The present Prime Minister, with remarkable speed and determination, has already created 105. Looking at my own figures, I found that my total was 48.

Mr. Mackinlay

The people's Prime Minister.

Sir Edward Heath

My annual rate was only 12. I discourage the right hon. Member for Chesterfield from saying such things in future, because I was certainly not to blame.

I have thought a great deal about the problems that we are discussing today. Of course, this debate is about only one thing: the abolition of the peerage. It is about nothing else. The innumerable questions raised and dozens of comments made in the debate bear no relation to present events. The Bill says simply that we will wipe out the historical peerage in the upper House. That does not make for much of a debate: either you do or you do not. What else is there?

The Government have offered a compromise in the form of a proposal from the Cross Benches that 91 peers should remain in the upper House. We must look at that proposition from two sides. There are those who say that we should keep those 91 peers. Is it a very polite plot, in the hope that time will run on and the 91 will remain? It may be. On the other hand, it may be a rather impolite blackmail on the part of the Government, who are saying, "Very well, we will let 91 stay there, provided you let this Bill go straight through without any trouble." That is my reading of current events. I would not worry about retaining 91 peers because I do not believe that it will mean very much to them. They may be disappointed in the end, and there will be more bad feeling.

The question is: do we abolish the hereditary principle for membership of the upper House? The Leader of the House was quite clear when asked about future developments: she had no answers. The reason is that the Government have not worked anything out. I do not mean to be offensive, but I am absolutely astonished that the Labour party spent 18 years in opposition and did not work out the details of what it wanted to do about the upper House. There is a moral there for my own party: although the Conservatives might not be 18 years in opposition, they must use the time that they are there properly, so as to be ready for the future.

It is true that, in opposition, the Conservatives have to do a great deal of work on their own policies, but it is also true that the reason why the Leader of the House could not say any more than she did is that she does not know any more. However, she did say that the reason why reform broke down in 1968 was that the Government tried to do too much at one time. I have to correct her on that, for that was not the reason at all. The measure commanded a large majority in the Lords—5:1—and the support of all parties; it then came to this House. Devaluation had just occurred and morale was pretty low, but the reason why the measure fell was that it was opposed by Michael Foot, who said, "Away with an upper House—we don't want an upper House at all." He got a lot of support. On the Conservative side, the measure was opposed by Enoch Powell, who said, "Let's go back to the 14th century with the upper House." He got some support. Faced by the two of them, the Government lost their nerve and Harold Wilson said, "Let's pack up." That is what happened—it was not an attempt to do too much at one time.

The debate has proved how impossible it is to have a proper debate unless there are positive propositions on what to do next. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield ended his speech with a warning to the Leader of the House and to the Government, saying, "Yes, but wait for the next stage." We all know what that means, as far as the right hon. Gentleman is concerned: on many different problems, he reaches the last stage and the Government get pretty peeved about it. We now know that, unless propositions are advanced that receive full support from a large number of Labour Members, the Government are in for a difficult time with the next stage.

To give the royal commission only until Christmas sounds fine, but it faces an impossible task. Lord Wakeham is a great friend of mine and was an immensely able Chief Whip. He knows all about the difficulties of administration, but I can assure the House that having a mixed-party commission as well as outsiders, and being told to solve the problem in less than 12 months, is entirely different from solving a party problem as Chief Whip. I wish him well, for he faces an extremely difficult task and we must await the outcome.

Before I sit down, I shall say a few words about my own beliefs. First, I believe that the time has come for the end of the hereditary principle in politics—that is my absolute conviction. We are about to enter the first century of the next millennium and it is time that that came to an end, although that is not in any way to undervalue what has been done in the past by many—not always the same few—families. Theirs was a tremendous task and we owe them a great deal for having carried it out, but it is now over and we must move on to a purely democratic arrangement.

The measure does not affect the royal family for, as we know, the Queen does not sit as an hereditary Member of the House of Lords. In Europe, there are many proofs of that: I have found at least six European Union member countries that have a sound monarchy, but no hereditary system. I therefore want to see the abolition of the hereditary system.

We must then answer the question of what will be substituted for that system. Should we have appointments? That is largely what has been discussed today. I am extraordinarily dubious about switching to any of the systems that have been detailed. The Prime Minister is pleased to have said that he does not want to make all the appointments, but will just look after his party and, similarly, party leaders can look after the other two parties. An odd committee, appointed by the Prime Minister, will look after the rest of the appointments.

That is an opportunity for those leaders to gain far more power than they have at the moment, which would not be in the common interest. It would be extremely dangerous. Their increased powers would apply not only to the upper House, as it would then be, but to a range of their activities in the country, on the economy, politics and administration. Having once occupied that position myself, I know the extent to which it could be abused.

My second point is that the upper House must be elected. That will cause astonishment—I think that I heard a great gasp of breath behind me. If we have an elected system, it must fit in with our present system. That can be done. The powers that are given to the upper House—if we still call it that—need not interfere with the powers of the Commons. That is a question of working out the system and how it will operate.

The fact that we have such a flexible election system for this House makes it very difficult to decide on the election system for another House. In the States, on the same date, representatives are elected for two years and senators for six years. It is not possible to do that here. It is very difficult to decide how that should be done without having a fixed timetable for one or other of the Chambers. We may come round to the idea of having a fixed timetable for both, but that would be an enormous change to our system.

As I have said, this is the end of the hereditary system. It should be the end of appointments, because what will be required in future makes it impossible to have anything other than a mass of stooges, which is not what the system is about.

We are witnessing rapid change—faster than before—of the whole system of our government. I am not sure that it is yet realised that this House is being considerably changed. I am always struck by the fact that those who have the power of organisation want the occupation of MP to be a daytime one. There have been changes to Wednesdays and Thursdays, and we often do not sit on Fridays. We are being given a week off later in the month. That is turning the job of a Member of Parliament into a daytime occupation. The impact is that professional and business men will no longer be able to enter the House. As a result, they will not be available to be members of a Government. That is a drastic change which will affect the rest of society as well as the membership and behaviour of this House.

I do not believe that such a process can be changed now that it is on the move. The Prime Minister comes here on Wednesdays for half an hour of questions and gets tired at the end, but does not appear otherwise. This debate, tremendous as it is, has not been attended by the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition. My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), who opened for the Opposition yesterday, has not appeared today and the Leader of the House has now disappeared. That shows the lack of attention now paid to Parliament. I see that developing with the greatest possible regret because it is immensely damaging to our political system and the welfare of our present citizens and those who are due to follow.

I want an elected upper House and an elected lower House because they will have the power to deal with those who simply want to cast off the whole parliamentary system and run it in a centralised fashion. It is becoming more and more centralised because that is how—I shall not go into the niceties of the issue—those in power get their way, reaching all the ends that they want to reach.

This is a momentous debate; you may not have realised, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We must consider matters in this new way because we in this House can try to influence developments. That is the lesson that I draw from this one-way debate. Although it may be solely about abolishing the hereditary system, it is one of the indicators of the future of our parliamentary government.

5.41 pm
Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool)

I think that all of us would agree that the speech of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) was utterly commendable for its clarity and firmness of view. Thank goodness that, at long last, someone on the Conservative Benches has expressed a firm opinion on how the reforms should be carried forward. However, our Government Front-Bench team should not embrace his blandishments and his suggestion that we should decide on the outcome of the reforms and the review before we embark on anything. I agreed with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House when she said yesterday that, only too often, the House has been prevented from conducting any reform because it has become bogged down in an insistence that everything be right and clarified before any change is made.

The course of action on which the Government have embarked, including the decision to depart in one respect from the party manifesto to set up a royal commission before establishing a Joint Committee of both Houses, is therefore absolutely right. [Interruption.] I do not in any way want to risk stirring up and provoking my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), but I am afraid that I must tell him that I was the lonely voice in the original Cabinet Committee discussion who urged that we set up a royal commission. I did so because I thought that the party's original commitment to create a Joint Committee of both Houses immediately was rather incestuous and introspective. I thought that it was right—the Government decided that it was right—to create a mechanism by which we could tap the views of the wider public and all those who want to contribute to those matters before both Houses came together to decide how to proceed.

Incidentally, I hope that I have not just breached part of the Official Secrets Act 1911 in disclosing such a point. I do not want to retard any progress that I may or may not be making. I shall just chalk it up on my freedom of information slate for a later day.

I also thought that setting up a royal commission was right because there was every risk that a Joint Committee of both Houses would become a political playground for the Opposition, who would not be able to resist playing politics with it, in which it would be difficult to reach any half-decent outcome in any reasonable time.

We have seen from the debate so far that the Opposition are incapable of placing the interests of Parliament above their own narrow party and partisan interest. In the process, they have tied themselves in the most awful convoluted knots, as was evident from the speeches of those on the Opposition Front Bench, both yesterday and today. What we heard today from the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) was a contortion too far, even by the standards of this Opposition.

No doubt, the Tory party will try to free itself from its illogical predicament by means of a late burst of democratic enthusiasm, when its own commission under the chairmanship of Lord Mackay reports. It would not surprise me in the least if the Tories were to follow rather tardily and, in this respect alone, unfortunately, the leadership shown by their former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup.

However, no late democratic conversion undergone by the Opposition will carry any conviction whatever with the public. Most people observing their antics will simply conclude that they are showing an interest in a democratic second Chamber only because no one is showing any interest in their returning to power in this Chamber. People will conclude, rightly, that that is a pretty squalid and cynical exercise on the Opposition's part, that their interest in a democratic second House is only skin deep and that their democratic credentials remain wafer thin.

What is clear from so many of the speeches that we have heard from the Opposition is their deep longing to retain their 3:1 in-built hereditary majority, which they have held on to through so many generations. If they were given half a chance, they would continue to do so.

The Government should pursue their simple, step-by-step, considered and consensus-building approach to reform of the House of Lords. If the so-called Weatherill amendment is offered again in the other place, we should probably embrace it. It would be a proper reward for good behaviour on the part of a House that might otherwise be tempted to filibuster the Bill endlessly, thus doing enormous damage to the rest of the Government's programme. If we can get the Bill and the rest of the programme on which we were elected through the upper House with minimum delay and damage to ourselves, we should seize the opportunity.

I certainly do not think that we should embrace such an amendment if it were offered in this place during our Committee stage. It should be a matter of consensus building, which we should judge in the light of the behaviour of the other place.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Has not the right hon. Gentleman just demonstrated his utter cynicism? He is prepared to vote against the amendment, as it were, one week, and to vote for it the next, at the behest of his party bosses. Is not such an exercise in cynicism beneath contempt?

Mr. Mandelson

It is an exercise in eminently good sense from a party member who supports a Government who want to get their business through both Houses, because that is what we were elected to do. Our approach and behaviour should take their cue from the attitude and behaviour of others in the upper House. That is entirely reasonable.

The Government's approach and the discussions that we conduct should start with the recognition that the House of Lords is far from bad, but that it can be improved. Its revising wisdom is, for the most part, a benefit rather than a hindrance to the parliamentary process. It must be recognised, however, that there are two aspects of the House of Lords that the public find objectionable. The first is the existence of hereditary peers—the principle of being born to rule, something that the public will never accept, and nor should they—and the second is that the public find unacceptable the excessive power of patronage by the Prime Minister, however worthy and suited are his nominees to membership of the other place. Both those objections about the House of Lords are rightly addressed in the Bill.

What people like about the House of Lords is the fact that it is, in some respects, somewhat less partisan, and somewhat less tribal, than this place. The public like the idea of Cross Benchers—people who do not owe their membership of the House of Lords to the patronage of a party or to having been shepherded by Whips—and the idea that the House of Lords is a collection of soldiers, dons, business men, doctors and trade unionists. Although they like the composition of the House of Lords, they would certainly prefer the average age of its Members to be reduced, and for it to have more women and more representatives of ethnic minorities.

Mr. Mackinlay

If we were to pause after implementing the new arrangements, how we would get the loose cannon, the bloody-minded, the eccentric and the awkward? Those people simply would not become Members of the House of Lords, except by patronage. One of the benefits of electoral systems is that they throw up the bloody minded, the awkward and the irritable. That is important, because a Chamber of Parliament must have that cocktail of characters to provide scrutiny and accountability, without fear or favour and without showing partial affection. If we pause with the setting up of an independent commission for the Cross Benchers and the involvement of party leaders, we will not get that.

Mr. Mandelson

I shall overlook my hon. Friend's obvious invitation, and come to that point in a moment. I entirely agree that the bloody-minded should have their place in the House of Lords. He could draw up criteria that might be introduced on the workings of the appointments commission and I am sure that such an amendment, in due course, would be taken very seriously by Ministers.

The public do not want the removal of a clear party mandate, a clear manifesto and a clear means—the basis—by which a Government can carry their programme in this place. Those, of course, are the basis of the House of Commons: people know exactly what manifesto they are voting for, they offer a clear mandate and they vote to constitute a majority for the governing party in this place. People like such clarity and the straightforwardness about this place, which depend entirely on the dominant role given to the House of Commons by the Parliament Acts and by the Salisbury convention. Any reform of the House of Lords needs to take that firmly into account; if we alter the basis on which this place operates, rather than enhance democracy, we will risk severe damage to it.

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take a moment to note that his arguments about the straightforwardness of the system for election to this place and the manifestos are the main arguments for retaining our present system of voting for the House of Commons.

Mr. Mandelson

I recognise that entirely, but that argument is set against the other argument in favour of electoral reform, which is that we want a more representative and more fairly elected House of Commons. If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will not be drawn on that issue on this occasion.

I do not want the House of Commons to be demoted. I do not want the conditions created in which we would create two rather powerful Houses of Parliament which would compete, risking gridlock and constitutional stalemate between them. That would be the inevitable consequence of building up the House of Lords and its powers through any reforms that we might be minded to introduce. That is not a matter for the Bill; in the first instance, it is a matter for the royal commission and its excellent chairman, Lord Wakeham.

I cannot resist teasing the Government slightly about Lord Wakeham. I learned of his appointment in the way that we are always informed about the background to the Government's thinking: through the proliferation of spin doctors and such people who, I am afraid, infest this place. When I heard that Lord Wakeham—a Tory peer—was being appointed to prove that no one was trying to fix anything, a smile came to my face. After all, there is no better fixer than Lord Wakeham. He is lucky, as we are, to have sitting alongside him that paragon of selfless humanity, independence and integrity—my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman).

I shall offer the House two concluding thoughts on reform and thinking about the future composition of the House of Lords, but will not be drawn on them in any detail because this is not the time. First, when—in my view, at least—some glue is needed in the United Kingdom to set against the possible fissiparous effects of devolution, a second Chamber, if constituted and composed in the right way, could contribute a bit of that much-needed glue, to keep the United Kingdom together. I am glad that the Government have given some inkling of that thinking in the White Paper, which is absolutely right.

I contribute my second idea as a well-known, if not notorious, pro-European who is none the less worried about the remoteness and lack of legitimacy of the European Union's institutions. This is not the time to develop that argument; I have done so on other occasions in other places. If we were to use the second Chamber to create a link between this national Parliament and the European Parliament, we would help to overcome the slight gulf that has opened up between this Parliament and the institutions of the European Union.

In both those respects, we could use this opportunity of reform of the House of Lords to make other, wider improvements to our constitutional settlement. I have no doubt that those ideas, along with many other worthy proposals, will be considered by the royal commission in due course.

5.59 pm
Mr. John Major (Huntingdon)

Let me begin by welcoming the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) back to the Back Benches. It is an honourable estate. As a Back Bencher, the right hon. Gentleman has an important part to play in trying to check the control of an Executive with an over-mighty parliamentary majority, and I look forward to seeing him perform that role.

Certainly, during the past few minutes, the right hon. Gentleman has demonstrated that he has the capacity to surprise. Not since Satan denounced sin have I heard such a recantation as the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the possible implications for the "glue" of the United Kingdom of the devolution policies that he previously supported. But, speaking with some experience, I can tell him that he will find that returning to the Back Benches is not too bad; indeed, it has a large number of compensations.

I once advocated a classless society, so I am not here to defend the hereditary principle for legislative purposes. It is, for those purposes, a dead principle, and I am unconcerned about that aspect of what the Government propose in the short term. I am here to defend the effective and efficient working of Parliament, in Commons and Lords, for I do not wish to see that die in the same fashion as the hereditary principle, which is now doomed to extinction.

Over recent months, we have had a great deal of talk about reform of the House of Lords. Let us be clear: up to a point, this is reform. It is the first half, the destructive half, of reform. It is tearing down what exists; it is condemning the hereditaries to the tumbrel—but it builds for the future, nothing. It is, at the moment, a blank cheque for the future of the House of Lords. The hereditaries are disappearing into a vacuum, and, as we wish them godspeed, we have no idea what will replace them in the medium term. Not even my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Wakeham has any idea, and he is to chair the royal commission—a royal commission with an impossible mandate: to replace 700 years of constitutional practice in a few months of part-time consideration.

I do not know what the commission will propose. Maybe—given the virtues of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), as adumbrated by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool—if and when the Government ever get around to appointing all of it, the commission will prove to be very wise; maybe. What I do know is that, given the time scale, it will have no time for consultation, no time for consideration, no time for reflection, and no time to weigh the implications of what it may decide. If there had been some weighing of the implications of the Scotland Bill, we might not have had the Scotland Bill and the right hon. Member for Hartlepool might not now be worried about the glue of the United Kingdom. What is clear is that the commission has no time. The timetable imposed by the Government makes it less of a royal commission, as I have always understood it, and more of a high-powered fig leaf, as the Prime Minister understands it.

I hope that, when they have been appointed, the commissioners will examine their task and then say to the Government, "This is an important task, but if we are to perform it properly we must ask for more time. We are, after all, a royal commission and not a focus group, and we want to produce a report, which will be considered by Parliament in both Houses, of which we can be proud, not a report that has been too rushed."

I do not say that to make a short partisan point; I say it because the way in which Parliament works, in Lords and Commons, matters to us. Whatever changes may be made in the House of Lords will have an effect on the House of Commons. That is why, earlier, I sought the Minister's assurance that, if the Joint Committee of the Commons and the Lords disliked the royal commission's recommendations, the House of Commons would have an opportunity to decide on the Committee's views on a free vote, rather than a Whip imposed by a Government with a very large majority.

Thus far, this reform has been sold to the country on a questionable prospectus. If we are to believe Cabinet Ministers, a phalanx of self-interested peers, Conservative to the bone—both men and women—appears whenever necessary to frustrate the people's Government. I speak as one who occasionally had a bit of his Government frustrated by those same peers. The concept that they are there, waiting to rush out of the hills and frustrate just this Government, simply does not stand up to examination. When they attacked my Government, it was to the cheers of Labour Members; when they attack their Government, the peers are very impertinent. How dare they raise the possibility that the Government might be wrong! What a dreadful proposition! Off with their heads! The Leader of the House is pleased to see them go at the first possible moment: she will be there at the guillotine, knitting to hand, as head after head disappears in the near future.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Major

I will not, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

Hereditary peers are, of course, an easy target to attack. As I have said, I am not here to defend the hereditary principle in legislative terms—

Mr. Hope

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Major

I may give way a little later.

The Government, however, never miss any target if it can deliver an easy headline. It does not matter whether the target is the unpopular principle of hereditary peers, or the dotty ramblings of a football coach; if there is a mob mentality to disagree, this Government will put themselves at the head of that mentality in order to garner a headline or two.

Now, who was the first to intervene?

Mr. Hope

I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman, and I understand that he and Opposition Front Benchers do not support the inclusion of hereditary peers in a reformed second Chamber. Can the right hon. Gentleman therefore explain why he and his Front Benchers seem to support the inclusion of hereditary peers in determining the composition of that second Chamber?

Mr. Major

If the hon. Gentleman will let me proceed, he will learn many other things, as well as the answer to that point.

Let me now make a substantive point. Although hereditary peers are to go, even Labour Members, in their quieter moments away from the Chamber, will admit that many of the hereditary peers—not all; they will not concede that—have had great virtues. They will admit that one of those virtues—I testify to it, for it was used against me often enough—is their independence, because of their hereditary nature, from the party Whips, when they choose to exercise it.

How is such independence to be replicated? We have heard nothing of that from any Minister. How are the new peers to have the independence of Whips that the present Lords enjoy? The Government do not know the answer to that. How are the new peers to have the vocation of the hereditary peers? It was said earlier—and I can testify to this, too—that many of the life peers appointed were keen to go to the House of Lords, and were going to be there morning, noon and night; my goodness, they would turn up on Sundays. Where are they—not just those whom I appointed, but those appointed by many others, including the present Prime Minister? No sooner are their bottoms on the red leather Benches than they zip off somewhere else, and turn up only occasionally.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

There are some in the Gallery.

Mr. Major

There are, of course, exceptions, who not only attend the House of Lords but are diligent enough to return to listen to what is said in the Commons.

