HC Deb 16 March 1999 vol 327 cc932-99

Order for Third Reading read.

6.2 pm

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

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

In my speech on Second Reading, I described the Bill as exquisitely simple, although momentous in its effects—a description which, for some inexplicable reason, seemed to trouble some commentators, as though simplicity were incompatible with significance.

The Bill is a clear fulfilment of our manifesto pledge to remove, by statute, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords, as an initial self-contained reform. It deals only with that point and with its essential consequences, most notably conferring on peers who leave the House of Lords the right to vote in elections to the House of Commons, and indeed to stand for election without having to relinquish their title.

After a two-day Second Reading debate, and four full days in Committee, the Bill reaches its Third Reading with its simplicity unimpaired. It has been fully—some might say extensively—debated, and those debates have been, for the most part, good-humoured and constructive.

There were one or two slightly desperate attempts to pretend that the Government were trying in some way to curtail or obstruct debate, but those claims foundered on the clear evidence to the contrary. There were also attempts to take our discussions beyond the Bill itself—to draw in proposals that might be made at a later stage in Parliament's consideration of the Bill, and that, if made, would be the focus of further debate in the House—or to dwell on other issues raised by our White Paper, including those now before the royal commission. I take the opportunity now to assure the House that the Government do, of course, intend to provide time to debate the White Paper later in the Session.

One evident feature of our debates so far has been the difficulty experienced by the official Opposition in knowing how they should attack the Bill. On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) managed—as he did in response to my statement on 20 January—in the course of one opening speech to accuse the Government first of undue delay and secondly of undue haste, or perhaps it was the other way round.

The hon. Gentleman complained that the timetable for the royal commission was too short, but he also said that the Government want to scrap the hereditary peers and then kick the whole process into the long grass"—[Official Report, 1 February 1999; Vol. 324, c. 619] and that the Government have no intention of reform before the next general election.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

The right hon. Lady seems to be maligning my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox). The delay and the undue haste are perfectly compatible. The delay was in setting up a royal commission, and the undue haste was in proceeding without one.

Mrs. Beckett

That is a helpful re-interpretation of what the hon. Member for Woodspring would argue that he meant, but it is not, I fear, what he said. Far from maligning the hon. Gentleman, I was quoting him.

It was not at all easy to be clear about the nature of the charge that the Opposition were striving to lay against the Government, or of the evidence on which it might be based. Nor was it clear whether the Opposition did or did not support the hereditary principle.

Sterling work was done to help Opposition Members make up their minds by many of my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Hope), who pursued the issue with a tenacity that all on the Government Benches—and even, in the end, some on the Opposition Benches—admired.

Support for the hereditary principle had, after all, featured in the Conservative party's 1997 campaign guide. Despite attempts by the hon. Member for Woodspring to put a slightly different gloss on it, there is no question but that it appeared there squarely in the context of a discussion about the House of Lords. That is the element of the hereditary principle that all candidates for the Conservative party were sent out to defend in 1997: the right to sit as a Member of Parliament by inheritance and birth. As to whether Conservative Members still support that principle, on that question, too, in our debates, first they did and then they did not—at least, I think so.

It seems that we may have arrived at the position where the Conservatives have, for the most part rather grudgingly, reaffirmed that heredity cannot be the basis for a place in our legislature. I say "reaffirmed" because, in theory, their party came to that view at least 88 years ago. The problem is just that, in all their ensuing decades of power, they never got round to doing anything about it. I think it was the hon. Member for Woodspring who said, with commendable frankness, that it had not been a priority.

Although Conservative Members will, I am sure, affirm yet again that that is the view of the modern Conservative party, it has been noticeable how frequently during the days of debate the amendments that they moved just happened to have the effect of retaining for a few more years or reinstating after a couple of years the existing House of Lords, complete with its in-built Tory majority.

St. Augustine, with his plea to be made holy, but not quite yet, had nothing on the Conservative party. At least he was asking to be made holy within the lifespan of an adult man. The Tories have already strung the matter out for longer than that. As I recall, St Augustine's reported words were Give me chastity and continency—hut not yet". If earlier generations of hereditary peers had shared his wish and practised chastity, we would all be spending this evening doing something else.

The nearest the Tories have got to a justification for yet more procrastination is the argument that has sustained debate and delay for all those 88 years—the less-than-perfect nature of every alternative that has ever been proposed. That that argument is disingenuous is demonstrated by more than the decades over which it has been advanced.

In this Parliament, in which the life peers have been appointed by eight Prime Ministers over 40 years; in this Parliament, in which only just over half of the appointments made by the present Prime Minister were of Labour peers, whereas Tory Prime Ministers have usually taken the opportunity to add still further to their in-built majority among hereditary peers; and in this Parliament, in which, for the first time in our history, a Prime Minister has volunteered to reduce his own powers of patronage, the Conservatives continue to claim that what they fear is a House of Lords made up of what they dub "Tony's cronies". What would they have done for an argument if the Prime Minister had been called David?

Mr. David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)


Mrs. Beckett

A David! I am delighted to give way.

Mr. Davis

That is as good a cue as any.

Some Conservative Members have concerns about the lack of independence of a future House of Lords. Three categories of public servant—High Court judges, the ombudsman of this House and the Comptroller and Auditor General of this House—are subject to dismissal only by a vote of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords to protect them from influence by the Executive. What does the right hon. Lady propose to do with a House of "Tony's cronies" to protect them in the future?

Mrs. Beckett

I expect that the right hon. Gentleman will know that the Government envisage that the central Cross-Bench group, which is always regarded as independent by all commentators, including Labour Members, and so described, will be appointed by an independent appointments commission. It will comprise a smallish number of people, one nominee from each of the political parties made by those political parties, and others, with an independent chairman, all appointed on Nolan principles. The members of that central Cross-Bench group, as we know them, will continue to be appointed by that appointments commission, not by the Prime Minister. We have also given an undertaking that the individual political parties will be able to make their own nominations without the Prime Minister having, as he has had to up to now, a veto. All those things preserve a proper measure of independence.

It has been rather a feature of our debates here that some Conservative Members, although not, I think the right hon. Gentleman, have argued that independence in the House of Lords can come only from the hereditary peers. We do not accept that argument, and I am pleased to see the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head. We are determined that the House of Lords shall have a proper measure of independence. What we do not wish is for it to remain, as it has always been, in the control of the Conservative party.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

The thrust of the arguments from many Labour Members, including the right hon. Lady, during these debates, has been that the Cross Benchers are not properly independent. I am delighted that she now admits that they are. We now have her affirmation that she regards the Cross Benchers as being truly independent. Is that right?

Mrs. Beckett

I have never ever said that the Cross Benchers were not independent.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

I shall deal with this point first, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

I was careful to say that that is how they have always been described. I have sat through most of the debates and I have endeavoured to read each contribution that I have not sat through, but I cannot say, hand on heart, that no hon. Member has ever cast doubt on the independence of any Cross Bencher. It is within recent memory that some have crossed from the Tory Benches to the Cross Benches. I have never impugned the independence of the Cross Benchers and the White Paper specifically describes them as such and says that that independent element, should, in the Government's view, be preserved.

Mr. Tyrie

The right hon. Lady has covered herself a little with those remarks, but in a speech in the House a few weeks ago, the Home Secretary made it clear that he believes that the Cross Benchers are not really independent. I shall gladly provide the right hon. Lady with the reference in due course.

Mrs. Beckett

There is no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is prone to teasing Conservative Members, usually quite successfully. However, the Government's view of Cross Benchers and the life peers' potential for independence is clear from the White Paper.

On Second Reading, I suggested that proper debate about what a second Chamber should do and, in consequence, be, had always been bedevilled and diverted by the voices and the potential votes of the hereditary peers. In past debates, those who oppose reform have always thrown their weight against any individual reform. They have joined those who wanted an elected House against a mixed House. They have joined those who feared for the effect on the House of Commons of elections to a Second Chamber to defeat an elected House. All the time, their agenda—sometimes their hidden agenda—has simply been to maintain the hereditary peers.

Just as it is true that the debate has always been bedevilled by the issue of the hereditary peerage, and hijacked by opponents of any change, it is equally true that it has always been bedevilled by the interests of the Conservative party, which has, I fear, always seen its interests as being at best identical to, or, if needs be, more important than, the interests of the country.

It may be that, out of the discussions in the House of Lords, out of the work of the Royal Commission and the study of the Joint Committee, will come a broad consensus of view on the best way forward. That would not only be a good thing in itself; it could mean fairly speedy progress towards longer-term reform and a new Second Chamber, even in this Parliament. That may happen. It may be that the Conservative party will see the value of reform. I hope so. We shall see.

However, what I have never doubted, and what the debates have overwhelmingly confirmed, is that even stage 1 of reform will be better than what we have today. We will have the emergence of a House of Lords, all of whose Members have earned their place on the basis of their contribution to our public life. I say that without discredit to those who, whatever the service they have tried to give, owe their place to the contribution of their forebears.

One of the unfortunate features of the debate—I hear mild echoes of it from the Opposition Benches now—was the way in which some Conservative Members slid towards attacking life peers, making the point that a mere 500 of them were insufficient to carry out the business of a House of Parliament. Most insulting of all, they claimed that only hereditary peers could be truly independent.

When hereditary peers go, distinguished scientists, doctors, business people, retired soldiers, public servants, even some farmers, will still sit in the House of Lords, but all will be sitting there because of their distinction. Many life peers are distinguished former Members of this House, yet some Conservative Members have repeatedly suggested that this eminent group of men and women are quite incapable of managing without the hereditary peers.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Conservative Members have never suggested any such thing. We have said that half those who regularly attend the other place are hereditary peers. The figures have been produced time and again, and to that particular charge there has been no effective answer.

Mrs. Beckett

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, it has repeatedly been said—as I say, not only have I sat through the debates, but I have read them—particularly by Conservative Back Benchers, that, in some way, the life peers will be insufficient to cope in the House of Lords without the hereditary peers. It is, of course, true that many of those who attend today are hereditary peers; it is equally true that large numbers of life peers attend. As has been pointed out by hon. Members, including Conservative Members, there are quite enough among the life peers to sustain the work of a Second Chamber.

In these days of debate, we have seen a range of contradictions, but as I looked back over them, I was suddenly struck by one curious, perhaps significant, omission. It has been a constant feature of detective fiction, from Conan Doyle onwards, that so often what is not said is as significant or more significant than what is—the dog that does not bark. The Conservative party has aired its purported fears about what the Government intend and their real attitude, but what about their own attitude to the transitional House? That is the dog that has not barked in this debate.

Mr. Tyrie

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

No, not for a moment.

All the attention has been given to whether, or how fast, the Government might move on to stage 2. Where do the Opposition stand? Much of the thrust of their amendments and their speeches in support of them have been to protest that nothing should be done to the existing House of Lords without a wide-ranging and fundamental overall review of our constitution.

The hon. Member for Woodspring, in his opening speech on Second Reading, said: we shall have to decide not only what we want Parliament to do, but Parliament's relation to the Executive, to the judiciary and to Europe. Only after we have decided what we want Parliament to do should we divide the powers between the two Houses—assuming we believe in a bicameral system. Only then can we decide the membership and size of the two Chambers."—[Official Report, 1 February 1999; Vol. 324, c. 622.] A moment's thought serves to suggest that that undertaking would take not months, but probably a considerable number of years.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

Can the right hon. Lady tell me which of my remarks she disagrees with?

Mrs. Beckett

I disagree with the fact that it is impossible to contemplate removing the hereditary peerage from the House of Lords without contemplating all those major constitutional questions. That clearly was the hon. Gentleman's contention at that point.

I should like the hon. Member for Woodspring, who leads for the Opposition on these matters, to address two questions on behalf of his party. First, although I recognise that only a couple of his hon. Friends have touched on this issue in passing, will he say whether the Conservative party would recreate today's House of Lords if it won the next election? If not even the Conservative party would recreate a House of Lords with 750 people entitled to a place in it by virtue of their birth, what are its intentions towards the transitional House?

Secondly, when I introduced the Bill on Second Reading, I quoted from our manifesto, making it crystal clear that we do not intend to seek more than parity in numbers with the Conservative party in the transitional House, and that we do not believe that any party should seek a majority in the House of Lords."—[Official Report, 1 February 1999; Vol. 324, c. 615.] I then challenged the Opposition to say the same. In all the six days of debate that have ensued, as far as I can see only one Opposition Member—the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), who does not always speak for his Front Bench—has said that it is not good for the Conservatives to have a permanent in-built majority, but no Conservative Front Bencher has felt able to give the assurance that I sought on the first day of our debates.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

The right hon. Lady is asking the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) to deal with certain issues in his speech. Before she reaches the end of her speech, I should be grateful if she answered a question in respect of the timing and the length of stage 1, which has preoccupied so many of our colleagues on the Tory Benches during the six days of debate. Is she now able to give the House and the country a better steer on what the Government anticipate will be the length of stage 1? She asks Conservative Front Benchers to come clean, and I support her in that, but the nation would like some steer from the Government about how long they expect the transitional period to take, even if they do not receive support from the official Opposition on that.

Mrs. Beckett

I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's question—I do not think that anyone can, at the moment—because we are at too early a stage. I shall give him two reasons why. First, the royal commission has begun its work. When it gets into that work, and when we see the reaction to the consultation that it is undertaking, we may have a clearer idea of whether consensus is possible or whether views are so divided that it will be difficult to come to common ground.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman may been, as I have—or may not have been—reading the most recent debates in the House of Lords on the White Paper. This is the third occasion since the autumn on which the House of Lords has debated those matters, perfectly legitimately—

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

Order. I am reluctant to interrupt proceedings, but we are debating Third Reading and such debates tend to be narrow. The Bill, too, is narrow; it deals with the abolition of the hereditary peerage. I can understand the difficulties that the House has, but we must try to keep within the constraints of the debate on the Bill.

Mrs Beckett

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I will say no more, except to recommend that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) read the White Paper debates. He will see that the atmosphere of those debates is one of growing anxiety, which leads me to question the issue of time.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

I am sorry that the right hon. Lady has lost most of her speech on the basis that we are debating Third Reading. She sought a steer. Two former Conservative Prime Ministers, a former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer and, looking around the Chamber, a number of Conservative Members have argued for an elected House. That is the steer to which we are trying to lead her.

Mrs. Beckett

I accept that completely. I do not want to stray for too long, but the hon. Gentleman will be the first to appreciate that he is talking about stage 2; I am talking about the transitional House, which will arise on the passage of the Bill. We will no doubt debate stage 2 at length on some happy occasion in the future.

One reason why I am asking about the attitude of the Opposition towards the transitional House is that, when he spoke of the in-built party advantage—the control, indeed—that the Conservative party permanently enjoys in the present House of Lords, the hon. Member for Woodspring said: there must be better reasons for reforming part of our Parliament than that".—[Official Report, 1 February 1999; Vol. 324, c. 618.] "That" is permanent Conservative control, which leads me to ask him to say at least a little about what are the real policies and plans of the official Opposition. I will not disguise from him or from the House the fact that we have suspected throughout that the Opposition's plan was to maintain, by hook or by crook, the hold that they have always had on the second Chamber of our Parliament.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could you clarify for me your ruling on the breadth of the debate? Are we allowed on Third Reading to debate the question of the transitional House, to which the abolition of hereditary peers will inevitably lead, or is that banned from our debate as well?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Obviously some elbow room has to be given; that is the best way that I can put it. Hon. Members can debate what is in the Bill, and perhaps related matters, but if they go into related matters to the exclusion of the Bill, the Chair will bring them to order. I hope that that is helpful.

Mrs. Beckett

I am sure that your remarks have been of great assistance to the hon. Gentleman, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Let me hasten to assure him that I am not inviting the hon. Member for Woodspring to enter into lengthy debate. I am simply asking him to clarify whether the Conservative party accepts that no party should seek a majority in the transitional House. If that is accepted, it would be helpful to us all to have it made plain. Otherwise, the suspicion will remain that the Conservative party is ending this century in the way that it began it: speaking of change, but hanging on to power at any cost; pursuing its own interests, irrespective of the interests of the country; still standing for the past rather than for the future; and still standing for the few rather than the many. If Conservative Members vote against Third Reading, we shall certainly be entitled to assume that what they find unacceptable is not the specific proposals that the Bill enshrines, but anything that challenges their long hegemony.

The Government believe that the removal of the hereditary peerage from Parliament is a prize worth securing in its own right. The Bill addresses the key deficiency in the composition of the present House of Lords: it forces everyone to address the question of the role of the hereditary peers on its own terms.

The hereditary peerage has had an honourable history of service. Lord Cranborne said some months ago—in the House of Lords I think—that he was sad that his family's centuries of public service would now be brought to an end. That is neither the purpose nor the effect of this Bill, which are simply that neither he nor any other will have a reserved place in our public service, irrespective of interest or capacity. They will be free to serve in the same way and on the same terms as all their fellow citizens, and I am sure that some of them will seek to do so. That is the effect of this Bill. I commend it to the House.

6.29 pm
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

Never can the official Opposition's response to a Third Reading debate have been so widely trailed by the Minister in charge of the Bill. It is rather flattering that the Government should seek our ideas where they have none of their own. I hope that I can give the right hon. Lady some help as she stumbles on the Government's way towards stage 2.

There are four ways in which we need to consider the Bill: as an end in itself; as part of the Government's intended eventual policy for this stage of reform; as part of the wider reform of the House of Lords; and as part of the wider constitutional architecture that the Government seem to be constructing, albeit incoherently.

On Second Reading, the Leader of the House said that the Bill would achieve three things: it would remove the ability to sit in the House of Lords by birthright, it would modernise our handling of legislation, and it would improve our Parliament. It is worth weighing up what our debates have shown about those three aims.

Let me give the Leader of the House her due. I welcome the news that we shall be able to engage in further debate on the White Paper. I think it worried all hon. Members that the rules of the House restricted debate on the wider issues. I leave others to judge whether that was the intention of those who drafted the Bill; but the Bill was tightly drafted, and hon. Members on both sides of the House were not sure what they could and could not debate. Given that we are debating a major constitutional issue in a major constitutional arena, I welcome the chance to debate that issue in a wider context as, I think, will Members of all parties.

