HC Deb 10 November 1999 vol 337 cc1131-208

Lords amendment: No. 1, after clause 1, to insert the following new clause—Exception from section 1(".—(1) Section 1 shall not apply in relation to anyone excepted from it by or in accordance with Standing Orders of the House. (2) At any one time 90 people shall be excepted from section I; but anyone excepted as holder of the office of Earl Marshal, or as performing the office of Lord Great Chamberlain, shall not count towards that limit. (3) Once excepted from section 1, a person shall continue to be so throughout his life (until an Act of Parliament provides to the contrary). (4) Standing Orders shall make provision for filling vacancies among the people excepted from section 1; and in any case where—

  1. (a) the vacancy arises on a death occurring after the end of the first Session of the next Parliament after that in which this Act is passed, and
  2. (b) the deceased person was excepted in consequence of an election,
that provision shall require the holding of a by-election. (5) A person may be excepted from section 1 by or in accordance with Standing Orders made in anticipation of the enactment or commencement of this section. (6) Any question whether a person is excepted from section 1 shall be decided by the Clerk of the Parliaments, whose certificate shall be conclusive.")

3.35 pm
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I beg to move amendment (f) to the Lords amendment, after 'time', insert 'no more than'.

Madam Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take amendments (b), (c) and (e) to the Lords amendment and Lords amendments Nos. 3 and 5 to 12.

Mr. Mackinlay

I understand why the Government accepted the Weatherill proposals. Although I do not welcome them, I always recognise the need to seize political opportunities. That is precisely, and legitimately, what the Government have done in furtherance of our objective to abolish the hereditary peerage and establish a reformed upper House. However, there are some consequences of the Government accepting the Weatherill amendment which I do not accept. The devil is in the detail, as I shall draw to the House's attention. As a result, I tabled amendments (c) and (f) to the Lords amendment.

As the Bill stands, it provides for elected hereditary peers to be succeeded on death. The Weatherill compromise threw up, by election, some 90-odd hereditary peers. When we heard of the instigation of the so-called Weatherill compromise, many of us assumed that those who were elected would be the last of the large body of hereditary peers. However, in the detail—detail that was added in the final stages of proceedings on the Bill in the House of Lords, and therefore not part of the original so-called deal—there is provision for an elected hereditary peer to be succeeded by another when he is called to the great parliamentary Chamber on high. That is not satisfactory or in the spirit of what we were led to believe was the Weatherill compromise.

My amendments would ensure that those who have been elected would remain in the House of Lords for life, but, as a group, their membership of it would wither on the vine. Indeed, the consequence of striking out subsection (4) would be to create life peers of the elected hereditary peers. I remind my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that, in so doing, we would be fulfilling a manifesto commitment.

I, my right hon. Friend and our hon. Friends are the custodians of our election manifesto, which it is always helpful to have with one on these occasions. I hope that the House will permit me to refer to the explicit undertakings in our manifesto, which says: As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute. This will be the first stage in a process of reform". There is no ambiguity about that. We made a firm election commitment to abolish the hereditary peerage in this Parliament.

I have acknowledged the need to accept the so-called Weatherill compromise, but I believe that we can still do so and fulfil to the letter our manifesto commitment. I invite my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to break new ground and accept amendments (f) and (c). During the hocus-pocus and consternation relating to the Weatherill compromise, when the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords was sacked, it was never spelled out that we would allow hereditary peers to be succeeded. A very generous compromise has been reached, and I believe that we should say that we stand by our election manifesto in that regard.

I believe that I can call upon historic precedent in this matter.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks)

I am puzzled by the extent of the hon. Gentleman's amendment. Is he excluding from it the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain? Does he consider that they should be able to hand their great offices down to their descendants?

Mr. Mackinlay

I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would not notice that, because even I am not always as candid as I should like. The Earl Marshals—I believe that there are about three office holders—will probably remain until whenever Parliament returns to the matter. I am a reasonable man, so I do not want to go to the wall on that narrow point. I am concerned about the great bulk—the great tranche—of 90 hereditary peers who are being given the right to sit in the House of Lords for the time being. I have reluctantly conceded that they should be given that right, but in my view there was never any suggestion that they should enjoy the opportunity to be succeeded by further peers.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mackinlay

No, because I guess that the hon. Gentleman is likely to have an opportunity to catch your eye, Madam Speaker, and I should like to develop my argument on precedence.

As a consequence of the legislation, passed by Parliament, that created the Irish Free State in the early 1920s, elections were no longer held for the elected representative Irish peers. Those peers were allowed to wither on the vine. I believe that the last Irish peer to sit in Parliament was the grandfather of Richard Needham, who is known to us all. There were never any more elections. As a consequence of that Irish legislation, the elected peers became de facto life peers, and that is precisely what I am suggesting should happen in this case. It would be highly appropriate.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House intends that there should be a second stage of reform—I do not doubt her personal commitment to that. I note that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary are nodding, but they might not be on the Front Bench for ever. There are also likely to be other compelling pressures on Government legislative time, which may, in all probability, kick the matter into touch. Indeed, that has been the history of House of Lords reform. There has never been a suitable time or date—there has never been an occasion when there could be concord across parties. Let us hope that we are wrong, but let us assume that this will be the last time that Parliament visits the issue for a little while.

If my colleagues say that I am being unfair or unrealistic—a charge which I do not accept—I suggest that they examine the Lords amendment. The provisions that we are discussing, which I wish to amend, underscore the fact that there will be some perpetuity in the idea of hereditaries continuing. As the provisions stand, for the next two years, if a vacancy occurs among the elected hereditaries, the agreed system is that he should be succeeded by the next person in ranking order in the recent election. However, after 2003 there is provision for by-elections. That takes us well into the next Parliament, and I have a feeling that things will be bedded down by then. There may not be the opportunities that exist now to achieve even limited agreement across parties.

The new Labour Government will be rapacious in their appetite for parliamentary time and the implementation of their social programme—I certainly hope so—and I foresee therefore that this matter will not be revisited. The Bill, as before us, buttresses my argument that provision is being made for hereditary peers to go on and on.

3.45 pm

Bearing in mind the historic precedent of the Irish peerage and the fact that there is agreement throughout the country that reform of the House of Lords must be completed in this Parliament, at least as an interim, I hope that we will not negate the manifesto commitment to do away with the hereditary peerage and that the House will find merit in my amendments, which will ensure that there are no hereditaries hereafter.

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

In 52 days from now, we shall reach the end of the 20th century. Few of those who saw the start of this century, and certainly not those who founded the Labour party almost 100 years ago, would have found it credible that the crucial step that we propose to take today— a step that they advocated when our party was founded— would still be incomplete some 89 years after those in this House imagined that reform had begun. We have spent more years discussing Lords reform in this century than it has days left to run, yet the Conservative party is still calling for more time.

As we begin the discussions today, we take the next and arguably the most crucial step in the journey that began so long ago. During this century of breathtaking change, much has been done to change, modernise and improve our Parliament. All men and even all women have gained the right to vote—the right to have their say in how and by whom our country is governed—yet while not just a wind, but a hurricane of change has swept through our country and most of our institutions, in one corner of our legislature time has, in effect, stood still.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

Not for a moment.

Some 750 of our fellow countrymen and, in a few cases, fellow countrywomen retain to this day the right to a place in the other House solely on the basis of their birth, not of their achievements or even of their capacity. Some of them have a record of achievement or service of which anyone would, rightly, be proud. Some of them are wise. That is beside the point, because they do not need to be so.

The acceptance of the amendment in the House of Lords was, in effect, an acceptance that the right to sit in our legislature can no longer be handed down as though it were a possession or a piece of property.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. She criticises the right of hereditary peers, which has been in existence for 600 years. The Prime Minister is using his patronage to create between two and four Labour life peers a week. How long is that likely to continue?

Mrs. Beckett

If the hon. Gentleman has been paying attention to the debates—I think that he is a new attender—he would know that the Government have made it plain that the most that we would seek in the House of Lords is parity with the Conservative party.

The hon. Gentleman refers to the number and speed of creations since the general election. I do not recall when he entered the House, but I am sure that he has been present from the 1980s. He knows that the former Tory Prime Ministers—both Lady Thatcher and the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major)—used their power of patronage to create twice as many Conservative peers as Labour peers, although the Conservative party already had—

Mr. Clifton-Brown

indicated dissent.

Mrs. Beckett

It is no good the hon. Gentleman shaking his head. The numbers are on the record, and the Conservative party already had a majority in the House of Lords. I repeat that the Government have said that we do not believe that any political party should have a majority in the House of Lords, which the hon. Gentleman's party has been most reluctant to echo. We seek not a majority, but broad parity in the House of Lords.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

As regards the hereditaries, did not the recent incident in another place illustrate the argument? Someone was protesting because in future he would not be able to sit there. His father's title stems from a relationship between Charles II and Nell Gwynne more than 300 years ago. How can it possibly be justified that someone should sit in Parliament because of a relationship between a monarch and a lady that took place so long ago? That person performed a good service by showing how absurd it is for the hereditaries to continue.

Mrs. Beckett

I am usually most grateful for my hon. Friend's interventions, but I was trying to avoid introducing the Earl of Burford into the debate, although I agree that, from our point of view, he came straight from central casting as, indeed, did his argument. As my hon. Friend says, in this day and age it is absurd to find people who still argue that they should serve in our legislature on such a basis.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

The right hon. Lady sought to justify the huge number of life peers created by the Prime Minister by saying that Margaret Thatcher did something similar. As a matter of record, 175 peers have been created in the two and a half years since the election. That is almost as many as Margaret Thatcher managed in 11 years. Since the introduction of life peers in 1958, no Prime Minister has appointed more than 50 per cent. from his or her own party, except the current Prime Minister.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman made that point earlier in our debates. To do him justice, perhaps he did not entirely follow the point I was making. I was not talking about numbers. First, Lady Thatcher and the right hon. Member for Huntingdon appointed far more Conservative life peers than life peers of any other party. Indeed, until 1989 more than twice as many Conservative as Labour peers were created and almost twice as many were created up to 1996. Secondly, although numbers decrease in all parties over time through ill-health and death, Lady Thatcher in particular absolutely refused to create Labour life peers to make up the numbers, as previous Prime Ministers from any party had done. That is why the decline in the number of Labour life peers was so stark and why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been forced to make redress in the early days of this Parliament.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

To revert for a moment to discussing Lord Burford, can my right hon. Friend explain exactly why a new category of hereditary electors should have been created so that, when he succeeds to the dukedom of St. Albans, he will be allowed to vote for a Member of the new second Chamber? Indeed, he will be eligible to be elected, if his behaviour improves, and will be voted for only by other hereditary electors. What part is there for a modernising Government in creating a category of persons who can stand for election and vote only if they are hereditary? Is not my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) absolutely right?

Mrs. Beckett

The system to which my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) alluded—I shall return to his point in a moment—will come into being only if we are unable to achieve agreement on the way in which we should proceed to stage 2. If, as we all hope, the royal commission reports on time and there is broad acceptance of its proposals, it is more than likely that the mechanism to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) alludes will never have to be put in place.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

Is the right hon. Lady saying that in order to deal with the Government's failure to complete the reforms, she has to create two alternative mechanisms for bolstering the numbers in the Lords—a rotten democratic system that would be recognisable to the ancient voters of Old Sarum or patronage from the Prime Minister? Why on earth are numbers in the other place not allowed to dwindle while the reforms go on, thereby accelerating the move towards total reform?

Mrs. Beckett

I am not saying either of those things. As the hon. Gentleman may have noticed, the proposals that I am describing do not come from the Government. The issue before us is whether the Government, as a means of achieving our principal end, are prepared to accept the amendment. I shall come back to that in a moment.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)

The right hon. Lady said earlier that a great deal of time had been spent on discussion of reform of the House of Lords. She will recall that that time was spent on discussing what should replace it. I have not played a large part in the argument, because it strikes me as being largely esoteric, given what the Government have decided to do. My problem is that I have never encountered another circumstance in which those in charge have decided to get rid of what is there before deciding what to put in its place.