Mr. Gordon Prentice

Did not Lord Archer miss the 1994 Conservative party conference, when storms were raging over the Anglia Television deal, because he was too busy as a working Conservative peer? He is a real busybody, that Lord Archer, is he not?

Mr. Major

I can think of a substantial number of peers whose work rate in the House of Lords does not match that of my noble Friend Lord Archer.

We are told that we should not worry about the mass axing of the peers because the Government have a mandate. Yes, they have; but as an argument of principle that is pretty pathetic. It is generally the last refuge of a Government who, although they have no credible case, can at least point to something that was in their manifesto. But I must tell them that they have no mandate to act without thinking about what they will do to our constitution and to the working of our Parliament. They have no mandate to tear down what works without telling the House of Commons what they will replace it with. They can tear it down, but, before they do so, they have an obligation to explain what comes in its place.

Liberty needs protection from democracy. The Government are tearing apart, piece by piece, act by act, the most sophisticated constitution of them all, with little real understanding of the implications of what they are doing. That is why I think that it is a mean, inadequate little Bill. It is not because of the substantive point; it is because of what is not in the Bill but should be. The Bill utterly misses the chance of a proper reform of the Lords and, with it, reform that will have an implication for us in the House.

What will the new Lords, as no doubt it will come to be known, be about? Will it be a deliberative Chamber? Will it be a revising Chamber? Will it be a check on over-mighty government? Or will it be a rubber stamp for party hacks, party funders and party apologists in the upper House? If it is, I might be inclined to join my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) and to contemplate a wholly elected House—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) should not over-excite himself.

The ideal is a Commons that is democratic and decisive, and a Lords that is independent and reflective. Will it be so? A proper reform would make clear what the future of the Lords is to be. Will it retain the right to delay and to change legislation? If rights are lost, the ancient checks, balances and safeguards of our constitution will genuinely be at risk.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Major

I will in a moment.

We should define and, in some ways, increase the power of the Lords, because it can carry out work that will help the work of this Chamber and make it easier. It is and must remain the subordinate House, but it could do work that would make it easier for the House of Commons to carry out its functions properly. That would be a real reform.

Why not, as a matter of routine—it cannot always be done, but the Leader of the House will know that it could often be done—as often as possible send draft legislation to the Lords for examination and for comment before it comes to the House of Commons? Why not let the Lords take public evidence on many contentious and technical issues, so that we may produce better drafted legislation?

Why not give the Lords a statutory obligation to take evidence on European legislation and on treaty commitments, so that the House of Commons may be better informed when it comes to consider those matters? Why not have a standing commission to consider our evolving constitution? At the moment, it evolves as a result of piecemeal actions by the House of Commons, by judges and in other ways. Why not let a standing commission consider how the constitution operates? Those reforms to the Lords would be worth while. They could be part of the Bill, but they are not.

Let us be a bit more dramatic. Why not look at ministerial roles as well? Why not let Ministers vote in one House, but speak in both Houses? One practical advantage of that is that it could significantly reduce the number of Ministers, and I know from personal experience that that would be a thoroughly good thing. It would also save immeasurably on travel expenses.

Why should not the Prime Minister—who, without consulting me, the then Leader of the Opposition, or, so far as I know, the Liberal Democrats or any other party, decided to present himself here once, rather than twice, a week—contemplate answering questions in the House of Lords occasionally as well? I say that not to be mischievous, but to suggest what we might do to make the work of the two Houses more cohesive, and to put the upper House in a better position to support the work of the primary House—the Commons. Let us look at those ideas.

What we have before us is a little cameo of a Bill. It is vindictive in its intent and probably unthinking in its effect. That is hardly worthy of much of the hype that has surrounded it.

Mr. Maclennan

Is not the argument that the right hon. Gentleman uses the sort of argument that was used against the removal of the rotten boroughs in 1832? Is he not condemning a good reform by admitting that it does not solve the entire problem? Surely we can vote to condemn the rotten boroughs and accept that the franchise should be widened further later.

Mr. Major

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. The whole thrust of what I have been saying is that I do not object to the departure for legislative purposes of the hereditary peerage, but that, as part of the Bill, we should be enhancing the way in which both Houses of Parliament examine legislation and have control over the Executive. Fewer Ministers means more Back Benchers: that is another helpful thought on control over the Executive. Sadly, it is becoming all too evident that the whole Bill has been poorly considered. It has been poorly prepared. It is partisan. We do not know what will follow it and neither, worryingly, do the Government.

Mr. Savidge

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Major

I will not, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

Like other constitutional changes, the Bill diminishes Parliament in the Lords and, potentially, in the Commons. In many of the things that they are doing, the Government run the risk of bypassing the House of Commons as well.

The Cabinet and Prime Minister, like all their predecessors, have some virtues and many faults. Among their failings, the one that concerns me most is not a single item of policy—they have won an election and they are entitled to put their policies into operation; they have the majority to do it—but, and I profoundly hope that I am wrong, their disregard, even contempt, for the views of anyone other than themselves. Even the House of Commons—Parliament itself—is for them too often apparently a rubber stamp and an irritating anachronism. Their reforms in the House of Commons are already in danger of turning it into a derelict, powerless and pointless place that is empty for half the week.

That is one of the practical effects of moving Prime Minister's questions from Tuesday and Thursday to one single Question Time on Wednesday, and of the other reforms that the Leader of the House and the Government have brought forward. That may be convenient for this Government at this time, but it is not good for the House of Commons in the short or long term.

Dr. Ladyman

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Major


If the Government are attacked, their habit is to attack the critics, not answer the criticism. They strangle alternative views even in their own party, as a number of their Back Benchers will testify. That is why reforming our constitution piecemeal without the whole scenario being subjected to proper democratic examination in this House and the next is so dangerous.

On the Bill, the Government have listened to nothing thus far but their prejudices. Like the Scotland Act 1998, it may yet prove to be a shambles, with a constitutional price to be paid in future.

The abolition of the peers on their own is no great point, but the Commons should remember that introducing such a measure without proper consideration and examination of all that it entails is but part of a pattern. It should remember that it is the master of the Government, not its servant, and should realise that diminishing the power of any part of Parliament in the way that the Bill does runs the risk of diminishing the power of every part of Parliament.

The question before us today is the abolition of the peers—very well; abolish them. However, the real issue behind the Government's overall constitutional change is the authority of Parliament itself over the Executive. On that issue, this House—both Opposition Members and Government Members—should think very carefully, to decide how far it will permit the Government to go before it asserts its own rights.

6.20 pm
Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

I welcome the House of Lords Bill, which, at long last, will give this place the opportunity of transforming significantly the upper House. All previous attempts at reform have been the subject of guerrilla tactics by opponents of change, and by unlikely alliances, such as the ones mentioned by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) that included Michael Foot and the late Enoch Powell.

Achieving reform in two stages, in a relatively simple five-clause Bill, was a tactical masterstroke. It is no wonder the Opposition are calling for a more comprehensive Bill, as that would allow them and the unelected peers on whom they rely to frustrate the legislation and to bog down reform in ancient procedures, so that they may misuse the past to impede the future.

It is a myth that the House of Lords is a reforming force; the opposite is true. At every milestone in democracy—the male franchise, votes for women, abolition of slavery, and even the Ballot Act 1872—the House of Lords has been a force of reaction.

We know the impact of that reaction in my own city of Edinburgh. When the Lords opposed the Great Reform Act 1832, Edinburgh had a population of more than 100,000 men, women and children. Guess how many citizens were entitled to vote? It was not half the 100,000 population, not a quarter of it and not even one tenth; in 1832, only 33 citizens could vote in the whole of Edinburgh. The House of Lords whole heartedly endorsed that old, undemocratic and corrupt arrangement. The fact was that 100,000 citizens in Edinburgh were disfranchised, and that it was not the peers, but the people themselves who fought for greater democracy. That is why we take no lessons from the peers.

Today, little has changed with regard to the majority of those in the Corridors of the other place. This year, 81 more peers gained entitlement to sit in Parliament, by right of birth, than hon. Members were elected to Parliament, in a general election involving 31 million voters. Today—70 years after all women gained the vote—there are still 62 peers who may sit in the other place but who do not even live in Britain. Those peers can legislate in the other place and affect the lives of millions of people.

We are supporting the Bill on behalf of the descendants of Edinburgh citizens who never had the vote, not on behalf of the few descendants of a handful of people who were chosen centuries ago by the reigning monarch. In 1997, the people of Edinburgh voted for the party that pledged itself to modernise our country and our democracy.

Reform of the House of Lords is long overdue. It is therefore fitting that our Labour Government are now, in this Bill, making such positive and practical proposals. By what right can hereditary peers veto reforms necessary to modernise our health service, to invest in our schools, colleges and universities and to give the jobless a new deal? We cannot allow an unrepresentative second Chamber to block progress.

As the Bill deals with a matter of principle, I shall make no adverse comments on the quality of those who sit in another place. I question the legitimacy of peers' rights on the ground not of paternity, but of democracy. Some of those in the other place are descended from families that have rendered this country great service, including outstanding scientists, doctors, teachers, engineers and explorers, and great military figures and great humanitarians. However, they are all in the other place because of patronage—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said earlier in the debate, in his expansive, amusing and highly thought-provoking style.

The House should not, however, confuse some of the reminiscences and forceful views expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield with the facts. He was right to point out that, since monarchs effectively ceded their powers to Parliament, Prime Ministers have increasingly exercised patronage in appointments to the House of Lords. However, it is simply not true to say that that practice continues unabated. For the first time, we have a Prime Minister who is determined to reduce his powers of patronage in appointments to the other place. He wants to give his powers to an independent appointments commission, so that it may make non-political appointments to the second Chamber.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield lamented that he was unable to cede similar powers when, as President of the Council of Ministers, he used the royal prerogative without any consultation with Parliament. It was an amusing debating point. Nevertheless, at the time my right hon. Friend did not feel sufficiently strongly to make an issue of the nature of those powers. His comments, 22 years later, make for interesting listening.

The Bill is not the last word in reform. Some people see greater merit in a unicameral legislature that is strengthened by committees—which would operate constructively, like our Select Committees, rather than as the farce into which our Standing Committees too often descend. Such committees could scrutinise legislation far better than the House of Lords currently does.

Some people advocate an elected second Chamber. The current problems in the American Congress and Senate demonstrate some of the pitfalls of such a system.

The Bill will, at a stroke, remove the biggest single obstacle to change: hereditary peers. The Bill seeks only to accomplish that objective and will take us one more step along the historic path on which we embarked in May 1997. Modernisation of the House of Commons has started. We have legislated for elected bodies in Scotland and Wales and for elections in London. Now, we are dealing with modernisation of the House of Lords.

We are achieving a goal that has eluded Parliament for most of this century. If nothing more follows from the Bill—if it stands alone—we can be proud of giving our legislature a modern and fresh start for the new century.

6.27 pm
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

We support the Bill—which is hardly surprising, as we have been trying to get rid of the hereditary peers for 100 years. The Bill itself closely follows the Cook-Maclennan agreement, and is clearly only the first stage in a relatively speedy process of fundamental reform.

At times, particularly yesterday, the debate on the Bill seemed like a rerun of the 1911 debate. Today, we have heard some new ideas, which have been quite interesting, especially when considering the source—former Prime Ministers—of some of them. Yesterday's debate was like the 1911 debate without the passion. We should remember that, in 1911, Asquith was denied a hearing by the Conservatives for about three quarters of an hour.

Now, the argument is over. No one outside the diminished Conservative ranks, and not many within them, really believes that the hereditary principle is an acceptable way of choosing a legislature. However, I should say that, yesterday, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) said that the hereditary principle in itself is not something that we challenge."—[Official Report, 1 February 1999; Vol. 324, c. 620.] The statement is there on the record, although I think that it rather slipped out.

The usual Conservative approach to the issue is not to defend the hereditary system but to temporise, to delay and to offer seductive arguments, to the effect that any partial change is unacceptable, because it must all be done at one go. Of course they hope that, with luck, that will never happen, because they have a majority in the current Lords to frustrate change. There would therefore never be a satisfactory scheme, so nothing would ever change.

The Conservatives had 18 years in power, during which they could have reformed the system in their own way. They never lifted a finger to do so. There was a hint that they might do so, only once or twice, when Mrs. Thatcher suffered the occasional severe rebuff in the other place. Perhaps she woke up one morning and said, "Let's just abolish them"; but nothing ever happened. [Interruption.] That is what she used to do. When bits of the constitution annoyed her, such as the Greater London council, she was not against sweeping them away entirely. However, something stopped her doing so when it came to dealing with the Lords. [HON. MEMBERS: "Perhaps she needed somewhere to go."] Indeed. Perhaps she had a place lined up for herself.

When another Government try to do something about it, every argument and delay is deployed. We have been discussing the issue for some time now. One historian records that, in the 1910 constitutional conference, the Conservatives dangled all kinds of fantastic bargains before the indifferent noses of Asquith and Lloyd George"— including joint sittings on constitutional matters, but the one thing they were not ready to sacrifice was the essentially Conservative nature of the Upper House. —and so it remains.

Then it occurred to me that there is a crucial difference between 1999 and 1911. In the 1911 debates, the Conservative peers and their relations wanted to die in the ditch for hereditary peerages. Ironically, Lord Cranborne's kinsman, Lord Hugh Cecil, led the jeers that drowned out Asquith. Now, however, the peers are offering compromise and the Conservative Leader and a few of his hon. Friends are enthusiastic about fighting in the last ditch.

It is said that in 1911, when the Conservative Lord Lansdowne heard Lord Halsbury speak against the Bill, he knew, as one sentence followed another, that he could no longer vouch for the sanity of his followers". Lord Cranborne must have felt rather similarly about the Leader of the Opposition during the fateful meeting at which he was told that he should never have offered the well-known compromise for the interim House.

Several hereditary peers live in my constituency, which has quite a long feudal tradition. They really are a decent bunch. They are all landowners, and one is a very large landowner. In various ways, they make a valuable contribution to the life of the community. I have not noticed any of them pressing to prolong a system which adds a seat in the legislature to their inheritance. I do not think that any of them, particularly the new generation, see it as their role in life. If they did, they would probably prefer to seek democratic legitimacy by standing for election. The battle to keep the House of Lords as our second Chamber is now being fought not by hereditary peers, but by those within in the Conservative party who look back with nostalgia to a society long gone. It is the battle of the young fogeys.

Let us not forget that the Bill creates only an interim House, whose days are necessarily numbered, and that will create future problems for the Government. When the commission and the Committee of both Houses have done their work and we are ready to put in place a new and more democratic second Chamber, 500 life peers will lose their entitlement to be legislators until their dying day and their right to the facilities and opportunities afforded by membership. Life peers have a higher average age, and are the most extensive users of the splendid facilities of the House. I fear that the Government may have a harder time convincing some of their well-established life peers, particularly those who have gone there after long service, of the merits of phase 2. Yet phase 2 is integral to the reform and we welcome the Government's commitment to it.

Before I turn briefly to the phase 2 second Chamber, I have a couple of secondary questions that arise from the Bill. Are peerages as an honour to become obsolete, or will titles be granted in future? If so, will it be on a life or hereditary basis? Mrs. Thatcher had a rather strange habit of awarding hereditary peerages to people who had no male heirs. The last remnants of the creation of hereditary peerage were in her time and on that basis. Will peerages continue to be awarded as honours; and on what basis? I do not think that anyone has made a decision on that.

Mr. Linton

Although the Bill says clearly that hereditary peers should lose only their right to sit and vote in the House of Lords and that it should not affect their status in any other way, once hereditary peers have lost their powers and privileges would it not be open to the Government or anyone else to refer to them by their names rather than their titles, in the same way as any other citizen?

Mr. Beith

Some of them prefer it. If, for the sake of argument, I am allowed to breach the rules of the House, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) prefers to be called Mr. Michael Ancram, although that is not, in terms of the peerage, his real name. No doubt others will follow suit, but that is not what we are discussing.

We are trying to create an effective second Chamber and the Bill raises the question whether hereditary peers should be created in future. I certainly hope not, as honours should be awarded for what people do in their lifetime and not be conferred on successive generations. That also goes for the quaint practice of calling the children of life peers "honourable"—a perversity that dates from the 1960s.

Consideration is being given to ways in which other denominations and major religious groups could complement the Church of England bishops in the interim House. I believe that the Church of Scotland and the English free Churches welcome the idea, but it requires a different approach because, emphatically and as a matter of belief, there is no equivalent to bishops in their systems. Leadership is exercised by ministers and lay people in a variety of offices. Some are annual offices rather than long-term positions. Episcopacy and a priestly caste are alien to their traditions. The Government should bear that in mind in considering the make-up of the interim House.

The Government will also have to give some thought to the issue of Scottish representation in the interim House, bearing in mind that it was specifically provided for in the Treaty of Union and in subsequent legislation, including the Peerage Act 1963, which greatly widened Scottish representation in the second Chamber.

I would assert two principles in respect of the phase 2 second Chamber. First, we wish to see a predominantly elected House. We see room for a procedure to allow some nominated Members so as to ensure the continued membership of people from walks of life that preclude involvement in party politics; but it needs to be a democratic Chamber.

Secondly, its role should complement the role of the House of Commons: it should neither rival it nor replicate it. Its delaying capacity should effectively be limited and not be subjected to bypassing by the extended ping-pong that was illustrated by the European Parliamentary Elections Bill. The second Chamber should be able to force the House to think again, and not merely as a formality; but the wholly elected House, once it has fair elections, must prevail.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) suggested yesterday, the second Chamber should do things that the House cannot readily do or does not do very well. It could review certain public appointments, and fill more of the gap in the scrutiny of delegated legislation. It should have a role in representing the specific concerns of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom and their Parliaments and assemblies.

On the other hand, the other place probably does not need to do some of the things that it does now. It is not necessarily logical to repeat ministerial statements in the second Chamber. However, I was quite attracted by the suggestion of the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), that from time to time the Prime Minister might answer questions in the second Chamber and that Ministers from this House should be able to take their legislation through a reformed second Chamber, replacing the requirement for Ministers to be appointed in another place.

The issues will be considered in the commission and in the Joint Committee. If we were not committed to a speedy process, I would be anxious about the Bill progressing in its present form because it leaves the second Chamber in an unsatisfactory temporary state. However, even in those circumstances I would still, with a heavy heart, want my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote for the Bill because, at long last, it ends a totally indefensible feature of our constitution which has defied numerous previous attempts at reform. So let us get on with it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

I call Mr. Marshall Hall.

6.38 pm
Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)

I am delighted that you should have made that error, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as it has never been made before.

I begin by saying what a privilege and joy it is—it fills me with humility to speak in the same debate as the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). Until he spoke, I had intended to begin by saying that I had never participated in a debate that had revealed so starkly the intellectual and political poverty of the Opposition. By that, of course I mean the present Opposition.

This is a fine Bill. It is an historic and seminal Bill, which deserves—and will almost certainly receive—wholehearted support. However, I have one fundamental reservation about it. Its only substantive clause—clause 1—extends to 17 words. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, it is beautifully simple. However, beauty and simplicity can be improved on. My reservation about the Bill is that it is far too long. The single important clause reads: No-one shall be a member of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage. I should prefer a shorter Bill, which would read: No one shall be a member of the House of Lords. If that is felt to be too succinct, I would be prepared to widen it so that it read: No one shall be a member of the House of Lords or anything remotely like it. Hon. Members will understand that I wish to come out and reveal myself to be an unashamed, intractable, practising unicameralist. I suspect that when the second Great Reform Bill comes to be debated—the important Bill—the Government will discover that many others will come out and reveal themselves to be intractable and practising unicameralists.

In a modern elective democracy based on constituency Members of Parliament of integrity and reasonable ability, there is no purpose in having a second Chamber, be it elected, partly elected, appointed, partly appointed, anointed, semi-anointed or even driven in haphazard groups from the street to form the people's second House.

As we enter the transitional phase that we are debating, I bleed for my Government and the difficulties that lie in store. The likely constitution of the new, interim, transitional House of Lords is a glorious mess, relying partly on patronage, partly on old patronage, partly on a new appointments commission of doubtful legitimacy and partly on a rump of self-selected peers—presumably those with nowhere better to go. Reform thereafter will be even more difficult, relying on a hitherto unappointed royal commission which will have to struggle with the myriad ways in which a second Chamber may be cobbled together and the associated powers that it may be allowed.

Anyone who has made any study, however ephemeral, of royal commissions and their habits will see immediately that the terms of reference are mischievous and far too wide. There are only two. The first is to consider and make recommendations on the role and functions of a second Chamber. The second is to make recommendations on the method, or combination of methods, of composition required to constitute a second Chamber.

We, the elected representatives of the people, are setting up a small royal commission composed of the great and the good. I have no faith in the great and the good in this country. This country's economic decline over the past 50 years can be laid entirely at the door of the great and the good. I say that with due deference to several hon. Members. The one thing that has not impeded this country's progress in the past half a century has been this Chamber and the Palace of Westminster. Yet we in this Chamber are deferring to a small and unelected commission of the great and the good. In their terms of reference, we are asking them to tell us what we want and saying that we do not know how the second Chamber will be elected or what it is going to do—we want their recommendations.