One of our difficulties was that we had no concept of whether or not the Bill was an interim measure, because no time scale was specified at any stage. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), who is no longer present, asked the Leader of the House for a "steer". We have had no such steer. It is difficult for us to interpret the Government's proposals, because we have no time scale in which to place them.

Originally, we were not to be allowed a royal commission, but the Government discovered—doubtless from the focus groups that are the real powers behind the way in which we are governed nowadays—that that was not popular. We are, therefore, to have a royal commission, until December 1999.

Rather mischievously—not that that is the way in which she normally does business—the Leader of the House tried to—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am reluctant to interrupt again, but the hon. Gentleman is straying from the subject of the Bill.

Dr. Fox

I am responding to what the Leader of the House said at the outset, Mr. Deputy Speaker. She said that the Opposition were complaining both that the Government were too fast, and that they were too slow. The Government were too slow in not providing for a royal commission in the first place, and they are now asking the commission to consider the proposals with undue haste. That makes it difficult for us to consider the Bill in the context of time.

The Leader of the House set out a number of principles on Second Reading. First, she dealt with the ability to sit in the House of Lords by birthright. Interestingly, some of her hon. Friends failed to distinguish between belief in the hereditary principle—in any hereditary principle—and belief in the principle of heredity in the House of Lords. Conservative Members made it clear that our party was perfectly happy with the hereditary principle. As it is the basis on which the monarchy operates, we have no constitutional problem with it. Many Labour Members took the same view, although—interestingly again—a number of them did not accept the hereditary principle governing the monarchy either. That may cause the Leader of the House some trouble when we actually embark on reform.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

We have heard these spurious points about the monarchy from Conservative Members before. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that there is all the difference in the world between a constitutional monarchy acting on the basis of advice, and Members in the second Chamber who are part of our system of government deciding on legislation that will affect the lives of millions of people, on the basis of the hereditary principle?

Dr. Fox

That is exactly the point that I was making. My point is that, while many hon. Members were able to make the distinction to which the hon. Gentleman refers, a number of Labour Members failed to do so, expressing the view that the hereditary principle was wrong in itself. We make the distinction made by the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, by the Leader of the House.

Our difficulty on Second Reading was this. The Leader of the House said then that it was unacceptable for Members to sit in the House of Lords because of who their parents had been—or their grandparents, or other predecessors. However, when it was suggested to the right hon. Lady that the so-called Weatherill amendments might be tabled, she said that she would be minded to persuade her colleagues to accept them if they were tabled in the other House—thus negating her first aim, which was to prevent hereditary peers from sitting in the House of Lords. I shall say more about that shortly.

The right hon. Lady's second aim was to modernise our handling of legislation. That, I think, raised expectations on both sides of the House. Certainly, we could all make improvements in the way in which we handle legislation—but how were we to secure greater scrutiny and new methods of ensuring accountability? We waited and waited to see whether the Government would present any new proposals; now we are on Third Reading, and what has been modernised?

Part of the problem is the Government's continuing failure to grasp the essence of the debate. It is parliamentary functions that we need to discuss. For instance—I thought that the Government might address themselves to this—most legislation dealt with in the House of Commons nowadays is secondary legislation. How could we use even an interim Chamber to improve the way in which we scrutinise such legislation? Notwithstanding the stated aims of the Leader of the House, none of the Government amendments dealt with that.

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

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the apparent inconsistency in Labour's attitude to the hereditary principle in the legislature. Does he not accept that our eventual aim is to abolish the hereditary principle in the second Chamber, and that the transitional Chamber is a means to that end? We would prefer the transitional Chamber to contain no hereditary peers, but if the only way to achieve our aim is to compromise, we are willing to compromise in order to move more quickly to our ultimate goal: a completely reformed House of Lords, or rather second Chamber, containing no Members who are there by right of heredity.

Dr. Fox

That leaves me more confused than ever. It is utterly unclear what the time scale is, and on what principles the Government are now working. It seems that expediency is to take precedence over everything else. The last interim Chamber to be established has existed since 1911—

Mrs. Beckett

Whose fault is that?

Dr. Fox

It is the fault of the House of Commons, which blocked reform in 1968 because it did not want a challenge to its power and authority. The Government will have to consider that, because they have now unleashed a process of reform that will accelerate.

The right hon. Lady's remark shows just how confused the Government now are. The House cannot possibly know what it is to get from the Government, because the Government seem not to know what they want or what they intend to do when the Bill goes to the other place.

The third aim that the Government specified on Second Reading was the improvement of our Parliament. I feel rather sad about the Government's failure throughout our debates to acknowledge the work done by hereditary peers. It would have cost them nothing to be a little more open and welcoming. It seems—the Leader of the House made this point today—that the value of those in the upper House is determined by where they come from, not by their contribution. The right hon. Lady, in fact, referred to "whatever contribution they try to make".

Many hereditary peers have contributed a great deal, and work extremely hard. Their experience and expertise will be difficult to replace. I do not pretend that it will be impossible, but this will be a loss, and it would have been better for all concerned if the Government had accepted the fact with a little more grace.

Angela Smith (Basildon)

Again, the hon. Gentleman shows how fundamentally he misunderstands the Bill. Labour Members have never criticised individual hereditary peers; our argument concerns the legitimacy with which they hold their position.

Dr. Fox

That, as the Prime Minister would say, is completely untrue. Labour Members have made considerable criticisms of individual Members of the House of Lords, simply on the basis that they are hereditary peers. My point is that they have made tremendous contributions, and that it would have been nice if the Government had accepted that rather more graciously. One or two junior Ministers have accepted it, but have done so very reluctantly.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. There has not been any criticism of individual hereditary peers from Labour Members. One or two have poked a certain amount of fun at their heritage, but that is not the same as being rude about individuals, or their service in the upper House. There has been considerable criticism from Conservative Members—not, I accept from those on the Front Bench—of life peers, suggesting that they are unworthy to be Members of the Parliament. That is unfitting.

Dr. Fox

By straying so widely, we are pushing your tolerance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it is true that individuals were singled out. For some reason, Labour Members do not regard it as insulting to poke fun at people's backgrounds or their families. That says much about where the Government are coming from politically and psychologically.

The Leader of the House did not answer the point that was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis), who said that some officers needed protection from the Executive and asked how they would be protected. How will the independence of those individuals, who are there to scrutinise the Executive, be preserved if the Executive have the ability to produce a majority in the upper House, all the Members of which will be appointed? It is a reasonable question. Perhaps the Minister will answer that when he sums up.

Mr. Peter Bradley (The Wrekin)

Perhaps the moment has passed, but I was intrigued by the notion that the hon. Gentleman regretted the loss of Members of the other place on account of their experience. Does he have the same regret over the loss of Members of the House of Commons who, despite their large experience, are no longer with us? Is he attracted by the notion that, if they were still here, he could retain power in the House of Commons as well as in the other place?

Dr. Fox

If the hon. Gentleman had attended some of the debates, he might have been better informed about the discussions that we have had.

Mr. Bradley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have attended many debates during the passage of the Bill, unlike, I understand, the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who preferred to be at the Brit awards when he should have been leading his party.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

That is not a point of order for the Chair.

Dr. Fox

It is not a point of anything. The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley) asked a specific question. I cannot tell him how much I regret the loss of experience from the House of Commons after the general election. The quality of government has suffered greatly as a result.

As I have said, we need to look at the Bill as part of the Government's intended policy for the whole stage of reform. We have had to debate the Bill in an Alice in Wonderland way because of the Government's ambivalence about the so-called Weatherill amendments. That has had a distinct bearing on how we have thought about the Bill.

Everything boils down to the following fact. The Government intend to accept a major change to the Bill in the Chamber that they say has no democratic legitimacy, but have refused amendments to do the same thing that were introduced in the House of Commons, which they claim does have democratic legitimacy. They have already voted against those proposals, which they say they will welcome if they are brought back.

If the Government follow their intended course, we shall be left in the ridiculous position of having a completely different Bill coming back from the other place. That will also go against the principles that the Government have set out in introducing the Bill, so it has been a difficult section of the debate. It is difficult to know exactly what the Government want.

The Government intend to allow some hereditary peers to remain; they will be elected by an internal caucus. I shall look forward to some of the speeches from Labour Back Benchers if the Bill comes back in that form. There will be quite a feast of words and humble pie to be eaten when it comes back, given the speeches that some have made. The Leader of the House mentioned the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Hope), who has put difficult questions to Conservative Members. We look forward to the rematch on that issue when the Bill comes back from the other place.

Where does the Bill lead us? What effect does it have on wider reform? What does it say, not about the contents of stage 2, but about how we are to proceed to whatever the next part of the process is? I wonder whether the Government understand the full consequences of the Bill. In removing the hereditary peers, they will change entirely the ethos of the upper House. That will have two effects. It will increase the appetite of reformers for reform and it will make it easier for those who were reluctant to have reform to accept any reforms that are proposed. It will perhaps increase the appetite for radical reform of the other place.

Our position is clear. We set up the Mackay commission under the former Lord Chancellor, who will report in a short time. We were well ahead of the Government. The royal commission should have been set up when we set up the Mackay commission to examine the wider implications of the proposals. Therefore, we shall have our position ready long before the Government. We will give party evidence to the royal commission and have a definitive position.

The Leader of the House asks reasonably two direct questions—first, if we win the next election, will we return to the hereditary element? No, we will not. Secondly, would we seek in a fully appointed House—which is what the Government seek at present—to appoint a majority of Conservatives? Clearly, we would not.

We have made the point that the aim in the upper House is to bring the Executive to account. We want an increase in the power of the upper Chamber, not a reduction. That is one of the differences that is emerging during the passage of the Bill.

We will make specific proposals; I am sure that the Minister would not expect me to detail them now. As the Opposition, we will do so in our own good time, when it suits us and when it causes the Government the most discomfort, but we will make our proposals clear well ahead, it appears, of the Government, who have introduced the legislation without knowing where it is going.

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

If the hon. Gentleman accepts the end of the hereditary peerage, why is he opposing the Bill?

Dr. Fox

Because it is a bad Bill. It is incoherent, piecemeal and does not take us clearly from one stage to another. It is fair to say that, in every part of the debates on the Bill, we have never questioned the legitimacy of the Government in carrying out what was clearly in their manifesto, but we have always said that we needed to know what the whole process was going to be.

The Government ask us to accept a fundamental change to the way in which we are governed without telling us what the change will mean. That is unacceptable. We do not know what the end point of the process will be. As with many other things, the Government are starting a process without thinking through how it will finish.

The Government do not seem to know what they want. They do not know when they want it. They do not seem to know where the process will lead and, frankly, they do not seem to care what they get. The Leader of the House has said that anything is better than what we have at present, without us knowing how the new system will work, whether it will be stable or whether it will be effective. That seems utterly ridiculous.

If they want to be credible, the Government will have to come up very soon—they should have done so already—with concrete ideas about how they want to take the process further. Simply to set up commissions and to talk about Joint Committees with no clear steer about what they actually want for the government of the country is unacceptable. It shows their lack of courage. Perhaps I am being unfair; perhaps it just shows the lack of thought that has gone into the process.

The Leader of the House mocked what I said on Second Reading about requiring the Bill to fit into wider constitutional reform. I said at the outset of my speech that we had to consider the Bill as it fitted into the wider constitutional architecture. I stick by what I said on Second Reading.

Properly thought out reform would decide what Parliament would do. There is a strong case for reforming Parliament. The most important part of that is increasing the powers of Members of the House of Commons against the Executive, but we have to consider—I repeat what the Leader of the House quoted—what we want Parliament to do, and the relationship of a bicameral Parliament as a whole with the Executive. What will the relationship with an ever more politically active judiciary be?

What is to be our relationship with Europe? Given the events of the past 24 hours, it might have been better if the Government had been expending their energies in reforming parts of the European constitutional architecture, rather than trying to tackle the operation of the other place.

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is a matter not of whether, but of when we should consider those issues? If the Government had presented in the Bill a full blueprint for reform, might we not be accused of having misled the electorate in our manifesto, and of trying to make major constitutional changes that we had not presented in our manifesto to the electorate? Moreover, will we not require an election if we cannot reach a consensus on the second Chamber?

Dr. Fox

I am rather confused by that intervention. However, I do not think that the electorate would have minded being misled on yet one more promise in the Government's manifesto.

A proper debate on the issues would have been welcome. During the Bill's passage, especially in Committee, a cross-party consensus began to emerge, that the House could very usefully concern itself in overall reform of Parliament and its operation. One of our final debates in Committee, on an Opposition amendment, was the most interesting one, in which a genuine cross-party consensus seemed to be developing that the House of Commons was not holding the Executive sufficiently to account. In that debate, we gave the example of Ministers' ability to go to a European Council of Ministers and agree a measure that would become a directive that would, by law, apply to the House of Commons. That is undemocratic.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I repeat what was said earlier: the Bill has been quite tightly drafted, and the House must discuss only its contents. References to what may or may not happen in other places and other times are permissible, but are not to be dwelt on in any detail.

Dr. Fox

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for that ruling, and for allowing me to finish the paragraph before stopping me.

One of our suspicions about the Bill is that we may never reach a subsequent stage, and that we shall end up, perhaps for a considerable time, with what is called the interim House. In her failure today to give us any clear steer on a time scale, the Leader of the House has merely reconfirmed those specific fears.

The Government have given us no idea of what they want in subsequent stages. Therefore, we have to suspect that they have no plan to reach subsequent stages. That would be a great pity, as hon. Members on both sides of the House think that the imminent interim Chamber will be an unsatisfactory part of Parliament's operation.

What role do Ministers envisage for the second Chamber? What powers do they want it to have? The suspicion must remain that the Government are creating in the Bill a compliant halfway House of yes men who will do the Executive's bidding and fail to bring the Government to account.

Our basic criticisms of the Bill remain. Its proposals are piecemeal and incoherent, and, ultimately, will create instability. For those reasons, we oppose the Bill.

6.53 pm
Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool)

When the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) was challenged to say what the Conservative party's own views were on reform of the House of Lords, he summed up very eloquently that party's attitude to the Bill and the subject. What did he say? He seemed to say, "We will bring forward our own proposals when we like, when it suits us, and when it can cause the maximum discomfort and damage to the Government." He said nothing about the wider implications for government in the United Kingdom or the modernisation of Parliament, and expressed no thought on wider United Kingdom constitutional reform. There was not one bit of it.

Conservative Members' whole attitude might be summed up by the single phrase, "What we have, we will hold; thank you very much. Everyone else, and everything else, can go hang." Their protestations about the United Kingdom constitution are completely bogus. We have heard nothing from them but endless pretence about their concern for the democratic operation and underpinning of Parliament.

Three features have characterised our debates on the Bill, through which many of us have sat very enjoyably and constructively. The first feature has been the Government's complete dominance in their arguments for making the changes; there has been a complete lack of any coherent, sustained or well-argued position to the contrary. No well-argued position against the Government's proposals has been articulated by the Opposition, or by anyone else who opposes the proposals—and I know why. Not only do the Government's proposals make eminent sense, but the Government's proposals chime with what the public want us to do.

It is perfectly clear to the public that hereditary peers sitting as of right in the House of Lords have no place in a democratic and modern legislature. It is very clear also that the public should like there to be some erosion of the powers of patronage exercised by the Prime Minister. I think that the public have it right. The public are not revolutionaries, or at least they were not when I most recently consulted them, either directly or—

Mr. Shepherd

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mandelson

They were not revolutionaries when I consulted them, either directly or using one of those spurious focus groups that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) continually refers to, right on cue.

Mr. Shepherd

I am, as always, bemused by the prince of spin. However, his characterisation of one side of the House did not dwell upon some of his own colleagues, who—in our consideration of some of the Bill's clauses—fought and argued coherently against the Bill. I simply refer him to the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). One should not think that the House is not trying to wrestle with a great principle of the United Kingdom legislative process, which is important. There is no point in the right hon. Gentleman spinning away like that. He should start telling the truth about why it is a worthwhile Bill.

Mr. Mandelson

Certain individual hon. Members, the hon. Gentleman included, have very directly addressed some of the substantive issues. I was describing the official position of the Conservative party, and what we have heard from Opposition Front Benchers, whom I clearly distinguish. Nevertheless, if he does not mind, at the end of my speech, I shall return to the subject matter that he sought to introduce.

The Government's arguments have dominated in our proceedings on the Bill because of the very clear, precise and well thought through manner in which the then Opposition Labour party constructed the section of its manifesto on reform of the House of Lords. That section in the manifesto was not casually penned by some toiler down at Millbank, but flowed from the rather expensive fountain pen of a very eminent lawyer, who now occupies a very senior and prominent place in the House of Lords.

What was carefully considered and constructed was a two-stage process—a two-stage journey—in which the clear principles of initial reform were stated. It was a process that would enable us to proceed with important albeit limited reform, and without getting bogged down in such procedure and debate in this place that any reform, at any stage, would be prevented—which is exactly what happened when previous Governments and Parliaments embarked on the journey of reform of the other place.

Another very important feature of the Government's manifesto was our desire to take into account other people's views—to listen to other people, and to hear what other people, parties, hon. Members and interested bodies had to say—on the future of the House of Lords. The two-stage process that the Government have set out allows us to get under our belt a limited but important reform that fulfils the principle set out in the Bill, while proceeding concurrently with our desire to take the views of others into consideration when formulating a longer-term approach.

Dr. Fox

The right hon. Gentleman does not understand our criticism. It is not that there is a two-stage reform, but that we have one stage without knowing what the second stage will be. We are on a mystery tour of constitutional change. Either the Government do not know what they want and what their guiding principles are for the second stage or they are not telling us. Which is it?

Mr. Mandelson

The hon. Gentleman has missed the point of what I am saying. We do not have to agree on our eventual plans for reform of the House of Lords to fulfil the principle set out in our manifesto and enshrined in the Bill that hereditary peers should not sit as of right in the House of Lords. That is a simple, elementary principle that is unaffected by any other consideration or wider reform of the House of Lords. Surely even the hon. Gentleman accepts that the Government would be open to immense and justified criticism if they tore in to the House with a ready-made, ready-baked, pre-cooked set of reforms that had been the subject of plentiful discussion and debate behind closed doors in various Cabinet committees, but which had not attracted the views of anyone outside the Government and on which no one had had an opportunity to express their opinions.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

I am fascinated by the right hon. Gentleman's wonderful, flowing, honeyed words of soothing reassurance to the British people about consultation and measures that are eminently reasonable. If he is concerned about what other people think, will he reflect on the fact that an ICM poll conducted last November found that 68 per cent. of those consulted thought that the Government should not proceed with the first stage until they were prepared to put an alternative before the British people? The Government have failed to do that.