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), with whom I never agree except in a religious context, is in a difficult position, because he has identified the Government's own problem. If the Government had proposed to the House an alternative, we could have voted positively. The Government, however, are suggesting that we get rid of what we have, and have not a hope in hell of deciding what we are to put in its place. Would not the right hon. Lady be happier if she could propose something positive, rather than being in such a difficult position with her own side?

Mrs. Beckett

The right hon. Gentleman is kind to be concerned, but I assure him that I feel no difficulty whatever. Indeed, I am grateful for his intervention, which brings me to the point that I was about to make.

The Government have a simple and straightforward reason for proceeding in this way, which we have made crystal clear from the beginning. Debate on the issue has always been hamstrung, and proposals to change the principle of membership of our legislature on the ground of heredity has always been defeated, because those who fought all change have been joined in their resistance by those who disliked one or all of the proposed alternatives. That is precisely why the Government chose to separate the removal of the hereditary peers from proposals for their future. Given that that is what has prolonged this debate for 89 years, it is, I suspect, very meaningful that the Conservative party is trying, unsuccessfully, to continue the same tactic.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

Yes, but then I really must get on.

Mr. Gill

Will the right hon. Lady explain what is the democratic legitimacy of life peers?

Mrs. Beckett

The legitimacy of life peers is exactly the same as it has been since their establishment by, I think, a Conservative Government in 1958. They are appointed, or given their position, by the Queen, on the suggestion of the Prime Minister of the day.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

That is not very democratic.

Mrs. Beckett

The right hon. Gentleman says, sotto voce—well, not very sotto; voce, anyway—that that is not very democratic. The procedure was established by a Conservative Government in order, I believe, to make the House of Lords more acceptable than it would otherwise have been without any element of life peerage. The issue will, however, be brought into context when we discuss stage 2 of reform. The hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) will appreciate that we are not discussing that today. I simply remind him that, when the hereditary peers are removed, a substantial number of life peers will remain on the basis of their achievement, along with some hereditaries chosen by their peers, also on the basis of achievement.

Mr. Tony Benn

Will the right hon. Lady give way on that specific point?

Mrs. Beckett

I will, but I will not give way again until I have made much more progress, and, hopefully, finished what was intended to be a very short speech.

4 pm

Mr. Benn

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to two points? First, hereditary peers who are elected will be able to claim a certain electoral legitimacy, while life peers will not. An hereditary peer who is elected will say to a life peer, "You were appointed, but I was elected."

Secondly, is my right hon. Friend aware that there is another way of appointing peers? I refer to their appointment by the House of Commons itself. On retirement, every Speaker is made a peer, not by the Prime Minister but through a humble address praying that a signal mark of royal favour may be conferred on the right hon. Jack Weatherill, or whoever it happens to be. The House makes peers in respect of its own Speakers. Were the present Speaker—whose retirement I hope does not occur in my lifetime—to come to the end of her term, I have no doubt that the House would ask the Crown to act. It is entirely untrue to say that there is any democratic legitimacy in a leader of either party putting people into Parliament and allowing them to vote on the laws that we are all expected to obey. That is the problem that the Government simply have not addressed from the beginning.

Mrs. Beckett

My right hon. Friend believes that hereditary peers—presumably, those who remain—will have a greater legitimacy because they are elected by others of their fellows. It gives them a reason for being there. It is a mechanism for deciding those who will remain—I hope for a fairly short period—but whether it gives them democratic legitimacy is another point. It is not a point that I would make. If he wishes to make it, it is a matter for him.

My right hon. Friend separately pursues the issue of what he believes the Government should do instead. Again, it is open to him to do that, as it is to Opposition Members. I remind him simply that it is through doing that that Opposition Members have managed to keep the discussion going for 89 years. He should not fall into the trap that they clearly still seek to set, of so prolonging an interesting discussion about the best way to have legitimacy in what succeeds the present House that we keep it in its present form.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I did say that I would not give way.

I remind both my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield and Opposition Members that our Prime Minister is the first ever to volunteer to give up some of the power of patronage that he enjoys and that he has already done so by passing—

Mr. Forth

Pull the other one.

Mrs. Beckett

I am sorry to say it, but the right hon. Gentleman is insulting when he says, "Pull the other one." He should consult the Leader of the Opposition. If he does, he will learn that the Prime Minister forwarded to the relevant authorities the names—unchanged and unchallenged—of those nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. He had every right to change and to challenge them. He has not done so; he has forgone that right. That makes him the first Prime Minister in history both to offer and actually to carry out his offer to reduce his patronage.

Mr. Bercow

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

It really will be the last time.

Mr. Bercow

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, whose better nature is always on display in the House.

Does the right hon. Lady's unwillingness to state what the democratic legitimacy of appointed peers is result from the fact that, in 1958, if memory serves me correctly, Labour Members did not support the Life Peerages Bill and, in that respect, if not in any other, they formed an alliance with Enoch Powell, the former right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West?

Mrs. Beckett

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman: as someone was speaking to me, I did not follow all the point that he made. He is right that there have been all manner of unholy alliances across the Chamber, which have, between them, managed to scupper all previous attempts to reform the House of Lords with the removal of the hereditary element. Certainly there were those who, no doubt because they wished to see that reform, had reservations about the introduction of life peerages. Therefore, he is right that it has been a checkered process. That is all the more reason to begin to draw it to a close. It is kind of him to suggest that my better nature is always on display here. It shows that he has not been in the House for longer than the current Parliament, although I was a little hurt to see Madam Speaker shaking her head, but I move on.

Madam Speaker

It was the flattery and audacity of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) that made me do so.

Mrs. Beckett

Ah! I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker, for clarifying that point.

It has long been accepted that, among the ranks of hereditary peers, some played a larger or more significant role than others. It has also long been accepted that, although a continued right to inherit a seat in the Lords could not be sustained, a continued presence for some of those whose past membership was by inheritance was not, of itself, inconsistent with a transitional House. Those who attended our earlier proceedings will recall that there was some fairly lengthy debate on such a principle, instigated by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing).

During that debate, I made it clear that our manifesto commitment—as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock correctly identified—was to propose to remove the right to sit and to vote in our legislature on the basis of heredity as an initial self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, so the Government's underlying preference was for the Bill as drafted in all its elegant simplicity.

I also made it clear, however, that should such a scheme be worked out, and should it command support in the other places—which is by no means a foregone conclusion—the Government would be prepared to consider whether it might, after all, lead to a broader consensus and broader acceptance of the Bill itself. It was also made quite explicit that, should the Opposition use their huge built-in majority among hereditary peers to disrupt the Government's programme, in defiance of legislative conventions, that would be seen as destroying any such consensus. On that basis—the acceptance of progress on Lords reform, without the initially threatened total disruption of Government business—we were able to make progress on the Food Standards Bill, and even on the Railways Bill, in addition to the programme originally announced in the Queen's Speech.

We are not, of course, quite at the end of the Session, and one should never presume the consent of Parliament—I never do—but, on the basis of what now seems to be the position, I am prepared to recommend to the House that we accept this group of Lords amendments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock has spoken to his amendments, expressing his reservations—which I suspect are shared by other hon. Members—about the Lords amendment. He drew attention to the fact that the final text of the Lords amendment allows for hereditary peers to be succeeded and for a mechanism to replace any of those who might die. He also expressed his belief that the hereditary peers who might remain because of what has come to be known as the Weatherill compromise would be the last to serve in the other place.

My hon. Friend said, quite correctly, that the proposal in Lords amendment No. 1 was not part of our original manifesto; as I said, we made that clear both on Second Reading and in Committee. He also said that the succession—or by-election—mechanism was not part of the original deal. He was right about that, too. The proposals were accepted by the Government for the precise reasons expressed by my hon. Friend. I was sorry to hear him say—although I understand his reasons for doing so—that he doubts the speed with which we might proceed to stage 2. He will know that those doubts were shared in spades by those who discussed the issue in the other place and by hon. Members in this place—some of whom will undoubtedly make the same point later in the debate, should they catch the eye of the Chair. I do not share those doubts, and do not believe that stage 2 is receding into the far distance.

Undoubtedly, genuine concerns were expressed in the House of Lords that, should the introduction of stage 2 be unduly prolonged—for more than a couple of years—it would seem increasingly wrong for those who have been allowed to remain in the transitional House to be replaced by earlier runners-up. The Government agreed to accept those proposals to reassure all concerned of our good will and good intentions on the matter.

As I said, those proposals—like the Weatherill proposals themselves—were not made by the Government or a part of our original intentions. Nevertheless, although they did not form part of our original intentions, we take the view that they will allow us to pursue a prudent and sensible route towards early removal of all hereditary peers, which is the Bill's underlying purpose.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

I said that I would not give way again, but shall do so briefly to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Howarth

I shall not seek to emulate my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) in the flattery stakes, because I am not as good at it as he is. Will the Leader of the House reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who said that the Government have nothing with which to replace the current Upper House? Why is she so confident that a consensus may be found—not only in this place, but among the public—on a new formulation for the Upper House, when such a solution has eluded us for the past 89 years?

Mrs. Beckett

For one thing, the Government have made real progress by breaking the link between stages 1 and 2. I also believe—the hon. Gentleman has attended our debates and may have heard me say this before—that the maintenance of that link has prevented any sensible and constructive debate about what stage 2 ought to be and what the nature, role and, indeed, the position of a second Chamber should be. All our previous discussions of the matter have been bedevilled by anxieties and deals, of the sort to which my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock referred, relating to the position of hereditary peers in a future second Chamber. In many ways, those discussions have had the sword of Damocles hanging over them because the substantial number of hereditary peers entitled to sit in the existing second Chamber has meant that they have had the whip hand over what should succeed them.

Only when we have completed stage 1 can we properly discuss stage 2. The hon. Gentleman may be right: it may not be possible to reach absolute consensus. However, I suspect that we will get further forward and have more chance of achieving a sensible outcome to stage 2 than we would ever have done in previous discussions.

Mr. Mackinlay

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has been patient with interventions. On how the procedures have emerged during the legislative stage in the House of Lords, does she share my irritation and think it an irony that when the Bill was presented to this House it was described as tightly drawn? On Second Reading and in Committee, the Clerk told us that there was little scope for tabling amendments. It was a challenge for us to table an amendment—I succeeded, but it was extraordinarily difficult. In the House of Lords, the peers have been able to open up the Bill and add all these amendments without there being any reciprocity for the elected House to shape and mould the legislation. Hurt is put on hurt. It is repugnant that those in another place can have all their say and that we, who have a mandate, cannot.

Mrs. Beckett

I cannot follow my hon. Friend down that path. For one thing, it is for the Chair to decide what is not in order. He is right to say that the Bill is simple and well drawn from that point of view and that it was not possible for Members to raise many of the issues that they wished through tabling amendments. However, if my memory serves me right, we managed in one way or another to deal with most of them in the debate. Equally, it is wrong to suggest that in some way different rules apply in the House of Lords. The simple answer is that the Lords found a way to put the matter in order.

As for whether one should feel great resentment and whether reciprocity should apply in this House, first, as Leader of the House of Commons—I have always said in this context that I am a House of Commons woman—I am resolute in my defence of the supremacy of this House. I hope that any proposals would never threaten that supremacy. On my hon. Friend's anxiety that hereditary peers had a greater opportunity to discuss or change the Bill in the House of Lords than we had, he should console himself with the thought that, for most of them, it was for the last time.

Mr. Gill

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

I am sorry, but I have given way to the hon. Gentleman before and I must finish.