I have little confidence in terms of reference that are so wide, because the ambit of the report will be so great that it will be too easy for any committee to refuse its recommendations. To reform this House and the Palace of Westminster, we do not require the expense of the members of a royal commission; we require a gang of bricklayers. They should be told as a matter of urgency to wall up the entrance on the other side of the Central Lobby. After they have applied themselves to the necessary amount of Pugin wallpaper, the job can be completed in a week. The same firm could then be employed to turn what used to be the second Chamber into a reclusive home for the elderly and infirm, no doubt looked after by supernurses.

When that is done, we shall at long last be left to our own devices in this House. In particular, we shall be freed from the most pernicious aspect of the second Chamber—the power of patronage. We have no concern about dealing with the hereditary principle. It is an intellectual deficit on the part of the Conservatives that some of them continue to argue, at least by implication, for its retention. Patronage is the great evil that we must fight. The difficulty with the transitional provisions and any provisions that may follow is that at least some members of the second Chamber will be appointed by patronage, which will lie in the hands of the Prime Minister.

Here we have a double nepotism. Not only will some people be elevated to the upper House by the patronage of the Prime Minister; thereafter they may be elevated into government by the same patronage. That is an intolerable system which is long overdue for reform. I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to address the issue, because the transitional provisions will do nothing to stop that double nepotism.

The absent Leader of the Opposition is struggling to climb a mountain to get back to electoral respectability. Some of the few blows that he succeeds in landing in the House are his points about nepotism and patronage. The continual allegations about Tony's cronies are some of the few that cause Labour Members some consternation and periods of silence, as Conservative Members will have observed.

The Leader of the Opposition has a point that he may probe. However, the great problem is whether he will promise that he would not employ such patronage. As Prime Minister, if there were an upper House with nominated members, would he turn his face against such patronage and refuse to appoint to the Government those who were not elected? If he said that, I suggest that he would earn public respect—the lack of which, hitherto, has been part of his problem.

I am one of the few unicameralists to have absolutely and genuinely come out—probably the only one—and spoken in the debate. I listened with great respect to the speech of the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells); it was rather less than totally full-blooded in its commitment to unicameralism. If I am wrong, I shall retract my statement immediately. One or two of us may come out in the debate, and I suspect that many more will come out in due course.

It distresses me when I hear colleagues on both sides of the House deliver apologias for the continued existence of a second Chamber by saying that we need it as a check on an over-mighty Executive. We are the check on the Executive in this Chamber, and we need no help or sustenance from anybody else.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

I am sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman thought that my adherence to unicameralism was not as full-hearted as his clearly is. The difference between us is simply that I do not believe—as I said yesterday—that any proposal that comes from the Committee, which he so accurately described, meaning that power is transferred from this Chamber to whatever ersatz assembly we establish, either temporarily or permanently, will be agreed by this elected House of Commons: and that is quite right. Unicameralism is therefore the only solution.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The chances of this House passing, or the Committee recommending, a unicameralist solution to the problem is small indeed. That is one of the reasons I have not tabled an amendment to the Bill—because I am not given to exercises in futility.

On the other hand, that does not stop me saying that there is manifestly only one answer to the problems with which we are grappling. What distresses me when I hear Members producing apologias for the existence of the second Chamber is that they are, in fact, providing an alibi for our own inadequacies. That concerns me more than anything else. Let us have done with it, once and for all.

When we no longer have that alibi, hon. Members who, at this stage, are content—because the second Chamber exists—to adhere to the Whip in circumstances where they do not agree and where they may wish to be a check on the Executive may, in due course, change. In addition, we will need to review the Select Committee and other Committee procedures to provide the wherewithal for this House, and this House alone, to provide the check on the Executive—which is, in reality, the substance of the debate.

6.54 pm
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

It is always interesting to hear a political party that has discovered Thomas Paine two centuries after his advent. From the House of Lords to here, the repetition of the notion, that there is nothing so absurd as the principle that the Poet Laureate should be hereditary, manifestly demonstrates the absurdity of the hereditary principle.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths


Mr. Shepherd

Because—I say to the hon. Gentleman, who spoke dismally for most of his speech—it does not follow that one has a talent that is inherited.

Many of us on both sides of the House have never thought that the hereditary principle should inform our constitutional arrangements in the latter part of the 20th century, and in a long-established democratic nation. The Government's attack on the upper House has been focused on the question of legitimacy. That is why I will profoundly disagree later in my speech with the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) about a unicameral system of government.

The Government, rightly, have challenged legitimacy. Why should it be that, because I am the inheritor of my father's name, I should be a legislator in a democracy? However, that question can be asked of an appointee. We did away with the aldermanic principle in local government. Why should one be a legislator by appointment? That is profoundly anti-democratic in itself.

What underlies the concern of my right hon. and hon. Friends is the true incoherence with which the Government—with neither history nor an understanding of where we have come from—tackle important constitutional change. The right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) thinks that, after he has done his constitutional mis-works, the United Kingdom may require glue which the House of Lords may provide in an—unstated—reformed state. Many of us do not like taking a step in the dark, for the very reasons that have been adduced by the Government. One stage may not lead to another, and an unknown second step may be perilous to us.

The right hon. Member for Hartlepool, in a twist of fortune, may appreciate that he also made a step in the dark that led him astray. However, he still talks as if he were running Government Front Benchers and trying to hold them on-message. The act of hubris in his speech was bemusing to someone who has served as a Back-Bench Member for 20 years.

The American revolution was not founded in an abyss. Thomas Paine's great language—which fired that part of a discovered continent, and helped inform the French revolution—was a declaration of principles. When the revolution was successful, those principles were filled in by the building of a constitution. The American constitution—which was spoken of disparagingly by some—has stood the test of two centuries. It has protected and enhanced the freedoms and liberties of the American people, and it has protected them against revolution.

The British constitution has done likewise. For three centuries, the British constitution has provided a focus, and it came about because of the impetus from here—this House of Commons. When the Government talk about the primacy of the House of Commons, I have an historic and instinctive sympathy for the argument. However, that primacy has long since gone in the 20 years that I have been here.

Is this an independent Chamber? No, of course not. It is the creature of the person who leads the party with a majority. This is not a partisan point. The frustration of Labour Members who served in previous Parliaments was palpable in terms of what they thought were unpalatable and over-reaching acts. There is no defence for the people of this country against a parliamentary majority, and that is the danger that has informed our constitution.

Mr. Sheldon

Government Back Benchers were always the safeguard. If the Government do not have an overwhelming majority—such as there is now—sufficient Government Back Benchers can bring about change.

Mr. Shepherd

The right hon. Gentleman will know that that is my sentiment and that I have tried to honour that principle, as have others in this House. However, in the age of patronage and promotion, one sees press reports that state that the only value of a Member of Parliament is if he or she is a rising star. It is assumed that the only purpose of being a Member of Parliament is to influence or to become a member of the Administration; hence some of the frustration of those in opposition.

I hold the setting aside of the disciplines of party to be the ideal; those disciplines have killed with patronage this Chamber's effectiveness in safeguarding the liberties of our citizens. The Law Lords recognise that fact and judicial review has become an important method of trying to protect the citizen. We have invoked the European Court of Human Rights as part of our domestic law, because of our own failures; time and time again, the argument could be won, but the vote was lost.

We no longer protect freedoms and liberties. It used to be a central argument of constitutional reform or the building of constitutions that one has checks and balances, back and forth. Montesquieu analysed the English constitution. We should use the phrase "English constitution" more, because the glory of this island flowered from an English constitutional settlement over many centuries. The island was incorporated, but the House no longer represents its elements. I have seen Conservative Governments, with no majority in Scotland, voting against the intent of Scottish Members and not even listening to their own Back Benchers on Scottish law reform. When that happened, we were no longer representative.

The Prime Minister controls the House, which is effectively his poodle. The outside world recognises that. That is why we have fallen in the world's esteem.

That has happened not because Ministers take Concorde, but because we no longer act as a proper brake or check on the ambitions of the Executive. Whenever one says anything about Government policy, it becomes manifest that the whole mechanism is geared to defend it even when it is unsustainable.

As an instance, I take the emergency terrorism provisions for which the House was summoned in the summer. The Irish Supreme Court has said that the legislation is inoperable and the Royal Ulster Constabulary has said that it cannot be used. More consultations are being held and it is very inconvenient. The legislation became imperial management of a presidential nature.

Mr. Dalyell

Pre-Mrs. Thatcher, it was not always so. For example, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) is right: Harold Wilson could not accede to the pressing request of the President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson, to send what he called "a battalion of bagpipers" to Vietnam, because Michael Foot, Jack Mendelson and many others prevented him from doing so. When there was a normal majority—a thin one—in 1978–79, devolution was a rather different story.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

I am not too keen on the thin majority point.

I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) says, including about the terrorism provisions. Does he agree that, if one wants to inject some backbone into Government, and possibly Opposition, Back Benchers, so that they can indulge in the luxury of independent or dangerous thought, the existence of a second Chamber is precisely the way of inhibiting that, because that so-called countervailing force or check is in reality no check at all and merely gives the Government yet another way of controlling their Back Benchers?

Mr. Shepherd

I started by saying that the Government attacked the House of Lords by questioning its legitimacy. Clearly, if part of the legislature has no legitimacy, it ceases to be a proper check; it has no authority. Every time the second Chamber does something of which the Government disapprove, the charge is made that it is not legitimate.

We have an opportunity to reform the second Chamber and make it a representative body. It is unthinkable to me that, in a democracy, those who legislate do not stand accountable to the electorate—the people of this island—in determining whether a law is valid. I listened with the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). It is funny how, as one grows older, the spirit grows younger. I understand from some of his colleagues when he was Prime Minister that the world was not entirely as he may have suggested, but he rightly described how we were beginning to see the prospect of this country having checks and balances, and a constitution in balance. Labour's reforms have shown us how uniquely vulnerable we are to huge upheaval, whereby we end up with the master of spin, now out of the Government, saying that maybe we need glue.

I am deeply concerned, as many hon. Members have been. I believe that the second Chamber should be elected and that its powers should be enhanced to provide the necessary checks and balances. The former Attorney-General, no less, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), said that election to the House of Lords should be staged, and I agree. I believe that the Government should have to fight for their business. I have been concerned by the growing assertion by Prime Ministers and acceptance by Back Benchers that Governments have a right to their business. It is for Parliament to adjudicate on whether the business proposed by the Government has sufficient merit, but the process is no longer seen in those terms.

Considering the great opportunity presented by the Bill, even in the absence of a thought from the Government, the very conditions laid down in the White Paper are grotesquely inappropriate. The primacy of the House once lay in the fact that we were more representative and that we could exercise power as it ebbed away from the landowners. Our people had to pay the money that made Government work. There was a real purpose to us.

Now, as we increasingly become baying party hacks, on-message, with bleepers, trying to juggle the minds and imaginations of a free people, we are merely prattling along; we are an empty Chamber, echoing to who knows what. This nation's vitality was in discourse. There is much talk about what can happen if we sit in semicircles or horseshoes and connect—I use language familiar to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey)—and find a new, purposeful way forward. All we want is a settlement and a coherent constitutional reform.

The Government specifically charge that we are not interested in constitutional reform; but I am, and I know that many of my colleagues are. I am slightly ashamed that, almost two years into a Labour Government, with the clear objective of a half-baked, half-stage reform—

Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Shepherd

Excuse me.

Many of us have a genuine concern that reform could be frozen at the point that we have reached; then we will have a House of total patronage. I took encouragement from my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup when he commented on the qualities of some of the appointees. There is nothing distinguished about some of them, although, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) suddenly recalled, there were merits in some of his appointees, and they attended debates.

The Labour Government know full well that half their glitterati, who have never contributed anything to public debate in terms of the details of legislation, do not turn up. What is their purpose? It is a blatant exercise in what most excites a sinking nation at the end of the 20th century: patronage. People want to be a lord, a knight, a something. In the historical context that amounted to something, but today it is but a bauble. In America, people build hospitals or museums to get the fame and recognition that we confer by patronage.

I did not mean to take so long, but I wanted to say that I agree with my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to the extent that the proposals should be thought through. However, I also tell them that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The royal commission has to report by the end of this year and it is already 2 February. The Bill will go through and my party has no identified, coherent, alternative strategy for the building of a constitution. We have to have one, and quickly. It is not as if we have not had time to reflect on the matter. This is, alas, no longer the age of pamphlets, but the arguments have been laid out. How do we ensure checks and balances? How do we rein in the Executive?

I agree that individuals can make a difference, but only for the lifetime of their stay in this House. We must broaden the inclusion of elected representatives. It is banal and absurd to suggest that people from the Clapham omnibus should be sent to the House of Lords—a title that must be replaced by, perhaps, the senate or the second Chamber—at random, as if in some revival of Athenian democracy. We might as well make it a lottery prize and say to people, "Well, you didn't win £8 million, but you are now a Member of the House of Lords." That sums up the crassness of this Government's approach to deep matters which involve the protection of our liberty and freedoms. We must be a body that expresses and, therefore, represents. Most of us are not.

7.12 pm
Angela Smith (Basildon)

I have spent many happy hours yesterday and today listening to the debate on the Bill, and I have been surprised that so little of it has focused on what the Bill is about. That arises from the confusion among the Opposition about whether they are for or against the Bill. In 1997, the Conservative party handbook for the general election made its position clear by stating that it was important to defend the hereditary principle on its own merits, but only one Conservative Member has had the courage to do so. I wonder what else the handbook contained that Conservatives would no longer defend.

The Conservatives have missed the point of the debate. Whatever follows—and we all have a great interest in that—it is right that we get rid of the voting rights of hereditary peers, because they are wrong in principle. Only those who undervalue the role of legislators, and the scrutiny of the work of the Government and the House could argue that accident of birth is qualification enough for a seat in the second Chamber. For some, the issue is that there is an inbuilt Tory majority through the hereditary peers. As wrong as that is, the arguments for reform are valid whether the inbuilt majority is Tory or Labour.

It is a great shame that, with a golden opportunity before us to reform the constitution and modernise this place, we have to drag the Opposition kicking and screaming into the 21st century. However, perhaps we should not be surprised. On more than one occasion in the past, we have had to drag the Conservative party forward, kicking and screaming. I hesitate to go back as far as the repeal of the corn laws in case a Conservative Member contradicts me and says that they should not have been repealed, but every stage met with opposition from the Conservatives then. Even when Attlee marginally reduced the powers of the House of Lords in 1947, he was heckled by Churchill, then a Conservative, who described the Government's action—overplaying his hand somewhat—as an "act of socialist aggression".

Perhaps even sadder was the House's response to the early attempts to gain votes for women. At the beginning of this century, Members of Parliament used parliamentary tactics and every single trick in the book to prevent women from getting the vote. Few people would now oppose the women's suffrage Bill of 1904, but it failed. It was second on the Order Paper to a non-controversial private Member's Bill, which proposed that carts travelling on public roads at night should carry a light behind as well as a light in front. Few Members disagreed with the Bill, but it was debated for hour upon hour to frustrate change and modernisation of the constitution.

Mr. Tyrie

Is the hon. Lady aware that the extension of the franchise to women was accomplished in two stages, with the first stage introduced by a coalition Government including the Conservatives and the second—the reduction of the voting age from 30 to 21—by a Conservative Government?

Angela Smith

I am aware of that, but the reform could have been achieved much earlier had Conservative Governments supported it. Contemporary accounts mention silly stories and foolish jokes being told during the debate, while other Members joined in the laughter. Such behaviour, then as now, does nothing to raise this House in the public's esteem. Members probably felt safer ridiculing such measures in those days because there were no cameras in the House to record their antics. That is another progressive measure that was opposed by Conservatives.

A former Member of the House, Charles Bradlaugh, was unable to take his seat until he had the right to affirm the oath. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) mentioned yesterday that he was here because the law was changed to remove his hereditary title. There was opposition to the reduction of the voting age from 21 to 18. I raise those examples to show that the modernisation of Parliament has always been slow, tortuous and difficult.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) corrected the hon. Lady on her point about suffrage, and I wish to remind her that virtually every reform of the 19th century was opposed by the Liberal party and pioneered by the Conservative party. I think specifically of prison reform, slum clearance, Disraeli's reform Acts and a range of social and economic legislation. The hon. Lady should take a more thorough look at history before she makes such claims.

Angela Smith

I make no claims for the Liberals, but I was talking about constitutional reform. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's correction, as he puts it, because history shows that Conservatives took a long time to accept reform. Many Opposition Members have already accepted that the hereditary principle is wrong, having supported it at the time of the last election. Reforms such as working class men getting the vote, women getting the vote and secret ballots all had to be fought for, but nobody today would argue that we should go back and that those reforms were not essential. It is incredible today to think that anybody argued against those measures, and people in the future will be incredulous that Members of the House of Commons were prepared to support the right of hereditary peers to take part in our legislature.

Those of us who passionately believe in the reform of the second Chamber have waited a long time for the Bill. I must correct some of the comments made by Opposition Members. We are not seeking an easy life. There is a role for a second Chamber in a modern democracy, but to be effective it must have legitimacy. There is no legitimacy in using an accident of birth to claim privilege. The current qualifications for membership of the upper House bring into question the authority and integrity of our entire parliamentary system. Last week, Lord Strathclyde said that their lordships have sought answers from Governments on deep and detailed questions about Bills and policy". He is right to say that that is a good role for the second Chamber, but he claimed that their lordships did so on behalf of the people of this country."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 January 1999; Vol. 596, c. 586.] He missed the point. He has no authority to ask for anything on behalf of the people of this country: he asks for himself.

Mr. Grieve

Does the hon. Lady agree that when the reform set out in the Bill has been achieved, and the hereditary peers have been removed, the life peers who remain will be in no better position to claim that legitimacy?

Angela Smith

That point has been dealt with many times. The life peers in the transitional House will be there on their own merit, not on the merit of people from centuries ago.

The Labour party has always had a somewhat uneasy relationship with the House of Lords. Many distinguished parliamentarians from the House of Commons have refused to take a seat in the Lords because of its undemocratic composition. In his autobiography, Fenner Brockway—whom many Labour Members recall with great affection—recalled his dilemma at being offered a seat in the House of Lords. He wondered whether it would compromise his principles: indeed, he seemed far more delighted that the local council named a block of flats after him than he was with his new title. He used to delight people with the story of how a friend wrote to him and addressed the envelope to The Lord Brockway, without adding the number of the house. The letter was returned with the words "No public house of that name in this street" written across the envelope.

Yet if Fenner Brockway had not taken his seat in the House of Lords, we would have been deprived of the political contribution of an honest, radical, courageous and decent man. I make that point to emphasise that this Bill is essential, not because of any individual Members of the House of Lords, but because the debate is about the legitimacy of the upper Chamber.

Mr. Evans

The hon. Lady has given us a potted history of how the people have had to fight to increase democracy in this country. I accept that that is what happened, but will she say whether there would be any circumstances in which she would vote for a decrease in the power of the second Chamber to check the Executive? Would she support increasing the powers of a legitimate second Chamber to check the Executive?

Angela Smith

Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I shall wait until the royal commission has completed its report, as I want to give those questions as much detailed consideration and thought as we are giving the Bill.

I repeat: an accident of birth cannot give a person the right to participate in the law-making process in this country. When my father retires, I will not be taken on to make radiators at Ford, and nor should I be. I have no special privileges because of the random circumstances of my birth, and nor should anyone else.

The House has a golden opportunity tonight to move forward into the future, or to look backwards. I hope that support will come from Conservative Members who, although they claim that they support getting rid of the hereditary principle, seem very reluctant to vote in favour of the Bill.

7.22 pm
Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks)

Every so often in each Parliament a Bill comes along that tells us more about its promoters than about its provisions. This is just such a Bill.

The Bill is sinister and deeply flawed. What the Government propose has to be stated again and again so that people may fully appreciate the constitutional monstrosity involved. The Government are expelling 60 per cent. of one House of Parliament without indicating how that portion is to be replaced: in other words, 40 per cent. of Members of Parliament as a whole—it is worth reminding ourselves that peers are Members of Parliament—are to be expelled.

We have been given neither a clear idea of how those Members of Parliament will be replaced nor any binding commitment to come up with a specific plan for their replacement. At the very least, the expulsions should be stayed until the royal commission report—or the Joint Committee deliberations or the colour of the Government's proposals—clarify what will stand in their place.

The composition of the House of Lords cannot be considered until there is agreement about what that House's functions and powers should be. That is as self-evident today as it was to those of us who wrestled with the issue in the committee appointed by the then Mrs. Thatcher, and chaired by the late Lord Home, more than 21 years ago.