Mr. Mandelson

The people sampled in the ICM opinion poll are probably the same people who, by supporting the Labour manifesto, voted for the two-stage process that the Government are implementing. Having set out in their manifesto a clear two-stage process, it would be outrageous for the Government to abandon that the moment that they were elected to office. I do not know what democratic principles the hon. Gentleman is trying to espouse by suggesting that we should jettison the manifesto pledge on which we were elected and proceed in a different way six months later.

Mr. Wells

If the Government intended to implement the two-stage process that the right hon. Gentleman describes, why did they not appoint a consultative body—a Speaker's Conference or a royal commission—as soon as they came to office? That would have given opportunities for proper discussion, bringing in those on all sides of the argument, including the Official Opposition. I am not aware of any consultation having taken place with the Conservative party on the issue before the Bill was introduced. Does that not give the lie to the right hon. Gentleman's honeyed arguments about a two-stage process?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are straying further and further from the contents of the Bill. I should be grateful if we could return.

Mr. Mandelson

I am grateful to you for saving me from this torture, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I regard it as a torture to be led astray in that way. The suggestion of the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) would have achieved the same end that has befallen other Governments that have embarked on a process of reform—endless, continuous and constant wrangling and debate between parties, without anyone being able to move a step further on reform of the House of Lords.

I am not surprised that the Conservatives find the process so worrying and fear that the approach set out in our manifesto will undermine them. Throughout their contributions during the debates on the Bill, the Conservatives have been on the horns of a democratic dilemma. On the one hand they desperately desire to oppose and upset the Government's plans, because that is what they think that they are there for.

In the process, they want to keep their inbuilt majority in the other place, which is the ulterior and not very well hidden motive of most of their contributions on the Bill. On the other hand, they know that championing unelected legislators as they have done and defending, extending and prolonging the life of hereditary peers does not play very well in the pantry—or is it in the kitchen, or on the kitchen table, or under the kitchen table; wherever the discussion is taking place between the Conservative party and the handful of members of the public who are interested in what they have to say on this or any other subject. They find it very difficult to make an argument against the Bill that does not sound like what it is—a defence, using one permutation of argument or another, of the hereditary peers.

The effect of that is that the Conservatives have taken a long time to fail to lay a glove on the Government's position, adding not a scintilla of sense or improvement to the Bill. They have succeeded only in embarrassing themselves by their rhetorical contortions and linguistic gymnastics, as they have wriggled and squirmed on the horns of the dilemma that I have described.

I do not want to dwell on the third feature of the House's consideration, but the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills asked me to comment on the genuinely felt and interesting debate on the further changes to the Lords that the Bill will make possible. The hon. Member for Woodspring rightly said that the Bill will create a new ethos in the House of Lords. It will whet the appetite for further reform. I have two points on that in conclusion. There is clearly a strong and widely held surface desire in the House for an elected second Chamber to give a thorough, democratic underpinning to Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), who has spoken before and may speak again if he is lucky enough to be called, will no doubt repeat that argument. It is a matter that I understand, but on which I feel agnostic.

I suggest that as the debate grows, however, other factors will find greater weight in people's consideration. One is the rather unattractive prospect of confrontation and gridlock between the two Houses of Parliament. Many have spoken of the immense contribution that the House of Lords has made to the legislative procedures of Parliament through its ability to review, to revise and to improve legislation without the tendentious grandstanding that more adversarial politics brings to debates in this place.

As the debate about further reforms goes on, people will find it increasingly possible to resist the attraction of the second Chamber being taken over and dominated by party politics to an even greater extent than it is at the moment, which would be the inevitable result of the second Chamber being elected, with all of the selections, re-selections and elections and with the party machines rolling into place to dominate the composition, powers and procedures of the House of Lords—something which I, for one, do not find attractive.

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

I would not wish to follow the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) into a discussion on the nature of an elected second Chamber, and how it might operate—simply beyond entering a slight note of dissent with what he said, for I see no reason why gridlock should be the necessary consequence of election, if the powers of the two Houses are distinct and clearly defined and the possibility of second-guessing is not written into the constitution. However, as the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge, that debate is for a later date.

What is remarkable about the debate and the Bill is that a major step is being taken to reform the House of Lords as we know it—a step that has eluded the grasp of Governments over the past 50 years. The grandfather of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] I did say that I was not proposing to follow the right hon. Gentleman's speech closely. That could be taken as an indication that he was free to go.

Mr. Christopher Fraser (Mid-Dorset and North Poole)

It is a discourtesy.

Mr. Maclennan

I do not take it is as a discourtesy.

Mr. Fraser

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not appropriate to respect the traditions of this House by listening to the debate after one's contribution? Is not the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) abusing the House by leaving the Chamber?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is a strong convention of this House that hon. Members should stay to hear at least the speech following their own. Leaving the Chamber without doing so is to be strongly deprecated.

Mr. Maclennan

I regret that I have triggered this exchange.

When the post-war Labour Government were elected—with a substantial majority, and an upper House in which there were no appointed peers—the proposed abolition of the hereditary peers would not have been regarded either as a high priority or as a practical proposition. How our constitutional affairs have rolled on since then is a matter for comment and note. Even the later attempt, in the 1960s, to bring about a change comparable to this one defeated a Labour Government with a substantial majority.

To some extent, what has been different on this occasion is that the Labour party has not only recognised the importance of making the reform, but was prepared to think it through in advance before it came to office. It was recognised that removing the hereditary peers from the upper House was not a matter that would command enormously high priority in the minds of the British public, but none the less it was an important step towards modernising our legislature—and one for which we should be prepared.

Therefore, it was right for the Labour party to enter into discussions with the Liberal Democrats before the election as to how to bring the change about. Those were constructive discussions, and the two parties reached agreement on how to proceed. The Government have proceeded with all due diligence and speed to give effect to that pre-election agreement, which was reflected in the Labour party's manifesto—as it was in ours. There is reason for a little satisfaction, in that something that was clearly thought through in advance is proceeding according to plan.

The passing of the hereditary peers is a moment in which one can look back and consider with gratitude the work that has been done by many of the noble families who have served the public interest of our nation down the centuries—the Cavendishes, the Cecils, the Russells and so forth. I agree with the Leader of the House that the prospects of those families serving the public again are not in any way diminished by the enactment of the Bill.

My noble Friend Earl Russell speaks with eloquence, incisiveness and knowledge on matters concerning the students whom he teaches and the social security system, which he has studied. Those activities can be continued, and I hope that people such as my noble Friend will find a place in the interim house—.

Dr. Starkey

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maclennan

I will when I finish my sentence. I know that I speak in rather long sentences, but I will be happy to give way then.

Those people have a part to play—a part which I hope they will find—but I also do not doubt that their offspring will contemplate a career in the public service and that, like other citizens of this country, they will think it appropriate to stand for election.

Dr. Starkey

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the advantages of the electoral, as opposed to the hereditary, route is that rather more members of those important families—the women, as well as the men—will be encouraged to put themselves forward to carry on the traditions of public service?

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Lady has a good point. The tradition of public service will be sustained, and the Bill will do nothing to stop that.

The Leader of the House was right to emphasise that although the Bill will not give us an ideal upper House, it will give us a better and more effective House than the present one. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] I will explain how. Viscount Thurso is a hereditary peer who comes from the part of the country that I have the honour to represent. His grandfather was the Member of Parliament for that constituency. He has said, in contemplation of his job in the House of Lords, that he puts a great deal of time and effort into it and into the policies that he wants to see promoted there. He finds it frustrating that, because the upper House lacks legitimacy, its most careful and deliberate views are inevitably given second rank to the views of this House if there is a conflict.

It is baffling to those who sit in the House of Lords and try to make the views of that House carry that, ultimately, they can be told on a matter of great controversy, such as the Scottish student fees, which divided the two Houses, because they are not elected and are merely hereditary, their views will have to be overturned. If one seeks genuinely to create a strong second Chamber to hold the Executive to account, one must take account of that criticism and recognise that the principle of election will be essential if that Chamber's power is to be strengthened.

Among the most vocal and persuasive of those arguing that case in the upper House are hereditary peers who recognise, as have some distinguished Members of Parliament of all parties, that the time has come for the electoral principle to be enshrined at the centre of our constitution. Having taken the step that we have, we have advanced the process in deliberate fashion to the point where we will certainly get there. A dynamic force has been released that will result in the second phase being much more in accord with the experience of second Chambers in other countries.

Mr. Grieve

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, if hereditary peers believe that further reform is needed, it would have been appropriate for the Bill to come into operation at the conclusion of this Parliament? That would have sealed the fate of the hereditary peers but deferred it, enabling them to participate in the process of formulating an elected second Chamber.

Mr. Maclennan

No, I do not agree, because there are many ways in which the second Chamber could be constructed to meet the democratic principle. Many arguments can and will be advanced about the shape of the second Chamber, the nature of its constituencies, its precise powers, and whether it can second-guess the House of Commons. All those matters do not directly follow from the Bill, but the dominant presence of the hereditary peers in the upper House greatly complicates the deliberations on them. Undue weight is given to a section of the public that owes its presence in our legislature to an accident of birth. That does not make sense. Debates about reform have in the past fallen at that hurdle.

We may feel a certain nostalgia for such distinguished public servants as those members of the Cecil family and other families to whom I alluded, when their automatic occupation of the red Benches comes to an end, but we will also rejoice at the prospect of an upper House that will be a more effective and efficient participant in the democratic process, capable of performing roles that could never have been contemplated for a House dominated by hereditary peers.

The upper House will, for example, be able to scrutinise the prerogative powers of the Crown exercised in treaty making. As of right, I believe, the legislature ought to be able to do that, but it has not been done and could not have been done by an upper House as currently structured.

It would not be possible to give to a House dominated by hereditary peers powers over subordinate legislation, but it would be reasonable for those in a reformed upper House to enjoy those powers if we are to extend the effectiveness of our democratic scrutiny of legislation.

I congratulate the Government on taking this important step, and taking it early in this Parliament. It is perfectly timely. It has gone ahead with an eye to making it possible to proceed to the next stage of reform even within the lifetime of this Parliament if, as may be thought desirable, there is a consensus about the second phase; but if there is no consensus to enable the enactment of the second phase to take place by agreement—there should be agreement, if at all possible—at least proposals can be made that can be ratified either in a referendum or in a general election following the proposals' publication.

This is a typically British, incremental approach to reform, but at least it is a deliberate approach, one that has been thought out and one that, unlike previous attempts, can and will work.

7.27 pm
Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

I am delighted to be here on a day that I regard as historic, to fulfil the pledge that I gave my constituents at the general election by implementing the Government's manifesto commitment, on which all Labour Members fought.

The manifesto stated: 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 end by statute. This will be the first step 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 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. We are committed to maintaining an independent cross-bench presence of life peers. No one political party should seek a majority in the House of Lords. A committee of both Houses of Parliament will be appointed to undertake a wide-ranging review of possible further change and then to bring forward proposals for reform. That is what we promised and that is what has been delivered.

The Third Reading of the Bill moves us a giant step towards fulfilling the objectives and keeping the manifesto commitment. It is the first step in the essential modernisation process.

Mr. Tyrie

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Steinberg

I have only just started, but I will.

Mr. Tyrie

If we have a vote on the Weatherill amendment, will the hon. Gentleman vote against it, on the grounds that it diverges from the manifesto pledge to which he is clearly so deeply attached?

Mr. Steinberg

If that occurs, I will decide at the time. I will probably follow the party Whip.

The reform, which is on the point of enactment, is long overdue. It will ensure that Parliament is ready for the 21st century. We are not abolishing hereditary peers, as some have tried to imply, but simply their automatic right to vote in Parliament—a right derived only from the accident of birth. It is indefensible that people whose only claim is of birth should be able to legislate in a democracy. I am completely amazed that anyone can defend that.

On reflection, perhaps it only almost amazes me. It is no wonder that the Conservatives want to keep the status quo. That historic process has given the Conservative party a built-in majority. In the House of Lords, the Conservatives outnumber Labour by nearly 3:1. As we have seen over the years, they do not hesitate to use their majority to try to pervert the course of democracy. Recent examples include the banning of handguns following the Dunblane tragedy. The whole country wanted to get rid of handguns, but not that lot sitting at the opposite side of this building.

More recently, the minimum wage—a manifesto commitment for which millions of people voted at the general election—passed through this House, but was not supported by the House of Lords.

The most recent challenge—on the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999—demonstrated that the House of Lords had deliberately set out to undermine the authority of a Government elected with a huge popular mandate. That action led to the use of the Parliament Act 1911 for only the second time in 50 years—and only 20 months into a Labour Government. We can see what the attitude of the House of Lords was from the beginning. Within 20 months they took action to try to stifle legislation coming from the Labour Government.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

The hon. Gentleman is clearly very concerned about challenges to this House from the other place. Could he tell us what will happen when this Bill goes through and the other place is reformed? Does he expect that the other place will always follow the line of this House, or does he expect it to challenge this House in the future?

Mr. Steinberg

If the hon. Gentleman listens to my speech, I will make that clear later. In the previous Session, even though the Conservatives had just lost a general election overwhelmingly, they were able to defeat the Labour Government 33 times by using their hereditary peers. Suppose the situation had been reversed, and Labour had had three times as many peers as the Conservatives. Is it possible to imagine the Conservatives allowing the situation to persist for 18 years? Would Mrs. Thatcher have accepted such a situation? She could not even accept that the Greater London council, carrying out its democratic mandate, should be allowed to continue. We all know what happened to the GLC, because it became a thorn in Mrs. Thatcher's side.

Mr. Grieve

The hon. Gentleman seems to be confused. He said that the Parliament Act 1911 had to be used 20 months into this Government, but it did not. The last time that the Parliament Act had to be invoked was by a Conservative Government who were seeking to get their legislation past the House of Lords. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that most of the remarks he has just made are complete nonsense?

Mr. Steinberg

I am not confused. I may be wrong and I apologise to the House if I am, but I seem to remember that the Parliament Act was used recently, and I was here when the Parliament Act was used to get through the War Crimes Act 1991.

We do not want to remove the ability of the House of Lords to ask the Government to think again, and Labour will not have an overall majority.

The hereditary system is not only undemocratic: it is unrepresentative. I am sure that the statistics have been cited many times during our debates, but can anyone really argue that the hereditary peers are representative when 45 per cent. of them went to Eton; when, of the 635 sitting in the House of Lords, only 16 are women; when 42 per cent. had careers in the armed forces; when 60 per cent. claim land management and farming as their occupation; and when only two—a staggering 0.31 per cent—are from ethnic minorities? Is that truly representative of the people of this country? I am sure it is not.

Many attempts have been made to reform the House of Lords—in 1911, 1917, 1948 and 1967. In all those attempts, the hereditary principle was not felt to be credible or legitimate, but all of them failed because of the smokescreen put up about what should be put in its place. Now we have a Government who will not be put off. The Tories have argued that we should do nothing until we have a total package—and we have heard that argument again today. They realise that that approach is a tried and tested formula for doing nothing and safeguarding their built-in, gerrymandering majority, which will continue to thwart Governments—as long as they are not Tory Governments.

The fact that the Tories now argue that we should do this or that gives rise to the question of why they failed to tackle this unrepresentative and undemocratic body in their 18 years in Government. Eighteen years of inaction speak louder than the weasel words that we have heard from the Opposition in the past few weeks. The Conservatives used the hereditary peers to force through unpopular measures such as the poll tax and rail privatisation. They need only 37 per cent. of their peers to vote to defeat 100 per cent. of the Government's vote. No wonder they want to keep the hereditary peers.

The Tories do not want to remove hereditary peers from Parliament because their presence means that, whoever wins the general election, the Tories stay in power in one of the Houses of Parliament, while a Labour Government get through only the legislation that the Conservative hereditary peers allow.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

How many of the hon. Gentleman's constituents go to Scottish universities and are grateful to the other place for overturning Government legislation that would have charged £1,000 extra in fees to those of his constituents attending Scottish universities?

Mr. Steinberg

I have not got a clue. I will write to the hon. Gentleman—as the response goes.

The 1997 Conservative general election campaign guide said that the hereditary principle was An asset to Democracy. Hereditary peers bring colour, tradition, youth and a wealth of experience to Parliament. They are a link to the customs and traditions that formed and shaped this country …It is important to defend the hereditary principle in its own right. The Conservative manifesto contained three lines on the subject, opposing our manifesto pledge. It said that the Tories would oppose change for change's sake". That is hardly an indication of a commitment to democratic reform. If the Tories had won the general election, we would have had almost 25 years—a quarter of a century—of a Tory Government with no desire or willingness to reform the House of Lords.

The Tories' arguments have lacked any credibility. I was not surprised to learn that a recent poll found that 49 per cent. of Tory Members of Parliament did not want any change at all. Recent history has shown that the hereditary peerage is incapable of changing—and unwilling to change—to reflect the attitudes of society. The most recent proof of that was found in the results of the general election, when an estimated 5 million voters switched directly from the Tories to the new Labour Government. In addition, two Members of the Conservative party crossed the Floor to the Labour Benches. How many Tory peers said that they could not stand the stench of Tory sleaze, the little Englander mentality or the bankrupt policies of the Conservative party? None.

The Labour party gained more than 13.5 million votes in the election. With only 17 hereditary peers, Labour's representation in the House of Lords is some 797,000 votes to one hereditary peer. The Tories polled 5.9 million votes and have 300 hereditary peers, bringing their representation in another place to 32,000 votes to one hereditary peer. That is hardly a fair reflection of electoral support.

Mr. Fraser

For the sake of clarification, would the hon. Gentleman tell us the source of the poll on Conservative voters to which he has referred, and who conducted it? I should be happy if he would write to me on that point.

Mr. Steinberg

I will write to the hon. Gentleman.