I must place on record the fact that the Government are well aware that, apart from the specific issues of replacement and potential by-elections that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock raised, there are other matters about which hon. Members on both sides of the House are unhappy. The first concerns some of the detail of Lords amendment No. 1—the Weatherill amendment. Some hon. Members also object to the principle of the proposals. I accept that those are valid and legitimate concerns, but the Government believe that the House can live with and accept what are transitional proposals for a transitional House.

Everyone has gained something from the understanding that we have reached. The Government have not only gained but added to their legislative programme, with measures—in particular on food safety—that are of much worth and importance to the British people.

The House of Lords has gained a broadly—although not universally—supported mechanism that allows the continued participation, albeit on a different basis, of some of its most active and experienced hereditary Members. The country will gain if, as a result of the passage of the Bill, we begin for the first time in our long and varied history to have a mature and considered debate about what a second legislative Chamber ought to be and do without that debate being driven almost exclusively by the interests of hereditary peers and how those interests should be accommodated in a new House.

4.15 pm
Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

I am awfully sorry; I would have given way to the hon. Lady earlier, but I have almost finished.

If we accept the amendment and put the Bill on to the statute book tonight, we can honestly say that Britain will have taken a massive step forward that is at least a century overdue and has been resisted by the forces of conservatism, with and without a capital C, to this day. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]I am pleased to hear that reaction from the Conservatives, because it places their opposition to the change firmly on the record.

We believe that putting the Bill on to the statute book will be an achievement of which we can be justly proud. That achievement will resonate not just down the years, but down the centuries. I commend it to the House.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

If one wanted an epitaph to the Government's management of the legislative programme and their record on constitutional reform, one could do no better than look at the amendments before the House this afternoon, hours before the Government plan to prorogue. Some badly managed business over the past few days concludes with this half-completed business on the Lords today.

The Third Reading of the Bill, as amended in another place, was on the Thursday before last—nearly a fortnight ago. We could have dealt with the amendments on Monday and Tuesday of last week. The House finished its business early on those days after an interesting but perhaps less challenging debate on whether Acts of Parliament should be printed on vellum or on paper. That would have given more time for the other Bills that we have been dealing with in the past week.

Instead, after those two quiet days we have had guillotines or announcements about them almost every day and an unseemly rush to complete the Government's business, which has at times degenerated into farce. We should be grateful that the Bill was not drafted by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, which tabled 800 Government amendments to the Greater London Authority Bill in another place.

The Government have held back consideration of this important amendment until the end of the Session as part of some crude pressure on the second Chamber. They invite us to deal with it now, as the lights dim before Prorogation. It was only thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) that we were able to debate the issue the first time round.

It is possible, as the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) has said, that the second Chamber, whose powers and composition are affected by all the amendments, may last for some time, yet we discuss it in this unsatisfactory way. With the hasty consideration of all the other Bills over the past few days, I have to say that this is no way to manage the legislative programme.

This is a Bill without vision or purpose, without principle or strategy. It is an attack not so much on privilege, but on wisdom, independence, duty and public service. The Bill makes way not for something that is better and permanent, but for something that is inferior and temporary. The Government have embarked on a constitutional journey without a compass. When they were getting lost, they decided to throw overboard many of the more experienced sailors. They then had second thoughts and despatched a lifeboat, manned by Captain Weatherill, to rescue some of them. Then they rang down for Admiral Wakeham to see if he could tell them where to go. That is no way to reform the British constitution.

Mr. Gummer

Does it strike my right hon. Friend as curious that all previous Governments bent on reforming the House of Lords, led by experienced politicians, have recognised that it was their constitutional duty to propose to the House of Commons an alternative? This is the first Government to produce a reform Bill that proposes no alternative. Is it just possible that all the others were right in their judgment of constitutional propriety and that this Government are wholly wrong?

Sir George Young

I agree with my right hon. Friend. He makes an interesting point, which sits neatly against that made by the Leader of the House. She asserted that breaking the process into two made it more likely that stage 2 would be reached. One could equally forcefully put precisely the opposite proposition—that after completing stage 1 and disposing of the hereditary peers, stage 2 becomes less likely.

The amendment deals with the so-called Weatherill peers. The hereditary peers, who we are told are an offence to the democratic process, conducted their elections during the past few weeks with a dignity and decorum that has so far been absent from the process of choosing a Labour candidate for the mayor of London; a process allegedly conducted by those more familiar with the democratic process.

The electoral college in the amendment is all the hereditary peers, and most will not be in the transitional House. Frankly, they deserve better than the charmless "thank you and goodbye" from those on the Government Benches in the other place, with the emphasis, as it was, on the goodbye rather than the thank you. I read in The Sunday Times on 7 November that a spokesman for Baroness Jay said: They'll be getting a glass of champagne when the House prorogues. What more do they want after 800 years? On behalf of the Opposition, I want to place on the record our deep appreciation of the work of those hereditary peers who are not covered by the amendment. They and their predecessors have a record of public service to Britain of which they should be proud and for which we should be grateful. We are sad to see so many distinguished parliamentarians leaving the upper House, including scores of people who have given dedicated voluntary services over many years. Time and again, they have stood up for common sense and the rights of the weak against powerful Governments of all colours, and we saw them do that again last Monday.

History will judge those peers better than fashion now does. Parliament will be the lesser for their going. They deserve better than the graceless and charmless farewell from the Leader of the upper House. If the new House has a shred of the decency, courtesy, independence and open-mindedness of the old, it will be the better for it.

Angela Smith (Basildon)

The hon. Gentleman's comments go to the heart of the Opposition's misunderstanding of the matter. Labour Members have never criticised those active individual peers who have given a great deal of service; it is because they have no legitimacy that we have criticised them.

Sir George Young

An elementary matter of courtesy should be discharged by those in the other place. That was omitted and I was happy to put that fact on the record on behalf of the Opposition.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir George Young

I should like to make some progress.

I doubt that the Leader of the House enjoyed delivering the speech that she just made, inviting, as she did, her right hon. and hon. Friends to vote down a clear manifesto commitment. Last week, I heard hon. Members ask where the manifesto commitment for the reductions in benefits for the disabled was. They were referred to some rather general commitments to reform the welfare state, which persuaded enough of them to support the Government.

Today, however, Labour Members must have listened to the President of the Council—a title that has survived modernisation—with some incredulity. The manifesto commitment could not have been clearer: As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the rights of the hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute. Now they will not. Hereditary peers will be sitting and voting in the other place in the next Parliament despite the efforts of the people's party, and that Parliament will be the better served by their presence. Unlike life peers, they will owe nothing to the patronage of anyone living for their place there. Labour Members want to replace time-honoured privilege with modern patronage. They are a party which hates the past, but which is afraid to shape the future.

Many of my hon. Friends will have seen The Sunday Times last Sunday, which stated: Blair wants the Committee on Lords reform to stop discussing policy. He wants it to start discussing tactics. Denis Carter lost his temper. 'Tactics! Tactics! All he thinks about are tactics! He's got no policy at all! Policy he may not have; patronage he has. The Prime Minister has created 171 peers in less than two and a half years—more, as we have heard, than my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) managed in seven years. One third of all life peers have been appointed by the Prime Minister. One quarter of the new House will owe its presence there to the Prime Minister. Is that the sort of second Chamber that we want?

Mrs. Beckett

The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that despite what he and his colleagues suggest is the unreasonable exercise of patronage, there are still more Conservative life peers than Labour life peers. This reflects the point that I made to him earlier.

Sir George Young

I hope that the Leader of the House is not concluding that we want a house of patronage, which would be deeply damaging to Parliament.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) has said, we should not be dealing with this amendment at all. If the Government wanted to reform the second Chamber, they should have done so rationally and thoroughly. If they had made faster progress—as we urged them to—we would have the report of the royal commission before us, and we could have dealt with the whole matter sensibly and coherently. We could have dealt with stage 1 and stage 2 together—demolition and reconstruction. We could then have judged whether what the Government proposed was better or worse than what we have at the moment.

The Times put it very well in a leader on 15 May, which said: We see no sufficient justification for a measure which merely abolishes the participation of the hereditary peers before the composition of the new second Chamber has been determined.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

In years to come, when the hereditary peers have had time to reflect on why, in the early 1990s, the Labour party suddenly took a greater interest in the question of reform, they would do well to reflect on a few votes in the House of Lords in the late 1980s and early 1990s, such as on the community charge or poll tax. Labour activists were incensed that these people came to London uniquely to vote in favour of their own self-interest. When they reflect on these matters, they might then consider why this has happened.

Sir George Young

The hon. Gentleman asks an interesting question—should a revised second Chamber have the right to overthrow a manifesto commitment of the elected Chamber? That is the implication of what he has said. Even if one concedes his argument, it does not deal with my point. We should have reconstruction at the same time as demolition. The Government's failure to approach this task in a logical and considered way is typical of their approach to the constitution, which they treat with cavalier disregard.

Mr. Mackinlay

It will not have escaped the notice of the House that the Conservatives never proposed reform of the upper House—at least not on the scale that we are talking about now. The right hon. Gentleman said that we should wait for the royal commission. Will he give an undertaking, on behalf of the Opposition, that they will support the recommendations of the royal commission, and will be prepared to do so in the Lobby? If not, it will underline the point that there is not much prospect of getting consensus and legislation for the next stage.

Sir George Young

The hon. Gentleman asks me to give a commitment which I very much doubt his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would have given had he asked her. We are delighted that the royal commission has been appointed, and we await its deliberations with interest. However, it is not right to say that we have not reformed the House of Lords—we introduced life peerages in the 1950s.

Mr. Bercow

It seems as if the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) misrepresents the thinking of Conservative Members of Parliament. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most distinguished Conservative philosopher of all time, Edmund Burke, was right to say that the state which lacks the means of change lacks the means of its conservation, but that the criterion according to which we should judge the desirability of change is whether it is practically effective, and not on the basis of some abstract theory?

Sir George Young

I agree entirely.

In the amendment, we see the 92 Weatherill peers as the hereditary grit in the constitutional oyster, provoking the Government to produce a pearl of constitutional reform. Indeed, we need to press the Government to move to stage 2—proper, genuine reform. We may then have not a house of patronage, but something better than what we have lost. The amendment keeps in public service a number of people who would otherwise have been lost, bringing with them continuity, experience and judgment.

4.30 pm

I disagree with what the hon. Member for Thurrock said about the by-election arrangements. I welcome the proposals on the replacement of Weatherill peers who die. That will happen from the end of the first Session of the next Parliament if stage 2 has not been enacted by then. Until then, places will be filled by the nearest losers in last week's ballot. The ballot for the 15 Deputy Speakers disproved the assertion that the House is run by Conservatives for Conservatives. The top two were a Cross Bencher and a Labour peer.

Originally, the Government said that by-elections should be left to Standing Orders. That would have meant that the remaining hereditary peers could have been allowed to wither on the vine and we could then have seen a quango House created by stealth. If the transitional Chamber lasts and is not to be wholly appointed, we need some means of replacing the elected peers. The amendment means that if the Government subsequently want to knock out peers who are elected, they will have to do so by primary legislation in the full glare of public debate.

In the meantime, the Bill has been a distraction for the second Chamber, whose main task has been to hold this Government to account and scrutinise this Session's massive legislative programme. Worse, the Government have sought to set House of Commons against House of Lords when the real battle today is between Parliament and the Executive. The two Chambers are allies in that battle, not enemies.

This is all being done in the name of democracy and modernising Parliament. However, the Government are not modernising Parliament but marginalising it. Parliament needs not modernisation but strengthening. As this Session draws to a close, we see a Government losing control of their legislative programme. We see a Government who never had control of the constitutional programme. They are in disarray as they choose a candidate for mayor and ignore the English dimension of devolution. They are in disarray on the second Chamber and proportional representation, on which they are walking away from their manifesto commitment to hold a referendum—all this from a party that has the nerve to lecture the country about joined-up government.

Tonight, we should say goodbye not to the hereditary peers but to this Government's irresponsible approach to the British constitution.