By introducing stage 1 without giving any indication about stage 2, the Government defy their own instruction to the royal commission. As Lady Jay made clear, the terms of reference ask the royal commission to consider the role and functions of the second chamber as a preliminary to considering its composition."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 January 1999; Vol. 596, c. 585.] Those are the instructions to the royal commission, but the Bill defies them. We are asked to embrace stage 1, not as a subsequent or complementary task, but as a preliminary. Tonight, we set in train the process of expelling 60 per cent. of the Members of one House of Parliament, without a single firm proposal on how those Members will be replaced, or any agreement on the functions that a new and newly reformed House will perform. We are asked to begin that process on the basis of a deeply flawed Bill.

The Bill has three major flaws, and one minor flaw.

Mr. Linton

The hon. Gentleman said that what he calls the expulsion of the hereditary peers should be stayed at the very least. Does he or does he not support the retention of hereditary peers in the long term?

Mr. Fallon

No. Once we have agreement on the functions and powers of a second Chamber, there can be no case for retention of the hereditary principle or of the existing hereditary Members. If the hon. Gentleman reads the 1978 report of the Conservative review committee, he will see that position clearly set out.

The first major flaw in the Bill is that it contains no commitment to introduce stage 2. There is no such commitment in the preamble, let alone in the text of the clauses. In the Parliament Act 1911, the preamble at least stated that, eventually, there would be an elected or modernised second Chamber. It is true that stage 2 of that process was delayed, but the commitment to that stage was always present in the 1911 Act. It remained as a constant reminder, like a knot in a handkerchief, and I urge Ministers to accept an amendment to make it clear that they are committed to introducing stage 2 in this Parliament.

What the Minister of State said this afternoon worried me further. He said that the Government would simply be looking at proposals emerging from the royal commission, and at proposals that the Joint Committee had scrutinised. I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary winds up the debate, he will reaffirm the Government's intention to proceed with stage 2 in this Parliament. That would give us some compensation at least for the expulsion that the Bill sets in train tonight. Otherwise, we will be left—as we were after 1911—with stage 1 on its own. There will be a hostage House up the Corridor, kept on permanent tenterhooks at the bidding of the Government, with no commitment to its replacement by stage 2.

The second flaw in the Government's proposals for the temporary House is that there is no limit on that House's membership. It is true that there is no limit on the membership of the present House of Lords, but that has long been acknowledged as one of its weaknesses. The problem is less important because only 40 per cent. of that House is nominated. In the new, interim House established by the Bill, almost all Members will be nominated. It is therefore vital, as a constitutional safeguard, to have an upper limit on the patronage that the Prime Minister, through the appointments commission, will so freely dispense.

We have not been told very much about the appointments commission. Who appoints it? Cronies, as Conservative Members have learnt, can appoint cronies—that is the essence of cronyism. The Bill should contain a constitutional safeguard against the Government flooding the interim, temporary House with cronies when they need to overcome a difficulty in getting legislation through.

Dr. Ladyman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fallon

No, not at the moment.

That limit could take a number of forms. It could be a numerical ceiling on the size of the upper House. Equally, it could be a limit on the number of new creations that can be made in any one year.

The limit on the size of the temporary House is needed because of the third and most serious flaw—the failure to exclude the Bill from the operation of the Parliament Acts. The draftsmen of 1911 did not exclude the 1911 Act, which was assumed to be a piece of temporary legislation. There is no need to repeat that mistake now. The principle should be obvious: the new temporary House should have to consent to the reform of its own composition, just as we are required to consent to stage 2 and future modernisation—otherwise, we shall have no check at all on the next stage of constitutional reform, which could be whipped through the House of Commons, then through the temporary House.

If the Government accept some check under the Parliament Acts for the lifetime of a Parliament, it automatically follows that, having reformed the other chamber, they should accept a similar check on the composition of Parliament. If they are not prepared to accept that in the Bill, they have precious little faith in the composition of the temporary House that we are asked to license.

Mr. Beith

It seems odd to criticise the temporary House because it is open to cronyism and will consist entirely of appointed members while simultaneously insisting that its assent is essential to any reform that would make it better.

Mr. Fallon

The missing link is another flaw—the lack of a ceiling on the number of Members. Once that is put in place, there will at least be one check on the extent to which the temporary House could be flooded with additional creations.

Dr. Ladyman

Does the hon. Gentleman feel no sense of shame when he talks about the Government flooding the House of Lords? The Government of whom he was a member were prepared to bus in 450 hereditary peers to enforce their will on the Maastricht treaty. When the Conservatives were in government, they could temporarily influence the composition of the other place whenever they wanted.

Mr. Fallon

If the hon. Gentleman had studied the history of the upper House during the Conservative years, he might have been interested to note that the Parliament Acts procedure has been used only against a Conservative Government. In all the years since the revision of the Parliament Acts in 1947, the procedure has been triggered only once—against a Conservative Government during the passage of the War Crimes Act 1991. The hon. Gentleman would also have learnt that even Margaret Thatcher in her heyday was often checked and her provisions reversed by the upper House. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) explained, Conservative Governments had to live with that, and even with being checked by Conservative peers. The Labour Government are not prepared to tolerate that for a moment.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fallon

I want to make some progress because some of my hon. Friends wish to speak.

The Minister may be able to clear up a final minor flaw in the drafting of the Bill. This is one of the few occasions on which we are entitled to refer to the Prince of Wales. Clause 5 classifies the Prince of Wales as an hereditary peer, and he will therefore be barred from the upper House. Will the Minister clarify whether the Prince of Wales will therefore be entitled to stand for this House?

The Prince of Wales might run from Highgrove, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), or from St. James's palace, which is situated in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), so they, at least, ought to know whether the Prince would be able to stand for election to the House of Commons. He made occasional, but important, contributions to debates in the other place. If he is entitled to stand for the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly, I cannot see why his talents should be denied to the House of Commons.

Let us consider the principles behind the Bill. The Conservatives have always supported a strong House of Lords. Conservatives fought to protect the longer delaying powers contained in the Parliament Act 1911. We introduced life peers in 1958. Our Front-Bench team supported Dick Crossman's reforms to remove the hereditary peers 30 years ago. Margaret Thatcher and our present leader, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), have set up our own review committees to consider how to strengthen the House of Lords.

Mr. Hope

It is clear that there is some support on the Conservative Benches for the abolition of the hereditary principle. In that case, why must the hereditary peers play any role in determining the make-up of the second Chamber?

Mr. Fallon

The hereditary peers are being invited by the Prime Minister to play a part in determining the future of the second Chamber and its continuity with the existing chamber. The Prime Minister cooked up that deal, so the hon. Gentleman should address his question to his own Government.

We support a strong House of Lords, but it is becoming ever clearer that Labour wants a weaker House. We have at least heard the honesty of the unicameralist position set out so clearly by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). True socialists have always been single-chamber democrats. They have always trumpeted the doctrine of the mandate. Once elected, they say, a Government can do anything in the name of the popular will. That is how they define democracy—unlimited government.

We, on the contrary, have always accepted that the will of the 51 per cent. cannot be absolute, as that would be the path to elective dictatorship. There must be limits to the force of the mandate. Why else would Governments seek a fresh mandate? John Stuart Mill famously wrote of how A majority in a single assembly … easily becomes despotic and overweening". We intuitively accept that there must be limits in a democracy to the authority of a popular majority. As we reform the House of Lords, two issues are before the House: where those limits derive their authority from; and how we give them institutional expression.

Some countries ascribe authority to old age or experience. In our country, we once ascribed authority to mediaeval offices—that is why the bishops sit in the House of Lords. Part of the answer may lie in tradition, although I would not claim that dukes, marquesses and earls are custodians of any living tradition. Another part of the answer lies in the common law, but that common law has been weakened by statute, and surrendered, neatly, to Europe.

These matters are difficult to elucidate, but the very survival of our second Chamber as a constitutional safeguard can be seen in the exemption from the Parliament Acts of any Bill to extend the life of Parliament. That concept implies the existence of some other source of authority in our society, above the ability simply to choose and to change a Government. We accept that there must be limits to the ability of the 51 per cent. to tyrannise the 49 per cent. Given that the monarch is now a figurehead, and given that the common law is subservient to statute or to continental law, it is only the existence of a strong second Chamber that can protect people against their Government.

Labour Members and the Government want a weaker House of Lords. The White Paper clearly signals that fact. A key question that it poses for the royal commission is whether the functions of the present House of Lords are still necessary. It queries the interrogative function with some weasel words about whether the House of Lords should still have direct access to Ministers.

Even the second Chamber's legislative function—the essence of a Chamber of Parliament—is questioned. The White Paper suggests that the second Chamber should no longer pass amendments that it can stick to but should offer what it coyly calls recommendations for improvements to legislation". We will have a new stage in the passage of Bills called "Lords' suggestions". The House of Lords will not be able to play a proper legislative role and pass its own amendments to Bills. The Government come clean at the end of the White Paper—they can no longer disguise their intentions. On page 40, they say that there is a case for reducing the "theoretically available powers".

The Government admit that there might be a case for reducing the delaying power and scrapping the ability of the Lords to propose amendments in lieu to House of Commons legislation. They even want to scrap the Lords' power to reject secondary legislation. That means that a Bill in this place—we have seen several of them in the past year and a half—that gives Ministers enormous powers regarding secondary legislation and orders that are steamrollered through this place cannot be checked because the House of Lords will not be able to exercise its traditional rights over secondary legislation. That is a Cromwellian law-making position.

There we have it. This Bill is not about Parliament: it is about government. It is about making life easier for Ministers and their officials. It is about saving Ministers the chore of having to expose their policies to public scrutiny and about eliminating the need to justify their Bills and orders and submit them to the public gaze. The Bill is about making government easier, quicker and simpler. That was never more clearly stated, somewhat carelessly and shamelessly, than by Baroness Jay—who, by the way, has never troubled to seek election to any public office. In her statement on 20 January, she said that House of Lords reform is about "modernising government".

There we have it: in a single sentence, we can see the present Government's contempt for the House. The Government equate Parliament with government—for Labour Members, the two are synonymous. That is why, in the past 18 months, this place has become mere lobby fodder. That is why, against the wishes of Madam Speaker, the Prime Minister comes here only once a week. That is why our powers are being given away to new assemblies or foreign councils. That is why constitutional Bills are guillotined. The Government believe that Parliament is simply an extension of government.

That should come as no surprise. Some 21 years ago, the Labour party opposed the second Chamber in its entirety. In 1977, the Barry constituency Labour party tabled a resolution, which read: the House of Lords should be deprived of its present powers over primary and delegated legislation and should be renamed the Consultative Council of the Realm. That moderate resolution was swept away by the Labour party conference, which voted by 6,248,000 to 91,000— a majority of 6,157,000—for the total abolition of the House of Lords and the reform of Parliament into an efficient, single-chamber, legislating body without delay. Labour wants a legislative machine. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) reminded us eloquently, that is not the sole function of the House. We are here not simply to pass laws but to represent people's grievances. We are here not just to mobilise consent but to express opinions. We are here not just to facilitate the Executive but to protect the governed. This Bill, which vandalises the upper House and expels more than 700 members of our Parliament, signals not just a weaker second Chamber but marks yet another step in the deliberate enfeeblement of our own.

7.45 pm
Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

Like all Labour Members, I welcome the Bill and its provisions for removing the hereditary peers. I played a role in the 1968–69 legislation, which I shall describe briefly while revealing some of the pitfalls that we must avoid.

The last time the House was involved in debating the future of the House of Lords was 1969. I opposed that legislation, proposed by a Labour Government, because it involved a scheme, planned with the collusion of the two Front Benches, that would have provided an aldermanic bench. Back Benchers on both sides opposed the measure. Hon. Members may not recall that aldermen held an historic position in local government. Once a councillor was elected to the bench, he stayed there for life. He was influential and respected, with no elections to fight—it was an envied position.

The scheme devised by Dick Crossman was of that type. It was designed to lead eventually to paid peers enjoying power without the troublesome task of fighting elections. It was about power with security, and, understandably, it did not enjoy the enthusiastic support of Back Benchers on either side. My role in that process was to realise at the outset that the guillotine could not be applied to the Bill. While others were playing parliamentary games, I saw that it could be defeated. After 14 days and 14 nights, including morning sittings, the Bill was finally dropped.

The case that is always made in support of the second Chamber concerns its role in revising legislation. However, as Professor Griffiths—the great expert on constitutional matters—pointed out long ago, and as page 36 of the White Paper confirms, Lords amendments are more often than not Government amendments. The Lords' role in this process, although useful, may be easily overstated. In fact, the Select Committees could undertake part of that work—and there has been a move in that direction. Nowadays, Select Committees are more powerful and membership of them is much sought after, which makes it easy to transfer that part of Parliament's work to them.

In the present debate, many hon. Members have expressed the wish to see the House of Lords become more independent of the Executive. That has been a common theme throughout. Some hon. Members have looked to the Lords to redress the weakness of the House of Commons in facing the Executive. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) made that point: he said that the weakness of the House of Commons in facing the Executive could be remedied by improving the standing of the House of Lords.

The weakness of this place has increased over the past 20 years. The failure to halt the poll tax, and rail privatisation—which was called by the great Conservative Member of Parliament, the late Robert Adley, a "poll tax on wheels"—was not the fault of the House of Lords: the responsibility lay with us. We were the pusillanimous House of Commons. We do not need more powers; we have enough already. The trouble is that we have not used those powers when it was necessary to do so.

I have thought that the weakness of the House of Commons in the past 20 years—first with Margaret Thatcher and now with a 417-seat majority party, which produces its own problems—has been an aberration. We can deal with many of the changes that are called for so long as we have the resolve to do so. If the resolve is there, the aberration ends.

The measure before us is limited—and I support it fully. In yesterday's debate, most hon. Members agreed that the hereditary peers had to go. The amendment that is yet to come will provide for the 91 hereditaries to remain for the first phase. The royal commission is to produce its conclusions by the end of this year, in nine months' time. I wish it well.

Some years ago, the Royal Institute of Public Administration held a one-day seminar for those who had been members of royal commissions. I had been involved in one on civil service reform and so was invited to attend. All those attending that large seminar felt some disillusionment; some even expressed anger at the fact that their work had been used not to bring about change. In some cases, they felt their work had been ignored; in others, that there had been lengthy delay. In the case of civil service reform, the surprise of others was a surprise to me—I had expected what happened in that respect. It took 17 years and a Conservative Government for the civil service reform that I had wanted to be achieved. There had been 1,400 departmental committees within the civil service, but a complete end to that nonsense was not brought about for 17 years. Let us not misunderstand the likely speed of reform in this country. Although 17 years' delay is a serious matter, the lesson of that seminar is that the majority of reports are not implemented and that none is implemented speedily.

The royal commission on the House of Lords has to consider an endless variety of alternative systems. In the debate so far, we have heard many suggestions: the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) suggested a House of Lords comprising 87 senators; a unicameral solution was proposed by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews); a House of experts was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris); and there have been many other suggestions. There are as many solutions as there are Members of Parliament—many and diverse are the schemes that can be proposed.

Those schemes are not the only considerations that the royal commission has to survey: it will have to consider the consequences of devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as our relationship to Europe and other constitutional changes. The commission has to digest all that, but it cannot know how those matters will turn out in practice for some time yet, and what form they eventually assume has to be an integral part of the commission's consultations.

After that hurdle has been cleared, there is to be the Joint Committee of both Houses. How long will that take? Then, there is the passage of a further Bill from this House to be negotiated. We must remember that, if that measure is taken in the next Parliament, there will be new Members of Parliament who do not have our experience and background and who will have to learn what arguments were made in the preceding Parliament. The result of all that is that one does not need to be a pessimist to believe that there might be some delay before the second stage takes place.

My fear is that the first stage will be the only stage. There is a case for that, but it is nothing like the case that we want to be made. However, there is limited appetite for constitutional reform. After the proposals for devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and changes to the European Parliament elections, we see that House of Lords reform can hold only limited interest once we have passed from general observations to detailed examination of legislation. That is where the problem arises. Broad statements of principle can achieve some sort of consensus; it is the detail that will split asunder not only parties, but even individuals who find it hard to find agreement among themselves on central matters, so complex are the possibilities.

We must remember that Lord Cranborne did not act to accept the retention of 91 hereditary peers and so undertake what many considered to be a treacherous act in order to buy two or three years of continuation; he realised that there was a possibility that the arrangement would last in perpetuity—or at least for his lifetime. That is why he did what he did and subverted the Conservative Opposition—his eye was not on the short term, but on the possibility that stage 1 could be the only stage. That is the view of one who has some considerable knowledge and understanding of the position. In the light of all that, we need to consider more carefully than we have done throughout this debate what happens in phase 1. We are currently dealing with phase 1, which might last for a long time, so let us see what we can do to get it right.

In phase 1, 91 hereditary peers are to remain, bolstered by the creation of new peers who would make the House of Lords somewhat, albeit not a great deal, more representative of the electorate than it is at present. There would then be an increase, not only in its legitimacy, but in its perceived legitimacy; therefore, it is unlikely that the interim Lords would be quite as restrained as the unreconstructed House. In other words, the Lords would be likely to throw their weight around a little more, and certainly no less, than they do at present. The increase in legitimacy could lead to an increased use of the powers currently available to the Lords.

If the Lords in the transitional House really wanted to get their way on a specific issue, they would not necessarily be bound by any convention—Salisbury or otherwise—that was acceptable in a wholly unjustifiable House. The current Lords are constrained because they realise that it is illegitimate to use the powers they have, but once they decide that their legitimacy is that little bit greater, they are likely to use those powers far more frequently in future than they have in the past. They might go even further: it might already have occurred to them that they could filibuster on controversial Bills so as to get their way. That would be even easier if there were some public support for the stance that they adopted.

Mr. Ian Bruce

I can see that the right hon. Gentleman is nearing the end of his speech. I am following his argument closely and wonder whether he has concluded that he would prefer the total abolition of the second Chamber.

Mr. Sheldon

The main reason for keeping the other Chamber is the quinquennial Act. Under that Act, Parliament sits for five years and this House—this House alone, were the House of Lords to be abolished—can overturn that Act at a throw, if it so desires. There has to be some method of providing for that eventuality. As far as the principle of abolition is concerned, if the House of Commons behaved as a proper House of Commons and acted where it thought fit, the need for that second Chamber would be greatly reduced.

Mr. Benn

I have followed my right hon. Friend's argument and agree with it. However, he spoke about the dangers of new-found legitimacy in the transitional House of Lords: would he go so far as to argue, as I would, that the one point where the Lords are likely use that legitimacy is to frustrate the second stage, for if the second stage were to be at all radical, they would be committing suicide by accepting it? With their new-found legitimacy, would they not frustrate the second stage to save life peers, the remaining hereditary peers and everyone else in that Chamber?

Mr. Sheldon

In my idle moments, I have pictured some of the matters on which the transitional House of Lords might use its powers, and the one that my right hon. Friend suggests is undoubtedly one that has occurred to me. It would be easier for the Lords to use those powers on the not infrequent occasions where there was some support for their position.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

My right hon. Friend is being extremely generous in giving way. It is true that, in stage 1 when the hereditary Lords—other than the 91 remaining—have gone, the Lords might have a feeling of greater legitimacy, but surely, if stage 2 were to produce an entirely directly elected House, such action to frustrate it would be a direct challenge to the House of Commons?

Mr. Sheldon

There is no doubt about that, but I am not currently concerned with stage 2. Lord Cranborne might yet see his dream come true, and that is what frightens me.

Once we start to alter the balance of the two Houses, we must not think that the long-standing conventions will continue to apply. Once change begins, we cannot know the use to which such reform will be put. What we can be sure of is that, even without changes to the Lords' powers, far greater use will be made of them. In addition, the 91 hereditaries might come into their own. When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, in answer to me, that the powers would remain unaltered, she did so on the basis that stage 1 would last for only a limited time. The longer stage 1 remains, the more problems will be caused to this Parliament and the next. That has to be dealt with during the Committee stage of the Bill before us.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Before I call the next hon. Member, I remind the House that time is getting on and many hon. Members have been in the Chamber all day yesterday and all day today. It is only fair to point out that, if speeches are shorter, some of those hon. Members will be called.

8 pm

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) and I once travelled together to China. He will remember the Yeats poem "Lapis Lazuli":

  • "Two Chinamen, behind them a third …
  • Above them flies a long-legged bird
  • The symbol of longevity".
The right hon. Gentleman and I are not young, and it is a happy conceit, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you should have yoked me with him in this debate.

The debate yesterday, almost all of which I attended, was perfectly relevant to the topic and therefore worthy of it. However, the response of the House to the Government's intentions could have risen higher and been more worthy of the great history of the other place if the Government had not been so preoccupied to descry it and so little to praise it.

I do not blame the Government for using statistics to make their points, although, in his account of the popular vote for the two major parties at the previous general election, the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Clark) was more accurate in the last Back-Bench speech made for the Government last night in column 684 of yesterday's Hansard than was the Leader of the House in the first Front-Bench speech in column 613. I appreciate that I myself am more literate than numerate, but I can plead to having done advanced applied statistics at postgraduate level at Harvard, so my criticism of the Government for a high concentration on the numerical and a compensating aversion to the verbal is not the product of statistical unfamiliarity but due to a preference of taste.