The people would not stand for a House of Commons that had such an in-built bias. Why should we tolerate it in the House of Lords? The Government are determined to implement reform before the millennium to make sure that the principle of democracy—not birth, not privilege—should be our driving force. There will be wide-ranging consultation and debate. The argument that the timetable for that process is open-ended is spurious. The royal commission's terms of reference are explicit: 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: 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 the second Chamber fit for that role and those functions. To report by 31 December 1999. That is clear.

A tight timetable will enable the commission's recommendations to be completed in sufficient time for the Government to respond before the next general election. That shows the Government's resolve that there will be full reform of the second Chamber.

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Steinberg

I will give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman because he will make a sensible intervention.

Sir Nicholas Lyell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I have listened carefully to his argument.

If the Bill is enacted in its present form, the House of Lords will be wholly nominated. Does he believe that that is democratic?

Mr. Steinberg

No, that will not be fully democratic, and I hope that once the commission has reported and the necessary consultations have taken place, there will be a democratic second Chamber. My own view is that it should be wholly elected. However, a transitional Chamber is better than what we have now.

It would be wrong at this stage to debate the pros and cons of the various options. There will be plenty of time for that in future. Whether the Chamber is directly elected, or constructed, perhaps, by having elected regional assemblies elect it on the basis of proportions of their political make-up, the most important point is that whatever the royal commission comes up with cannot be worse than the existing House of Lords. Whatever it is, it will be a damn sight better. I would go so far as to say that to have no second Chamber at all would be better than having our current system. I do not advocate scrapping the second Chamber, but it would be better than having the current House of Lords.

The House of Lords suffers a lack of credibility that makes the use of its powers almost impossible. On the occasions on which that power is used, it is deeply offensive in a democracy. Even a transitional House will be more representative, more balanced, more modern and fairer than the existing House of Lords.

There is no intention to change, reduce or emasculate the legislative powers of the House of Lords. It will still be able to act as a check on the Executive and on the House of Commons, asking both to think again. The most important point is that it will not be a biased, Conservative Chamber—a Chamber which has in the past been prepared to act as a check only on Labour legislation, and which has supported Conservative laws no matter how dreadful they have been.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Steinberg

No, I have given way enough, especially to you.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has not given way at all to me. He must use the correct parliamentary language.

Mr. Steinberg

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. To be frank, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) gets under my skin and makes me forget proper parliamentary language.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be the first holder of his office to reduce, voluntarily, his own powers of patronage. He will give up his current right to nominate life peers, retaining the ability to influence only nominations from his own party. The Conservatives have been happy to continue with a Chamber dominated by inheritance and by new Tory patronage.

The Government have a mandate to modernise, and we are modernising schools, hospitals, the criminal justice system, economic institutions and our welfare system.

Part of the drive for renewal is the modernisation of the democratic framework of our country. We are not doing that for its own sake, but to make Parliament better. The United Kingdom needs a second Chamber that is representative of the people of the UK. The transitional House will be better than the one we have now. The royal commission has been asked to ensure that we will ultimately have a second Chamber fit for a new millennium.

Everything that I have said today has been said before in the past few weeks. It has also all been said before since 1911—on many, many occasions. The Bill leaves the Commons in the same shape in which it started. Now the Lords can have their say. It will be interesting to see whether they accept the will of the House of Commons and of the people. If they do not, they will show how out of touch they really are.

7.46 pm
Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)

I apologise to the President of the Council and my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) for being unable to be here for their opening speeches.

It is our tradition in Third Reading speeches to discuss what is in the Bill, not what is not in it. I must say that that is a bleak prospect. Although we heard useful debates in Committee on the Bill, the fact remains that the Bill is at present nothing more than an act of destruction. It destroys finally what was for 500 years—until 1963—the primary foundation of the second Chamber in Britain.

I do not complain about that, because I do not seek to support the hereditary principle as the long-term basis for the House of Lords. I do, however, complain that the Bill puts nothing in place of the existing House. As the Bill leaves the House of Commons, it leaves the future House of Lords an entirely nominated body, albeit mildly but usefully spiced by the corporatism—the only corporatism that we have at present—of the Law Lords and the bishops.

The original justification for the hereditary principle in the upper House was that it represented the power bases of the land—as it genuinely did for many hundreds of years. Initially, peerages were not hereditary. The early monarchs summoned the great power bases of the land by sending out spies to all corners of the kingdom to find out who were the great men. Those men were then invited to attend the monarch's councils. Monarchs gained the benefit of the support—or at least the views—of the powerful, thus bolstering their royal positions.

The obtaining of the views of those who represent the power bases is today confined to a wholly nominated system. It is worth reflecting that we abolished rotten boroughs in 1832 because they were wholly nominated by powerful individuals. The Bill leaves something of a vacuum, and that requires us to focus on two points essential to the future working of an effective upper House—the composition of the Chamber pending stage 2, and what the royal commission should propose for that stage.

Angela Smith

The right hon. and learned Gentleman seems to be complaining that once hereditary peers are removed, the only peers remaining will be those who were nominated. Does he not accept that all hereditary peerages are rooted in a nominated system?

Sir Nicholas Lyell

The point about hereditary peerages is that they represented a power base. The only power base represented by currently nominated peers is that of the Prime Minister, or of the current parties. The nominated peers have no democratic legitimacy, a fact that the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) was good enough to recognise.

During our earlier debates, I set out in detail my views on the proper balance of the upper House at stage 2: partly nominated, as it now is; partly corporate, with some extension to the groups who find representation currently confined to the law and the Church; and partly elected for a substantial term on a rolling basis. That way, one can hope to recreate an upper House that has diversity, independence and a basis of legitimacy. I suspect that that proposal will gather a good deal of support in the coming months and years. Those who are elected must be elected for a substantial term and on a rolling basis, otherwise they will lack the essential ingredient of independence.

That is for the future, however. The Bill in its present form demands that we consider further how, in the interim, to recreate what is being sacrificed on the altar of modernization—the huge spectrum of experience and independence which, as Labour Members have been good enough to recognise, can still be found among the ranks of hereditary peers. The answer is readily to hand, for it is what the Government themselves, the Opposition and the whole country have been discussing over the past 20 months, first behind the scenes and then, since the Cranborne debacle and the Weatherill amendment, quite openly: that is, the proposal to keep at least 91—or perhaps at most 91; certainly approximately 91—hereditary peers in the interim. That has to be a sensible approach, because it is those 91 hereditary peers—in fact, it is rather more than 91, as I shall explain in a moment—who in practice do a significant amount of the day-to-day work in the upper House.

In my earlier speeches, based on research through the House of Commons Library, the careful work by David Shell in his book on the House of Lords in 1989 and some welcome further research by a body calling itself Common Sense for Lords Reform, which has recently circulated a briefing to all hon. Members, I have shown that the actual number of hereditary peers who still play a significant role in the workings of the upper House is not a mere 91, but is between 100 and 200. If it is ever possible to persuade any Member of this Chamber of anything, I should like to persuade Ministers that there is merit in considering increasing the 91 to a somewhat higher number for the interim period.

If Ministers are anxious that that might lead to the Government being voted down, a quick reckoning will show that that is not at all likely. On the basis of 91 or of 150 hereditary peers remaining, the Government would be defeated in the upper House only in circumstances where they had lost the argument—where they were voted against, not only by the Conservatives, but by the Cross Benchers as well. If the Government have lost the argument, it is right that they should be checked, at least to the extent that the upper House is entitled to check them. To identify those 100 or 200 hereditary peers and to permit them to continue to play an active role would keep the House of Lords alive and help to restore some of the Government's lost reputation—a reputation that they were busy losing until they began to consider the Cranborne amendment.

Constitutional reform is not the perquisite of any one party, however large its majority after a particular general election. Although theoretically possible, it seems highly unlikely that we shall actually see legislation that details the future composition of the upper House during the lifetime of this Parliament. The royal commission reports at end of this year—a swift achievement indeed, if it meets that deadline—and consultation on its proposals or the options it puts forward will need to be exceptionally snappy during the millennium year if a Bill is to be drafted in time for the 2000–01 Session, which must be done in order to encompass the next general election. One does not have to be a cynic to doubt whether any Government are particularly likely to embark on such major constitutional reform in the final year of a Parliament.

The Bill as it stands leaves the upper House as little more than a destructive totem to Labour's manifesto pledges. Like so many of the Government's policies, their pledge on the House of Lords was shown to have been ill thought through at the outset. What is to come after the fulfilment of that pledge appears to have remained a vacuum in the Labour mind until public outcry demanded that the matter be given further thought. However, there is hope of redemption, since what the Government—somewhat shamed by the reaction of thoughtful commentators—are now, belatedly, thinking is based on the Cranborne-Weatherill proposals, on which the Government can build and I hope will build. That will not threaten their power, for the current Government, like most Governments, lose in the Lords only when they have lost the argument and are unable to persuade both the Conservative peers and the Cross Benchers of their case. The hon. Member for Basildon (Angela Smith) shakes her head, but she has not examined the position. On the European Parliamentary Elections Bill, the Government were defeated time and again because they could never persuade the Cross Benchers of their case.

Let us look ahead a few months, to the time when the Bill returns to us from another place. Let us hope that it contains, at that stage, clear provisions to preserve for the interim as much as possible—and almost everything is possible—of all that is still best in the current House of Lords. What is kept in being by the acceptance of the Weatherill amendment, or some similar amendment, will inevitably have been vitrified, and the position can be preserved for only a limited period—a few years—because there will be no opportunity for fresh blood to be introduced through the hereditary system, although some fresh blood can be introduced through the nominated system. It is to be hoped that, in the next Parliament, if not in this one, stage 2 can be agreed and we can have proper constitutional reform.

As I said, one does not have to be a cynic to wonder whether matters will proceed so quickly as to achieve reform even in the next Parliament. However, if we can make progress by keeping a sensibly active House of Lords in the interim and making the best use of the existing hereditary peers who play a full and constructive role, and if we can keep up the impetus to get stage 2— am glad that the hon. Member for City of Durham is keen on this—we shall have moved from an unpromising beginning to the right way in which to carry out constitutional reform in this country, which is not through acts of destruction and revolution, but through evolution.

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

Like many people, I welcome the Bill—democrats have been dreaming of it and waiting for it for a century. It a great credit to the Government that they have broken a parliamentary taboo by introducing the Bill. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have enumerated the attempts made by other Governments which have failed, rather weakly and feebly. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, the Government are doing something momentous in this Bill: we are rethinking Parliament, rebalancing the two Houses and rebuilding our political constitution. That effort goes to the heart of why we are Members of Parliament—what we do and what we want to do in this place.

As Members on both sides of the House have said, the Bill is only a start. It destroys one aspect of the second Chamber that is undemocratic—the hereditary principle—but does not touch the other aspect of the second Chamber that many of us find totally unacceptable, which is that it is a nominated Chamber. The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) emphasised that nominated aspect. The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the rotten boroughs as being a different source of nomination, but—

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I rise to seek your advice about a written answer that I received from the Chancellor today. I asked him on 10 March whether he had received, had knowledge of or discussed a Select Committee report on the taxing of child benefit—either a draft or the eventual report—prior to its publication. In answer, the Chancellor said: A preliminary draft of a report was given to my Parliamentary Private Secretary, but not the final report. That is surely a further abuse of the processes of this House.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is impossible for me to deal with a point of order if I cannot hear it.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Mr. Deputy Speaker, given the huge import of that written answer—which displays the Government's total disregard of the House and of the public whom these processes serve—will you now adjourn the House in order to allow the Chancellor time to come to the Chamber and make a statement about exactly what he had to do with the leaking of that report?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That information is sufficient to allow me to deal with that point of order. Select Committees have procedures laid down for investigating such matters and, if things are as the hon. Gentleman says, the Committee concerned will undoubtedly follow the normal procedures. In any case, it is not a matter for the Chair, and it certainly should not disrupt this evening's important debate.

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have dealt with the point of order. We shall now continue with the important debate before the House. I call Mr. Fisher.

Mr. Fisher

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Sir Brian Mawhinney

On a point of order,Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Is it a separate point of order?

Sir Brian Mawhinney

It is a separate, but related, point of order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have dealt with the matter for this evening. I call Mr. Fisher.

Mr. Fisher

I shall resume my separate, but related, speech. Here was I thinking that members of the shadow Cabinet could not wait to hear my views on the constitution.

Angela Smith

Has my hon. Friend noticed that, further to that point of order—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have dealt with the point of order for hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Fisher

As I was saying, I think all hon. Members hope that the Bill will mark the beginning of the process that takes us towards a full and modern democracy. That process has two parts: the transitional House, to which the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) referred; and the royal commission. We must also consider how the two parts relate to each other.

The Leader of the House talked today about the transitional House. I agree with the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) that the transitional House will be better for several reasons—some of which he identified—not least because it will be a smaller House. The second Chamber has swollen to nearly 1,200 Members in the past 50 years. That does not make it an effective Chamber and, at the very least, this legislation—pace the Weatherill amendment—will reduce its size by more than half, to 503 Members.

I believe that the transitional House will be a better Chamber. However, for those hon. Members who, like me, want to see an elected second Chamber, it will remain totally unsatisfactory. I hope that, in responding to the debate, the Minister will elaborate slightly on the remarks of the Leader of the House about the transitional House and make it clear that the Government would share a general democratic unhappiness if the second Chamber—which is a transitional and interim Chamber—were to be permanent.

The Leader of the House mentioned the virtues of life peers, their independence on the Cross Benches, their diversity and the expertise and excellence that they bring to the second Chamber—all of which is indisputable. However, the fact remains that they are not accountable to or representative of anybody and, in that sense, they cannot play a permanent and constructive role in our democracy—however expert they are and however great a contribution they make.

Dr. Fox

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the logic of that point means that it would be unacceptable for any political party to go to the next general election without a clearly defined policy on what stage 2 should be if we have not already achieved it at that point?

Mr. Fisher

I am sure that that will be the case. The royal commission will report at the end of the year and we will then begin a major debate. I hope that the House—perhaps the Minister will help us when he responds to the debate—will understand the role of the royal commission and its relationship to the Government's responsibilities. It seems to me that it is the responsibility of the Government—and subsequently of the House—to decide the principles upon which both the remit and the membership of the second Chamber will be based. It is not for the royal commission—a group of people—to consider fundamental constitutional issues. The royal commission should act as a gathering house for all views and should comment intelligently on the nuances of different approaches, their implications and what their implementation would mean.

We are dealing with a huge constitutional change that we have not addressed in this Chamber this century. The Government must lay down the principles. It is for the royal commission to do the decorative work and for the Government to establish the political principles. Although we do not expect the Government to make those principles clear tonight, I hope that the Minister will agree that there is a distinction between the Government's responsibilities and the opportunities that are open to the royal commission. There is a rather important distinction between those two things, and I hope that the Minister will express his views about it tonight.

I believe that this is a good Bill in that it destroys something that is no longer acceptable or relevant in our democracy: the hereditary principle. However, as other hon. Members have said, it is essentially a destructive Bill: it destroys something that is unacceptable but replaces it only with a vacuum or by implication. That is acceptable only in a transitional and interim sense.

Unspoken in the debate so far is the future of this Bill to which we are giving a Third Reading tonight. The strong likelihood of the Weatherill amendment overshadows our debate. If that is accepted, this Bill will go to the other place and return a completely different Bill: hardly a word will remain the same. Clauses 1, 2 and 4 will have to be completely deleted and rewritten. If the Weatherill amendment is accepted, we will see a wholly separate Bill. It was right to initiate debate in the House. We have had six or seven days of interesting debate, and it is to the Government's credit that they have given us that opportunity and are driving the legislation through. However, we must recognise that, when the Bill returns to this place following the Lords' scrutiny, it will be very different and we shall have to consider it afresh.

8.9 pm

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher). If I may say so, I should have thought that he was an example of an hereditary politician whose family did not have an in-built majority, because they have been represented on both sides of the House.

The House has today received reports of the institutionalised shortcomings, at the very least, of one wholly appointed body nominated by politicians and heard much talk of the need for more democracy and accountability and an independent element in the European Commission. I find it ironic that, on the very same day, we shall create one half of a Parliament that will be wholly appointed and consist only of a Prime Minister's placemen and nominees. The Bill will turn the second Chamber into a quango or commission.

The Bill is short, but extremely dangerous. It will expel 40 per cent. of the membership of the Houses of Parliament without proposing how a future Chamber might be reformed or committing the Government to carrying through that reform. Hon. Members who have already spoken have referred to that proposal as the stage 1 House, the temporary House or the transitional House, but the only circumstances in which we might have been prepared to consider a Bill that set up a temporary House would have been those in which there was at least a commitment to the legislation that would follow.

The Government do not even do us the courtesy of including in the Bill a preamble that would set out that commitment. Previous Bills did. The ill-fated Parliament (No. 2) Bill in 1968 had a preamble and the Parliament Act 1911 had the now-famous preamble that has so often been quoted in our debates. When the Minister winds up, will he tell us—this point was raised about the Government of India legislation in the 1930s—whether the fact that the Bill has no preamble means that the Government regard the preamble to the 1911 Act as still valid? Is that why the Bill has no preamble?

There is no commitment in clause 4, where it could be enshrined, which deals with the commencement and transitional provisions. All we have to rely on is the curious sentence in the White Paper that states: If there is consensus, the Government will make every effort to ensure that the second stage of reform has been approved by Parliament before the next election. First, those are vague, heavily qualified words. No Minister has explained what consensus would be required before that commitment was deemed to be met. Secondly, the words commit the Government only to best endeavours; they make no firm commitment to introduce proposals. Thirdly, there is no commitment in that sentence to legislation. All it suggests is that the Government's proposals should be approved by Parliament. That could simply be a White Paper debate.

The House that the Bill will create is therefore one that we shall be stuck with for, I venture, at least 10 years, and perhaps 30 or 40 years. Half our legislature will be wholly appointed. It will be a permanently insecure House, and thus incapable of holding the Executive to proper account.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)

Have I heard the hon. Gentleman correctly? I presume that, if the Bill is so bad, and if there were ever another Conservative Government, they would take action on it. He has therefore admitted that there will not be a Conservative Government for 40 years.

Mr. Fallon

The hon. Gentleman is trying to be a little too clever. I was suggesting that, if we take the Government's commitment at face value and if they are re-elected, we will not have a proper second Chamber, but will be stuck with the measures that we are considering tonight.