Mr. Benn

This is the second time the Weatherill amendment has been before the House. The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) moved it earlier in the Session and I received a three-line Whip to vote against it. Today, I have a three-line Whip to vote in favour of it. That puts loyal party members in some difficulty, although I think that André Maurois, in his famous book "Ariel"—about his time as a French liaison officer with the British Army in the first world war—said that orders contrary in sense from officers equal in rank cancel themselves out.

The amendment is a total breach of the manifesto on which we were elected. I have to say that, because there was no provision whatever not only to allow hereditary peers to remain but to let them elect each other in perpetuity. I think that parties should take their manifestos seriously, particularly as we had an overwhelming majority. By now, we could have had what I would like to have seen: a wholly elected second Chamber.

I agree with what was said by Opposition Members about personal abuse. I see no reason to abuse any person who has inherited a peerage. It would be difficult for me to take a contrary view. Indeed, I accept that many of the people who are hereditary peers have worked long and hard in the second Chamber. My objection to them is not their inheritance but their power. That is the question to which the Labour party has often given its attention.

As a matter of fact, I could justify my view on the ground of revenge, because on 18 February 1955, I was sitting in the Moses Room when five peers forced me out of the House of Commons, to which I had been elected, on the ground that I had a duty to go to a Chamber to which I had not been elected. However, I put that all aside.

The objectionable thing about hereditary and life peers is that neither have been elected. That is the problem: not how they get there. The national lottery could produce a second Chamber with the same difficulties. It is amazing that a House whose entire authority rests upon election—none of us is here by any reason other than the fact that people put us here—should be unable to manage to advance a credible argument for the election of the other Chamber. What makes this place different—and here I should like to argue the democratic case if it is not too controversial, although I sometimes think that it is—is that we are elected and removed by the people we represent. Because of that, we have to listen to them. I spoke about that during the Adjournment debate on this subject in the small hours of this morning. Our relationship with the electorate is the most important relationship of all. People seek out their representative; they say to me, "I have written to you, Mr. Benn, because you are my MP." There is none of that in the House of Lords, whether we are talking about life or hereditary peers. Not having to listen to people means that they can do what they like.

The prejudices of hereditary or life peers may be good or bad, but they are prejudices, and have no legitimacy or accountability. It is an insult that that should be put forward in a democratic society, even as part of a secret deal. I do not know when the negotiations with Lord Cranborne began. I read somewhere that it was before the election. Whether that is true—whether the Labour party was telling the public that it was going to get rid of the hereditary peers while Lord Cranborne was having private discussions with the then Leader of the Opposition—I do not know. Anyway, Lord Cranborne has been rewarded with a life peerage—the Cecils always end up on top.

The reality is that we were deliberately bypassed and, without being offensive—because it is not my purpose to argue in that way—I have to say that patronage is corrupting. I am not saying that corrupt deals take place, but to have the power of patronage corrupts the giver and to receive patronage corrupts the person who receives it. Surely a democratic Chamber should be able to argue that case without embarrassment, even in the presence of distinguished people who may be observing us from afar.

It took 700 years to make the House of Commons democratic. I have in previous debates cited some of the arguments that were used against extending the vote. When, before the first world war, suffragettes demanded that women should have the vote, Mr. Asquith, the great Liberal leader, said that if women got the vote it would destroy parliamentary democracy. I have looked it up in Hansard. When the Great Reform Bill went through, the Duke of Wellington argued that extending the franchise would destroy parliamentary democracy. These phrases have been used in every period of parliamentary history. When, in 1972, I proposed having a referendum on the European question, Jeremy Thorpe said that it would destroy parliamentary democracy. We, who rightly acquire and lose our power and authority because we are elected, should be in no doubt about the basis of parliamentary election.

I shall vote against the amendment. When the Epping amendment was moved earlier, I told the House that I would vote against it then and I shall vote against it now. I know that it will not have any impact on the outcome. However, I do not believe that there will be a second stage in my lifetime, although 1 aim to live to 100. Why should a new House of Lords, recipient of a fresh statute, get rid of itself to please Lord Wakeham, the Prime Minister or anybody else? The House of Lords will not do that.

I have seen Lord Wakeham's proposals, which were leaked to The Daily Telegraph. He thinks that some of the Lords should be elected. I was staggered at his radicalism and boldness. There is no desire in the British establishment for an elected second Chamber. The British establishment has never liked democracy in this House, and it has no intention of seeing the virus spread to a second House. Until we make that clear, we shall be muddling along with small compromises that contribute nothing to the advancement of the people's right to determine how they are governed.

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)

In her opening remarks, the Leader of the House referred to a long journey, beginning at the start of the century. I suggest that the journey began much longer ago. One of the clichéd adjectives applied to the Bill as we reach its final stages in this debate is "historic". I should like to take up a little portion of time in the debate, as the substance of the hereditary legislative rights of the peerage passes into history, to say a few words about that history and its significance, as I see it, for this House, today and in the future.

It is a pity that much of the debate, especially speeches by Labour Members, has failed to recognise that we are touching on a fundamental matter. In his book "Germania", Tacitus describes the political institutions of our Teutonic ancestors as they were in his time, 1,900 years ago; they were already old then. He wrote: They choose their kings on account of their nobility, their leaders on account of their valour. On smaller matters the chiefs debate, on greater matters all men, but so that those things whose final decision rests with the whole people are first handled by the chiefs". In that account, we see the germ of the British constitution as it has survived to this day. There is a monarchy, essentially a sacred institution associated with the bloodline of a single family; thus the Queen can trace her ancestry back to Cerdic and the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in England. There is a popular assembly, no doubt informally representative even in its earliest form as described by Tacitus; that is the germ of the House of Commons. Finally, there are the chiefs: the great men, leaders in war and counsellors in peace, whose shades we disturb today as we debate this measure of House of Lords reform.

To see this set out in pristine clarity, we can do no worse than to turn to the formula that prefaces the Bill, as it does all other Acts. It clearly states the constitutional basis on which we make law and sets out the historic balance between the different elements in the process of lawmaking. It stands at the beginning of every one of our laws, which might explain why it is so little noticed. I shall read it out, so that the House can note the order and proportion of the words: Be it enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons"— a bit of an afterthought, reflecting the late place of this House in our national history— in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows". It is interesting to consider how and when the composition of the councils of the chiefs became hereditary. There must have been an hereditary element, even in the earliest German assemblies: the principle of sacred blood rights did not attach only to the kingship. The reception of Christianity in the sixth century brought into the king's council the presence of bishops and abbots, who were not there by hereditary right. Nevertheless, when the representatives of the commons, the burgesses and the knights of the shire, came along in the 13th century—quite late in the day—the lay element of the king's great council had long enjoyed the right of hereditary succession. As the concept of the royal council faded into that of Parliament, that became one of the principal points of difference between what became known in the 16th century as the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

So far, my account may have struck some hon. Members as being of merely antiquarian interest, but if those now frowning bear with me, I shall attempt to demonstrate its relevance to our current position, because it relates to the discussion about legitimacy which marked the speech by the Leader of the House. The reason why—

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

Order. Almost everyone has to lead into an argument, but the hon. Gentleman must lead into the amendment being debated, or I shall have to stop him. He should start talking about the amendment.

Mr. Jackson

That is precisely what I want to do, because this is the first opportunity we have had to discuss the issue.

The reason for the presence of the leading men in the royal councils was that property is power: even when the feudal monarchy was at its most powerful, property held from the Crown tended to be hereditary. That association between property and power draws our attention to the fundamental principle that underlay the historic House of Lords: that it is to the advantage of the realm that the most powerful men of the possessing classes should be involved in government and its responsibilities.

Throughout English history, there have been episodes of aristocratic anarchy. There was factionalism among the great men—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but he must speak to the amendment. The history of these matters is extremely interesting, but it is best reserved for another debate, not this one.

Mr. Jackson

I am pursuing the subject of our debate. Legitimacy is relevant to the hereditary principle; it is at the heart of the issues that underlie the amendment. I want to continue to present my argument.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I tell the hon. Gentleman that we cannot go into the issues that underlie the amendment; we must discuss the amendment. If the hon. Gentleman cannot do that, I am sorry to tell him that he will have to resume his seat.

4.45 pm
Mr. Jackson

I am considering the hereditary principle, which is the subject of the amendment.

Angela Smith

I share the confusion in the House about the hon. Gentleman's comments. Is he defending the hereditary principle and claiming that it should persist today and save the House of Lords?

Mr. Jackson

I want to persist in my speech so that I can answer that question.

We have had a system that served the country well for a long time. One of the reasons for the contrast between English and continental history is that our solution to the problem of accommodating social and economic power with political power has been more successful than that in our neighbouring countries. Today, we are putting aside the remains of that great system. The amendment would preserve little more than a relic of it.

It is interesting to consider when our historic solution began to fall apart. Its failure is recent. Even today, if we were to examine the list of the 500 largest property owners in Britain, we would find that it included a striking number of peers, most of them descended from families that have held a similar position for more than a century. Until the 1960s at least, conscious efforts were made to introduce to the peerage most of the significant new power holders in business and industry.

As we approach 2000, however, we must acknowledge that we are in a different world. Our world today is not different in the way that most Labour Members and some on the Opposition Benches consider it different. The difference is not that democracy and the elective principle have triumphed, but that the rise of an industrial economy and the relative decline of agriculture, and the growing separation of control from ownership in business, have meant that property ownership has become increasingly anonymous and, at the same time, more international. The hereditary House of Lords is fading because national coherence, the national public realm and national capital are also fading.

During the debates on the Bill in this House, hon. Members have tended to condescend to the poor old hereditaries. We feel secure and justified because we have been elected. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) made it clear that that was the basis of his argument. However, we make a grave mistake if we conclude that we can dismiss the principle on which the historic House of Lords was based. That principle is infinitely older than that of one man, one vote—as I have tried, perhaps in vain, to demonstrate. OMOV, as the Labour party calls it, is a 20th century phenomenon. It is associated as much with the tragedies of 20th century totalitarianism as with the triumphs of 20th century democracies. One of the enduring facts of life will continue to be that property is power. The difference today is that, as we move into the 21st century, Britain will no longer have a constitutional mechanism for binding the ownership of property to the exercise of public responsibility.

Angela Smith

We should accept that the proposals in the Weatherill amendment are transitional. I do not accept that we have reached the end of the argument. We are at stage 1 and we shall move on to stage 2. I was grateful for the assurances of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that we shall move to stage 2 as quickly as possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), who is my neighbour, said that he was cautious about the amendment. However, it is up to hon. Members to ensure that the Leader of the House keeps her promise—I have no doubt that she will do so.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)

Will the hon. Lady hazard a guess as to when she thinks that we will reach stage 2?

Angela Smith

I do not presume to be able to answer that question; it is a matter for the Leader of the House. However, if delay is unacceptable, I am sure that hon. Members will communicate that fact to my right hon. Friend. The Liberal Democrats are ill equipped to comment about that issue as they gave us the current configuration of the House of Lords in 1911 and have not done anything further since then. I have more faith in my Government than in the Liberal Democrats.

Why should we accept the Weatherill amendment and allow peers to remain in the transitional House? Unlike the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), many of my hon. Friends and I stand by the principle that there should be no hereditary peers in the second Chamber. The arguments have been well rehearsed here and in another place. The issues were debated with more decorum here than in the other place, so I was surprised to hear the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) say that debates in the House of Lords were conducted with great decorum.

Fortunately, hon. Members' children have been far better behaved than the offspring of one of their lordships who, to the amazement of many, jumped up and down on the Woolsack. While claiming to defend tradition, he clearly showed no respect for it; while decrying the will of the elected House to be "treason", he showed no respect for democracy. In any other walk of life, such bizarre behaviour would disqualify a person from involvement in a given activity. Yet the Earl of Burford behaved in that manner in an attempt to defend his right to legislate on the basis of his birthright. It was a bit like the tantrum of a naughty child—and we all know that naughty children who throw tantrums do not get what they want.[Interruption.] Conservative Members groan; I hope that they are not defending the Earl of Burford' s actions.