Of course I understand why the Government have preferred the statistical route, and I am not gainsaying the particular arguments that they sustain, other than referring to the curious inaccuracy of the Leader of the House. Nor am I criticising the Government for wishing to reverse what they see as a perceived party political disadvantage. I could not blame any Government, let alone one so sensitive to party political advantage as this one, for wanting to redress an honest disadvantage under which they felt they were suffering. I am only sorry that they should have felt it necessary to overdo the immediate arguments against the hereditary peers to justify their lack of preparedness for comprehensive reform.

The Brookes are a smallish family—they run nowadays to more than 5,000 individuals worldwide but fewer than 10,000—but they spread into eight or 10 county branches in this kingdom. All the branches have a badger as their crest on the grounds that brock equals brooke, and the Gaelic for badger is broc. I have found a badger as far back as 1558 on a tomb in a church in Shropshire, while in Colebrooke in County Fermanagh, in a church of which it has been accurately remarked that most churches are dedicated to the glory of God but Colebrooke is dedicated to the Brookes, there are 18. Despite that longevity, my own county branch, which is in County Cavan via Cheshire, has never produced an hereditary peer under our name, although Holbein's drawing of Brooke Lord Cobham has a distinct look of my father.

I remark in parentheses, and as a declaration of interest, that the County Fermanagh branch in the next-door county produced in the last war Lord Alanbrooke and Lord Brookeborough, whose banners as knights of the garter hang from the beams of Colebrooke church and whose hereditary heirs still sit in the other House. My noble late father was a life peer and, at 91, my noble mother still is a life peer.

In a certain personal respect, I speak for my parents, who served directly in the other place for 36 years between them, which, by coincidence, was precisely the same number of years that they served between them on the old Hampstead borough council. I shall draw on that coincidence in a moment, but, before that, I want to record with pride that, in seven centuries of our parliamentary history, my parents were the first married couple to sit simultaneously on the Front Bench of either House, an achievement that anticipated by a single year the same one in this House when it was accomplished by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and Dr. John Dunwoody in the then Government.

The coincidence to which I referred is that both the bodies of which my parents were members for 36 years—Hampstead borough council and the House of Lords—have been the subject of drastic reform. The merger of Hampstead borough council with St. Pancras and Holborn into Camden chronologically followed the Herbert commission, which my late father established in the late 1950s and which in due course gave rise to the subsuming of the London county council into the Greater London council in 1965. It was, in short, the measured product of long deliberation and prudent preparation and in that respect wholly worthy of this great city.

The reform of the House of Lords—an institution at least 10 times older than the LCC and the old London boroughs when they were reformed—is being passed at a breakneck and seemingly unpremeditated pace. The right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) modestly took the credit for the royal commission, but the credit for that happening at all belongs to her Majesty's loyal Opposition for their campaign against the haphazard and ramshackle way in which the Government are handling the reform. Because they took no thought for the morrow, the Government now have to introduce the reform much faster than would have been necessary if there had been greater forethought—a charge that can be laid at the door of their whole constitutional project. As I remarked at an earlier stage, if you do not know where you are trying to get to, any road will get you there. After more than seven centuries, that is not worthy of this Parliament.

The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) referred to bricklayers. I have a criticism of the royal commission other than that it has an excessively short life due to the Government's unthinking folly. I served in the Whips Office and the Cabinet with my noble Friend Lord Wakeham. He has a considerable reputation as a fixer in the eyes of political journalists and, although historians will determine its eventual validity, the profession of fixer owes more to the role of a plumber than to that of an architect. Lord Wakeham's principal credential for the chairmanship seems to be that he belongs to the right union. The future House of Lords is in more than a little need of architecture, and in that I am saying more brutally what my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) said gently.

The Government may justify their acquiescence in the Weatherill amendment on grounds of pragmatism, but it owes nothing to principle. The House of Lords has a great national past. In 1975, the Brussels Commission confessed that, for the first time, it had been outwitted, defeated and perplexed by a delegation from a national legislature. That was a scientific delegation consisting of Lord Ashby, Lord Hinton and Lord Zuckerman. When representatives of the Commission rang No. 10 the following day, they asked, "Why are you proposing to abolish the House of Lords?" Those were life peers, but the late Launcelot Fleming, who was successively Bishops of Portsmouth and Norwich, was a scientist of sufficient distinction to serve on the royal commission on environmental pollution in his own right.

On the hereditary side, the noble Earl Russell has all his father's genes and he is not alone among the hereditary peers. There are plenty of hereditary peers who sit as fellows of the Royal Society. Able Ministers from this place who have gone to the other place report that, when they speak in that massively knowledgeable forum, they experience the same nervousness that they experienced as small boys before going out to bat. Of course I acknowledge those who are lightly called working peers, but I see no significantly greater fault in a peer who sits in the other place because his ancestor gave money to Charles I than in one who sits there now because he has given money to the governing party of the day.

I fear that I am more sure that the Bill is not worthy of the Government's constitutional project—perhaps it is—because of the arguments that were deployed yesterday on its behalf. I cannot blame Back Benchers, because a lead is always given by the Front Bench, and I regard it as a trivialisation of what we are about that the Leader of the House spent so much time discussing taxpayer support for the 62 hereditary peers who live abroad when this Government have not even tried to answer the West Lothian question, the fault line of which still lies beneath their constitutional structures.

I am no great believer in focus groups, because I recall Dean Acheson's account in his great post-war book about a wartime episode when Cordell Hull said to President Roosevelt: Mr. President, this is not one of those occasions when we have enough time for you to wait while you learn where we want to be led. It was clear from Labour Members' speeches yesterday that they have gone into the highways and byways of their constituencies—either spontaneously or under bleeper control—to verify opinion on the House of Lords. I cite the speeches of the hon Members for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley) and for Gillingham. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) referred to his constituents. The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt) more spaciously told us what people wanted.

Although I am personally glad that the Labour Members are so close to their constituents, I have a different impression. It is contained in a wartime cartoon by Pont of Punch, in a series called "The British Character", in which two or three solid rustics are sitting silently in a public bar where a German radio broadcast is reporting, In England the people have been thrown into the wildest panic. Much has been made of the inactivity in the House of Lords in the 88 years since 1911. I attribute that inactivity, beyond peradventure, to Pont's picture of the public bar and the fact that, over the past nine decades, there has been no public pressure for reform.

I offer the House two verses from the poem that G. K. Chesterton wrote after F. E. Smith had claimed that the Bill on Welsh disestablishment had shocked the conscience of every Christian community in Europe. It states:

  • "Are they clinging to their crosses, F. E. Smith,
  • Where the Breton boat-fleet tosses, are they Smith?
  • Do they, fasting, trembling, breeding,
  • Wait the news from this our city?
  • Groaning 'That's the Second Reading!'
  • Hissing 'There is still Committee!'
  • If the voice of Cecil falters,
  • If McKenna's point has pith,
  • Do they tremble for their altars? Do they Smith?
  • In the lands where Christians were, F. E. Smith,
  • In the little lands laid bare, Smith, O Smith,
  • Where the Turkish bands are busy
  • And the Tory name is blessed
  • Since they hailed the Cross of Dizzy
  • On the banners from the West!
  • Men don't think it half so hard if
  • Islam burns their kin and kith,
  • Since a curate lives in Cardiff saved by Smith."
The same perception of people's attitude to the House of Lords applies.

I do not resist the burial of the hereditary principle, but I insist that we do it decently, properly and honourably, and that we honour the most remarkable contribution made by hereditary peers to our constitution and our law making by the quality of whom we put in their place—more sensibly than the Government have so far started to do.

Professor Cannadine ended his notable book on the decline and fall of the British aristocracy with Lord Peter Wimsey's self-composed epitaph: Here lies an anachronism in the vague expectation of eternity". I prefer, filially, to close my speech with another quotation of Lord Peter Wimsey: I have a cursed hankering after certain musty old values.

8.12 pm
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

This very important debate is about the basic issues of government, accountability and representation. Over the past two days, the Opposition have painted a picture of confusion and disarray. Numerous Opposition Members have told us that they reject the principle that the rights of heredity are superior to those of democratic accountability, yet, in addressing that issue, they have described the Bill using adjectives such as "sinister" and "vindictive". They have said that they want to hear what the detailed proposals for change might be, yet appear to reject the proposition that a royal commission should be—indeed, already is being—set up to consider such details.

The Bill is part of a proposal that shows the Government's determination to deal very positively with an issue which, until now, has proved intractable. It is extremely important that we all recognise the momentous opportunities that the Bill, and the process that it begins, puts in front of us. We have the opportunity to look again at our constitution, give a voice to people who have been denied a democratic voice and the right to be listened to, and reconsider issues of accountability and the representation of interests and people who, for far too long, have been excluded.

The issue of devolution in the United Kingdom and beyond has been mentioned by many hon. Members. I welcome devolution; it is about accountability, the need to give a focus to decisions that are often taken in a fragmented way, and identity. Those different aspects of devolution assume different importance in different parts of the United Kingdom. We are to have a Scottish Parliament, a Welsh Assembly, a Northern Ireland Assembly, a Greater London authority and a Council of the Isles.

In England, with the formation of regional development agencies—we shall have, at long last, a focus for economic activity in the regions—and in regional chambers, we see at last an attempt to bring together, on an indirectly elected basis for the moment, a forum in which issues to do with social structure, the economy and the environment can be debated, and in which strategies can be addressed and delivered. In the House only yesterday, the Leader of the House confirmed that it is proposed to restore the Standing Committee on the Regions.

We have therefore reached a position from which an elected base—even if only indirectly elected—could nominate members of a second Chamber, whatever we decide to call it. Regional chambers in England comprise elected representatives. They are appropriate bodies to nominate people for a reformed House of Lords. In that way, the voice of the regions would be heard, not just in the House of Commons, where it absolutely essential, but in a reformed second House. Such views could not only be heard but considered and acted on. That could be done in the context of the United Kingdom and, indeed, of Europe. We would no longer have to face the situation, which the Transport Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs described last week when referring to the fact that the promise of regional rail links with Europe had not been delivered, of the regions of England being "cheated".

Such a system would provide an opportunity to consider the impact of proposed legislation on regions. It would provide a forum in which to consider the impact of spending policies on the regions and of wider European issues and the way in which the regions should influence those wider European policies.

Discussions in the reformed second Chamber would, of course, be only a part of the review of our constitution. There should be room, too, for the voice of the regions to be heard in this directly elected House of Commons. Indeed, I hope that, soon, regional chambers in England will be directly elected.

The regions of England are at different stages of readiness to move forward. The north-west is particularly well prepared, having worked with the public, private and voluntary sectors over the past eight years, in the North West Regional Association and the North West Partnership—and now, the north-west assembly—to put together strategies for training, economic development, transport and the environment, and to work with Europe. Indeed, such strategies are being enacted.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

I have been listening to the hon. Lady's speech with interest; she has obviously given considerably deeper thought to this matter than the Government appear to have done. I am intrigued by one aspect of her remarks. Why does she appear to hold the view that a second Chamber nominated by regional assemblies would better represent the interests of the regions than a directly elected second Chamber?

Mrs. Ellman

The constitution of the second Chamber, its membership, role and functions will be the subject of consideration by the royal commission that is being set up. I believe that part of the revised second Chamber should comprise elected representation. It is vital that the voice of the English regions should be heard in that Chamber, and regional chambers or assemblies, which are indirectly elected, would be appropriate bodies to nominate such representatives.

The proposition that I have advanced is a contribution to a major debate on which we are embarking. The Bill is of momentous importance. It begins to tackle an issue that has troubled so many people for so long, and it opens up new opportunities. I want to ensure that those will include an opportunity for the voice of the English regions to be heard and acted on. I hope that the royal commission will consider the proposal, and that the House will give it due consideration. I also hope that, when hon. Members speak about devolution, they will view it not as a weakness, but as a great strength for the United Kingdom and for every region of the country.

8.21 pm
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

We can all agree that the debate has been of a particularly high standard. The House is always at its best when our more senior Members take part and give us the benefit of their collective memory and collective wisdom.

Although I was ready to attack the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) for starting her speech by somewhat misrepresenting the position of the Conservative party, she made an important contribution to the debate, as she was willing to say how she thought a second Chamber could contribute towards the better governance of the United Kingdom. That is exactly the approach of the Conservative party.

I should state at the outset that, whenever I have been asked whether I accepted the hereditary principle, I have replied that I would never be on the barricades trying to defend a principle that is clearly indefensible, but that we in this place must defend a second Chamber that works rather well. When we replace it, we must replace it with something better.

I am, perhaps, fortunate to be in this place because of the hereditary principle—not because I have any claims on that basis, but because, in its great wisdom, my constituency has elected as two of its past four Members of Parliament a member of one of the hereditary families who, on the death of his father, has had to give up the seat. When Victor Montague moved from South Dorset, the seat was, admittedly, won by the Labour party.

My predecessor as the Member for South Dorset, Robert Cranborne, decided to go early so that he could do other things—indeed, he told us that he had to look after his acres of roofs and earn some money to maintain them. I was fortunate to be selected when one of the future hereditary peers decided to move on, so I am grateful to have gained my seat in this place as a result of the hereditary principle.

We must find ways of improving our second Chamber. Much that has been said this evening should be considered carefully by the royal commission. We have heard some excellent suggestions. It worries me, however, that the Prime Minister does not seem to want a political balance in the second Chamber, so that, when the Conservatives are in power, the Conservatives would have control in that Chamber, as would Labour when the Labour party was in power.

It would be daft for us to make the second Chamber more democratic and thereby to create a constant coalition where the Liberal Democrats of the day could enter a coalition with whichever party was in opposition to block the Government's plans. The Prime Minister should consider that carefully. By increasing the democratic accountability of the House of Lords, we would automatically give it more power. That is the difficulty that we all face.

Mr. Gordon Prentice

It does not necessarily follow that, if the second Chamber were democratically elected, it would be in a position to challenge the primacy of the House of Commons. That all depends on the allocation of powers between the two Chambers.

Mr. Bruce

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but the Bill does not change the powers of the other place. It puts in place a Chamber that could go on and on. We must be cautious as we proceed. Many Labour Members object strongly to the House of Lords and are convinced that it is necessary to get rid of the hereditary principle. I hope to persuade them that there should be fundamental amendments to the Bill, or that it should be thrown out.

The second Chamber is willing to give way to the primacy of the House of Commons because the Lords know that there is no democratic basis for them to say, "We know better." Nevertheless, in a typically British way, the institution works. When we discuss reform, especially the first stage, we must ensure that we put in its place a Chamber that works better.

Maria Eagle

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise the fact that the upper House as currently constituted works better for his party than for any radical party, whether Liberal or Labour? It is much less likely to interfere with his party's legislation because of the in-built majority and its inherent sympathy with his party.

Mr. Bruce

The hon. Lady goes on at length with her point, but there were 240 defeats of a Conservative Government. The democratic legitimacy of the House of Lords when there is a Conservative Government is much greater. If Members of the House of Lords take the Conservative Whip and behave as Conservatives most of the time, they feel happy to challenge the will of a Conservative Government, whereas if they challenge the will of a Labour Government, they would be working against the democratic mandate given to that Government. That has happened time and again.

Mr. Hayes

Perhaps my hon. Friend will acknowledge, in answer to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), that the essential difference between the two Houses is that the House of Lords is less partisan. The people who take the whip in the House of Lords take a far less severe whip than Members of this Chamber. They need to prove nothing, do not need to impress their party leaders and, very often, are going nowhere. Therefore the atmosphere in the House of Lords is quite different. The issue is to do with the style, as well as the content, of that Chamber.

Mr. Bruce

My hon. Friend had made a point that I would have made. I leave it in his hands, and it was made much more eloquently than if I had made it.

I am not defending leaving the House of Lords as it is, but we must have a plan to go forward and achieve something better. I am also keen that people who enter the House of Lords through the hereditary principle and decide to work—effectively for nothing, other than expenses—should be acknowledged for what they have done. People with enormous knowledge, who have worked for 10 or 20 years in the House of Lords, could be stripped away from us.

I am a vice-chairman of the European Informatics Market Group, and two hereditary peers—Lord Renwick and Lord Chelmsford—are the mainstays and do all the work. I am keen that, whatever we get in place of the House of Lords, we have similar people who are willing to put that sort of dedication into doing a job of work that helps Parliament. For example, the work of the Select Committee on Science and Technology has been acknowledged.

We also need that extra attribute, which no one has mentioned. A second Chamber slows down legislation, which is very important.

Mr. Wareing

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bruce

I do not have a lot of time and I will make progress, if I may.

A second Chamber slows down legislation and allows the public to realise that something is going on. Many people realise that there will be change—for example, in their industry—only when a Bill is debated in the House of Lords or the House of Commons. The newspapers alert the public to it by reporting the opening debates. People have time to table amendments in the second Chamber, which is often where a Government realise that there is something wrong with legislation. They then table Government amendments in the second Chamber, whether the Commons or the Lords—

Mr. Wareing

We do not need a second Chamber to do that.

Mr. Bruce

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but Ministers are suggesting that we should have a second Chamber. He should fight for what he believes in.

I have reached the point where Labour Members may like to think about whether they will get the deal that they were promised by Ministers—the abolition of the hereditary principle and a reformed House of Lords. The Labour party manifesto may not have said that we will achieve a reformed and more democratic House of Lords, but I know that Labour Members are keen for that to happen.

If Labour Members are willing to let the Government off the hook in respect of the first phase by saying, "We have now fulfilled our manifesto commitment," there could be many Parliaments before any further reform takes place. If the prize, and the incentive to reform the House of Lords, is to get rid of the hereditary principle, Labour Members who want that to happen should not allow the Government to get rid of the hereditary principle one minute and say the next, "We have done the urgent thing, so things can go on and on."

I hope that I am not giving away confidences by saying that I was in a meeting with the leader of my party the other day. He went round the 10 of us in the room, and there were about 15 different opinions about what we should have in place of the House of Lords. That does not happen only in the Conservative party; it happens in the Liberal party and the Labour party. Those who have listened to the debate know why reform of the House of Lords has not yet happened: we have not agreed what we will put in its place. Taking the pressure off the Government, by allowing them to get rid of most of the hereditary peers, will stop them having to make those difficult decisions.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) made some excellent suggestions. He went through what the House of Lords could work at, and that is the way that we should be going. We want to achieve reform in this Parliament, and it is right to do so. If the Government try to achieve reform in two stages, they will simply end up with imperfect changes in the first stage. They should be rejected by the House.

8.34 pm
Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)

I have been trying to catch your eye since the beginning of the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I have been listening throughout to the speeches of Conservative Members. Some were interesting. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) at least gave an unequivocal commitment to a reformed second Chamber, and we heard a moving contribution from the hon. Member for Aldridge—Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman is no longer in his place, but I agreed with much of what he said. After slightly less than two years in this place, it is clear to me that all of Parliament needs some type of reform.

Although I strongly support the Prime Minister and the work that he is doing, it is clear to me that a future Prime Minister could turn out to be Caligula, and, under our current system, could make his horse a proconsul. Unfortunately, little could be done to prevent him or her from doing so.

The reform of Parliament is plainly necessary, but the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills should note that at least the Labour party has embarked on the process. There may be dangers in what we are beginning to do, but at least we are trying. We cannot cross oceans until we are prepared to lose sight of the shore, and that is what the Labour party is trying to do.

Other interesting speeches have been made by Opposition Members. The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) made what I considered to be a particularly good speech. I never thought that I would hear myself say this in the House, but I suggest that hon. Members read it. I am equally horrified to say that I was strangely drawn to some of the ideas advanced by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth); and there was a delightful moment when the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) seemed to be trying to convince us that Members of the other House should be neither appointed nor elected, but should somehow be caught with rod and line.

With those exceptions, however, Opposition speeches have been uniformly depressing. Conservative Member after Conservative Member has risen to tell us that he or she supports the idea of abandoning the hereditary principle, but will not support the Bill. Conservative Member after Conservative Member has risen to claim that we need reform of the House of Lords, but not yet. Conservative Member after Conservative Member has risen to claim that there is a need for a free-thinking and independent House of Lords, yet Conservative Members are prepared to continue with a system that allows the dim and the devious to keep their place in that House as long as they are shackled to the Conservative party.

Let me spell out what I believe to be obvious: a vote against the Bill is a vote in favour of the hereditary principle. We are discussing what is essentially a simple Bill. The Leader of the House described it as exquisite in its simplicity, and she was right. Clause 1 is the only substantive clause, and it is absolutely explicit in its meaning. All the other measures in the Bill provide for adjustments and new arrangements following from that clause.

It is clear to me that, as clause 1 is entirely concerned with the abandoning of the hereditary principle, anyone who votes against the Bill will vote for that principle. No spinning can change that; no dressing up by the Opposition can change it. Either the Opposition are for the hereditary principle, or they are against it. By their deeds we shall know them: if they vote against the Bill, they will be voting for the hereditary principle.