Because the Bill will set up a temporary Chamber—a House of insecurity—those nominated peers will, from November, be for ever anxious to ensure their own personal transition to any stage 2 Chamber that may result. If that is to be an elected House, they will want to be sure that, after tonight, they keep in with their Whips and central party offices. If it is to be a part-nominated House, they will be equally keen to ensure that they stay in the team. That will be an insecure House which is far less likely than the present House to hold the Government to proper account.

Dr. George Turner

I am not certain whether the hon. Gentleman is talking about what the Bill will produce or what he imagines will happen after the Bill goes to the Lords. I should have thought that, unless we changed the nominations to make them annually renewable, once people were appointed to the House they would have an independence that many an elected Member does not have.

Mr. Fallon

But that independence is limited by the knowledge that the hon. Gentleman's Government are committed to one day producing a stage 2 House of which that nominated peer may not be a Member.

The Bill could have been improved by the amendment that was so skilfully moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing). That would have introduced, upfront and honestly, the transitional element that was first proposed by Lord Weatherill—who is my constituent—before Christmas. That would have allowed continuity in experience of the present House, but it was voted down.

We saw the extraordinary spectacle of the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) complaining about the present unbalanced and biased membership of the House of Lords, but telling us at the beginning of his speech that he would slavishly obey the party Whip to vote in favour of the Weatherill amendment that he voted against only a couple of weeks ago. I assume that he held up that situation as a model of democracy that the second Chamber should replicate.

The Weatherill amendment would undoubtedly strengthen the Bill's overall effect, and that amendment should have been made when it was first tabled. If the amendment is made, even the 91 hereditary peers who survive will still have to weigh up their chances of election or selection in any new model that is devised. They, too, will become part of a hostage House that will be less able to use even the existing powers of the Lords properly in case they accelerate their own replacement.

Dr. Starkey

I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument, but does he agree that it seems to contain a logical inconsistency? My understanding is that he is saying that the Government are highly unlikely ever to move on from the transitional Chamber to the final Chamber, but in that case the Members of the transitional Chamber will not experience any uncertainty whatsoever and will be able to be entirely independent.

Mr. Fallon

The Government started with good intentions. They probably thought that the whole process would be a lot easier and simpler than it has turned out to be, but we are unlikely to have legislation on a stage 2 House in this Parliament, as hon. Members who have spoken before me have said. Who knows what composition the next Parliament will have? The House that the Bill will create is likely to be around for a while, but working on the knowledge that its own legitimacy is not as good as it should be and that proposals for a stage 2 House can be made.

Dr. Ladyman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fallon

No, I must make progress.

Our proceedings have been enlightened by two very odd speeches by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), to which I shall refer. In a number of ways, he seems to be waking up to the implications of his policies. On Second Reading, he was fretting about the glue that held the United Kingdom together. He thought that it was dissolving under the proposals for devolution, and suggested that that might provide a role for the second Chamber. In this debate, he warned us, quite bizarrely, of the dangers of gridlock if we had an elected second House. Clearly, the architect, the Lenin of new Labour, is belatedly waking up to the implications of what his Government are doing.

The Government, too, have learned far too late in the day, as these proceedings have unfolded, that we cannot ever separate the issue of composition from that of powers. We must decide, first, what the second Chamber is for and, secondly, what its proper relationship with the Commons should be. However, there is nothing in the Bill about powers. A royal commission has been set up, but the notorious chapter 7 of the White Paper suggests a series of ways in which even the existing powers should be circumscribed.

The result of all this botched reform and the Bill will be not a stronger second House, but a weaker one—this, when the Government have a huge majority and are already treating this House with contempt. The Government will probably get their Bill through later tonight, but they will no longer be able to pretend that it is part of some serious constitutional reform. On the contrary, by this one Bill, they are simply expelling hereditary peers as an act of political spite.

That is not the Conservative way of constitutional reform. Our reforms have been evolutionary, gradual. We introduced life peers alongside hereditary peers, building on what worked, going with the grain of our constitution. This Government have chosen a very different route and a fundamentally un-British way. This is a lopsided reform. It leaves the House of Lords weaker and less secure—and, even worse, it makes for a weaker Parliament.

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

When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House introduced this debate, she made the point that this is a very simple Bill. The arguments in support of the Bill are also very simple, although they have been considerably obscured by extremely lengthy debates on Second Reading and in Committee, through which I have sat.

Although the Bill is simple, it is momentous. I am surprised that Opposition Members have agreed that it is momentous. Many of them appear to think that it is quite a threatening measure; yet, although numbers swelled momentarily in the excitement over a point of order, the Opposition Benches immediately emptied once we returned to the momentous business of discussing fundamental reform of our constitution. That rather belies Conservative Members' comments; they do not really think that the measure is particularly important, and certainly cannot spare the time to participate in the debate on it.

The arguments over the Bill are extremely simple and very clear. Our lengthy debates have allowed the exploration of many interesting byways of those simple arguments. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) amused many of us with his extensive research on the multifarious reasons why various people had inherited peerages. I seem to remember custard powder looming fairly large in the debate as a particularly derisory reason why one should be entitled to participate in proceedings in the House of Lords.

Opposition Members have deployed several arguments. They suggested that life peers, although extremely estimable persons on the whole, were incapable as a body of carrying the business of the House of Lords unless they were stiffened by the injection of hereditary peers. There was also an interesting excursion down the byways on the position of Lord Cranborne. I am terribly grateful to hon. Members who illuminated the intricacies of the fact that one family can have two seats in the House of Lords at once by sharing the peerages among them democratically—provided, of course, that they are all men. There was also an interesting and sudden recognition among Opposition Members that perhaps peers should be paid, which seemed to escape them over 18 years in government.

We have undergone a lengthy and fascinating exploration of the proper relationship between the House of Commons and the powers of the Lords. We have debated whether there should be only one Chamber—with which I do not agree—whether the final shape of the second Chamber should be decided purely by election, by appointment, or by a mixture of the two, whether there should be regional representation and whether there should be some representation of Members of the European Parliament. The royal commission will of course explore such matters. I hope that all Members who contributed to the debate on such issues will have put their ideas in writing and sent them to the royal commission.

Opposition Members have also explored how hereditary peers somehow represent the only protection of the British people from the excessive power of the Executive. I found that idea particularly curious, since it seemed to require Opposition Members to run down hon. Members—irrespective of whether they belong to the Conservative party, the Labour party or the Liberal Democrats. If they think that we need hereditary peers to stand up to the Executive, they must believe that this House is not fulfilling its duties properly. I hope that, if that is indeed what Opposition Members feel, they will support the measures proposed by the Modernisation Committee to give hon. Members greater opportunities to hold the Executive to account. I look forward to seeing those Opposition Members who have spoken very strongly about the inability of this House to control the Executive being at the forefront of the debate on reforming this House and giving Back Benchers greater powers.

Although I have found all those arguments extremely interesting, they are largely a smokescreen. The Bill is about two or three very simple things, which I want to repeat to make clear. First, the hereditary principle in the legislature is indefensible. I think that the Conservative party agrees with that, and that that was the purport of the comments of the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox); although he supports the hereditary principle in the monarchy, he does not support it in the legislature.

The variety of arguments expounded by Labour Members on how Members of the House of Lords are unrepresentative, and those on whether hereditary peers are competent, are irrelevant. Regardless of whether they are representative, and they are largely unrepresentative, and regardless of whether they are competent, and some are highly competent, while others are less so, it is wrong that they should be in the House of Lords by virtue of their birth, and their birth alone. It is entirely irrelevant whether they are good or bad at their job. I have not heard one single Conservative argument to gainsay the fact that the hereditary principle in the legislature is indefensible. The Bill's purpose is to get rid of that indefensible principle.

The second reason why the Bill is excellent and an improvement to our democracy is that it cannot be right to have an entrenched one-party majority in part of our Parliament. I simply need to repeat the statistics which have been quoted over and over again in these debates which illustrate that the House of Lords is interested only in defeating Governments when they are Labour Governments.

According to the Library, on average, the House of Lords has defeated the Government eight times a Session when there is a Conservative Government and 63 times a Session when there is a Labour Government. Interestingly, the number of defeats is highest soon after a general election, when the Labour Government's mandate is the clearest. There cannot be a clearer demonstration of the fact that the House of Lords seeks to frustrate the mandate of the electorate when the electorate choose to vote Labour.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Does the hon. Lady accept that the only time that the Parliament Acts were used was by the Conservative Government against the other place when the latter sought to frustrate the will of the House during the passage of what became the War Crimes Act 1991, and that they have never been used when the Labour party has been in government to promote and ensure the passage through the House of Government legislation?

Dr. Starkey

Of course I accept that.

Mr. Tyrie

And on the Bill that became the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1999.

Dr. Starkey

Yes, the European Parliamentary Elections Bill recently, but the hon. Gentleman cannot gainsay the huge weight of defeats that Labour Governments have sustained compared with Conservative Government defeats.

Labour Members would cite the poll tax as the most obvious example of a measure that, although it was not in the Conservative Government's manifesto and was hugely opposed by all the professional bodies concerned with local government and local government finance, the House of Lords—which had a rather specific interest in it, as it was largely composed of Lords, not dustmen—did not seek to overturn.

Sir Patrick Cormack

As one who consistently voted against the poll tax, may I point out that it was indeed in the manifesto?

Dr. Starkey

I do not have the requisite manifesto before me. My recollection, having been in local government then and having had to explain to various voters, when the poll tax was implemented, that they should have noticed that it was coming, is that the Conservative manifesto said that the Conservatives would be committed to the reform of the rating system—it did not explain what the reform would be. It was the detail of the poll tax to which people took such enormous exception, not the fact that it was a change to the rating system. I suspect that we are starting to go off on a byway.

On Second Reading, some Conservative Members suggested that the House of Lords defeated this House more often when there was a Labour Government because Conservative Governments had much more common sense than Labour Governments. I was astonished by that view because it denotes considerable contempt for the electorate.

The electorate choose the Government. Although, naturally, hon. Members think that the Government of the opposite party is the wrong one and that the electorate probably did not consider things enough, it demonstrates contempt for democracy to say that the electorate are wrong when they choose a Labour Government and that the House of Lords is right to send back a Labour Government's measures.

The truth—which has been repeatedly stated in the House, including in the 1911 debate on the Bill that became the Parliament Act—is that the Conservative party favours the continuation of the hereditary principle in the House of Lords because it means that, even when it loses elections to the House of Commons, it retains power in the second House. That was clearly spelled out by a Liberal Member of Parliament in the 1911 debate; the Liberals were then arguing what Labour Members are arguing today.

Thirdly, the two-stage reform set out in the Bill is essential. It cannot be right that the membership of the current House of Lords should be allowed to decide the final composition of the second Chamber. That is why we must go by way of a transitional Chamber—ridding the transitional Chamber of hereditary peers, so that they have no voice in the final shape of the second Chamber, which will be decided after the royal commission has expressed its views.

Mr. Grieve

I should be very interested if the hon. Lady amplified her reasons why, in practical terms, that is unacceptable. If the principle is established of change and of the hereditary element leaving by the next general election, why should the present House of Lords not contribute to the discussion, especially as, whatever happens ultimately, the House of Commons will have the deciding voice on the issue?

Dr. Starkey

It is obvious. The hereditary Members of the House of Lords have a huge vested interest. They are unrepresentative of the population at large. They represent, largely, a certain class of person, with a certain class of interest—and certainly with a certain gender. The reason for getting rid of them from the second Chamber is that they have no democratic legitimacy. It is for precisely that reason that they do not deserve to have a special voice, over and above anyone else, in the designation of the future shape of the legislature.

Mr. Grieve

Why, in those circumstances, should the appointees of previous Prime Ministers have any better right to decide those issues? That is the question on which I am trying to draw the hon. Lady. I understand her point about lack of democratic legitimacy, but does she not agree that those who were appointed have no more democratic legitimacy than those who are there by hereditary right?

Dr. Starkey

Life peers do not have any more democratic legitimacy, but they are more representative. There is a better gender balance among life peers, and there is a slightly better, but still not very good, representation of the cultural diversity of our society. Life peers have much wider experience than hereditary peers. They are more representative, but they are not as representative as one hopes a properly elected Chamber would be. They are an improvement on the hereditary Members of the House of Lords, and they are only a transitional Chamber.

Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Dr. Starkey

I am rather disinclined to give way to a Member who has only just come in and has not listened to the whole debate.

Mr. Clark

I have been listening to the hon. Lady from behind the Speaker's Chair. I have a huge respect for the way in which she expresses her argument. I hope that, if I catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will be able to repudiate aspects of it.

The hon. Lady said that there was a better gender balance among appointed peers than among hereditary ones. Would she moderate her opinion of the hereditary Chamber, were eldest daughters of hereditary peers to be allowed to inherit the title and sit in that Chamber?

Dr. Starkey

That is, of course, an entirely hypothetical question. I am aware that a Member of the House of Lords tried to introduce such a reform at some time in the past; it would have been a slight improvement. However, the question that I was asked was about the transitional House and its composition vis-a-vis the current House of Lords. Therefore, the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman is not relevant, although it may be an interesting debating point.

The Bill is an absolutely necessary first step in modernising Parliament as a whole and moving this country into the 20th century, just before we get into the 21st century. To most people outside the House, the Bill's aim makes good sense and is self-evident. I imagine that most people would be amazed at the time that we have all spent discussing simple legislation.

I understand, especially as I have been involved in extremely lengthy discussions in the Modernisation Committee, that the main weapon of an Opposition party in this place is delay, but the Conservative party seems to have used the weapon of delay in the reform of the House of Lords not only when in opposition, but when in government.

I look forward to the fact that, 88 years after the Parliament Act 1911, which was taken by Parliament as a form of transitional measure—a first step, so to speak, in limiting the powers of the House of Lords, with a view to moving on to better and more substantial modification of the second Chamber—we are finally moving to establish a legislature that is based on the democratic principle and has no place for people to be Members by privilege of their birth.

8.39 pm
Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

I disagreed with almost all that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) said, except the last few words about a second Chamber based on democratic principles, a matter to which I shall return.

When we look back on these events in a few months or years, it will be clear that we were brought to a constitutional crossroads by the Bill. Either we will end up going down the road of unicameralism, or there was, and still is, an opportunity for creating a genuine bicameral system as a result of the reform of the second Chamber.

We have had six days of fascinating debate. A number of Labour Members, but some Conservative Members as well, at least by implication, have made it clear that they are unicameralists. They do not believe in a second Chamber; they want only one Chamber. Quite a large number of hon. Members have also moved from an unclear view to a much clearer view in favour of a second Chamber, many wanting an elected second Chamber. I remain firmly in the latter camp.

It would be ridiculous to suggest that bicameralism is essential to democracy, but we need to ask ourselves whether this Chamber, in its present form, is capable of doing the job prescribed for it in the constitution of scrutinising the Executive. It is the shortcomings of this place which make the Bill so relevant and important to our constitution's future.

With control of the business of the House through Standing Orders, with the decline of the independent Back Bencher, with the doubling of the payroll vote during the past 40 years, and with the supremacy of the Whips over both parties, which dominates the Chamber, the scope for genuine scrutiny, as traditionally used to take place, has been gravely restricted. The only exceptions have been when there has been a near party balance in the Chamber.

It would be inappropriate to return to 19th century scrutiny. I want a strong Executive, but with a duty to explain their actions to Parliament in detail. I think that few hon. Members sincerely believe that the scrutiny of the Executive in this place is adequate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. The hon. Member has now made sufficient allusion to proceedings in this House by reference to the Bill and he must now return to the Bill itself.

Mr. Tyrie

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is the inadequacy of this place that leads me to want a Bill other than the one that we are discussing tonight.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to put that argument and he is now putting it for a second time, but he cannot use it as a bridge to discuss in some detail proceedings in this House.

Mr. Tyrie

Many accept the argument for a second Chamber, but none the less feel that we need go only as far as the Bill provides. Perhaps with only some modest changes further down the road, those people would be happy with that state of affairs. However, it is extremely unlikely that the Executive will be scrutinised effectively if this House stays as it is and the other House is reformed and kept broadly as an interim Chamber, as the Bill suggests.

The risk is that the interim Chamber created by the Bill will feel even less legitimate, even less capable of holding the Executive to account than the existing House. The reason for that is fairly obvious. The interim House created by the Bill will have a perfectly understandable and overwhelming objective, a desire for survival, as anything called interim usually does. It will be vulnerable to threats from the Executive. It will all too easily be reduced to supine subservience in the hope of lasting a few more years. The biggest threat of all would be a whiff of a stage 2 with substance.

The odds must be that, when it matters, an interim House will toe the Executive line. The fear must be that a strong coalition could easily build up to prevent a stage 2 of substance ever coming before the House—a coalition between the Members of the interim House created by the Bill and the Executive.

Many on both sides of the House have also alluded to the power of patronage which the Executive will wield in the interim House. We debated that in Committee, and that remains a serious concern about the interim Chamber.

It is becoming clear that the Executive do not want to create a second Chamber that could ever cause them too much trouble. That is why stage 1 has been described as a stand-alone change, not dependent on further reform. The Government would clearly rather stop here. The last thing that the Executive want to do is to give the second Chamber any legitimacy.

I may be wrong and the interim House might push hard for a more legitimate and democratic replacement of itself, but it is asking an enormous amount of a group of men and women to plead for an opportunity to go to the gallows, and that is what we would be asking the interim House to do.

Mr. Alan Clark

The guillotine.

Mr. Tyrie

They will go to the guillotine, as my right hon. Friend says. That is exactly what will happen to Members of the interim House if they embrace, or push for, a democratic alternative to themselves. For democracy is as much a threat to the lifers as the Bill is to the hereditaries.

We have heard that the movers of the Weatherill amendment would not mind stopping at stage 1—they have already formed that coalition. Lord Weatherill himself gave the game away when he said: The government has got something"— from this deal—

if its business is not disrupted … I'm saying to my friends I believe if this works, as I hope it will work, it's within the bounds of possibility that the Royal Commission may say this has been working well—let's leave it alone. That would preserve continuity …Surely a consummation devoutly to be wished! Those are the words of Lord Weatherill on his amendment.