The Conservative party's 1997 campaign guide was extremely illuminating on this point. I wonder whether the Conservatives were thinking of the Earl of Burford when they wrote: An asset to democracy, hereditary peers bring colour, tradition, youth and a wealth of experience to Parliament. They are linked to the customs and traditions that formed and shaped this country". We could do without customs and colour such as that.

The amendment is an interesting distraction, but let us consider the legitimacy of the second Chamber as a transitional House rather than the antics of one rather bizarre peer.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

I agree with the hon. Lady that this amendment is about colour and tradition rather than who holds the power. Does she share my concerns that, in the foreseeable future, people will continue to serve in the upper House who have never faced an election and who cannot be removed by the great British public? That is the key difference between the two Chambers.

Angela Smith

I shall come to that point in a moment.

Given the comments of Opposition Members, I do not think that today's debate is about the quality of hereditary peers. I have not heard any criticism from Labour Members of those peers who have performed their duty to this country. On the contrary, credit has been paid to those men and women of great ability. It has been said that peers are fulfilling voluntary duties and will no longer be able to perform that service. As a former officer of the all-party group for charities and the voluntary sector, I can suggest numerous voluntary organisations that would be pleased to welcome their services.

This debate is about the legitimacy of the second Chamber, and hereditary peers give it no legitimacy. The peers would have had much greater legitimacy if they had been elected or appointed to the second Chamber on their own merits rather than appointed on the merits or otherwise of their forebears. The amendment provides a temporary reprieve. In order to pass important legislation, we have reached a temporary—I stress that word—compromise.

To be honest, I do not particularly like that compromise. In terms of the contents and principle of the Bill, I think it is unnecessary. Most agree that the principle of hereditary lawmakers is outdated and inefficient. However, our commitment to reforming the House of Lords must be viewed alongside our commitment to change and the other promises that we made to the electorate. It is not our only policy.

Mrs. Laing

I understand from her comments that the hon. Lady intends to support the amendment. However, on 15 February this year, she voted against an almost identical amendment that I proposed. How can she reconcile voting against the measure in February and for it this evening?

Angela Smith

I urge the hon. Lady to be patient, because I am coming to that point.

A compromise has been reached, but I would much prefer it if the amendment were not before the House. Reform of the House of Lords is not the only policy that the Government have. We made a commitment to the electorate to get our policies through, and we have obligations to fulfil. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said, we have to take our manifesto seriously. We cannot fail to keep our obligations to the electorate because we are pursuing only the issue of the second Chamber, which is based on those put into position by the actions of their ancestors.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

How many of the hon. Lady's constituents came up to her at the last election and said that, over and above new schools and new hospitals, the one thing that they wanted her to do was to abolish the check on the House of Commons?

Angela Smith

The hon. Gentleman, who I know is in favour of hereditary peerages, makes my point for me. People did not want this issue to be put above the issues of health and education. That is why we have had to accept a compromise to get the Bill through without jeopardising our policies on issues such as health and education.

The nature of compromise means that not everyone is completely satisfied, and I stress that I am not completely satisfied. If everyone were satisfied, it would not be a compromise. The proposal is imperfect, but it is not the end; it is stage 1.

Whenever we debate in the Chamber, we should always have a sense of history. This issue is not just about those who were in this place before us, but about those who will come after us and how we will be viewed in the future. This debate, and the issue that we are debating, will be viewed with some incredulity by those who come after us. They will be incredulous not that the debate is taking place, but that we are holding it now and that it has taken so long to get here.

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

When the Government introduced their original Bill, they set out quite clearly their view of its purpose, which was effectively to remove hereditary peers. As a result of the amendment passed in another place, sadly, the Government's purpose has been defeated and we are left with a very diminished Bill. It will certainly greatly change the upper House, but it is far removed from what I think that the Government had in mind and certainly from what Liberal Democrat Members had in mind when we argued that we would introduce and support proposals to end hereditary peerages and the powers of those who had come to the upper House solely by descent.

In the debate that we held courtesy of the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing), who tabled an amendment when the House was considering the Bill, it was made clear that the Government's preference was to have the Bill in its original form. The Leader of the House even tonight has suggested that she would have preferred the Bill in its original form. I do not doubt that she is sincere in expressing that view, because it certainly conforms with her political history.

Even if stage 1 of the reform of the House of Lords had gone through as the Government intended, it would not have legitimised the upper House and it would not have made it a House that is appropriate for a modern democracy. Therefore, one has to ask why on earth we approached the reform in that way.

The experience of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) may be called in evidence. He spoke of the attitude of the Liberal party in 1911 and earlier to votes for women and other issues. It is true that the Liberal party gutted the power of the House of Lords by reducing its role to the mere power to delay, but it did not substantially alter its membership. However, the right hon. Gentleman did not refer to the failure of the succeeding Labour Government and later Labour Governments, including the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member, to effect the democratisation of the upper House. We are entitled to try to learn from that experience.

5 pm

I do not doubt that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, as a member of the Labour Government in which the issue was led by the late Dick Crossman, was firmly of the view that a democratised upper House was appropriate. What has to be said is that it was never regarded as so important that it should be given the full weight of commitment that would have been required to use powers under the Parliament Act to disrupt all other Government business, and to give it the priority over other business that would have been necessary to achieve that democratisation. We have to face that history in deciding how to bring about the democratisation of the upper House.

Mr. Tony Benn

Although the Parliament Act allows us to override obstruction of legislation by the Lords, that House has an absolute veto on statutory instruments. I do not know whether the House realises that, if the Lords vote down an instrument requiring an affirmative vote, there is nothing that the Commons can do about that.

I pay tribute to the work of the Liberal Government, because my father was a Liberal Whip at the time of the Parliament Act, so I know of the struggles that took place, but we have not ever tackled the issue since.

Mr. Maclennan

I want to avoid the trap of giving a lesson in constitutional history or seeking to be totally comprehensive in my elucidation of these issues, thereby sustaining my reputation for a somewhat academic approach. I am anxious to cut the cant.

Mr. Gummer

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maclennan

I think that the right hon. Gentleman should allow me to make a little progress.

Mr. Gummer


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) is not giving way.

Mr. Maclennan

This is simply the preamble to my speech, and it seems inappropriate to add to it by allowing the right hon. Gentleman to intervene.

We have set ourselves the task of democratising the upper House. I say "we" advisedly because, before the election, the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats reached agreement on this matter. I have to ask myself whether the Bill accelerates that democratisation process at all. It takes a modest step in that direction by removing a substantial number of hereditary peers, but it does no more than that. I find the Weatherill amendment, as it is called, insupportable.

Mr. Tyrie

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maclennan

No, not at the moment. I am trying to develop an argument.

I do not intend to support the Weatherill amendment. In another place, my noble Friends did not support it and gave their reasons. I am not constrained by the Government's whipping arrangements and therefore feel no obligation to go into the Lobby in support of an amendment that, frankly, will produce a fairly nonsensical arrangement. However, the objective of reform will be advanced to the extent that the new House may be able to participate more constructively in the discussion of the composition and powers of its successor than could a House so hopelessly dominated by hereditary peers as is the present House of Lords.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

Will the right hon. Gentleman enlighten us as to how the current upper House has in any way suggested in its debates or by its actions that it would be unable to co-operate with the Government in coming up with a full range of complete proposals without having to go through this halfway stage?

Mr. Maclennan

I have read reports of the debates in another place. They were not enormously constructive as to the future role or structure of the upper House. I had the sense that the noble Lords were defending their own; they were not considering the matter from the point of view of the electors and the public; they did not consider such matters as the efficacy of the control of the Executive, or the greater legitimacy of the upper House. Legitimacy is a word that does not come easily to the lips of those who are Members of a House by virtue either of patronage or of inheritance. Consequently, the idea that is central to the issue has been almost entirely neglected in the other place. That cannot be so for much longer.

I hope that, increasingly, we shall find common ground. I am very much in agreement with the remarks made by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), when he opened the debate for the Conservatives. We should be trying to create a legitimate upper House that is capable of holding the Executive to account. That must be the role of a proper, reformed upper House.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

What does the Commons do?

Mr. Maclennan

The House of Commons, by virtue of the fact that it is considerably dominated by patronage and by the substantial presence of the Government, is much less capable of holding the Executive to account than an independently elected House of Lords—or senate as we would prefer to call it—would be. For that reason, I hope that we shall enjoy the support of several Opposition Members for the proposals that we have put to the royal commission on that subject.

I understand the Government's dilemma—in negotiations with the Cecils, it is not entirely unsurprising that they were outsmarted. However, I hope that the result will not be a second House with the structure that would be brought about if the measure were accepted. That would be indefensible in principle, and would do nothing to enhance the authority of the House of Lords with the public. It fails the first task set by the Government—of ending membership of the House of Lords by virtue of holding a hereditary peerage. For those reasons, I cannot commend the amendment to the House and I advise hon. Members to abstain.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

It is pleasing to follow that clarion call for principle—in support of abstention.

I am happy and more than pleased to support the Cross-Bench amendment. In the 1997 general election, my party made a clear manifesto commitment—to seek a two-stage reform for the abolition of the hereditary peers from the House of Lords. That is what the measure will achieve, because 90 per cent. of the hereditary peers will go straight away, and even the other 10 per cent.—those who have been elected to remain in the second Chamber—will also go in the sense that they will no longer be hereditary peers. Their status will change; in effect, they will become life peers and there will be no right to succession. That is sensible government and politics—the achievement of our ends through a pragmatic compromise.

We support that pragmatic compromise because, without it, the whole of the Government's legislative programme would have been delayed or blocked. The abolition of the hereditary peers is an extremely important measure, but it is not important enough to allow all our key programmes—on health, education, public transport and other matters—to be blocked. I could not, in all conscience, have told my constituents that, because we were not prepared to make a sensible compromise, we had lost legislation on significant matters that were included in our general election manifesto.

Mr. Fallon

That is the second time that the allegation has been made that, somehow, the upper House was, or has, or is, intending to block legislative programmes on health and education. What is the evidence for that allegation?

Mr. Rammell

The evidence is very clear. When the crisis in the Conservative leadership in the House of Lords first developed, unattributed briefings in numerous newspaper articles made it clear that that leadership would attempt to use reform of the second Chamber to harry, delay and block legislation. The Government would not have been right to accept that.

Mr. Gummer

How did the hon. Gentleman fail to notice that those in the other House rejected the proposed reduction in benefits for disabled people, which many Labour Members supported? Is he really suggesting that a House that has taken what to many of his hon. Friends seemed a progressive view was likely to hold up legislation on health and education? Surely that is nothing to do with the facts. Is he believing what he reads in the newspapers rather too much?

Mr. Rammell

The former leader of the Conservatives in the House of Lords said that he was prepared to act like a hooligan to block the Government's sensible reforms. Anybody who has considered the issues, listened over the years to the Conservative party and observed the way in which it has defended its vested interest in the House of Lords, would draw the conclusion that it would have used its clear majority in the other place to block sensible Government reforms.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)

Perhaps we can nail this nonsense that there would not have been a concerted effort to block legislation in the Lords. Has my hon. Friend forgotten that the leader of the Conservatives in the Lords was sacked for entering into negotiations to achieve a consensus, and precisely because he would not follow a campaign of outright opposition, as the Conservative Front-Bench team in the Commons wanted?

Mr. Rammell

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I had forgotten that point, which shows just how long we have been debating the issues.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

The hon. Gentleman is mixing his facts. First, he has confused Lord Onslow with Lord Strathclyde. Secondly, I should put on record, as did Lord Cranborne both before and after leading the Conservatives in the House of Lords, that he abided by the Salisbury convention.