I start from this premise—if Parliament is to be fair and democratic, all parliamentarians must have one quality in common: they must be replaceable. I am the Member of Parliament for South Thanet. I have many weaknesses—I am sure that my constituents know my weaknesses—but, whatever weaknesses I have, I have one quality that should commend me to my constituents: I am replaceable. My predecessor, Mr. Jonathan Aitken, was also replaceable. If my constituents had not replaced him at the last election, I suspect that they would be in the process of replacing him now; but, if he were an hereditary peer, he would still be a parliamentarian.

At the last election, the constituents of Tatton decided to replace their Member of Parliament, because—rightly or wrongly—they considered that he did not measure up to their standards. If he were an hereditary peer, he would still be in that Chamber and would still be influencing our legislation.

Mr. Brady

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is going to explain how it is that the gentlemen to whom he has referred would not still be part of the legislature if they were life peers. His whole argument seems to be flawed. He says that they would be here if they were hereditary peers; they would also be here under the Government's proposals.

Dr. Ladyman

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and I shall deal with that point in a moment, if he will just be patient.

The House of Commons has authority for one reason and one reason only: the people give us that authority. Because of that authority, although we are not builders, we can build houses; although we do not work as teachers, we can teach; although we are not nurses or doctors, we can cause people to be cared for and treated. People give us that authority knowing that, if we abuse it, we can be replaced. As it stands, the House of Lords cannot be replaced. Hereditary peers and their successors sit there for their lives without ever having to take responsibility for what they choose to do.

It follows—to me at least—that any reform of the second Chamber that takes away the hereditary principle is an improvement. It is a start in the process of reform. Anyone who votes against the Bill is denying us that improvement and that start.

The interim second Chamber is, by definition, replaceable. It will contain life peers—people who have been appointed to be there. If the Cross-Bench amendment is tabled in the upper Chamber and accepted, it may even contain people who are currently hereditary peers, but they are replaceable: when the reforms are completed, they will be replaced. I have absolute confidence in the commitment of the Government and of Labour Members to push through that second-stage reform. A vote against the Bill has to be—there can be no other interpretation—a vote for the continuance of parliamentarians who are there by right of birth.

Other Conservative Members have tried to argue that the interim Chamber is no improvement, that the Lords is independent and that it should be left alone while the royal commission deliberates. The independence of the House of Lords is a myth. My parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), has recently written in our local newspaper: The House of Lords is eccentric, antiquated and undemocratic. It also works. My message to him is: three out of four is not bad. It is eccentric, antiquated and undemocratic, but it does not work. It has conducted no reasonable scrutiny of Conservative party legislation over recent decades. The Lords is politically dominated by the Conservative party, which has a majority of 3:1. It is a simple fact that, during the previous Labour Government, defeats of Government legislation as a percentage of all Divisions in the House of Lords never fell below 50 per cent. They averaged 5 per cent. during the subsequent 18 years of Conservative rule.

A few years ago, more than 400 Tories were bussed into the House of Lords to push through the Maastricht treaty without a referendum. Those independent, free-thinking Conservatives went through the Lobby and voted for something that every one of them now says is wrong, and that the entire Front-Bench team of the Conservative Opposition in the House of Commons claims to be wrong.

Those free thinkers allowed the poll tax on to the statute book without a whimper. They sold the railways cheap with hardly a whimper. They are not independent, free-thinking spirits, as they are made out to be. They are Conservatives root and branch. That is why the Opposition want them to stay there.

Let me deal with why the Bill does not include a complete reform of the House of Lords. I want to raise something that has not so far been mentioned in the debate—the so-called Salisbury convention. The Salisbury convention requires, or at least expects, Members of the upper Chamber to allow legislation through that Chamber if the proposals were included in the Government's manifesto.

The Government's manifesto is clear and unequivocal on Lords reform. It states: The House of Lords must be reformed. As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute. This will be the first stage in a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative. The legislative powers of the House of Lords will remain unaltered. The Bill is absolutely and explicitly tied to the manifesto. There can be no question but that the Government are doing what we said we would do in our manifesto. If we were to allow further reforms to the House of Lords to be included in the Bill, Opposition Members would today be saying that we are exceeding the authority of our mandate, and that our legislation should be opposed on that basis. In the House of Lords, the Tory hereditary peers would be saying that the Salisbury convention did not apply and that they could therefore block the legislation. The Government have done what is required tactically to ensure that the Bill is passed by the House of Lords.

Some of my colleagues have been in the Chamber for almost 10 hours and would like to speak in the debate. I shall therefore conclude my comments. The Bill is a vital piece of reforming legislation; there is nothing to be feared in it. Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have suggested that reform may not proceed to the second stage, but they should not have such fears. All Labour Members are absolutely committed to second-stage reform. First, however, we have to take that first step. We have to lose sight of the shore if we are to cross the ocean. I commend the Bill to the House.

8.47 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

I am delighted to follow the speech of the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman). I wish that I shared his supreme conviction that stage 2 will follow stage 1. I suspect that the Government have not made detailed proposals because they do not know in detail how they will accomplish reform. Nevertheless, they have asked a royal commission to report, in only 10 months, on one of the most complex constitutional issues of our time.

This has been a very important constitutional debate. We have had some very high-class speeches, notably from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and from two former Prime Ministers, my right hon. Friends the Members for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). I want to refer to all three of their speeches.

I should, first, mention the Government's attitude on the issue. The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons, in her speech yesterday, clearly expressed her political prejudices against hereditary peers per se. She said: Anything would be better"—[Official Report, 1 February 1999; Vol. 324, c. 614.] than the current system. Her statement truly demonstrates that she is introducing the legislation not because she wants to improve our current legislative structures, but purely out of political spite.

My constituents are not writing to me in droves on this constitutional issue. However, they did elect me to this place to guard jealously the great democratic principles on which our country was founded, and to look after their welfare and interests.

Perhaps this specific plank in our constitutional change—merely abolishing hereditary peers—is not a huge one. However, it assumes much greater importance when one considers what might follow that change. If we place the change into the overall context of the Government's constitutional changes, we begin to understand how radically the United Kingdom might be altered in only four or five years of this Labour Government.

Let us consider the constitutional changes that the Government have made. I think that, once the people of the United Kingdom realise how the Government have sold them down the river, they will start to react against them. The Government have embarked on passing a great body of constitutional change—devolving government to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; changing how our judiciary operates; enshrining in law the European convention on human rights; encouraging judicial review—by altering profoundly the operation of our judiciary and Parliament.

Now, the Government are reforming the House of Lords, but they do not have a clue about what they want to put in its place. They have asked a royal commission to report in just 10 months. I hope that, having considered the issue, the royal commission will tell the Government that it is too complex to be addressed in just 10 months. I am not against change and nor is my party, but if we are to do the job properly and look at the matter in depth, as it deserves, we need longer than 10 months.

I applaud my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon for asking that, following the constitutional change, the Joint Committee be given a locus in thoroughly investigating the royal commission and have the power to reject any part of its findings. Parliament must assert its right of supremacy over the royal commission. It would be totally intolerable to do otherwise.

An assertion has been made that somehow the in-built Conservative majority in the House of Lords is a good reason for reforming it. I have looked at the statistics. Research paper 98/104 "Lords Reform: Background statistics" produced by the Library states: The average number of defeats in the Lords is 23 per session and that, from 1970 to 1998, the average of Government defeats per session under Labour Governments is 63 compared with 8 for Conservative Governments. So, we can nail once and for all the assertion that the in-built Conservative majority needs to be addressed.

Much has been said today about the Bill abolishing hereditary peers, the transitional arrangements contained in clause 4 and how the transition is to be handled. The White Paper deals in detail with what is envisaged during the transition and subsequently. It has already constrained the work of the royal commission because it assumes that the new House of Lords will be appointed by some system or another. If anyone does not believe that, I need only quote from chapter 1, the executive summary, which states: The system of appointment of life peers to the House of Lords will be reviewed. 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. It then slightly contradicts itself by saying: No one political party should seek a majority in the House of Lords". In my mind, there is only one question to be addressed. It concerns how the power of the Executive will be held to account. I am a democrat. I do not like the power of Parliament progressively being reduced. Even under the Conservative Government—and certainly under the present Government—the power of the Executive has been increased progressively. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon referred to some of the measures that have been introduced during this Parliament—Prime Minister's questions take place in just one half-hour session and there has been an increase in secondary legislation. Indeed, under this year's Finance Bill, the entire arrangements for introducing the euro were referred to secondary legislation.

The power of the House to scrutinise the Executive is progressively being reduced. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield was quite clear about the huge power that the Prime Minister has in his patronage. He has been delegated the power to commit the country to war, to sign treaties and to appoint commissioners and bishops. The Prime Minister already has huge power.

I come now to the Bill's potential consequences. Unlike the hon. Member for South Thanet, I doubt whether the Bill will move to phase 2 because of its complexity. The appointment system is fraught with danger. Indeed, my intervention in the Minister's speech this afternoon proved the point that the Prime Minister will still have the ultimate veto over who is appointed to the commission. That means that it cannot be truly independent.

We have to consider alternatives. I believe that the most legitimate alternative is an elected second Chamber. I shall deal with the issue in some depth, because some of my hon. Friends might be a little surprised to hear me say that. I am concerned to ensure that the calibre of the existing Members of the House of Lords is maintained. The current system works because we have people of eminence and experience in almost every field. They are thoroughly equipped to debate and scrutinise the legislation brought forward by this House and to tell us when we are making mistakes and ask us to think again. That deliberative, delaying power is the reason for the existence of the second Chamber.

If an appointments system will not work, we have to consider an elected system. In that case, the Members will have to be paid, which would considerably increase the cost of the House of Lords, contrary to what the notes on clauses say. The current cost of administering and running the House of Lords is about £42 million. The cost of administering the House of Commons is almost £260 million. An elected House of Lords would be likely to result in considerably greater costs.

An elected second Chamber has one great argument in its favour. If its elections coincided with a general election to this place, the potential for political patronage would be huge because it would be likely to be of the same political colour as the Government. However, if its elections fell in the middle of the cycle of elections to the House of Commons, the situation would be entirely different and could be highly advantageous. If the Government were popular, the House of Lords would still be of the same political colour and the Government would have no difficulty in getting their manifesto commitments through both Houses. However, if, as has often been the case, the Government were unpopular, the House of Lords would be likely to be of a different political colour and would act as a check on the Executive.

That has a great deal to commend it. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup made clear, having elections in the middle of the electoral cycle of the Commons would need fixed-term Parliaments for the House of Commons. I believe that that is a good idea. It would remove one of the Prime Minister's great powers of patronage—the ability to call an election when it suits him. The Government are elected on a manifesto. They should carry out that programme in full and then go to the country at a known date after four or five years. That would allow the elections to the House of Lords to be in mid-cycle.

There are a host of difficulties to be overcome in thinking about the possible operation of stage 2. The Government have acted with undue haste: out of pure political spite to meet their prejudices against hereditary peers, they have brought forward a Bill that will lead to a situation that they have no idea how to resolve. My constituents are more concerned about the health service, the education system, the economy, jobs, and how they are to get on in Europe. They are not concerned about the minutiae of how democracy works. However, the issue is vital. Our history has been built on democracy. I do not want the Government to alter the balance of the country during their five-year term. I shall vote against the Bill tonight and I shall give evidence to the royal commission on how difficult coming up with an alternative might be.

9 pm

Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

I congratulate all hon. Members who, like me, have been here for 13 hours over yesterday and today, waiting for a chance to speak in the debate. The debate has been interesting, and I have listened carefully. I have not intervened, and I was rather hurt that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) did not respond when I tried to intervene earlier this evening. I am glad to have the chance to speak now.

It has been interesting to see the Conservative party in denial about the link that dare not speak its name—the link between the Conservative party in this House and the Conservatives in the other place. I must say to the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton—Brown) that you got your statistics the wrong way around. Quoting from the document that you raised in your speech—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. I am getting rather tired of having to repeat this night after night, but I must be consistent with hon. Members. The form of address that we use in this House must be applied consistently.

Caroline Flint

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As we enter the graveyard shift, I apologise for any tiredness that has led me to forget parliamentary etiquette.

The document to which the hon. Member for Cotswold referred states that, from 1970–71 to 1997–98, the average number of Government defeats per Session under a Labour Government was 63, compared with eight under a Conservative Government. That makes the point.

It is interesting that we are having this debate in a year when we celebrate two anniversaries—although "celebrate" may be the wrong word. Last weekend saw the 350th anniversary of the execution of Charles I. This year, we see the 400th anniversary of the birth of Oliver Cromwell. As I am sure hon. Members are aware, those two were the protagonists in a situation that led to the abolition of the House of Lords—the only abolition that has occurred in parliamentary history.

When I show schoolchildren from Don Valley around the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the story that they like best—and write to me afterwards about—is that of Charles II coming back after the restoration, digging up the body of Oliver Cromwell, cutting off his head and putting it on a spike in Westminster hall. However, Charles II contributed to something else—perhaps more than many monarchs, he contributed to the providing of hereditary titles for services rendered in the bedroom.

Mr. Evans

When the hon. Lady is talking to schoolchildren, does she talk to them about parliamentary democracy, checking the power of the Executive, the powers of the Whips, how she is dictated to by the pager from Walworth road and the spin doctors—and about how that adds to democracy in this country?

Caroline Flint

I speak to my constituents and schoolchildren about the struggle within Parliament for the rights of universal suffrage, and about how many centuries it took to achieve universal suffrage against the dominance of the landed gentry. I am delighted that, by abolishing the hereditary principle, we will do something to alter the balance from the two thirds of those in the House of Lords who still represent the landed gentry towards those from other, more diverse walks of life.

It is a sad reflection that, after 18 years of government—and despite all the rhetoric that we have heard yesterday and today from all the born-again Tory reformers—the Tory party's election manifesto for 1997 said: We have demonstrated we are not against change where it is practicable and beneficial. But fundamental changes which have not been fully thought through—such as opposition proposals on the House of Lords—would be extremely damaging. We will oppose change for change's sake. That was all the Tories had to say. They did not say that, as a point of principle, they supported the abolition of the hereditary principle. The right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) did himself no service by pontificating this evening on all the ways in which we could modernise and change this House, given that he had a fair opportunity to do something when he held the reins of power.

We will not expect any executions during the passage of the Bill, or through the debate that we have started and to which the Government have given oxygen and life—something that would never have happened under a Conservative Government. We will discuss, inquire and explore the modern ways in which Parliament can work as we move into the next millennium.

This first step is part of that process. It is a modest proposal to undo the rights of 760-odd families who believe that they have the right to be represented for time eternal in our legislative Chambers. Such job security has been afforded to no one in my constituency: not only a job for life but a job for successors for hundreds of years through an accident of birth.

I say no one, but in fact the 12th Earl of Scarborough is my near neighbour. He is a very nice man whom I have met on several occasions. He owns considerable land in my constituency and elsewhere. I have nothing against him personally—he seemed amiable and is generally well regarded—but I note that he has not taken the oath since the general election and that the Library records show that he has not spoken in the Chamber at any time in the past 11 years.

I have no objection to such self-restraint: in one respect, it is commendable, and I am pleased that my local lord has not taken part in the wrecking of Government legislation in the other place since the 1997 general election. I do not believe that hereditary peers should be entitled to participation in the formation of legislation.

Like my noble earl, many Members of the House of Lords do not attend. We have had a discussion about scrutiny, and that prompts the question: who is doing the scrutiny and asking the questions in the other place? Thanks again to the Library, we find that only 508 peers out of the 1,294 have attended more than a third—76—of the sitting days. Of the 508 who do the bulk of the work—they should be respected for that—222 are hereditary peers. They represent only a third of the hereditaries, but in such numbers they have considerable sway.

As we approach the millennium, it should not be morally acceptable for our democratic process to be influenced by the self-selection of 766 people who gained their title by an accident of birth. It is an historical legacy that the Bill will rectify.

The Opposition have asked whether we have a right to proceed in this way. I will not repeat what my hon. Friends have said about our manifesto, but I believe that, even if the manifesto did not have all the answers, it certainly set in train a series of events by which we will gain a more representative second Chamber. The starting point for that is getting rid of the hereditary principle.

We are not creating an elected dictatorship. Our manifesto commitment is clear: to make the House of Lords more democratic and more representative. We have the first Prime Minister ever who is willing to relinquish the patronage that many other Prime Ministers have used. We are not interested in fixing the reform of the second Chamber. Some Opposition Members say that we are going too slowly and others that we are going too fast. It is clear that we have started a debate that would never have taken place under the Conservatives, had they won at the general election. They did not win, and our manifesto commitment was pretty clear to the members of the British public who voted.

I hope that, after the Bill is enacted, we can put some of the vested interests to one side and consider how we can reach political consensus on the second Chamber. I believe that the bicameral arrangement works in most major advanced democracies. Only a few Members have suggested that a single Chamber should be the answer.

I think that we would agree that we want a body that is free to scrutinise legislation and Government. The second Chamber, even in its present form, has sometimes excelled at scrutiny, and many refinements to legislation have been made by successive Governments following representations from the Lords. That role should be protected and maintained. Would we all not agree that such a Chamber has the potential to play an effective role and be independent of the Commons if no party has a majority in it? The Prime Minister said that that would be considered.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I am very appreciative of the hon. Lady's comments about my ancestor, Oliver Cromwell.

Is not the role of the House of Lords far more important than its constitution? It is as if we were interviewing for a job without writing the job specification. Does the hon. Lady agree that a large amount of the attention of the House has been concentrated on who should be there rather than on what they should do, but that the latter is the far more important issue? I am glad that she is coming to that subject.

Caroline Flint

It is very important that we consider the role of the second Chamber. It may not be a first priority for the public; certainly in Don Valley people are concerned about jobs, health and education. However, underpinning the development of policies in those areas is the creation of opportunities for our constituents to have a say in how the country is run. That is true whether we are considering the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, regional and local government or this place. We do not yet have all the answers, but we have created a debate and that is one of the purposes of the House.

It has been suggested that the second Chamber should be more representative, and I agree. No one denies the wealth of political, religious, diplomatic and business experience that is represented in the upper House, but I suggest that it overwhelmingly comes from the life peers. The hereditaries can claim to represent but few. If we look at the statistics, we see that they are mainly men, they mainly went to one public school, they are mainly from the landed gentry, they mainly went to Oxford or Cambridge and they represent the gentlemen's clubs and country life of the old establishment.

One benchmark of a proper second Chamber is a more representative spread of gender, race and social class. On those criteria, the hereditaries are among the least representative of all those in our political and governmental institutions. One irony of the statistics about the hereditaries is that they have a broader age range among their number, because death leads to replacement with a younger generation. However, that on its own cannot justify their presence.

One feature of the debate has been the Conservatives displaying synthetic outrage that we dare to remove the influence of hereditary peers before proceeding to establish the final shape of the new Chamber. The reason for doing so is simple: we should not allow 760 families, above the many millions in this country, to play a key role in determining what will replace them. [Interruption.] The history books are littered with the problems of democratically elected Governments who have sought to reform the House of Lords. It is only in the past 100 years that the House of Commons has even managed to establish any dominance. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady. If the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) cannot behave himself, I shall ask him to leave.

Caroline Flint

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Reform Act of 1832 was passed by the Lords at the third attempt, after riots nationwide provoked by the refusal to accept the reforms, and only then because the Lords feared a revolution. That Act did not even introduce universal suffrage—far from it—but it enfranchised one in five of the male population and brought about a redistribution of power that proved irreversible. The landed gentry conceded power to save their skins. What a noble principle.

The same happened with the Parliament Act 1911. Having defeated the Asquith Government's Budgets, the Lords finally conceded the limitation of their powers to block legislation for two years only after a general election and the threat of the creation of 500 new life peers to dilute their reactionary power. Again, reform was accepted only to salvage the bulk of their power and position. Such is the influence of those 760 families that only in 1949, under a Labour Government, were their delaying powers finally limited to one year.

The battle to defend the entrenched power of the hereditary peerage, with its inbuilt Conservative majority, is not an honourable one. As we mark its passing, history should record its finer moments. The poll tax would not have been introduced in its final form, but for the peers' votes. Nor would rail privatisation. Those are hardly great victories of the people, nor are they the conscience of the nation holding Governments of all persuasions in check. Tory Administrations were defeated in the House of Lords just over 13 times on average per Parliament, but the Wilson-Callaghan Labour Government were defeated more than 68 times a Session. Nor do the Lords respect election mandates. This Government have a huge mandate and a manifesto of considerable detail, but that has not stopped the House of Lords defeating the Blair Government 33 times in the first Session, including halting the passage of one Bill altogether.