Dr. Ladyman

I am finding it difficult to accept the hon. Gentleman's argument. Surely it is ultimately up to this House to decide whether the interim Chamber should be replaced. Labour Members have said that they are determined that there will be a further reform, as have the Liberals. I understand from what the Conservatives are now saying that they are also determined that there will be a further reform. What possible political upheaval could stop a further reform?

Mr. Tyrie

The overwhelming power of the Executive to avoid creating something that might in any way interfere with their legislative plans and their plans to run the country. As Labour Members have pointed out, that has been a major obstacle to all reform of the House of Lords for so many decades after the passing of the 1911 Act. Only the Lords getting in the way of the Executive in 1911 resulted in any reform being pushed through.

I have read the White Paper carefully and I am afraid that I do not trust the Government's pledge to introduce a democratic alternative. Those are weasel words. The commitment in the White Paper is basically to reduce the powers of the second Chamber, not to increase them. The commitment to democracy is wafer thin and scarcely visible. It comes as an afterthought, framed with reference to opposition to the hereditary principle, rather than as a principle in itself.

Mr. Maclennan

Is not the hon. Gentleman rather underestimating the strength of his own arguments which, if deployed to the country, could make an all-appointed House that was anything other than an interim Chamber appear to be a constitutional monstrosity? Surely he is not alone in thinking in such a way and the Government are sufficiently politically astute to be aware of the power of his arguments.

Mr. Tyrie

The right hon. Gentleman sits in Cabinet Committees with the Labour Government and I am sure that he has been persuaded of their conviction that they intend to introduce stage 2 legislation of substance and content, but I am a little less convinced of that than he. I gratefully take on board the idea that my arguments might have some strength and merit, and I hope that they resonate somewhat. Towards the end of my speech, I want to discuss how they might resonate more effectively.

The most likely outcome of a coalition between the interim House and the Executive, which might be created as a result of the Bill, could be a damp squib of a stage 2—an unappealing damp squib, which would be quite the opposite of what the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) suggested a moment ago. Such a stage 2 would be little better than stage 1 and, at worst, could amount to little more than a retirement home for ex-politicians and civil servants with a few industrialists, trade unionists and the great and good thrown in, perhaps with a few elected Members from the new Parliaments—all bedded down on a reduction in the powers of the second Chamber, as set out in the White Paper. Such a Chamber could scarcely be expected to play an effective bicameral role. The risk is that, by then, we would be living in a virtually unicameral constitution—a one-Chamber Parliament in all but name.

I believe that only democracy can save the bicameral system in Britain. The only way to give the second Chamber legitimacy is to grant it a mandate from the people. Many Members of the House of Commons are uneasy about that idea. Would not such a system dilute our own legitimacy? Would not such a second Chamber encroach on our turf? Those are legitimate concerns, although I think that they are largely misplaced. This Chamber should, and can, remain supreme. I shall not develop that argument now, but I hope to do so when we debate the White Paper. In any event, the argument is more germane to the White Paper than to the Bill.

The Government have not been prepared to tell us where the Bill will lead. At no point have they been prepared to say what the end result will be. During our most recent debate, we have been presented with no evidence suggesting that we can rely on the Executive to secure and preserve a genuine bicameralism; nor, as I have said, can we rely on those who are likely to survive in the interim House to push through such a change.

One group, however, can make a major contribution when the Bill goes to the House of Lords. I refer to the hereditary peers. It is with those who are already condemned to death by the Bill that the best hope lies for a democratic and effective second Chamber. There is some irony in that, but I believe it to be the case. The hereditary peers can make that contribution because, quite simply, they have little to lose. It is the Conservative and Cross-Bench backwoodsmen who can play one last role on the constitutional stage, by making amendments to the Bill that can force the Executive back down the road of bicameralism. Unlike us, they can force the Government to deliver a stage 2 of real substance.

I urge peers to consider three amendments. First, they can and should add a "sunset clause": they can force the Government to present proposals for reform to secure an effective second Chamber, or to accept—after, say, three years—the reconvening of the existing House of Lords. Secondly, better still, careful redrafting of the Bill should enable them to add a clause specifying what they would reconvene to achieve. They should add a clause stating that, say, within 12 months of reconvening, they would send a Bill to the House of Commons providing for the replacement of the other place by an elected second Chamber. That would enable us to debate the option of such a Chamber when the Bill returned to the Commons—a debate that we have been denied so far.

As for the third possible amendment, the House of Lords could reform the Bill to ensure that a referendum took place. The Lords should demand that, whatever the content of stage 2 and whether it is framed by the second Chamber itself or by the Executive, the Government should put it to the country in a referendum.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Chair ruled earlier that, in Third Reading debates, Members can normally speak only about what is in the Bill, but accepted that some references can be made to the situation created by the Bill. The hon. Gentleman, however, is going much too far.

Mr. Tyrie

I am trying to say what I think will happen when the Bill goes to the Lords, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We already know almost for certain that a clause will be added to it; I am making suggestions—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is exactly my point. The hon. Gentleman had a legitimate thread in relation to the first point that he tried to make, but he is now trying to build on that to go well outside the scope of the Third Reading debate.

Mr. Tyrie

Thank you for that ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

All the constitutional reforms that the Government have proposed since their election in May 1997 have been put to the country, or to parts of the country, in referendums. Why should not this reform be treated in the same way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman seems not to have heard what I said. I advise him to return to the terms of Third Reading.

Mr. Tyrie

I believe that, although the Government had a mandate to push through the abolition of hereditary peers, they never had—and still do not have—a mandate to allow the interim situation to rest where it is. Almost certainly, the Government's original intention was never to go beyond this Bill, which they described as a stand-alone measure. I think that, if they intend to let the interim House continue, they should at least be prepared to go to the country, and arrange a referendum to justify it, or whatever further reform they propose to bring about, in what they will then describe as stage 2. That is why it is a tawdry Bill. It lacks any clarity about what direction the Government want to follow in reforming the Lords. We have no clear description of what the end point should be. That is why I cannot support the Bill.

8.55 pm
Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea)

I can assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I intend to stick to the proposals in the Bill: stage 1, as set out in the White Paper. I have no doubt that we will progress to stage 2, perhaps even in the current Parliament, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House suggested.

I agree with the Leader of the House that stage 1 will be an improvement and a prize in its own right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) said, it will provide a better House. It will be better for at least four different reasons, none of which seem to have impinged on the contributions of Conservative Members.

The first reason is purely political and I make no apology for making it. In the House of Lords, the majority are there by hereditary right. Out of the majority—those who have the writ, who are not on leave of absence and have the right to vote—80 per cent. are either Conservatives or Cross Benchers. While I do not imply that Cross Benchers are really Conservatives, on many issues, many Cross Benchers vote with the Conservatives. The net result of the fact that 50 per cent. of hereditary peers are Conservatives and more than a third are Cross Benchers is clear: the House of Lords is a Conservative House in its ethos and another hurdle for any Labour Government to deal with.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson): at the root of the Opposition's arguments is the simple philosophy that, what we have, we hold. That is at the centre of the debate. The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) also made the point that that is the central issue for the Opposition. That is a prime reason why it is timely that we should deprive hereditary peers of their right to vote.

The second reason why stage 1 is a prize in its own right is that it removes the hereditary principle. I shall not insult hon. Members by rehearsing the reasons why the hereditary principle has no place in politics. All but the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) have finally come round to that view, although I mention in passing that the House of Lords is not based on the hereditary principle. If it were, I suspect that every hon. Member who is here today would be a Member of the House of Lords. Let me explain.

The barony de Ros is now represented in the House of Lords by the 28th baron. The barony was created in 1264. If we make the simple assumption that the first baron had two descendants and each of those had two descendants—a conservative estimate—there would now be 134 million descendants of the Original Baron de Ros. By all means check my arithmetic. That would mean that every person in this country would probably be a descendant of the original Baron de Ros two or three times over, and that is only one peer, so we are talking about not the hereditary principle—the notion that the qualities of the parent pass to the child—but male primogeniture.

Mr. Grieve

The hon. Gentleman had better be careful because he is beginning to justify the continuation of hereditary peers on the basis that they are a random sample of society as a whole.

Mr. Linton

That is interesting, but the point is that those peers are not a random sample, but an arbitrary sample. There is a difference. They are chosen by arbitrary selection—the eldest son of the eldest son—which means that only one of those 134 million has the seat. It is not random, because they are not a representative cross-section. By the very nature of their upbringing, they comprise a completely unrepresentative cross-section. For example, 45 per cent. of peers went to Eton. That is hardly the mark of a random sample.

The third and—to me—most important reason why reform is good in itself is that many of the people who are now represented in the House of Lords are there because their titles were bought. It is a stain on our constitution that, over the generations and centuries, seats in a House of our own legislature were effectively sold to their holders.

I do not dispute that many hereditary peerages have been bestowed on eminent people—admirals, generals, lords-lieutenant, governors-general—in grateful recognition of their services to the nation. However, many hereditary peerages have murkier origins, in some long-forgotten favour that the original titleholder did either for a monarch or a Prime Minister.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) said, I have previously mentioned one or two of the more famous cases. The Duke of Norfolk, for example, is in the other place because his ancestor was believed to have helped Richard III to the throne. There is also the well-known case of the four Dukes, who are there because their ancestors were the love children of Charles II. However, I shall deal not with such cases but with cases in which it is clear that the original titleholder gained his position because of a financial transaction.

Although monarchs very rarely give invoices when they sell peerages, in some cases, it is very clear that there was a financial transaction. The oldest case of which I am aware is that of Lord Teynham, whose ancestors bought his barony, for £10,000, not from James I himself, but from his favourite, George Villiers—who himself held the title of Duke of Buckingham. Another clearly established case is that of Earl Romney, who bought his title, for only £5,000, from George I. Earl Ilchester bought his title from the Countess of Yarmouth, the mistress of George II. There are many cases in history in which the precise sum that changed hands is known.

Mr. Shepherd

I am not sure what distinctions the hon. Gentleman is making. Does he not recognise that, in some cases, the holders of life peerages have made contributions to political party funds? One could perhaps say that that is not so dissimilar from the circumstances that he is adumbrating. I am not sure why we are going down this pathway interminably.

Mr. Linton

That issue will be for the hon. Gentleman to address when we are dealing with stage 2 and life peerages. I am dealing now with the existence of hereditary peerages, many of which are based simply on the purchase of titles over the centuries.

William Pitt was one the first Prime Ministers to sell peerages in a big way. He scandalised the aristocracy of the day by giving peerages to the new industrialists—the best-known case being that of Lord Carrington, whose ancestor was a Nottingham draper who paid the gambling debts of the Prince of Wales, who was later George IV. For his pains, he was made Lord Carrington. When he took his seat in the House of Lords, the landowners walked out in protest at the elevation of the first tradesman to the House of Lords.

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) was quite right to say that, this century, contributing to party funds has been the main reason why people are given hereditary peerages. The practice goes right back to the days of Arthur Balfour—who, in 1903–05, created the first press barons, and completely and overtly rewarded the first contributors to party funds.

David Lloyd George, the Liberal Prime Minister, took the practice on to greater heights when he created five press barons. He also rewarded many industrialists who had been willing to write a sufficiently large cheque to the Lloyd George fund. I have mentioned Lord Borwick, who was a custard powder manufacturer. There were many others, including the Earl of Iveagh, a Guinness brewer, and Lord Forteviot of Dewar's whisky. There were also many industrialists who made their fortune out of the first world war. Although Lloyd-George condemned people who made money out of the war, he also ennobled them—notably, that included Lord Forres, who was accused of selling oil to German nitrate factories, yet was rewarded with a peerage. There was the case of Baron Vestey, who gloried in the fact that he paid no tax, but who paid £20,000 to the Liberal party. There was also a famous retailer who was quoted as saying that he was not going to buy a peerage, but if he became a peer he would give £25,000 to the Liberal party. I could go on.

Mr. Alan Clark

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to add to his repertoire for the next time that he entertains the House with this list. He might care to remember Lord Farquhar, who elevated himself from a viscountcy to an earldom and was the treasurer of the Conservative party. When it was time to pay for the literature for the 1922 election, Lord Farquhar's cheque bounced because he had used party funds when raising himself from a viscountcy to an earldom.

Mr. Linton

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who is my parliamentary neighbour, for casting that light. Lord Farquhar's elevation was a classic case of the trade in peerages that went on throughout the 1930s and may have continued until much more recently. Even though the sale of peerages was made illegal in 1925, it continued apace with the elevation of known Conservative party donors such as Lord Brassey, Lord Palmer of Huntley and Palmers biscuits, Baron Luke the Bovril tycoon and many more press barons. All those families are still represented in the House of Lords.

Mr. Tyrie

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a good number of the peers appointed by the current Prime Minister are listed as having donated more than £5,000 to Labour party funds?

Mr. Linton

I said at the beginning of my speech that I would stick to the subject of the debate. It is open to the hon. Gentleman to raise his point when we discuss the White Paper, the second stage of reform or the future of life peerages. I may well support him then. I am concentrating on the effect of having a Chamber of this legislature that, for 700 years, has been based to an alarming extent on the sale of seats. All the families whom I have mentioned are still represented in the House of Lords by their sons, their grandsons or their great-grandsons. All those who attend are Conservatives or Cross Benchers. In the next few weeks, they will have a chance to vote on whether to agree to their abolition.

The fourth reason why the Bill is a good reform in itself is this country's need to see the end of the last vestige of the feudal system and the aristocracy before the end of the century. The explanatory notes to the Bill say: The Bill does not affect the rights of holders of a hereditary peerage to keep all the other titles, rights, offices, privileges and precedents attaching to the peerage which are unconnected with membership of the House of Lords. Why not? Why do we want to keep in existence privileges and precedents attaching to membership of the aristocracy? Once the right of a peer to sit and vote in the House of Lords has been done away with, as I very much hope that the Bill will do, all the rest will disappear like a house of cards. There is nothing to the aristocracy other than the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords.

Mr. Grieve

Given that the hon. Gentleman is going on with this extraordinarily irrelevant peroration, would he care to comment on why the aristocracy in continental countries has been so successful in maintaining its position and status, even though it has no legislative function?

Mr. Linton

Far from it; the aristocracy in every other European country has no political power. In every country but ours, the aristocracy has lost any meaningful role in society. One or two titles may still be used, but that is all. The French abolished their aristocracy by the use of the guillotine. I do not advocate that in any way. The Swedes did the opposite, and circulated a memorandum to all Government Departments—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying into byways where he should not be.

Mr. Linton

I merely ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to explain the statement that the rights, titles, privileges and precedents of the peers will remain after the Bill has been passed.

9.11 pm
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

I shall try to confine myself strictly to the contents of the Bill, and to address my remarks—in so far as they go outside that—solely to the issues that make me take the view that the Bill is seriously flawed. In an interesting speech, the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) referred to the hereditary principle's lack of justification. I have always taken the view that it is an historical anachronism.

Before I pass on to the contents of the Bill—and because I suspect that this may be the valedictory moment to say something about the hereditary principle—it is probably right to say that, in so far as it concerns the legislature as it has existed in this country, the hereditary principle has served us extremely well, and acted as the principal power to break monarchical tyranny.

The principle was established precisely because it was discovered that when people succeeded to hereditary rights, they tended—because of that—to be more respectful of other people's rights, rather than trample on them. It is for that reason that hereditary peers have tended to act as a check and a balance in the constitution, and why they have tended to be respectful of the rights of others.

That tradition continues to this day, and the various complimentary remarks about the role of hereditary peers—even by the Leader of the House—derive straightforwardly from the fact that most of them have a tradition of service, a good understanding of the limitations on their own rights and an appreciation of the need to respect the rights of others.

There have been occasions when this House has tended to be willing to ride roughshod over the rights of people, simply because it claimed an electoral mandate to do so. We should be grateful to the hereditary peers for having set the ethos in the other place, which has tended to put a check on this House, and has often insisted on rights and liberties that have subsequently been upheld elsewhere—even by the European Court of Human Rights—when we have failed to respect them in this place.

The hereditary principle is an anachronism—particularly when one considers the changed state of society. It was probably an anachronism in the 16th century, when there were comments about certain peers who were becoming too poor and were thought no longer to be able to represent themselves or their proper interests. This is an old chestnut.

The principle has become an anachronism because we live in a fluid society, and there must be good and powerful arguments why this House and the other place should look carefully at trying to find a replacement that might be better. However, this is where we come back to the initial problem. I am happy to go down that road, and I believe that the end result, almost certainly, will be an elected second Chamber. I do not believe that any intermediate stage will prove to be acceptable, or will provide the necessary legitimacy to the other place that is required.

I am even prepared, since the Government established on Second Reading the principle that there would be a two-stage reform process, to accept that we have to regard the Bill as the first stage, but I want to consider whether it is legitimate or could be improved on, given the Government's insistence on an appointed second Chamber. There are some serious flaws in the way in which the Government have decided to proceed.

The major flaw that will never go away is the issue of patronage. Labour Members have said a great deal about the lack of legitimacy of the hereditary peers because their ancestors were simply placed there by the patronage of others, but the new second Chamber will be based purely on patronage, which I find profoundly unacceptable.

It has been suggested, based on some comments in the White Paper that we are assured will be reflected in the way in which the Bill operates, that in certain areas, the Prime Minister's power of patronage will be curbed, because he will hand it to a commission or to other party leaders. That is all very well, but it would have been perfectly possible to preserve the principle of an appointed second Chamber as an intermediate stage and to get rid of the patronage of the Prime Minister and other party leaders altogether, replacing it with an independent commission. That would be the first and most compelling step in reassuring me that the future constitution of the House of Lords will be very different from what it is now.

There appears to be universal agreement among life peers that the much-praised ethos in the other place is entirely derived from the independent standpoint of the hereditary peerage, members of which are dominant there. I cannot believe that if we follow the Government's policy, we shall end up with an upper House that is similar, but with the illegitimate element of hereditary peers removed. I believe that there will be a rapid deterioration in the quality of debate and the ability to provide adequate scrutiny of the Government, because of the lack of that independence. I hope that I am proved wrong, but I have great anxiety about that real danger.

Anything that could have been done to remove the impression and effect of patronage in placing life peers in the other place would have been mightily desirable. It is a major flaw in the legislation which could have been remedied now without in any way interfering with stage 2.