Mr. Rammell

I have certainly seen quotations from Hansard in the other place that have clearly shown that Conservative peers were not prepared to abide by the Salisbury convention if it did not suit their purposes. I remember specifically one Conservative peer arguing that it was a constitutional outrage to suggest such changes.

Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We cannot have shouting across the Floor of the House.

Mr. Fallon

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) to say that he remembers quotations, but not to provide them?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is a matter for debate; it has nothing to do with the Chair.

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

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When an hon. Member cites a quotation, do not Hansard Reporters ask for the exact version and, if it cannot be provided, it does not go on the record?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I did not hear the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) quote anybody.

5.15 pm
Mr. Rammell

I say explicitly that, following the debate, I shall be more than happy to provide the direct quotation and the exact time when the Conservative peer made the outrageous accusation. The number of interventions and the hostility that I am receiving from Conservative Members reminds me of the saying of the colonel in "Dad's Army": They don't like it up 'em. We are fundamentally challenging the position and interests of the Conservative party.

Mr. Peter Bradley (The Wrekin)

He was not a colonel; he was a lance corporal. Rank is everything in this place.

Mr. Rammell

I promoted him by mistake.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) spoke in support of 100 per cent. direct elections to the second Chamber. I imagine that most Labour and Liberal Democrat Members would instinctively support such a proposal. However, the more that we consider the issue and imagine the results, the more difficult it becomes to envisage such a second Chamber not challenging the supremacy of the House of Commons—not in acting as a legitimate check on the Executive or reasonably and legitimately asking the Commons to revise its proposed legislation, but simply because Members of the second Chamber, who would have a different electoral mandate, fundamentally disagreed with the Government of the day.

I say honestly that I have not worked all my political life for the election of a Labour Government—other Members are in exactly the same position—to see their programme stymied and blocked by a second Chamber that thinks that, simply on the grounds of politics, it is legitimate to oppose my party's election manifesto commitments.

Mr. Allan

I shall not follow the hon. Gentleman in a debate that is properly for the reformed second Chamber. I simply point out that two elected Chambers seems to be the global norm in a bicameral system. Everybody else gets by with two elected Chambers, including the United States.

Mr. Rammell

The Chambers in the United States have very different functions from those proposed and debated here.

The concern that I am expressing about a 100 per cent. elected Chamber is not some novel, new Labour concern. The Brice convention in 1917-18, under Lloyd George, rejected the option of a directly elected second Chamber on the ground that it would inevitably become a rival to the House of Commons. The same concerns were voiced in 1948—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must be careful. We are debating amendments that are far more narrow than his comments. We should try to concentrate on the Weatherill amendment.

Mr. Rammell

I take your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was merely responding to some of the points raised by Conservative Members.

The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), for whom I have great respect—he knows that I agree with him on matters European—asked why I am in favour of a two-stage process. It is because history teaches us not to trust members of the Conservative party on this issue. Throughout the past 89 years, Conservatives have said, "Of course we are in favour of the notion of a reformed second Chamber, but we need to see what will follow it." The lack of consensus on a second stage has then been used as a means to block reform and the abolition of the hereditary peerage.

Mr. Gummer

If the hon. Gentleman had a leg that gave him pain, would he think it sensible if someone suggested that it should be chopped off before it was decided what should be put in its place? No, he would want to know first what was on offer instead of his defective leg. The hon. Gentleman is offering the House a curious concept: we will get rid of what we have got—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is making a speech, not an intervention.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin), has passed between you and the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) and between the hon. Gentleman and a Conservative Member who was intervening. Is that in order?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I shall deal with the things that I see and hear. At the moment, I am trying to deal with the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), whose intervention is too long. The best thing would be for the right hon. Gentleman to resume his seat.

Mr. Rammell

Let me answer the point of the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal, by saying that, by agreeing now on the first stage of reform, we shall concentrate minds on achieving the second stage. The past 89 years of history show that, if we abolish hereditary peers now, we are far more likely to get second stage reform than would otherwise be the case.

I hear protestations from Conservative Members—

Mrs. Laing

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rammell

I shall finish the point; then I will give way.

I hear protestations from Conservative Members that their integrity is being impugned and that of course they are in favour of reform. I would not ask you to believe me or believe the Government, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I shall quote to you Lord Chalfont in a debate in the House of Lords, who said: One of the things about which I am sorry is that the Conservative government, when they were in power, did not take some steps towards reforming this House."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 26 October 1999; Vol. 606, c. 225.] The fact that the Conservative party never took those steps, and certainly never did so in 18 years in government, undermines the Conservatives' claims that they are in favour of reform.

Mr. Tyrie

Lord Chalfont is an ex-Labour Minister who now sits on the Cross Benches. As for the hon. Gentleman's wider points, for the better part of 100 years, the Conservative party has been proposing forms of direct or indirect election to the second Chamber. For much of that period, the Labour party has been proposing complete abolition of the second Chamber, and has done so in three manifestos since 1911

Angela Smith

Do not quote manifestos.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Once again, I urge the House to get back to the amendments. We must deal with the amendments before us.

Mr. Rammell

I shall follow your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

An accusation has been made that the Labour party and this Labour Government are unfairly using their position to create a significantly increased number of life peers. That fails to take account of what has happened over the years, with the huge Conservative majority in the second Chamber. Are Conservative Members arguing that we should continue to accept that we shall permanently be in a minority position vis-a-vis the Conservative party in the House of Lords?

When we are judging which party is being dogmatic and trying to use the situation in a partisan way, we might make an instructive comparison. We have a Labour Government and a Labour Prime Minister who, for the first time, are giving up the rights of patronage, and are seeking a second Chamber in which no party has an overall majority. Contrast that with the Conservative party in 1979, with Lady Thatcher as Prime Minister. Despite the fact that there was already a significant majority of Conservative peers over Labour peers, she sought to increase the disparity between the Conservative party and the Labour party. That shows which party and which Government are being straight and fair on these issues.

Mrs. Beckett

As the last intervention suggested that the Conservative party's bona fides were demonstrated by having been said to be in favour of some form of different system—perhaps election to the House of Lords—for such a long time, I remind my hon. Friend that, on paper, since 1948, the Conservative party has been in favour of no party having a majority in the House of Lords, but it has added to that majority ever since.

Mr. Rammell

Absolutely. In responding to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, I am very conscious that the word hypocrisy is not allowed to be bandied around in the Chamber, so I choose my words carefully. She makes her point very forcefully. The nub of the amendments—

Mrs. Laing


Mr. Fraser


Mr. Rammell

I shall not give way again, because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak.

The nub of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), and of some of the concerns expressed by Conservative Members, is that this is not a two-stage process—that the Government will complete the first stage and then things will remain the same for ever and a day. I honestly do not believe that to be the case.

The Government are arguing, on the record, that this is a temporary solution. We are today abolishing the right of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords. The Wakeham commission will report by the end of the year, and we have committed ourselves to setting up a Committee of the two Houses afterwards. Given the sequence of events that will flow from that set of propositions, I find it inconceivable that the Labour party will not have to give an explicit commitment, in its general election manifesto, to the second stage of reform. Therefore the Conservatives' accusations are without foundation.

Finally, I would return—

Mrs. Laing

I can understand the hon. Gentleman's passion against the hereditary principle from the arguments that he has made. I can also understand why, despite that, he may well support the Lords amendment this evening out of expediency; but why did he not vote against it when I proposed it on 16 February, when he was free to do so?

Mr. Rammell

The hon. Lady well knows the answer. It is about tactics and practical politics and government. Had we agreed to that amendment at that stage, that would have reinforced those Conservative peers who wanted to block our proposals for reform. The Bill would have returned to this place and, because it was not in its original form, we could not have enforced the Parliament Acts. That seems to me to be perfectly sensible.

Mrs. Laing

Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman is consistent. So why did he not vote against it in February? I have just checked, and he did not.

Mr. Rammell

Because I want the issue to be resolved once and for all, after 89 years, and I believe that the Cross-Bench amendment is the most practical and effective way to achieve that.

I finish by returning to the comments of the shadow Leader of the House. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the common sense that the hereditary peers had shown down the years. In fact, their record has been based not on common sense but on a biased view of life and a degree of political partisanship that is clear for everyone to see, because, by and large, the hereditary peers come from one class, one interest group, with one set of values, and they predominantly support one political party. I am more than happy to pay tribute to the service of some hereditary peers, but please, please, please do not ask me to weep for the ending of a one-sided, partisan one-party racket that has been taking place in this country for far too long.

5.30 pm
Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)

Parts of that speech by the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell), with its class-based attacks, sounded slightly nauseating. I want to place on the record right away my tribute to the service of the hereditary peers, who have done an outstanding job. I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), who began his remarks with a similar tribute.

The old House did work, after a fashion. It was imperfect, but that is true of many British institutions that have grown up over the years, and we should not expect it to be perfect. Now that it has been fundamentally shaken up, I believe that, in the 21st century, there will be no logical stopping-off place short of a democratically elected second Chamber. The majority of Opposition Members probably believe that, and I suspect that a very large minority of Labour Members believe it, too.

However, I am afraid that that does not enable me to support the Blair-Cranborne deal, which has been renamed the Weatherill amendment because Lord Weatherill is a Cross-Bencher and it sounds slightly more cheerful. I shall explain why I shall not support the deal, but first I want to say a few words in support of amendment (b), which stands in my name and those of a good number of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

We have always been told that the Bill is an interim Bill, yet it has never contained even the briefest reference to stage 2 of reform. However, now there is one. Subsection (3) of the Lords amendment says that peers who satisfy the Weatherill conditions shall be excepted throughout their life until an Act of Parliament provides to the contrary". I wonder how that got into the legislation. I wonder what the Government have in mind. We were not enlightened at all by the Minister as to what that Act of Parliament might contain.

I have two views on that wording—one optimistic, one pessimistic. Perhaps in a minute the Minister will tell me which one I should assume to be right. One view is that the Government have started to think seriously about plans for an elected, or largely elected, second Chamber; there are a few reasons for thinking that they might have gone down that road. As I said, there may be a majority in the House for such a proposal. I strongly suspect that there would be, on a free vote. Eighty per cent. of the population support that approach in all opinion polls. Even Lord Wakeham is feeling the need to nod in that direction.

Moreover, that approach is logical. If the Executive wants to create an effective second Chamber, democracy is the only sensible route to take, for only an elected Chamber can hope to challenge the Executive in this place.

However, I am a pessimist. I expect that my pessimism will be confirmed in a moment.

Mrs. Beckett

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will realise that he is straying down an unnecessary diversionary route. I remind him that the proposal was not made by the Government. It was put forward in the House of Lords by a group of Cross-Bench peers, including Lord Weatherill.

I understand that the words to which the hon. Gentleman referred were included to make it clear that this section of the amendment does not confer membership of the Lords in perpetuity to those who are covered by the provision. It gives them legitimacy in the transitional House, but only in the transitional House. One could argue that it is a belt-and-braces approach, referring to the fact that a later Act of Parliament could remove them. That, as I understand it, is the reason for the wording.

Mr. Tyrie

I hope that the right hon. Lady understands her own legislation. The idea that it was drafted by a group of Cross-Benchers in a fit of absence of mind, while the Government hardly knew what was going on, and that the Government will now vote for this rather defective measure is absurd, as is the argument that the origins of the idea lay anywhere else but in meetings between Lord Cranborne and the Prime Minister. It is well documented that back-room deals were done time and again by Lord Cranborne and the then Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Richard, in order to secure the Executive's objectives.

It is scandalous to suggest that this is not a piece of Government legislation. Of course it is. That is why there is a three-line Government Whip to get it through, and why I am pessimistic. The right hon. Lady has made me even more pessimistic about the purpose of the wording of subsection (3). My best guess is that, as she implied, it is a threat to the 92 survivors who have made it through the Blair-Cranborne deal into the lifeboat. The bracketed words tell them that they do not even have life peerages, and that they could be chucked overboard at any moment.