It is little wonder that we believe that it would be wrong in principle and reactionary in practice to allow those 760 families unduly to influence the shape of the second Chamber. However, there is a further dimension. A composite Bill that included abolition of the hereditary principle plus consideration of the new structure would risk one element overshadowing the other or neither being given the time or detailed consideration that they both deserve. Done systematically and carefully, the two-stage approach will ensure a full and detailed debate on the merits of reform.

The reality is today's decisive step. The boldest measure of British constitutional reform for centuries, it will free up thinking and move the debate forward. The Tories will no longer be able to call on their slumbering squirearchy to attempt to thwart an elected Labour Government. That is what they tried to do over handgun reform and the national minimum wage. They called on the same people to defend privilege as were exemplified in the assisted places scheme. There will be a more positive, forward-looking debate after the royal commission reports. Over the coming weeks, we can focus on the issue that is at the heart of this long-overdue reform.

We sat through the debate yesterday, waiting for Conservatives to defend the rights of hereditary peers. What we witnessed was Conservatism in confusion: one after another, Conservative Members proclaimed support for clause 1, which provides for the exclusion of the hereditary peers. Nowadays, it must be compulsory for Conservatives to carry in their pockets two versions of every policy. The Tories used to be defenders of an age-old constitution which—supposedly—served the country well for centuries. Suddenly, they are ditching their allies among the landed gentry.

What a disappointment. Where is that Conservative backbone, the stiff upper lip? Yesterday, the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) talked about the Alamo; I suggest that we are witnessing Hague's last stand. The Conservatives are adrift, rudderless and leaderless. Not so long ago, they condemned the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly: suddenly, over the weekend, they began saying, "We're going to make it work, we're going to make it happen." The reason is that they are having to follow this Government's lead in supporting modern reform of our institutions.

How many more about-turns will we see when the Government prove the Conservatives wrong and show that there will be a sincere and full debate on reform of the House of Lords? As sure as eggs is eggs, what is happening here today is what happened with the debates about the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. There is nothing like the prospect of another defeat and the certainty of reform to make the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) break cover, ditch all principle and leave his troops to take the flak.

On this issue, the Leader of the Opposition has already had to sack people and accept resignations. No leader has ever faced such a crisis so early in his career. It might induce pity, if the Conservative position were not so ridiculous at the outset.

I look forward to the House of Commons giving the Bill a Second Reading tonight. I look forward joining my hon. Friends in bidding farewell to the hereditary peers. As we go through the Division Lobbies, it is possible that we shall hear a resounding cry of "Tally ho!"

9.18 pm
Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

I shall take up only one point from the speech of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). That is the suggestion that Conservatives are in deep disarray over House of Lords reform, in contrast to the complete unity displayed by other parties. In fact, today we have heard differences of opinion from all around the House. There have been both convinced unicameralist and convinced bicameralist speeches from Labour Members, and something of the same has been evident among Conservative Members as well. It is important that we, as a Parliament, grasp that the issue is not and should not be entirely party political. If possible, we must think through the matter in a somewhat bipartisan manner.

In that respect, the White Paper is a very depressing document for all who believe in checks and balances in the constitution. It does not seek to improve the House of Lords, and pays no more than lip service to bicameralism. If we are to have a bicameral system, we must have two things.

First, the composition of the system must be legitimate enough for it to feel able to exercise its powers. At present, we live in an age of virtual unicameralism, because the House of Lords does not feel capable of exercising the powers that it has. Secondly, a second Chamber must have sufficient powers to enable it to make the House of Commons think again on major legislation.

The White Paper drags its feet on both. Throughout, the subtext is that stage 1 will do. Stage 1 is described as "self-contained" and not dependent on "further reform"—an echo of the wording in the Government's election manifesto.

The White Paper goes further. On page 27, it describes the reform as a "stand-alone" change. There is little commitment to enhancing democratic legitimacy. The underlying theme is one of keeping the Lords a long way from the voters. The White Paper seems to prefer retaining the biggest possible appointed element, implying that, if there must be a democratic element, it should be elected as indirectly as possible.

I believe that such a House of Lords would not have the confidence to take on the House of Commons. Maybe, just maybe, it would, as the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) suggested. To protect itself against the unlikely event of the House of Lords acquiring some legitimacy—by the removal of the hereditary peers and by more quango appointments—the Government have guarded their flank. The White Paper clearly sets out, mostly on pages 40 and 41, their determination to trim the powers of the Lords further in major ways.

First, there is a clear statement of the Government's intention to put into a more legal form some conventions by which the peers have traditionally operated self-limitation of their powers. The most important of those is the Salisbury doctrine, but no reference is made to the fact that that doctrine was devised as a response to the inbuilt Tory majority that Labour is committed to removing. Once rough parity is achieved between the parties, logic says that the Salisbury doctrine should fall away. To set it in legal form, therefore, would be not to continue as we are, and greatly to circumscribe what the Lords may do. That would gravely weaken the Lords, whatever that House's composition.

The power of delay, too, is crucial. It is not commonly appreciated that the delaying power may already be under threat from the proposal of the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons to enable legislation to be carried over from one Session to another. At present, that proposal will be implemented only with the agreement of both Houses. However, if over time the presumption is established that Bills can normally be carried over, and if that presumption finds its way into Standing Orders, the one-year delaying power of the Lords will have its teeth drawn almost completely.

At present, the Lords can impose an obligation on the Government to move legislation from one session to the next. That power, with all the consequent problems for rearrangement of the next Session that it entails, is the one serious power of the House of Lords. It would go.

Mr. Sheldon

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that there is nothing to prevent the Government from introducing further legislation to limit the powers of the House of Lords. However, anyone who assumes that stage 1 and stage 2 will be followed by further legislation on the powers of the House of Lords is assuming that there will be a terrific amount of legislation.

Mr. Tyrie

The right hon. Gentleman seems to imply that the powers of the House of Lords can only be reduced. I am suggesting that that may not be so. It may be sensible to remain in a bicameral world in which there is a balance of power between the two Houses. The House of Commons should have the last word, but the House of Lords might retain substantial powers. I do not see the strength of the right hon. Gentleman's point.

Even if I am wrong, and the Modernisation Committee's proposal does not develop as I have suggested, the Government do not want to take any risks. They do not rely on the Modernisation Committee's proposal alone to weaken the House of Lords. They have made it clear that they are contemplating reducing the delaying power to less than a year in any case. That would draw the teeth of the remaining powers of the House of Lords virtually completely.

I do not know whether Labour Members think that sensible. Do they think that the Lords should be left with no practical delaying power at all?

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch)


Mr. Tyrie

A voice, probably a unicameralist voice, is saying yes, highlighting the divisions on the Labour Benches of which I have already spoken. The White Paper sometimes argues for bicameralism, but it slips occasionally into unicameralism, paying lip service to the mutterings that we can hear from some Labour Members.

Just in case the combination of removing the hereditaries and creating a quango, plus a reduction in the powers of the House of Lords, might lead the royal commission to speak up, suggesting that the Lords' powers should be preserved or even enhanced—which I would favour—the Government have virtually removed the question of powers from the remit of the commission. The last thing that Labour wants is any public debate about Lords' powers. You do not need to take my word for it, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In an interview just the other day, Baroness Jay said that reforming the powers of the Lords is not the kind of discussion that is most appropriately held in public. Lest we be in any doubt about the Government's approach to powers, Baroness Jay made it clear in her answer to Lord Rodgers in the other place on the day of the statement—I went to another place to hear it. Referring to the text of the White Paper, she said of the royal commission's remit: we were careful not to open up the rather difficult area of powers".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 January 1999; Vol. 596, c. 591.] In other words, when it comes to Lords' powers, the royal commission should keep out.

It is becoming clearer now—if it was not before—that Labour never intended to do anything more than abolish the hereditaries. It has been forced away from that course and into establishing a royal commission. However, the Government have no idea what they want in stage 2—in fact, they would rather not have stage 2. If they go any further than stage 1, they will want just a "little Bill" to reduce the powers of the Lords further.

An important choice of fundamental constitutional significance is now facing the House. It is about the balance between the Executive and Parliament. I favour a strong Executive: I do not want checks and balances to lead to immobilism. However, I want an Executive that is subject to thorough scrutiny by Parliament. I believe that, for a country such as ours, bicameralism offers the best chance of delivering that scrutiny.

It would be all too easy to allow Labour's proposals to pass through under the guise of Labour doublespeak about increased democracy. The subtext of this debate is that many Commoners—including some of my hon. Friends—quietly like the idea of weakening the power of the Lords. Some hon. Members are convinced abolitionists and unicameralists, as Labour has been for so much of its history. However, I urge my fellow parliamentarians not to lose sight of the bigger picture. Britain is being governed by an over-mighty Executive and a supine Parliament. I have not met any new Members of Parliament on either side of the House who believe that serious scrutiny of the Government—

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tyrie

I am sorry, but there are only a few minutes left.

I have not met anyone on either side who thinks that serious scrutiny of the Government is occurring in Standing Committees—still less on the Floor of the House. Secondary legislation floods through on the nod. The Government do not bother to announce anything in the Chamber: it is all done beforehand in the media. They did not even bother to announce the establishment of the royal commission here: that was done via a leak to The Observer. Some Ministers do not bother to answer letters for months at a time. I have kept a record of them—although one of the worst miscreants has lost his job. I sometimes get the impression that the Prime Minister can barely contain his disdain for this place: he believes it to be completely irrelevant.

However, I do not want to make an entirely party political point. The power of this place over the Executive has been declining for a long time, with the more than doubling in the payroll vote since the war; with the changes in party structure that have left the Whips dominant and all but wiped out the independent Back Bencher; and, above all, with the development of Standing Orders that give precedence to Government business over all other business.

As parliamentarians, we should have an interest in ensuring that some scrutiny takes place. Even if keeping the Whips happy and the hope of promotion to the Front Bench is a deterrent at times, we owe it to our constituents to make the effort to act as parliamentarians have acted before us. I believe that it would be a terrible mistake for this place to derive too much satisfaction from the emasculation of the other place which this Bill threatens.

As a debating Chamber, we must not try to go it alone. That is pretty much what Labour is proposing under the guise of this White Paper, which uses words such as "modern" and "new". We may be left without a second Chamber worthy of the name whose composition gives it little or no legitimacy and whose powers have been eroded and further eroded. That is why the Bill is so pernicious and why I will vote against it tonight.

9.29 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

We have had a remarkable two days of debate, with 37 speeches from Back Benchers. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will forgive me if I decline to give way during my speech: I apologise for that, but the need to refer to many of the speeches made gives me little time for anything else, and the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office and I cut down our time so that as many Back Benchers as possible could speak.

As I listened to the 37 speeches, I thought of the Heinz 57 varieties, for we have heard 37 different accounts of how the second Chamber should be reformed. There have been some magical moments: for me, one of the most magical occurred less than half an hour ago, when the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) announced in an intervention that he was a descendant of Oliver Cromwell—the first hereditary Lord Protector.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), the Father of the House, made an extraordinary, splendid and spirited speech, in which he explained that he had not really been a lord of creation, having created only 48 peers, compared with the 715 created by his successors. Perhaps that explains a great deal. We heard the re-maiden speech of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who announced that he had been the father of the royal commission. He made the immortal remark that, because of what had been done to the constitution by the Government's ill-thought-out devolution proposals, we had to find some much-needed glue; and perhaps that could be provided by a reconstituted House of Lords.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), another former Prime Minister, made a fine speech in which he expressed his concern about the fact that 700 years of parliamentary evolution should be dispatched in only a few months under the unrealistically tight timetable given to the royal commission. An interesting aspect of his speech is that it was the speech of a true parliamentarian, as was the magnificent speech made yesterday by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). I might not agree with everything the right hon. Gentleman says, but every time he speaks in the House, by Jove, he is worth listening to.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) saw virtue in simplicity—well, I suppose that is appropriate sometimes. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) was somewhat dismissive of the House of Lords, but pleasantly eloquent about some of its Members. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) was introduced, in a memorable bon mot, as Mr. Marshall Hall. In a remarkable speech, he suggested that what was needed were bricklayers down the Corridor. Having read my papers, I know that the hon. Gentleman is a great expert on building—no doubt he wants to leave that remarkable underground edifice to someone when he goes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) made a moving speech—indeed, he always speaks with considerable passion and great conviction. Announcing himself—perhaps slightly improbably—as a disciple of Tom Payne, he declared that it was essential that we should have an effective second Chamber, and that that meant an elected second Chamber. I must apologise to the hon. Member for Basildon (Angela Smith), for hers is the only one of today's speeches that I did not hear. She was enthusiastic in her support for the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) made a fine speech, in which he quoted Baroness Jay on the modernisation of Government and pointed out that, in saying that, she gave the game away. The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), who was an opponent of the previous scheme for Lords reform, explained that that measure was defeated in 14 days—only twice as long as it took the Almighty to create the world. He argued effectively for a longer time span for the royal commission to do its work.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) took us on a Cook's tour of his own lineage. With the inimitable wit that he always brings to his speeches, he contrasted the deliberation that took place on the reform of local government in part of London with the breakneck speech with which the Government propose to force through this constitutional reform.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) wants the second Chamber to be constituted as a large regional assembly. My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) is opposed to the hereditary principle, but pointed out, also with considerable eloquence, that the House of Lords works. He wants to be persuaded that whatever replaces it will be effective.

The hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) made an effective speech, but seemed to spend half his time attacking arguments that had not been made by Conservative Members. He was trying to suggest that there had been a passionate defence of the automatic right of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords. I have yet to hear that defence made in this debate.

That point certainly was not made by, for example, my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who pointed out that he has received few letters from his constituents about House of Lords reform. I ask any hon. Member present who has received more than 100 letters about that in the past two years to put up his or her hand. I do not think that a single hand will go up. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) raised his hand. By Jove, they talk of little else in Pendle. Most of our constituents—I am sure that yours are no exception, Mr. Deputy Speaker—are interested in schools, hospitals and jobs, and are not moved to write to us to demand House of Lords reform.

The hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) waited a long time to speak and gave a long speech, which she ended with an extraordinary peroration on what she called the "slumbering squirearchy". I have not seen any of them around recently.

The starting point for any discussion about the future of the second Chamber should not be the composition of the Chamber or even its powers, but the type of constitution that we want in the United Kingdom. With all its many imperfections, our system, more than any other on offer, delivers accountability on the part of Government. One identifiable body—the party in government—is responsible for public policy, and electors can hold it to account at the next general election. We have to accept that that core attribute would be challenged if power were fragmented among other bodies. An inevitable consequence of electing more layers of government is what Lord Norton has called the paradox of accountability: the more elected bodies there are, the less accountable each becomes, because electors do not know whom to hold to account.

It can be convincingly argued that, if we are to retain that core attribute of our Westminster system, this Chamber must remain the sole directly elected Chamber. The role of the second Chamber in our present system is to be complementary to this Chamber, not competing and not subservient. The present House of Lords has proved, as the White Paper rather grudgingly admits, a diligent body of scrutiny, revision and debate. Those features surely need to be retained and, if possible, strengthened.

That should be the starting point for any discussion about the future of the House of Lords. The Government are looking down the wrong end of the telescope. The constitution has to be looked at in the round. We have to consider how the different parts relate to one another, and appreciate that simply changing one part without seeing it in the context of the whole damages all the other parts and can thus undermine the whole.

The White Paper is called "Modernising Parliament: Reforming the House of Lords", but it is not about modernising Parliament. Parliament, as an institution, gets only a cursory mention at the beginning. The White Paper has merits as a scene-setting options paper, but nowhere does it explain the Government's constitutional aims. No one, least of all the Government, seems to know what those are. The Bill contains a simple proposition to remove, but there is no suggestion of what should replace what is being removed. We should examine the Bill's effects, and consider what they are likely to be on the working of Parliament.

According to the Government, hereditary peers rarely turn up in the House of Lords, and the House of Lords can do very well without them. The noble Baroness Jay said: The Government have always made it clear that they appreciate the contribution which individual hereditary peers can make to the work of the House of Lords. However, the Government are also clear that much of the work of the House is done by life peers, and that the House will continue to function perfectly well after the hereditary peers have left."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 December 1998; Vol. 595, c. 171.] Paragraph 27 of the explanatory notes to the Bill states that the financial effects of the Bill "will be negligible". It says: The Bill would reduce the size of the House of Lords, but since many of those who will be removed attend very rarely, there will not be any significant savings on Peers' expenses and daily allowances. According to the White Paper, Only 40 per cent. of Life Peers attended more than two thirds of the House's sessions and 34 per cent. attended less than one third. The equivalent figures for Hereditary Peers are 20 per cent. and 67 per cent. Those statements reveal a very odd attitude towards the contribution of hereditary peers. Given the number of hereditary peers, 20 per cent. of them amounts to 150 peers, and 40 per cent. of life peers is approximately 200. In other words, hereditary peers comprise more than 40 per cent. of the frequent attenders. The present House of Lords is effective as a scrutinising and debating Chamber because most life peers, and a fair number of the hereditaries, are experts and have experience in their respective fields. If almost half the very active membership were removed, a notable burden of extra work would have to be carried by life peers.

There is no way round such a problem, other than the Weatherill amendment, which should be put on the face of the Bill immediately. However, the fact remains that the Government have given no sustained thought to the consequences of removing hereditary peers. If they have given no thought to the consequences of stage 1, it is hardly surprising that they have given less to stage 2.

Let us be clear; we are not debating the hereditary principle as such. [Interruption.] All those who support a constitutional monarchy accept that. We are debating the practice of allowing hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords. We, as a party, do not seek to defend that automatic right. For my part, I sought to introduce a private Member's Bill 15 years ago to limit that right and to do away with the built-in majority in the upper House. We are content to accept the Weatherill proposals, but object most strongly to the way in which the Government have lurched from slogan to expedient, motivated by vindictiveness and a wilful refusal to recognise that there are men and women in the House of Lords who have given of their time and talents in the public service.

Having stated their aim to remove such people, the Government should have at that point produced a White Paper and established a royal commission.

We should—and could—have had this debate 18 months ago. The royal commission, without being unduly rushed, could have reported by now. There is a story of Churchill contemptuously dismissing the pudding presented to him at a great banquet by saying, Take it away; it has no theme. The Government's constitutional policy has no theme. Even now, let us try to get things right rather than playing ducks and drakes with the constitution. What we decide over the next couple of years must be able to stand the test of time. So, whatever proposals emerge from the royal commission must be subject to proper and detailed scrutiny.

I shall propose a constructive programme of sensible reform. If the Government accept a Weatherill-type amendment in this place, consider carefully other amendments that we shall table in a constructive spirit, give the royal commission until summer 2000 to report, and allow proper time for consideration of the proposals in both Houses and in the country, there is no reason why we should not be able to agree on a form of second Chamber, which could come into being at the beginning of the next Parliament.

However, if we are to reach the desired conclusion, the Government must take particular care over the appointment of that commission. I urge the Minister to say this evening that the commission will be appointed on the basis of consultation, and that it will include representatives from both sides of this House, nominated by the parties to which they belong.

If we can find that basis of consensus, all is perhaps not lost. At present, this is a rag-bag of a mean little Bill, and I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against it.

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

I am delighted that we have been able to discuss the Bill over two days. We have had more than 11 hours of speeches in the debate and a total of 45 speakers, counting those who spoke from the Front Benches. I am sorry that a number of hon. Members who have been present for a large part of the debate have not had the opportunity to participate because of lack of time.

The discussion has been wide ranging, covering the Bill and the underlying White Paper. There will be an opportunity during the Committee stage, which will be taken soon on the Floor of the House, for all hon. Members to pursue in detail issues and points raised in the debate.

The debate has been good-humoured in the main, thoughtful at times, and occasionally passionate. Some criticisms have been made of the fact that no thanks have been given to the Lords for their services over the years. At the risk of offending one or two—only one or two—of my colleagues, I am prepared to put that right now. Many, many Lords have given unstinting time, effort and commitment; I have no hesitation in saying that. I value their service over a long period. That, however, does not justify the system. Those peers are making the best of a bad job.

Many specific points were made during the debate. I am conscious of the fact that I may not be able to answer them all, but I give an undertaking to write to hon. Members before Committee.

There were several important themes to the debate. First, I am struck by the consensus across the House on the need for change. Almost without exception, hon. Members have advocated change. Some have been more radical in their approach. Yesterday, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) and the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) made interesting suggestions on the composition of the second Chamber. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) spelled out clearly—we heard him—his position on the hereditary peers.

During the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) advocated the case for a single Chamber. I was interested to hear the Father of the House, the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), speak tonight about the need for an elected Chamber. For him, the time had come for change.