If the Weatherill amendment is to be accepted at some point, our failure to make it now is simply wrong. It is an extraordinary way to legislate for the Government themselves to vote down a proposal that is thought to be acceptable to them.

I took it as a compliment when the Minister described me as being someone who comes up with bizarre constitutional issues. I find it odd, when we are embarking on a constitutional proposal designed to create greater democratic legitimacy—the Government's words—that we should start by failing to respect the established rights under our constitution of others, who are deprived of the vote in return for the right to represent themselves, for the duration of the Parliament in which they sit in the other place. Of course that is a minor matter, as there are only 750 of them, even if their vote might have influenced at least one or two results in seats at the general election.

The Government had available an easy method of passing now the legislation ensuring the oblivion of the hereditary peers at the next general election, and then setting about the discussion of stage 2 with the hereditary peers, who, knowing that they were facing oblivion, might have contributed the most creative discussion of sensible alternatives to succeed them.

The Bill will ultimately sound the death knell of the life peers, and I shall not shed many tears over their disappearance. However, there will be a problem if they remain as a powerful vested interest for their own position, balanced only by the small corporate element who are unlikely, because of the nature of the debate that will take place, to be willing to voice their views very forcefully.

Far from the Bill being a sensible paving Bill for a better and more accountable democracy, it is in danger of being the opposite. I accept that the President of the Council may have good intentions, but the road to hell is paved with them and, in this context, the road to a permanent, appointed second Chamber is also paved with them. I do not want that and many Labour Members agree with me. The power of the Executive is the principal menace that threatens our democratic life and liberties. It is growing, and this Bill will contribute to it. For those reasons, I shall not vote for it.

Several hon. Members


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

This has inevitably been a wide-ranging debate. It is not surprising that it sometimes strayed from the contents of the Bill, given the importance of the issues. The Bill's provisions are clear, simple and straightforward. They are—perhaps surprisingly, given the sound and fury of earlier stages—now relatively uncontentious. I say "now", because the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) accepted that there will be no permanent place for hereditary peers, whichever party wins the next general election. I do not understand why, having made that considerable concession, the Conservatives intend to continue to oppose the Bill. They have, in the short time since the general election, abandoned a fundamental principle on which they were each elected.

The Conservative manifesto made it clear that Conservatives see no need to reform the House of Lords and it contained no proposals to do so. It is now clear that, one by one, Conservative Members are ripping up the manifesto on which they were elected, presumably in order to find a new manifesto in time for the next general election.

As my right hon. Friend the President of the Council pointed out, notwithstanding the fact that we have reached the conclusion of the first main stage of proceedings on the Bill, we still do not have any clearer an understanding of the Opposition's position on the question of House of Lords reform. We know what the Conservatives are against, although it seems to be limited only to the contents of the Bill and—it would seem—any Bill that would deal with House of Lords reform in separate, discreet stages.

Dr. Ladyman

I must disagree slightly with my hon. Friend. He suggests that Opposition Members have dropped their support for the hereditary principle, but I have not detected that happening. Only a few moments ago, we heard a speech from the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) who clearly said that he was still in favour of the hereditary principle.

Mr. Hoon

My hon. Friend may have missed the significant speech in which the hon. Member for Woodspring said that, in the highly unlikely event of the Conservatives winning the next general election, they would not seek to restore the hereditary element to a second Chamber. In the light of that concession, I invite Conservative Members to consider why they continue to oppose the Bill. If that is to be their policy at the next election, we are surely assisting them by sorting out one difficulty before they prepare their proposals on what a reformed second Chamber should look like.

We have heard that the Conservative party is against the tradition of evolutionary change that is the hallmark of our constitutional arrangements. Instead, and quite inconsistent with the manifesto on which each of them was elected, Conservative Members have argued in favour of what has been described as a big bang. They have argued that all House of Lords issues—composition and powers—should be resolved at the same time in a single stage, however complicated the process.

I observed previously that a Conservative Government carried through the Life Peerages Act 1958, a single-stage reform that, according to Conservative Ministers of the day, significantly altered the composition of the House of Lords, improving its efficiency and operation. They argued precisely the virtues of single-stage reform to improve the operation of the second Chamber, just as we are arguing the same today to justify our reform of the second Chamber.

Mr. Tyrie

Is the Minister aware that when the Conservatives tried to introduce life peerages in 1958, the Labour party opposed the Bill on Second Reading, and that Gaitskell made an impassioned speech against the proposals?

Mr. Hoon

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. The Labour party opposed that Act, arguing that there should be more fundamental review of the House of Lords.

Mr. Tyrie

That is exactly what we are arguing. We do not want a half-way House. We want to go the full hog, just as the Labour party did in 1958. Allusions to 1958 do nothing for the Minister's case.

Mr. Hoon

The difference is, of course, that the Labour party lost the argument in 1958. The reform provided by the Life Peerages Act 1958 was a successful single-stage reform of the operation of the second Chamber. History has proved that the Labour party was wrong and Conservative Ministers were right in 1958.

Mr. Fisher

My hon. Friend is beginning to worry me. Is he saying that the Government intend to stop at single-stage reform? The White Paper—and all that I have heard from my right hon. Friend the President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons—gave an absolute and clear commitment to a second stage, presaged by the royal commission. Will my hon. Friend confirm that there will be a second stage?

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point, because I would not want to give him or anyone else the impression that the Government were not committed to the second stage. I shall deal with that commitment in a few moments.

Dr. George Turner

Does my hon. Friend accept that we will not know what the Conservative party and many Members of the House of Lords really think until the Bill is enacted? The argument over the Bill has been bedevilled by bluff and double bluff, by arguments designed to raise cohorts of opposition rather than to get down to the nitty gritty of what we really want. The advantage of proceeding as the Government are is that there might be an honest debate in the country once the Bill is an Act.

Mr. Hoon

My hon. Friend anticipates my argument. By proceeding as we are, and by demonstrating our commitment to the first stage, we have opened up a serious debate about the second stage of reform. That would not have been possible but for our determined commitment to carry through stage 1, which has been advantageous to all those who take seriously the reform of the second Chamber.

We have not been told precisely what reform Conservative Members favour; no doubt, in due course, we shall hear their proposals. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made more eloquently than I can the observation, which I paraphrase, that the Conservatives' position is essentially, "Make me virtuous, but not yet." That appears to characterise their attitude toward reform of the House of Lords. From their opposition to change, we can conclude that they are at least being consistent—consistently conservative and, like all conservatives, arguing that change is difficult, dangerous and will inevitably open the floodgates. Woodrow Wilson defined conservatism. He said: make no change and consult your grandmother when in doubt". Whenever I hear the hon. Member for Woodspring talk about constitutional reform, I am sure that he has consulted an ancestor before speaking, but that attitude has characterised the approach taken by all Conservative Members' towards each of the important constitutional changes that the reforming Labour Government have introduced.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) made the point, echoed by others, that the Conservatives' opposition to the Bill is a smokescreen for their determination to do nothing, to preserve the hereditary element by default and to ensure that there can be no change at all because of the complexity of sorting out both composition and functions in a single stage. That complexity has repeatedly frustrated reform in the past. When we discuss the composition of the House of Lords, as the Bill enables us to do, Conservative Members furiously debate the question of functions, so it is likely that if we were to set out proposals on functions, they would get extremely anxious about composition.

My suspicion and cynicism have been confirmed this evening by my taking a look at the manifesto on which Conservative Members were elected. It contained no reference to any intention to reform the House of Lords; indeed, there was a clear commitment to retain the hereditary element in the legislature. It was an attempt to satisfy the electorate that the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom were quite satisfactory. The hon. Member for Woodspring has started a process of abandoning those commitments, but it has taken him some time to do so.

Dr. Ladyman

My hon. Friend is on the subject of the Conservative manifesto, but I wonder whether the Conservative canvassers guide for the last election has been brought to his attention. In that document, Conservative canvassers were instructed to argue on the doorsteps in favour of the hereditary principle.

Mr. Hoon

Entirely by coincidence, I have a copy of that document here. It states: It is important to defend the hereditary principle in its own right". As I said, the hon. Member for Woodspring has moved a little from that position today.

Dr. Starkey

Does my hon. Friend suspect that that instruction might have been a last desperate attempt by the Conservatives to try to keep their voters with them by relying on the hereditary principle when the argument had been defeated?

Mr. Hoon

It would not have done them much good in Ashfield.

If one doubts the Conservatives' intentions, one need only examine their record of achievement between 1979 and the introduction of the Bill. Not once in that entire period has any senior Conservative Front Bencher called for fundamental reform of the House of Lords—or, indeed, for any sort of reform of the House of Lords.

Mr. Peter Bradley

I am somewhat confused, because I am unsure whether the Conservative party is being consistent with its manifesto pledge to stick with the hereditary principle, or whether, in opposition, it is capable of breaking its promises to the electorate. Can my hon. Friend enlighten me?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The debate is on Third Reading of the Bill, not anything that is happening on the other side of the Chamber.

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, it is relevant to Third Reading to consider why the Conservative party might be anxious to maintain a composition for the House of Lords that is different from the one set out in the Bill. Judging from the arguments that we have heard in the course of the proceedings, because Labour Governments have suffered consistently at the hands of a Tory-dominated second Chamber, Conservative Members might be content to preserve the rights of hereditary peers precisely because, having lost an election, they want to retain their rather tenuous grip on some remaining legislative power.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

If Conservative Members are advancing that argument, Conservative peers certainly are not. As evidenced by not just the arguments on this side of the House but the lack of arguments on the other side and the failure to defend what was accepted along the corridor, surely it is Conservative Members who are out of step. Indeed, Conservative peers—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We have heard quite enough about that issue.

Mr. Hoon

My hon. Friend makes a very good point, but I will not risk your further wrath, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The point that I was setting out was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) who pointed out that, in the short time since the 1997 general election, the Labour Government have been defeated 33 times in the House of Lords. That point was developed further by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West.

Dr. George Turner

Can my hon. Friend think of any example when a Conservative Government were defeated only by the votes of hereditary peers? Conservative Governments have suffered a modicum of defeats in the other place but, on every occasion that I can recall from my interest in politics, they were defeated also by the Cross Benchers.

Mr. Hoon

I certainly cannot recall any such occasion.

Mr. Gerald Howarth


Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)


Mr. Hoon

I see that I am about to get some help.

Mr. Garnier

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) was about to cite an example that even the Minister will remember: the War Crimes Bill.

Mr. Hoon

The essential question that we are debating is whether the Government are right to make the reforms in two separate stages. The Government firmly believe the answer is an emphatic yes, and there are several reasons for that.

Dr. Ladyman

Before my hon. Friend continues, he should refer to the occasion when hereditary peers in the other place kept one of the Conservative Government's Bills going. Hundreds of hereditary peers were bussed in to support the Maastricht treaty and force through a Bill that Conservative Members now say was completely wrong.

Mr. Hoon

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Ever since the passage of that legislation, many Conservative Members have complained about the fact that it was passed at all.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, South)

Is it not interesting that the only example the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) could give of the other place's defeating the previous Government involved the War Crimes Bill, which the vast majority of Labour Members believed was absolutely essential? We have no apologies to make about it.

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's observation.

There are clear reasons why the Government are right to proceed in two stages. Arguably, the least important reason is that it was a clear manifesto commitment. However, the Opposition must not ignore the fact that that commitment was carefully drawn, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) pointed out in his typically elegant contribution. Conservative Members should be cautious about the consequences of claiming too stridently that that is irrelevant. They should bear in mind also the thoughtful words of the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan).

The commitment appeared in the manifesto in a particular form for several very good reasons. First, the hereditary membership of Parliament is, in principle, wrong. We are not debating the monarchy or the inheritance of a family home: we are discussing the power to make laws by which the rest of the country is required to live. The social and economic conditions that might once have been said to justify the hereditary element in the legislature have long since passed into history. Even in the heyday of the hereditary peerage, many of the most distinguished Members of the House of Lords were the peers of first creation, not those who sat as the result of inheritance. In those days, the House of Lords constantly renewed itself by new appointments, as confirmed in the interesting historical survey made by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) and the more entertaining survey by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton).

Sir Nicholas Lyell

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, because he is just getting to the point, which is that, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) said, the Bill is destructive, whatever the Minister may say. What is important is what will happen in the interim between now and the second stage. Will he say a little about the contribution that the hereditary peers continue to make and the plans that he and his Government have to enable them to continue to do so as long as they are not frustrated in their overall objectives.

Mr. Hoon

I shall not be tempted on to that subject, because it is not within the terms of the Bill that we are debating. In the event of such an amendment being tabled in the other place, there will clearly be opportunities for further discussion of that point.

The second argument for our proposal is that experience suggests that small evolutionary steps to reform are the way to make effective progress in changing our constitution. That is, as the Conservative party's general election manifesto indicated, completely consistent with our country's constitutional arrangements. I have previously related the comments made by Conservative Ministers in debates on the Life Peerages Act 1958 which support that view.

The House of Lords is not the same as it was in 1900. Its powers and its composition have been altered. Attempts in 1948 and 1968 further to change it foundered. Progress was made in 1949 because the then Government had a fall-back of partial reform already decided. This Government have learned those lessons of history.

There is also a practical difficulty in having any sensible debate on the future while the position of hereditary peers remains unresolved. By removing that issue, we are all forced to consider the future, instead of merely debating the past. That strategy, as I said in response to a question from one of my hon. Friends, is already working. We already now have a detailed debate about the second stage and what will happen when the Bill is passed.

It has been suggested that we do not intend to proceed with a second stage. I refute that. The royal commission has been appointed and started its work. It has been asked to report by 31 December. That is an entirely realistic timetable. We have said, moreover, that we shall use our best endeavours to ensure that Parliament has the opportunity to approve the second stage of reform by the next general election.

It has been suggested that we intend to subvert the House of Lords in the meantime. Again, I shall set out the principles on which the transitional House will operate, in particular to answer the questions asked by the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) in his opening remarks.

First, there should be broad parity between the two major parties, with appropriate and proportionate creations for the other parties and Cross Benchers. Secondly, we have made a public pledge to allow party leaders a free hand with their nominations within the previously agreed ballots. That is the first time that such a public pledge has ever been made, and we could not have expected it from the Conservative party.

Mr. Winnick

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hoon

If my hon. Friend will allow me, I must make progress.

Mr. Winnick

That's gratitude for you.[Laughter.]

Mr. Hoon

Fortunately, I did not hear that remark.

Thirdly, there is a pledge to maintain the independent Cross-Bench presence. Those peers will be genuinely independent and can be life or hereditary peers. The Government are committed by our manifesto and White Paper to retaining that presence.

Finally, a power to recommend non-political appointments and to vet all appointments will be passed to an independent appointments commission, itself appointed under Nolan principles and subject to the jurisdiction of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. That adds up to a considerable reduction in the Prime Minister's powers of patronage. It is the first time that a Prime Minister has volunteered to reduce his patronage in that way, and I hope that that is a complete answer to the criticisms of patronage made by the hon. Members for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve).

This Bill, despite its modest length, provides for a significant, long-overdue constitutional reform. It constitutes a vital step in modernising our Parliament, preparing it for the conditions of the 21st century. It is not simply about the legislative process and the role of a second Chamber. It is fundamentally about the rights of the British people to have the kind of government and legislation for which they vote in parliamentary elections. It is about the kind of democracy in which we live.

It is right to place on record the fact that we are grateful to those hereditary peers who have served with distinction in the House of Lords. The more thoughtful of them have known that there can be no real justification for their presence in Parliament. The time has come for them, and for the country, to move on.

9.45 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

The one thing for which the people of this country did not vote at the general election was a Government who would treat Parliament with contempt and seek to steamroller legislation through the House using their huge majority, and with absolute disdain for any other point of view. This debate has been a classic illustration of the Government's intolerance.

I do not remember any previous occasion in this House when the Minister's winding-up speech has been made before that of the Opposition spokesman. Nor do I remember an occasion on which the Deputy Chief Whip has so blatantly toured his Back Benches, asking Labour Members not to make a speech but to intervene on the Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department so that his speech could continue for 25 minutes.

Before the Minister got up to speak from the Government Front Bench, several hon. Members—I can see at least two of them in the Chamber—rose in the hope of catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would not accuse any Government or any Opposition Member of trying to filibuster; this has not been a long debate. There were three statements and a ten-minute Bill, so it was 6 o'clock before we began Third Reading. Members on both sides of the House have taken a close interest in this Bill, and wanted to contribute to Third Reading. Had they all been allowed to do so—speeches were averaging no more than about 12 minutes—we would have concluded our proceedings at about 10.30 pm which is hardly a very late hour of the night. Instead, the Deputy Patronage Secretary has been urging his hon. Friends not to take part. Then, the Minister—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing Third Reading.

Sir Patrick Cormack

That is precisely what we are trying to do, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and what some of my hon. Friends have been deprived of doing.

The Leader of the House described the Bill as significant, simple and exquisite. I certainly accept that it is a significant measure, because it attempts to re-write the constitution, and there can be nothing more significant than that. I accept that the Bill is simple, because it is very brief. But to describe it as exquisite is about as gross a misuse of the English language as I have heard in this Chamber.

There have been some interesting speeches, but none has been more interesting, and none more significant, than that of a fellow Staffordshire Member, my hon. Friend—I deliberately call him that—the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), who made the very pertinent point that all the indications were that, when the Bill comes back to us from the other place, it will have been wholly re-written. I see him nodding.

There are very few precedents for such legislative change. The Leader of the House and other Ministers have indicated that an amendment similar to the one voted down in this place at the behest of the Government Whips will, if tabled in the other place, be accepted—as long as their lordships behave themselves. Then those very Members who, a couple of weeks ago, were dragooned through the Lobby to vote down the amendment when we proposed it, will be dragooned through the Lobby to do the opposite.

Dr. George Turner

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the vast majority of Labour Members will go with joy through the Lobby to see the Bill reach the statute book, and that the vast majority of us will be delighted if it does so without amendment by the Lords.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I fear that one of the dangers of the present Parliament is that the vast majority of Labour Members would go through the Lobby with joy to vote for anything and everything that the Government sought to place before them. If ever there was a negation of parliamentary democracy—a denial of what this place should be about—it is that.