So I come to the wider question of whether the Blair-Cranborne amendment strengthens or weakens the interim House. If the 92 peers could be chucked out at any moment, it would weaken the House. The hereditaries who remain have heard their death sentence read out and seen some colleagues' blood run, and the lucky few have been given a stay of execution. I do not believe that those peers will want to make trouble for the Executive or rock the boat. The Lords have been bought off by the short-term survival of 92 hereditaries who are virtually hostages for good behaviour. Those are the words of a hereditary peer in a letter in The Daily Telegraph today.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

My hon. Friend may be right, but there is another explanation as well, which is given by many of the 92 hereditaries. They believe that they can still make a contribution in what would otherwise be a House of cronies. It is unthinkable that peers whose families have been in the other place for up to 500 years are impressed by the prospect of another two year in a House of cronies, just because it gives them some power or prestige. Will my hon. Friend at least do them the credit of taking them at their own estimation and say that, although he may disagree with them, their motives are entirely honourable?

Mr. Tyrie

I think that the motives of those peers are honourable, and I hope that they will act in that way, but I fear the worst. I fear that they will be all too easily cowed by the threat that they will be booted out if they misbehave. The same goes for the lifers, as they now have an interest in hanging on to the remaining hereditary peers. They know that once the hereditaries have gone, the next thing that will come their way is democracy, which is as much a threat to the life peers as the Bill is to the hereditaries.

I fear that there will be much synthetic opposition from the interim House. There will be some genuine attempts to make it work, but I do not believe that it will amount to a genuine second Chamber playing an effective role—quite the opposite. Once the amendment is on the statute book, the Government and all peers will have a vested interest in minimal further change. Writing the amendment into the Bill will make change less, not more, likely.

There are many other reasons for voting against the amendment. It is "riddled with anomalies", an "artificial fix, a sop", or "a gigantic Pooh trap". Those are the words of three hereditary peers speaking in debate in the House of Lords. They use colourful language in another place—the Official Report is well worth reading.

As for the election rules and the rules of procedure, Lord Mancroft said: It is ludicrous, it is a farce, it's a complete joke". He rather spoiled it by going on to say that he would none the less stand for election as one of the 92 remaining hereditaries, "but only reluctantly."

The Blair-Cranborne amendment has nothing to do with what is right for the constitution and everything to do with an understandable struggle for survival by some hereditaries, and a determination by the Executive to minimise any checks to its authority from another place.

It is insulting to the electorate in the 21st century that part of our legislature will be chosen by electoral colleges of 92 hereditary peers. That proposition contains many absurdities, but I shall list just a few.

The electoral colleges that are being created mean that a couple of Liberal or Labour hereditaries will be able to choose who should replace one of their number if he or she dies. Those places in the legislatures will be even more rotten boroughs than Old Sarum or the one whose name I forget, which disappeared into the sea—

Mr. Gummer

As it is in my constituency, I can tell my hon. Friend that Dunwich has not yet disappeared into the sea, and those who live there are, I am happy to say, staunch voters for me.

Mr. Tyrie

I hope that the rest of my right hon. Friend's constituency does not disappear into the sea for a long time. I am always grateful for his interventions.

No provision has been made for the possibility that one of the remaining hereditaries may wish to move from one party group to another. Under the interim arrangements, it is impossible to change parties. I understand that there was not even a serious debate about the matter.

So there is to be some semblance of a legislature—I am not sure whether the Government want a serious legislature—but no proper scrutiny of the election system. We would find that unacceptable in almost any other country. The Clerk of the Parliaments will have the final say on whether the election was held properly and in any dispute about the rules. That is why I tabled an amendment to subsection (6).

I understand that none of the procedure in an election or a by-election for one of those places in the interim Chamber is justiciable. The courts can have no say. If there is a dispute about an election to this place, we can go to the courts, which can scrutinise what has happened. That remedy will be unavailable for those places in the interim Chamber.

We are witnessing a mockery of the second Chamber. The proposals are as unworkable as they are unjustifiable. It is demeaning to the electorate to be asked to put up with that. It is demeaning to all hon. Members that we are being asked to vote for it. It would be a supreme irony if we saw tonight one of the largest majorities in this Parliament, with three-line Whips operating on both sides, for a measure that probably commands less respect and support than any brought before the House in living memory.

Mr. Winnick

We know the hon. Gentleman's views about a democratically elected second Chamber, and we respect those views, even though I do not share his sentiments. Did he listen to his hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), who made it clear that he believed the hereditary principle to be more important than the democratic principle, and derided democracy, saying that it was the result of the totalitarian age? That was hardly a speech in favour of democratic principles and parliamentary democracy, to which the Opposition are supposedly committed.

Mr. Tyrie

I find the hon. Gentleman's intervention astonishing. That is not my view. I am giving my view and other hon. Members have theirs, but half the people eligible to do so signed an early-day motion in my name that supports an elected second Chamber. I had discussions with many of my party's Front Benchers and I can assure him that there is widespread support there too. I do not know when my party will come out in favour of an elected second Chamber, but I am reasonably confident that it will do so before the Labour party.

Mr. Robert Jackson

I think that my hon. Friend was in the Chamber when I made my speech. Does he agree that that account of what I said is an absolute travesty? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] My hon. Friends agree with me. I forgive the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) for that travesty because I am afraid I was unable to deliver my speech in the way that I should have liked to have done and it is quite clear that that has caused misunderstanding on the Labour Benches.

Mr. Tyrie

My hon. Friend has fought his corner well and I should perhaps have made a similar remark on his behalf—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not criticising the Chair for keeping the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) in good order.

Mr. Tyrie

We should have had single-stage reform; the two-stage process is quite ridiculous. It is a disgraceful, unjustifiable farce and if that is what the Government mean by—

Mr. Peter Bradley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tyrie

No. If that is what the Government mean by modernisation of the constitution, we can do without it. It seems to me that the modern last-ditchers are sitting on the Treasury Bench, delaying further fundamental reform. Now we know what the Prime Minister really meant when he talked about the forces of conservatism, for his Government are keeping the second Chamber in the hands of the few rather than the many. In fact, they are placing it in the hands of the even fewer.

The Prime Minister may talk about wanting to create a young country, but he acts as if he wants to hang on to—

Mrs. Beckett


Mr. Tyrie

No, I shall not give way.

The Prime Minister acts as if he is hanging on to an old Chamber.

Mrs. Beckett


Mr. Tyrie

I have said that I shall not give way.

I believe that the Government are rigging the constitution. The right hon. Lady had the effrontery to suggest that the Bill will resonate down the centuries. If it resonates at all, it will do so as a Bill that constituted a disgraceful fiddling and rigging of the British constitution. If the Government carry on in such a way, they will be seen as one of the greatest-ever mess-makers in respect of the British constitution. Deals such as that done on the amendment behind closed doors at No. 10 give politicians and British politics a bad name. I, for one, shall not support it.

Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway)

I am pleased to support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), which also stands in my name. It would remove the ability of the rump of hereditary peers to self-propagate in perpetuity by means of by-election. Such a process has its own inherent absurdity, but that is not a distinguishing feature when considered in the context of the Bill. The real vice of the proposal is that it undoubtedly appears to endow the existence of the rump of 90 hereditary peers with a measure of permanence.

According to the Bill, by-elections will occur only on death. I have had a good look at the 90 self-anointed, or self-appointed, recipients of this electoral gain and they all seem pretty fit to me. Therefore, it must be clear that the Bill at least envisages a period of years—perhaps many years—the so-called transitional arrangement is repealed. That fuels the fear and trepidation felt on both sides of the House that the Bill will become not an instrument for reform, but an instrument for reaction. There is not the slightest doubt that it manifestly, dramatically and obviously increases the power of patronage by removing the countervailing powers of the hereditary peers. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) rightly pointed out, patronage is always the handmaiden of corruption.

5.45 pm

The continued existence of 90 hereditary peers is a wholly inadequate safeguard against that corruption, but the problem appears to be that, as time passes, the existence of such a rump will be perceived to be an excuse for the maintenance of the status quo.

Mr. Fraser

The hon. and learned Gentleman argues that patronage corrupts. To take that a step further, is he suggesting that promotion to the Front Bench in the Labour party should be achieved by election, not patronage?

Mr. Marshall-Andrews

Patronage always tends to corrupt. [Interruption.] Certainly not. Patronage, in certain circumstances, is a necessary vice. In other cases, it is not, but the tendency to corrupt is counter-balanced in the House by the fact that all Members, whatever Bench they sit on, have the mandate of their own electorate. That is the safeguard here, but it will not be introduced to the other Chamber.

I appreciate that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has signed up to his own self-denying ordinance as to the number and type of peers that he proposes to create. By my calculations, that still leaves him with about 100 to go, so all is not lost in Camelot. He is a luminous and beautiful human being, and I have not the slightest doubt that he will live by that ordinance, but, like all Prime Ministers, he is ephemeral and will pass away in due course. The Bill contains no guarantee whatever that the transitional period will not, in the fullness of time, achieve permanence.

In urging my right hon. Friend to consider adopting the amendment, may I sound a mild word of warning? Governments are rarely put to the sword; almost always, in the due course of time, they fall on their own. The self-inflicted wound, which is most likely to do for this otherwise outstanding Administration, is the public perception of over-rigorous political control. There is no greater exemplification of that than the arbitrary donation of rank and favour by the process of patronage. We are looking at the Achilles heel of the Government, which must be addressed.

We have tabled our amendment so that the Government, by adopting it, can show that we are not embarking on a permanent process, but are on the way to real reform. As far as I am concerned—if I may trespass on your indulgence for a moment, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that reform means abolition of the House of Lords. As far as the House is concerned, we do not need a royal commission to tell us that an elected Chamber and a Chamber arrived at by the process of patronage do not both fulfil a democratic process. Let us have done with them, once and for all, and let us take to ourselves the task of providing the checks and the curbs on the Executive. Let us understand that the continued existence of a House of Lords is an alibi, and only an alibi, for our own inadequacies. I commend to my right hon. Friend at least the consideration of what I hope is a helpful amendment that will improve the Bill immeasurably.

Mr. Gummer

May I return to the presentation made in support of one of the amendments by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)? He recommended that the House look on democracy in its purest form, but I wonder whether we are rather overdoing it. One remembers that he was removed from his former constituency by the democratic vote. The electorate threw him out, so what did he do? He did not remain to fight the seat, in order to regain it—

Mr. Winnick

Nor did you.

Mr. Gummer

I will return to that parallel. The right hon. Gentleman found another seat, to which he was more likely to be elected. That is a perfectly reasonable thing to do: indeed, I have done it myself. I shall not press the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), because I remember whence he came and where he went.

Those who chose the right hon. Member for Chesterfield as the candidate comprised a small, self-elected group. They chose the Labour candidate in a constituency where the Labour candidate was bound to win. The difference between us is that in my constituency every member of the Conservative party has a vote, and a large number of people were kind enough to choose me. Perhaps those who speak so glibly of democracy ought to look a little more carefully at the various differentiations that appear to be made when people are elected either to the House of Commons or, through the new mechanism, to the House of Lords.

Mrs. Beckett

I do not wish to disturb the flow of the right hon. Gentleman's eloquence, but may I issue a gentle reminder? If he thinks that those who selected my right hon. Friend—or, indeed, him—imagined that the selection was for a safe seat, I can only say that he has wholly forgotten the circumstances of the Chesterfield by-election.

Mr. Gummer

I note that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield has sat there ever since, relatively safely. Moreover, he is leaving of his own volition, not by the choice of the electorate. I am not sure that what I am saying is so far from the truth.

I think that, in discussions such as this, we are sometimes a little extreme in our adherence to theory. The House might do better to consider fact—and the fact is that it is normal for one who proposes a change to suggest what will follow that change. Indeed, that is not only normal but, I think, universal. The right hon. Lady has had some difficulty in defending her case against her own side, not because she is not elegant and eloquent, but because her case is not very good; and her case is not very good not just because of the amendment, but because the Bill is in two stages when it ought to be in one.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The House is discussing the amendments, not the Bill.