The overwhelming opinion of the House is that the hereditary principle cannot be defended any longer. I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Hope) for vigorously questioning hon. Members on that point. It reminded me of the accusation, "When did you last see your father?" In this case, the question was, "Do you sign up to clause 1?", which states: No-one shall be a member of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage. What is the attitude of those on the Conservative Front Bench on that matter? Do they support the hereditary principle or not? There still seems to be a slight ambiguity. The campaign guide, as we heard, stated: It is important to defend the hereditary principle in its own right. Last night, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), who leads for the Opposition on this matter, said: We have made it perfectly clear that the hereditary principle in itself is not something that we challenge."—[Official Report, 1 February 1999; Vol. 324, c. 620.] The hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin)—his co-defendant, as he had been put on the Front Bench—vacillated, but eventually conceded that there is not a chance in hell of the Opposition proposing the resurrection of the hereditary peers. Indeed, he continued: the Opposition would not dream of proposing the hereditary principle as a way forward. At the end of the debate, he said quite clearly that the Opposition do not oppose clause 1 in principle."—[Official Report, 1 February 1999; Vol. 324, c. 654–91.] The Opposition's position reminds me of the approach that they have taken on all constitutional issues: oppose the Scottish Parliament, oppose the Welsh Assembly and oppose the European Parliamentary Elections Bill. When change is inevitable, however, they sign up and seek electoral advantage. They are sinners who repent, just before the final judgment day.

The importance of the Bill is that it has already triggered an effective change in position by the Opposition, but what has also been an issue—

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Tipping

The hon. Gentleman has honoured us with his presence. Some hon. Members in the Chamber have sat through the debate for 11 hours without being called to speak, but he has just joined us.

The pace and scale of change have also been an issue. It is not clear at all whether the Opposition believe that the pace of change is too fast or too slow. They have criticised us for not setting up the royal commission earlier, and they have criticised us on the other constitutional issues on the agenda and on the big issues: a minimum wage and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which took priority in the first Session of this Parliament.

What do the Opposition say about the pace of change? The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) tries to make a deal extending the life of the royal commission, but the mood—certainly in parts of today's debate—is that we have not moved quickly enough. What did the Opposition do when they were in power? They had an 18-year policy vacuum on constitutional change. They maintained the status quo; they wanted a quiet life. They did not believe in constitutional change; it was a black hole for them.

The former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, has been set up to lead a commission on the Opposition's behalf.

Mr. Evans

The Minister is obviously seeking some form of consensus. Will he allow the Conservative party to appoint its own nominees to the royal commission and the appointments commission?

Mr. Tipping

It is interesting that the Opposition spokesman, having again opposed change, now argues for a step that will give the Opposition some political advantage. That sums up their approach to this matter.

Mr. Evans

Answer my point.

Mr. Tipping

I will come to that point in a moment.

Lord Mackay, a former Lord Chancellor, is setting up a commission, but none of his thinking—and none of his work—has impinged on the debate in the Chamber today. I look forward to the work done by the Opposition being put towards the royal commission.

The royal commission has a demanding timetable. It has an independent chairman, a fact that, on 20 January, was welcomed by the Opposition. Lord Wakeham is currently consulting about the membership of the commission. I hope that we can establish a commission that meets the needs of all parties in this House.

It is simply not true that this issue is being kicked into the long grass. We will be judged on what we achieve, but I believe that the eventual endgame will be quicker than the pessimists forecast. Our aim is to make the position clear before the general election.

I suspect, however, that the Opposition are keen not to kick the issue into the long grass, but to kick it into the jungle and put a palisade around it. That is the traditional device of those who have opposed change over the years. The idea is to ask more and more questions, to make life more difficult, to go for a one-stage solution, to argue for the big bang and, at the end of the day, to delay and delay until nothing is happening.

Mr. Grieve

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Tipping


This time, that simply will not work. This is a short, simple, elegant Bill, which is already acting as a catalyst for change in the thinking of Opposition Members. The debate is moving on, not with a big bang, but in the British tradition of evolutionary change, one step at a time and adapting to survive.

The Opposition made a lot of noise about the need to hold the Executive to account. I am surprised that they cannot see for themselves that that is an implicit criticism of their own performance in the House since the general election. At least the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) recognised that. Rather than discussing a big issue and a broader vision, Opposition Members talk about the trivia—the trips and the accommodation. They are not interested in modernising Britain.

That leads me to the Opposition's wider accusation that the second Chamber will be a quango packed with the Prime Minister's placemen and placewomen. We have been fortunate today in hearing from two former Prime Ministers. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup was certainly sparing with his appointments. I thought that was due to principle, until he told us this evening that, for every appointment he made, he disappointed nine other people. The right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) made it clear that he, too, had made appointments—160, of whom 75 were Conservatives, 40 Labour and 17 Liberal Democrats. He packed the upper House with his own people. He argued that the life peers were not independent, but 119 Cross Benchers are life peers—more than 20 per cent. of the total number.

The current Prime Minister has made it clear that he will establish an appointments commission on Nolan lines. He will give up power; he will not block the appointments of other party leaders. What is more, we have said in our White Paper that we will seek broad parity between parties in the other place. No one has concentrated on that. Winding up the debate, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire did not make it clear whether that principle, for which the Tories have stood since 1911, still obtained.

Opening the debate, my right hon. Friend the President of the Council described the Bill as a simple solution, designed to remedy a state that is broken and indefensible. After 88 years of debate on the hereditary element of the House of Lords, the Bill provides an agenda for action. It constitutes another step towards the modernisation of Parliament and Britain. It is time to stop looking at the old—the past—and to fix our sights on the future.

The time has finally come to modernise the House of Lords. We have a chance to make it more representative—a chance to build a new future. After years of indecision and confusion, the Bill provides a way forward. The time has come to face the challenge; the time has come to make the change.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 137, Noes 383.

Division No. 52] [9.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Amess, David Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Horam, John
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Hunter, Andrew
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Beggs, Roy Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Bercow, John Jenkin, Bernard
Beresford, Sir Paul Key, Robert
Boswell, Tim King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Brady, Graham Lansley, Andrew
Brazier, Julian Leigh, Edward
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Lidington, David
Burns, Simon Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Butterfill, John Loughton, Tim
Cash, William Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Chope, Christopher MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Clappison, James Maclean, Rt Hon David
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) McLoughlin, Patrick
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Madel, Sir David
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Major, Rt Hon John
Collins, Tim Malins, Humfrey
Cormack, Sir Patrick Maples, John
Cran, James Mates, Michael
Curry, Rt Hon David Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) May, Mrs Theresa
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Moss, Malcolm
Duncan, Alan Norman, Archie
Duncan Smith, Iain Ottaway, Richard
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Page, Richard
Evans, Nigel Paterson, Owen
Faber, David Pickles, Eric
Fabricant, Michael Prior, David
Fallon, Michael Randall, John
Flight, Howard Redwood, Rt Hon John
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Robathan, Andrew
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Fraser, Christopher Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gale, Roger Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Garnier, Edward Ruffley, David
Gibb, Nick Sayeed, Jonathan
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Shepherd, Richard
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Gray, James Soames, Nicholas
Green, Damian Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Greenway, John Spicer, Sir Michael
Grieve, Dominic Spring, Richard
Gummer, Rt Hon John Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hague, Rt Hon William Steen, Anthony
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Streeter, Gary
Hammond, Philip Syms, Robert
Hawkins, Nick Tapsell, Sir Peter
Hayes, John Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Heald, Oliver Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward Taylor, Sir Teddy
Townend, John Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Tredinnick, David Wilkinson, John
Trend, Michael Wilshire, David
Tyrie, Andrew Woodward, Shaun
Viggers, Peter Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Wardle, Charles
Wells, Bowen Tellers for the Ayes:
Whitney, Sir Raymond Mr. Stephen Day and
Whittingdale, John Mr. Nigel Waterson.
Abbott, Ms Diane Chidgey, David
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Chisholm, Malcolm
Ainger, Nick Clapham, Michael
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Allan, Richard Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Allen, Graham
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Ashton, Joe Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Atherton, Ms Candy Clelland, David
Atkins, Charlotte Coaker, Vernon
Austin, John Coffey, Ms Ann
Baker, Norman Cohen, Harry
Ballard, Jackie Coleman, Iain
Barnes, Harry Colman, Tony
Barron, Kevin Connarty, Michael
Battle, John Cooper, Yvette
Bayley, Hugh Corbyn, Jeremy
Beard, Nigel Corston, Ms Jean
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Cousins, Jim
Begg, Miss Anne Cox, Tom
Beith, Rt Hon A J Cranston, Ross
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cummings, John
Benton, Joe Cunliffe, Lawrence
Bermingham, Gerald Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Blackman, Liz Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Blair, Rt Hon Tony Dafis, Cynog
Blears, Ms Hazel Dalyell, Tam
Blizzard, Bob Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Darvill, Keith
Boateng, Paul Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Borrow, David Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Bradshaw, Ben Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Brake, Tom Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Brand, Dr Peter Dawson, Hilton
Breed, Colin Dismore, Andrew
Brinton, Mrs Helen Dobbin, Jim
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Browne, Desmond Donohoe, Brian H
Buck, Ms Karen Doran, Frank
Burden, Richard Dowd, Jim
Burgon, Colin Drown, Ms Julia
Burnett, John Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Burstow, Paul Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Butler, Mrs Christine Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Cable, Dr Vincent Efford, Clive
Caborn, Richard Ellman, Mrs Louise
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Ennis, Jeff
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Etherington, Bill
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Campbell-Savours, Dale Fearn, Ronnie
Canavan, Dennis Field, Rt Hon Frank
Cann, Jamie Fitzpatrick, Jim
Caplin, Ivor Fitzsimons, Lorna
Casale, Roger Flint, Caroline
Cawsey, Ian Flynn, Paul
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Kilfoyle, Peter
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Foulkes, George King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Fyfe, Maria Kingham, Ms Tess
Galloway, George Kirkwood, Archy
Gapes, Mike Kumar, Dr Ashok
Gardiner, Barry Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Gerrard, Neil Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Gibson, Dr Ian Laxton, Bob
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Lepper, David
Godman, Dr Norman A Leslie, Christopher
Godsiff, Roger Levitt, Tom
Goggins, Paul Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Gorrie, Donald Linton, Martin
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Livingstone, Ken
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Livsey, Richard
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Grocott, Bruce Lock, David
Grogan, John Love, Andrew
Gunnell, John McAllion, John
Hain, Peter McAvoy, Thomas
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McCabe, Steve
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) McCafferty, Ms Chris
Hancock, Mike McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Hanson, David McDonagh, Siobhain
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Macdonald, Calum
Harris, Dr Evan McDonnell, John
Heal, Mrs Sylvia McIsaac, Shona
Healey, John McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Mackinlay, Andrew
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Hepburn, Stephen McNamara, Kevin
Heppell, John McNulty, Tony
Hesford, Stephen McWalter, Tony
Hill, Keith McWilliam, John
Hinchliffe, David Mahon, Mrs Alice
Hoey, Kate Mallaber, Judy
Home Robertson, John Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Hood, Jimmy Marek, Dr John
Hoon, Geoffrey Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hope, Phil Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hopkins, Kelvin Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Martlew, Eric
Howells, Dr Kim Maxton, John
Hoyle, Lindsay Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Meale, Alan
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Merron, Gillian
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Humble, Mrs Joan Milburn, Alan
Hurst, Alan Miller, Andrew
Hutton, John Moffatt, Laura
Iddon, Dr Brian Moonie, Dr Lewis
Illsley, Eric Moran, Ms Margaret
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Morley, Elliot
Jenkins, Brian Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Mountford, Kali
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Oaten, Mark
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) O'Hara, Eddie
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Olner, Bill
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) O'Neill, Martin
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Öpik, Lembit
Keetch, Paul Osborne, Ms Sandra
Kemp, Fraser Palmer, Dr Nick
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye) Pearson, Ian
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Pendry, Tom
Khabra, Piara S Perham, Ms Linda
Kidney, David Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L Stevenson, George
Plaskitt, James Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Pollard, Kerry Stinchcombe, Paul
Pond, Chris Stoate, Dr Howard
Pope, Greg Stott, Roger
Pound, Stephen Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Powell, Sir Raymond Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Stringer, Graham
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Primarolo, Dawn Stunell, Andrew
Prosser, Gwyn Sutcliffe, Gerry
Purchase, Ken Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Quin, Ms Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Radice, Giles Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Rammell, Bill Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Rapson, Syd Temple-Morris, Peter
Raynsford, Nick Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Timms, Stephen
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Tipping, Paddy
Rendel, David Tonge, Dr Jenny
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S) Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW) Truswell, Paul
Roche, Mrs Barbara Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Rooker, Jeff Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Rooney, Terry Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Rowlands, Ted Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Ruddock, Ms Joan Tyler, Paul
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Vaz, Keith
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Vis, Dr Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan
Ryan, Ms Joan Ward, Ms Claire
Salter, Martin Wareing, Robert N
Sanders, Adrian Watts, David
Savidge, Malcolm Webb, Steve
Sawford, Phil White, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan Whitehead, Dr Alan
Sheerman, Barry Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Shipley, Ms Debra
Short, Rt Hon Clare Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Willis, Phil
Singh, Marsha Wills, Michael
Skinner, Dennis Winnick, David
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Wise, Audrey
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Worthington, Tony
Wray, James
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns) Wyatt, Derek
Snape, Peter
Soley, Clive Tellers for the Noes:
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Mrs. Anne McGuire and
Steinberg, Gerry Mr. David Jamieson.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 62 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading):—

The House divided: Ayes 381, Noes 135.

Division No. 53] [10.13 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Armstrong, Ms Hilary
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Ainger, Nick Ashton, Joe
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Atherton, Ms Candy
Allan, Richard Atkins, Charlotte
Allen, Graham Austin, John
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Baker, Norman
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Ballard, Jackie
Barnes, Harry Cunliffe, Lawrence
Barron, Kevin Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Battle, John Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Bayley, Hugh Dafis, Cynog
Beard, Nigel Dalyell, Tam
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Begg, Miss Anne Darvill, Keith
Beith, Rt Hon A J Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Benton, Joe Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Bermingham, Gerald Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Best, Harold Dawson, Hilton
Betts, Clive Dismore, Andrew
Blackman, Liz Dobbin, Jim
Blair, Rt Hon Tony Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Blears, Ms Hazel Donohoe, Brian H
Blizzard, Bob Doran, Frank
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Dowd, Jim
Boateng, Paul Drown, Ms Julia
Borrow, David Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Bradshaw, Ben Efford, Clive
Brake, Tom Ellman, Mrs Louise
Brand, Dr Peter Ennis, Jeff
Breed, Colin Etherington, Bill
Brinton, Mrs Helen Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Fearn, Ronnie
Browne, Desmond Field, Rt Hon Frank
Buck, Ms Karen Fitzpatrick, Jim
Burden, Richard Fitzsimons, Lorna
Burgon, Colin Flint, Caroline
Burnett, John Flynn, Paul
Burstow, Paul Foster, Don (Bath)
Butler, Mrs Christine Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Cable, Dr Vincent Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Caborn, Richard Foulkes, George
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Fyfe, Maria
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Galloway, George
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Gapes, Mike
Campbell-Savours, Dale Gardiner, Barry
Canavan, Dennis Gerrard, Neil
Cann, Jamie Gibson, Dr Ian
Caplin, Ivor Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Casale, Roger Godman, Dr Norman A
Cawsey, Ian Godsiff, Roger
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Goggins, Paul
Chidgey, David Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Chisholm, Malcolm Gorrie, Donald
Clapham, Michael Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grocott, Bruce
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Grogan, John
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Gunnell, John
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hain, Peter
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Clelland, David Hancock, Mike
Coaker, Vernon Hanson, David
Coffey, Ms Ann Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Cohen, Harry Harris, Dr Evan
Coleman, Iain Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Colman, Tony Healey, John
Connarty, Michael Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Cooper, Yvette Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Corbyn, Jeremy Hepburn, Stephen
Corston, Ms Jean Heppell, John
Cousins, Jim Hesford, Stephen
Cox, Tom Hill, Keith
Cranston, Ross Hinchliffe, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hoey, Kate
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Home Robertson, John
Cummings, John Hood, Jimmy
Hoon, Geoffrey Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hope, Phil Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hopkins, Kelvin Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Martlew, Eric
Howells, Dr Kim Maxton, John
Hoyle, Lindsay Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Meale, Alan
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Merron, Gillian
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Humble, Mrs Joan Milburn, Alan
Hurst, Alan Miller, Andrew
Hutton, John Moffatt, Laura
Iddon, Dr Brian Moonie, Dr Lewis
Illsley, Eric Moran, Ms Margaret
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Morley, Elliot
Jenkins, Brian Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Mountford, Kali
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Oaten, Mark
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Olner, Bill
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald O'Neill, Martin
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Öpik, Lembit
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Osborne, Ms Sandra
Keetch, Paul Palmer, Dr Nick
Kemp, Fraser Pearson, Ian
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye) Pendry, Tom
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Perham, Ms Linda
Khabra, Piara S Pickthall, Colin
Kidney, David Pike, Peter L
Kilfoyle, Peter Plaskitt, James
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Pollard, Kerry
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Pond, Chris
Kingham, Ms Tess Pope, Greg
Kirkwood, Archy Pound, Stephen
Kumar, Dr Ashok Powell, Sir Raymond
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Lawrence, Ms Jackie Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Laxton, Bob Primarolo, Dawn
Lepper, David Prosser, Gwyn
Leslie, Christopher Purchase, Ken
Levitt, Tom Quin, Ms Joyce
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Quinn, Lawrie
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Radice, Giles
Linton, Martin Rammell, Bill
Livingstone, Ken Rapson, Syd
Livsey, Richard Raynsford, Nick
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Lock, David Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Love, Andrew Rendel, David
McAllion, John Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Steve Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
McCafferty, Ms Chris Roche, Mrs Barbara
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield) Rooker, Jeff
McDonagh, Siobhain Rooney, Terry
Macdonald, Calum Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McDonnell, John Rowlands, Ted
McIsaac, Shona Ruddock, Ms Joan
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Mackinlay, Andrew Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Ryan, Ms Joan
McNamara, Kevin Salter, Martin
McNulty, Tony Sanders, Adrian
McWalter, Tony Savidge, Malcolm
McWilliam, John Sawford, Phil
Mahon, Mrs Alice Shaw, Jonathan
Mallaber, Judy Sheerman, Barry
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Marek, Dr John Shipley, Ms Debra
Short, Rt Hon Clare Touhig, Don
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Trickett, Jon
Singh, Marsha Truswell, Paul
Skinner, Dennis Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Tyler, Paul
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Vaz, Keith
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns) Vis, Dr Rudi
Snape, Peter Walley, Ms Joan
Soley, Clive Ward, Ms Claire
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Wareing, Robert N
Steinberg, Gerry Watts, David
Stevenson, George Webb, Steve
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) White, Brian
Stinchcombe, Paul Whitehead, Dr Alan
Stoate, Dr Howard Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Stott, Roger Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Straw, Rt Hon Jack Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Stringer, Graham Willis, Phil
Stuart, Ms Gisela Wills, Michael
Stunell, Andrew Winnick, David
Sutcliffe, Gerry Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Wise, Audrey
Worthington, Tony
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S) Wray, James
Taylor, David (NW Leics) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Temple-Morris, Peter Wyatt, Derek
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen Tellers for the Ayes:
Tipping, Paddy Mrs. Anne McGuire and
Tonge, Dr Jenny Mr. David Jamieson.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Curry, Rt Hon David
Amess, David Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Duncan, Alan
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Duncan Smith, Iain
Beggs, Roy Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Bercow, John Evans, Nigel
Beresford, Sir Paul Faber, David
Boswell, Tim Fabricant, Michael
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Fallon, Michael
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Flight, Howard
Brady, Graham Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Brazier, Julian Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fraser, Christopher
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Gale, Roger
Burns, Simon Garnier, Edward
Butterfill, John Gibb, Nick
Cash, William Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Chope, Christopher Gray, James
Clappison, James Green, Damian
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Greenway, John
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Grieve, Dominic
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Gummer, Rt Hon John
Collins, Tim Hague, Rt Hon William
Cormack, Sir Patrick Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Cran, James Hammond, Philip
Hawkins, Nick Prior, David
Hayes, John Randall, John
Heald, Oliver Redwood, Rt Hon John
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Robathan, Andrew
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Horam, John Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Hunter, Andrew Ruffley, David
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Sayeed, Jonathan
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Jenkin, Bernard Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Key, Robert Soames, Nicholas
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Spicer, Sir Michael
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Spring, Richard
Lansley, Andrew Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Leigh, Edward Steen, Anthony
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Streeter, Gary
Lidington, David Syms, Robert
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Loughton, Tim Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Taylor, John M (Solihull)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Taylor, Sir Teddy
McIntosh, Miss Anne Townend, John
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Tredinnick, David
Maclean, Rt Hon David Trend, Michael
McLoughlin, Patrick Tyrie, Andrew
Madel, Sir David Viggers, Peter
Major, Rt Hon John Wardle, Charles
Malins, Humfrey Wells, Bowen
Maples, John Whitney, Sir Raymond
Mates, Michael Whittingdale, John
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Wilkinson, John
May, Mrs Theresa Wilshire, David
Moss, Malcolm Woodward, Shaun
Norman, Archie Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard Tellers for the Noes:
Paterson, Owen Mr. Stephen Day and
Pickles, Eric Mr. Nigel Waterson.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills), That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Mr. Tipping.]

Question agreed to.

Committee tomorrow.