We had several significant speeches—

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

I seem to remember that, some years ago, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues went through the Lobby willy-nilly on something called the poll tax. Is there any difference?

Sir Patrick Cormack

I never went through the Lobby in support of the poll tax. I consistently voted against it—I was one of only two Tories who did not support its introduction in Scotland before the 1987 general election—so the hon. Gentleman had better be careful what he says to me on that subject.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

But did the hon. Gentleman vote to set aside the 1689 Bill of Rights, which allowed his friend Neil Hamilton to bring an action against The Guardian for matters which were being discussed—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is completely out of order.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Had I so voted, it would have been out of order, but I did not.

The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) launched into an extraordinary diatribe. He said, with some reluctance, that he was not actually proposing the guillotine, but I nevertheless felt that the sea-green incorruptible Robespierre had been changed for the drab grey uniformity of the hon. Gentleman, who stands for everything that is colourless in our national life. The hon. Gentleman wants to reduce everything to a sort of digital anonymity; what a ghastly speech it was.

Tonight we are discussing the removal from the House of Lords of the hereditary peers. My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) and I—and our right hon. and hon. Friends—have made it abundantly plain that, although we agree with the hereditary principle, as anyone who is a monarchist or who wants to leave his house to his child must, we accept that the Government have a mandate for removing from the other place those who are there because of their birth.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)

Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that selection on the basis of first-born sons may be better suited to the biblical plagues than to British Parliaments?

Sir Patrick Cormack

When I look at the hon. Gentleman I am certainly warned of plagues, but we entirely accept that the Government have a mandate. We are very much opposed to the Government's giving so much priority to the Bill, but we accept that they have a mandate. We nevertheless believe that they are doing a great disservice to the institution of Parliament by the way in which they are proceeding. What the Government are seeking to do, by removing the hereditary peers without telling us in any detail what they have in mind for constitutional reform, is to place the institution of Parliament in jeopardy.

Labour Members said that the Bill would improve the House of Lords. The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) was especially eloquent on the subject. However, when we sought by amendment to ensure that the House of Lords could continue to perform its vital functions of debate and of scrutiny of legislation and its vital Committee work, every amendment that we tabled was rejected by the Government, including the so-called Weatherill-type amendment, which the Government, by their own admission, accept will be necessary if the other place is to function. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Oh yes. What we have been able to demonstrate as we have debated during these six, or, rather, seven days is that about half those who regularly attend the House of Lords are hereditary peers. By that, I mean those who play an active part in its deliberations.

I have cited before the fact that some 10 members of the European Communities Committee, which scrutinises European legislation, and does so to the admiration of the legislatures of the world, are hereditary peers. If we wanted any reminder of the need for proper scrutiny of European legislation, we had it in the Chamber this afternoon, with the first statement that followed questions.

If we are to have a functioning House of Lords able properly to perform the functions that we expect it to perform, we must do something about the numbers. Every time we have tried to do that in Opposition amendments, the Government have denounced us; the Government's troops have voted against those amendments and we are still left with the Bill.

I remind hon. Members on both sides of the House that the Bill does not mention the word "interim". The Bill will take away from the House of Lords a large percentage of its active and diligent membership and will put nothing in its place. Nor is there any timetable for the emergence of a new type of second Chamber. There will almost certainly be at least four years, and much more likely 10, of the so-called interim Chamber, which is not referred to as such in any part of the Bill.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Is not the logical consequence that the Government, through an excessive application of patronage, will have to appoint a vast raft of new Members to the interim House, who will have no experience, and will therefore be unable to exercise the necessary scrutiny? That means that the Government will enjoy a huge majority in this House and will be subject to no scrutiny in the other place.

Sir Patrick Cormack

My hon. Friend makes an extremely pertinent point.

Mr. Keith Bradley

(Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 326, Noes 152.

Division No. 106] [9.58 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Borrow, David
Ainger, Nick Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Allen, Graham Bradshaw, Ben
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Brinton, Mrs Helen
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Ashton, Joe Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Atherton, Ms Candy Browne, Desmond
Atkins, Charlotte Buck, Ms Karen
Banks, Tony Burden, Richard
Barnes, Harry Burgon, Colin
Barron, Kevin Butler, Mrs Christine
Battle, John Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Bayley, Hugh Caborn, Richard
Beard, Nigel Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Begg, Miss Anne Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Canavan, Dennis
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Caplin, Ivor
Bennett, Andrew F Caton, Martin
Benton, Joe Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Bermingham, Gerald Chaytor, David
Berry, Roger Clapham, Michael
Best, Harold Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Betts, Clive Clark, Dr Lynda
Blackman, Liz (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Blears, Ms Hazel Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Blizzard, Bob Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Heppell, John
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hesford, Stephen
Clwyd, Ann Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Coaker, Vernon Hodge, Ms Margaret
Coffey, Ms Ann Hoey, Kate
Coleman, Iain Home Robertson, John
Connarty, Michael Hoon, Geoffrey
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hope, Phil
Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston) Hopkins, Kelvin
Corbett, Robin Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Corbyn, Jeremy Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Corston, Ms Jean Howells, Dr Kim
Cranston, Ross Hoyle, Lindsay
Crausby, David Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Humble, Mrs Joan
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hurst, Alan
Cummings, John Hutton, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence Iddon, Dr Brian
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
(Copeland) Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Jamieson, David
Dalyell, Tam Jenkins, Brian
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Dawson, Hilton Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Dean, Mrs Janet Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Denham, John Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Dismore, Andrew Keeble, Ms Sally
Dobbin, Jim Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Donohoe, Brian H Kemp, Fraser
Doran, Frank Khabra, Piara S
Dowd, Jim Kidney, David
Drew, David Kilfoyle, Peter
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Edwards, Huw Kingham, Ms Tess
Efford, Clive Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Ellman, Mrs Louise Laxton, Bob
Etherington, Bill Leslie, Christopher
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Levitt, Tom
Field, Rt Hon Frank Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Fisher, Mark Linton, Martin
Fitzpatrick, Jim Livingstone, Ken
Fitzsimons, Lorna Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Flint, Caroline Lock, David
Follett, Barbara Love, Andrew
Foster, Rt Hon Derek McAllion, John
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) McAvoy, Thomas
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) McCabe, Steve
Fyfe, Maria McCafferty, Ms Chris
Galloway, George McDonagh, Siobhain
Gerrard, Neil McDonnell, John
Gibson, Dr Ian McFall, John
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McGuire, Mrs Anne
Godsiff, Roger McIsaac, Shona
Goggins, Paul McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Golding, Mrs Llin McNulty, Tony
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Mactaggart, Fiona
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McWalter, Tony
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Grocott, Bruce Mallaber, Judy
Grogan, John Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Hain, Peter Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hanson, David Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Martlew, Eric
Healey, John Maxton, John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hepburn, Stephen Meale, Alan
Merron, Gillian Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Singh, Marsha
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Skinner, Dennis
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Mitchell, Austin Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Moonie, Dr Lewis Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Moran, Ms Margaret Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W) Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Snape, Peter
Mountford, Kali Soley, Clive
Mullin, Chris Southworth, Ms Helen
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Spellar, John
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Squire, Ms Rachel
Naysmith, Dr Doug Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Norris, Dan Steinberg, Gerry
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Stevenson, George
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Stewart, David (Inverness E)
O'Hara, Eddie Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Olner, Bill Stinchcombe, Paul
O'Neill, Martin Stoate, Dr Howard
Organ, Mrs Diana Stott, Roger
Osborne, Ms Sandra Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Palmer, Dr Nick Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Pearson, Ian Stringer, Graham
Perham, Ms Linda Stuart, Ms Gisela
Pike, Peter L Sutcliffe, Gerry
Plaskitt, James Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Pope, Greg Temple-Morris, Peter
Powell, Sir Raymond Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Timms, Stephen
Prescott, Rt Hon John Tipping, Paddy
Prosser, Gwyn Todd, Mark
Purchase, Ken Touhig, Don
Quinn, Lawrie Trickett, Jon
Radice, Giles Truswell, Paul
Rammell, Bill Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Rapson, Syd Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Raynsford, Nick Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S) Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Vaz, Keith
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW) Vis, Dr Rudi
Roche, Mrs Barbara Walley, Ms Joan
Rooker, Jeff Ward, Ms Claire
Rooney, Terry Wareing, Robert N
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Watts, David
Roy, Frank White, Brian
Ruane, Chris Whitehead, Dr Alan
Ruddock, Joan Wicks, Malcolm
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Ryan, Ms Joan Winnick, David
Salter, Martin Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Savidge, Malcolm Woolas, Phil
Sawford, Phil Worthington, Tony
Sedgemore, Brian Wyatt, Derek
Sheerman, Barry Tellers for the Ayes:
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Mr. David Clelland and Jane Kennedy.
Short, Rt Hon Clare
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Browning, Mrs Angela
Allan, Richard Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Burnett, John
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Burns, Simon
Bercow, John Burstow, Paul
Beresford, Sir Paul Butterfill, John
Body, Sir Richard Cash, William
Boswell, Tim Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
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 Maginnis, Ken
Collins, Tim Major, Rt Hon John
Cormack, Sir Patrick Malins, Humfrey
Cotter, Brian Maples, John
Cran, James Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Moore, Michael
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice & Howden) Moss, Malcolm
Nicholls, Patrick
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Norman, Archie
Duncan, Alan Öpik, Lembit
Duncan Smith, Iain Ottaway, Richard
Evans, Nigel Page, Richard
Faber, David Paice, James
Fabricant, Michael Paterson, Owen
Fallon, Michael Pickles, Eric
Fearn, Ronnie Prior, David
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Randall, John
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Redwood, Rt Hon John
Fox, Dr Liam Rendel, David
Fraser, Christopher Robathan, Andrew
Garnier, Edward Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
George, Andrew (St Ives) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gibb, Nick Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Gill, Christopher Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Ruffley, David
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Gorrie, Donald St Aubyn, Nick
Gray, James Sanders, Adrian
Green, Damian Sayeed, Jonathan
Greenway, John Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Grieve, Dominic Shepherd, Richard
Gummer, Rt Hon John Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Hague, Rt Hon William Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Soames, Nicholas
Hammond, Philip Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Hancock, Mike Spicer, Sir Michael
Hawkins, Nick Spring, Richard
Steen, Anthony
Hayes, John Streeter, Gary
Heald, Oliver Syms, Robert
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Tapsell, Sir Peter
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Horam, John Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Thompson, William
Hunter, Andrew Trend, Michael
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Tyler, Paul
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Tyrie, Andrew
Jenkin, Bernard Wardle, Charles
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Waterson, Nigel
Webb, Steve
Keetch, Paul Wells, Bowen
Key, Robert Whitney, Sir Raymond
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Whittingdale, John
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Lansley, Andrew Wilkinson, John
Leigh, Edward Willetts, David
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Willis, Phil
Lidington, David Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Woodward, Shaun
Livsey, Richard Yeo, Tim
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter Tellers for the Noes:
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Mr. Stephen Day and
McIntosh, Miss Anne Mrs. Eleanor Laing.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 340, Noes 132.

Division No. 107] [10.15 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Cranston, Ross
Ainger, Nick Crausby, David
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Allan, Richard Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Allen, Graham Cummings, John
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)
Ashton, Joe
Atherton, Ms Candy Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Atkins, Charlotte Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Banks, Tony Dalyell, Tam
Barnes, Harry Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Barron, Kevin Davidson, Ian
Battle, John Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Bayley, Hugh Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Beard, Nigel Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Dawson, Hilton
Begg, Miss Anne Dean, Mrs Janet
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Denham, John
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Dismore, Andrew
Benton, Joe Dobbin, Jim
Bermingham, Gerald Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Berry, Roger Donohoe, Brian H
Best, Harold Doran, Frank
Betts, Clive Dowd, Jim
Blackman, Liz Drew, David
Blears, Ms Hazel Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Blizzard, Bob Edwards, Huw
Boateng, Paul Efford, Clive
Borrow, David Ellman, Mrs Louise
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Etherington, Bill
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Brinton, Mrs Helen Fearn, Ronnie
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Field, Rt Hon Frank
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Fisher, Mark
Browne, Desmond Fitzpatrick, Jim
Buck, Ms Karen Fitzsimons, Lorna
Burden, Richard Flint, Caroline
Burgon, Colin Follett, Barbara
Burnett, John Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Burstow, Paul Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Butler, Mrs Christine Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Fyfe, Maria
Caborn, Richard Galloway, George
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) George, Andrew (St Ives)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Gerrard, Neil
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Gibson, Dr Ian
Canavan, Dennis Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Caplin, Ivor Godsiff, Roger
Caton, Martin Goggins, Paul
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Golding, Mrs Llin
Chaytor, David 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) Hain, Peter
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clwyd, Ann Hancock, Mike
Coaker, Vernon Hanson, David
Coffey, Ms Ann Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Coleman, Iain Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Connarty, Michael Healey, John
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston) Hepburn, Stephen
Corbett, Robin Heppell, John
Corbyn, Jeremy Hesford, Stephen
Corston, Ms Jean Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Cotter, Brian Hodge, Ms Margaret
Hoey, Kate Mitchell, Austin
Hoon, Geoffrey Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hope, Phil Moore, Michael
Hopkins, Kelvin Moran, Ms Margaret
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Howarth, George (KnowsleyN) Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Howells, Dr Kim Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Hoyle, Lindsay Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Mountford, Kali
Humble, Mrs Joan Mullin, Chris
Hurst, Alan Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hutton, John Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Iddon, Dr Brian Naysmith, Dr Doug
Ingram, Rt Hon Adam Norris, Dan
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jamieson, David O'Hara, Eddie
Jenkins, Brian Olner, Bill
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) O'Neill, Martin
Öpik, Lembit
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Organ, Mrs Diana
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Osborne, Ms Sandra
Palmer, Dr Nick
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Pearson, Ian
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Perham, Ms Linda
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Pike, Peter L
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Plaskitt, James
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Pollard, Kerry
Keetch, Paul Pond, Chris
Kemp, Fraser Pope, Greg
Khabra, Piara S Powell, Sir Raymond
Kidney, David Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Kilfoyle, Peter Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Prescott, Rt Hon John
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Prosser, Gwyn
Kingham, Ms Tess Purchase, Ken
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Quinn, Lawrie
Laxton, Bob Radice, Giles
Leslie, Christopher Rammell, Bill
Levitt, Tom Rapson, Syd
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Raynsford, Nick
Linton, Martin Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Livingstone, Ken Rendel, David
Livsey, Richard Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Lock, David Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Love, Andrew Roche, Mrs Barbara
McAllion, John Rooker, Jeff
McAvoy, Thomas Rooney, Terry
McCabe, Steve Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McCafferty, Ms Chris Roy, Frank
McDonnell, John Ruane, Chris
McFall, John Ruddock, Joan
McGuire, Mrs Anne Russell, Bob (Colchester)
McIsaac, Shona Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Ryan, Ms Joan
McNulty, Tony Salter, Martin
Mactaggart, Fiona Savidge, Malcolm
McWalter, Tony Sawford, Phil
Mahon, Mrs Alice Sedgemore, Brian
Mallaber, Judy Sheerman, Barry
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Short, Rt Hon Clare
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Singh, Marsha
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Skinner, Dennis
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Martlew, Eric Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Maxton, John Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Meale, Alan
Merron, Gillian Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Smith, Sir Robert (WAb'd'ns)
Snape, Peter Trickett, Jon
Soley, Clive Truswell, Paul
Southworth, Ms Helen Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Spellar, John Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Squire, Ms Rachel Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Steinberg, Gerry Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Stevenson, George Tyler, Paul
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Vaz, Keith
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Vis, Dr Rudi
Stinchcombe, Paul Walley, Ms Joan
Stoate, Dr Howard Ward, Ms Claire
Stott, Roger Wareing, Robert N
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Watts, David
Straw, Rt Hon Jack Webb, Steve
Stringer, Graham White, Brian
Stuart, Ms Gisela Whitehead, Dr Alan
Sutcliffe, Gerry Wicks, Malcolm
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Winnick, David
Taylor, David (NWLeics) Winnick, David
Temple-Morris, Peter Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W) Woolas, Phil
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W) Worthington, Tony
Timms, Stephen Wyatt, Derek
Tipping, Paddy Tellers for the Ayes:
Todd, Mark Mr. David Clelland and
Touhig, Don Jane Kennedy.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Bercow, John Day, Stephen
Beresford, Sir Paul Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Body, Sir Richard Duncan, Alan
Boswell, Tim Duncan Smith, Iain
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Evans, Nigel
Browning, Mrs Angela Faber, David
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Fabricant, Michael
Burns, Simon Fallon, Michael
Butterfill, John Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Cash, William Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Fox, Dr Liam
Fraser, Christopher
Chope, Christopher Garnier, Edward
Clappison, James Gibb, Nick
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Gill, Christopher
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Cormack, Sir Patrick Gray, James
Cran, James Green, Damian
Greenway, John Paice, James
Grieve, Dominic Paterson, Owen
Gummer, Rt Hon John Pickles, Eric
Hague, Rt Hon William Prior, David
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Randall, John
Hammond, Philip Redwood, Rt Hon John
Hawkins, Nick Robathan, Andrew
Hayes, John Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Heald, Oliver Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Horam, John Ruffley, David
Howard, Rt Hon Michael St Aubyn, Nick
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Sayeed, Jonathan
Hunter, Andrew Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Shepherd, Richard
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Jenkin, Bernard Soames, Nicholas
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Key, Robert Spring, Richard
Kirkbride Miss Julie Steen, Anthony
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Streeter, Gary
Syms, Robert
Lansley, Andrew Tapsell, Sir Peter
Leigh, Edward Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Lidington, David Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Taylor, Sir Teddy
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Thompson, William
Loughton, Tim Trend, Michael
Luff, Peter Tyrie, Andrew
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Wardle, Charles
McIntosh, Miss Anne Waterson, Nigel
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Wells, Bowen
Maclean, Rt Hon David Whitney, Sir Raymond
McLoughlin, Patrick Whittingdale, John
Madel, Sir David Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Maginnis, Ken Wilkinson, John
Major, Rt Hon John Willetts, David
Malins, Humfrey Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Maples, John Woodward, Shaun
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Yeo, Tim
Moss, Malcolm Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Nicholls, Patrick
Norman, Archie Tellers for the Noes:
Ottaway, Richard Mrs. Eleanor Laing and Mr. Tim Collins.
Page, Richard

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.