Mr. Gummer

In that sense, the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) is entirely right. He has brought to our attention a fundamental problem that lies at the heart of the Bill, and, although I think that his amendment is wrong, I honour him for recognising that mistake that at the heart of the Bill.

The amendment is wrong because the hon. and learned Gentleman is applying theory to what ought to be practice. Here we are in a society that has found it very difficult to discover what ought to constitute a second Chamber. We have had a perfectly good system up to now, which I defend. I am one of those who see no great need to change what works. It is an old-fashioned view, and no doubt the hon. Member for Basildon (Angela Smith) would counter it with theory; but I still maintain that our second House has worked extremely well. Indeed, by and large it has given a more difficult time to Conservative Governments than to Labour Governments. The Leader of the House may laugh, but that is a matter of fact. If she counts the number of amendments that have been made and notes the changes that have been made over many years, she will see that I am right. She must accept, as a matter of fact, that the House of Lords has been tougher with Conservative Governments than with Labour Governments.

Mrs. Beckett

I can only say that, if the right hon. Gentleman thinks that that is a matter of fact, he has seen an entirely different set of statistics from the statistics available to me. In recent years, on average, the House of Lords has defeated a Conservative Government some 13 times a year; the last Labour Government were defeated some 68 times a year.

I accept that the last Labour Government had a very small majority, and, sometimes, no majority. I believe that the current Labour Government, who have a massive majority, were defeated 38 times during the last Session, and that 33 of those defeats were due solely to the votes of Tory hereditary peers. The notion that the House of Lords is tougher on Conservative Governments is by no means borne out by the facts.

Mr. Gummer

I do not think the right hon. Lady is right about that. The truth is clear, not just from the published statistics but from the comments of independent, non-Conservative historians. However, I am happy for the right hon. Lady to say what she thinks, because I doubtless shall not convince her.

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

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer

No. The hon. Lady has not been present for much of the debate.

The House of Lords enables second thoughts to be had, and that is reasonable. What we are discussing now is whether it is reasonable for it to be done by those who are more than place men and women. I personally consider the hereditary system to be much more justifiable than a system of place men. I find it difficult to understand how it can be more democratic to be in the House of Lords because a politician has decided that one ought to be there than to be there because of who one's father was. If one politician is deciding on all those who are to go into the House of Lords, while a large number of fathers are producing sons, I am not sure that there is not a better argument for the hereditary peerage.

What the House of Commons has been offered is not a reform. All that it has been offered is the chance of placating a number of Labour Back Benchers who are upset that the Government have not been able to implement a full-blooded socialist economic policy and give them something to be cheerful about. The abolition of the House of Lords is part of a series of policies led by a Government who know that they can placate those who do not like their economic policies with a series of measures that are class-based and class-ridden.

The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell), with whom I agree on a number of issues, gave the game away, as I am afraid he always does. At the end of his speech, it all came out: the same attitudes, and the same concepts. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has ever listened to a debate in the House of Lords. The idea that its Members all have the same concepts and the same attitudes cannot possibly be maintained, not just in general but in particular.

Mr. Rammell

My point was that, by and large, the hereditary peers come from the same background, and have supported one political party over the years—the right hon. Gentleman's party. That is what is fundamentally unfair and unsustainable about them.

Mr. Gummer


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the House again that we are discussing the amendments.

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Member for Harlow referred to the amendments in another part of his speech. I was commenting on the part in which he said that hereditary peers always had the same attitudes and the same views, which is manifestly not true.

What we are now discussing is a proposal enabling us to retain some hereditary peers. I am in favour of that, because it means that the second House will not consist entirely of place men, which must be a good thing; but I do not like the way in which it has been arrived at. I think that the explanation advanced by the hon. Member for Harlow was pretty bad from all our points of view. He said that he did not like it, that it was not sensible, but that he and his colleagues thought that it would be a better way of shoving through a lot of Bills. He could not prove that those Bills would not have been passed otherwise; indeed, the opposite appears to have been true. The only peers whom he could mention in that connection seemed not to be the same to whom he had been referring. He gave no quotation. I do not know what Hansard will do: I am longing to see the bit of paper that will be sent to him, on which he will be able to specify whom he meant.

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Mr. Rammell

I am happy to inform the right hon. Gentleman. The specific quotation to which I was referring was from Baroness Young, who said: I believe … that it is a constitutional outrage to use a manifesto"— which was put forward during a general election— to make a major constitutional change."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 1998; Vol. 593, c. 943.] That statement underlines the degree of unreasonableness of some Conservative peers in the House of Lords.

Mr. Gummer

That is an interesting argument. That quotation is meant to prove that the House of Lords would have stopped Bills on health and education. It has about as much connection to that as the climate change levy has to the reduction in the number of tonnes of carbon in the air: it is totally unconnected. The hon. Gentleman should be ashamed of himself, particularly as he said that the quotation referred to the leader of the Conservative party in the House of Lords, which it did not, and then that it referred to someone else, which it did not. He has now found it and it does not have any relevance at all. What Hansard will do about that I do not know.

The Labour party is uncomfortable about the amendments because, although you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have rightly not allowed us to talk about the generality of the Bill, they go to its heart. They draw attention to the fact that the Government propose abolition without an alternative. Any of the passing decisions that are made are unsatisfactory because they are but partial and do not address the real issue.

Although I do not agree with the solution of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), he is right to draw the House's attention to the fact that the Leader of the House has not got it right. We think the same; our solutions are different. What she should do, although, of course, she will not, any more than she will accept his amendment, is say that, in the light of the amendments, she has had a conversion on the road to Damascus—that she has recognised that it is a constitutional outrage to propose the abolition of a second House without proposing its alternative.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

The reason why the Government will not do that is because they know that the people will always favour change until confronted with the alternative.

Mr. Gummer

That is the last point that I want to come to. My hon. Friend has put his finger on the real issue. I listened with great care to the Leader of the House's explanation of why we are where we are. She gave an historic—

Mr. Leigh


Mr. Gummer

Not histrionic. She gave an historic view. She suggested that, because it had taken us so long to come to this point, it was reasonable to accept what we now had. Her real answer to the hon. Member for Thurrock was that, because it had taken so long to get here, we may as well accept what we had. I wonder why she has not looked at why we did take so long to get here. The reason is simply that no alternative to the system that we have has found favour with Parliament.

No alternative will find favour with Parliament because there are different views. There are those hon. Members who support the amendment because they do not want an elected House of Lords. Then there are those who support the amendment because they do not want a second House at all. Then there is the hon. Member who supports his amendment because he does want an elected House of Lords. Then there are the Conservative Members who support the amendment because it is better than what we would have without the amendment.

It is the most miserable collection of supporters for an amendment that I have ever heard of. All of us are voting for it because everything else is worse, but, then, that is true of the Bill as a whole. It is stuck in front of us because there is no alternative. That is serious; it is a constitutional outrage. We are discussing the constitution of the United Kingdom, which has no written constitution and needs its checks and balances. We need those who are not cloned one after the other at a particular moment in time, but who think independently and differently.

One can argue that the House of Lords does not fulfil that role entirely and that we should have a change, but one must argue what that change should be. The hon. Member for Thurrock did at least argue what it should be. In that, he is different from the Leader of the House, who struggled through her speech because she knew that its content was less powerful than its language. She knew that she really did not have a case.

When we go into the Division Lobby, we should support the deal with the House of Lords. There are various reasons why. My own is that it at least retains something that is not in the hands of the Prime Minister; that is a good thing. I will vote for it because it retains some of the hereditary element. I will vote for it because it has some historic continuity—that is a good thing—and because it retains something about which we should think seriously: subsidiarity.

Subsidiarity was invented as a concept by the popes when they were trying to deal with the danger of concentrating all power in one place. Listening to the Labour party, I believe that it has that fault in spades. It really does believe that there is only one way, only one method and only one place where any power should be—over there. That is not true. A society is better run when, even if it is not entirely rational, power is spread a bit, with the opportunity for different people to make different comments about different things.

Mr. Peter Bradley

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer

I will finish my speech.

Over the years, many of the discussions in the House of Lords have been helpful and have contributed very much. The reason why they have contributed very much is precisely the one that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield found so embarrassing: people spoke for themselves in their own person and did not constantly look over their shoulder at others.

We have to do that. It is right; that is why we are here. We should not think of our role in any other way, but that does not mean that everyone who contributes to the legislative system should always have precisely that legitimacy. All the people who do not want an elected House of Lords had better recognise that no other system is as free from opposition as the odd system that we have had up to now.

The only alternative is to put in the hands of a very small number of people—namely, one—the appointment of all those who will make the decisions up there. If we want a collection of clones even more clonic than Labour Members—who are elected—it will be the place men peers in the new House of Lords, as directed by this modernising Government. It is not modernisation. It is the sort of patronage that would have looked out of place and out of date in the 18th century. It is not moving forward. It is moving backwards. At least in the earlier patronage, more than one person made the decision and patronage was found in more than one place. Instead, we are voting for a new second House that will be entirely in the hands of one man, or woman.

The only thing that stands between that and a more sensible system is the group of a few hereditary peers who are to be elected, so I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), who did not support that; I am very much in favour of it. I am sorry only that there are not more of them, so that they can stand out against the constant list of people who have done something and are being paid for it by being put into the House of Lords, introduced three a week to ensure that the only thing that matters is the political balance.

I disagree with the reasons that the hon. Member for Harlow gave for supporting the Government amendment. I do not think that all political decisions are about political balance. The view that we should choose people simply because they are on one side or the other is old-fashioned and pretty nasty.

I like the House of Lords because, very often, many peers who say that they are Conservatives vote with Labour, and many socialists are tough enough to disagree with the current Prime Minister—unlike the Back Benchers in this place, except for the hon. and learned Member for Medway. Most of the Back Benchers in this place do what they are told. I should like to have a House of Lords that never did what it was told. The more hereditary peers we have, the more likely we are to have such a House.

Mr. Peter Bradley

I have never before in the Chamber heard so many weasel words from an experienced politician. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) knows that every attempt to reform our constitutional system, and the House of Lords in particular, has foundered on the inability of the political parties to agree on the second stage. He also knows very well that Conservative Members, who do not have the audacity to defend the hereditary principle, are hiding behind the wispy smokescreen of objecting to two-stage reform.

The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), who left the Chamber very shortly after his speech, talked about demolition and construction, saying that it was very unusual to demolish an edifice before drawing up plans to rebuild it. However, if the structure is not only ancient but decrepit and dangerous, it would be very sensible to demolish it, regardless of whether plans are on the drawing board to redevelop it.

The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal used a similar metaphor, questioning whether it would be sensible to cut off one's leg if it was injured and causing pain. I say yes. If a leg is infected, gangrenous and threatens the rest of the body—political or otherwise—it would be very sensible to cut it off, and there is much precedent for doing so.

The House of Lords will be a better place in transition than it has been under the current arrangements. In the transitionary period, it still may not be entirely legitimate but it will certainly be less illegitimate than it has been. It will also hold the promise of a modern Chamber—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, no."] Conservative Members reveal their own prejudices—they cannot abide the word "modern".

We had a lecture from the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), who took us back to the days of the Teutons and said that we should follow their example of burgeoning democracy. I do not know whether he was talking about the Huns or the Vandals, but their commitment to democracy was not half as impressive as their commitment to demolition.

We need a Parliament that, in both its Houses, is modern and reflects both the composition and the concerns and aspirations of our community. A transitional Chamber will also promise further reform, giving way to a relevant second Chamber that commands respect and serves the public at least as well as, and probably better than, the current institution has done for the past 1,000 years.

The current arrangements are unacceptable in any circumstances. In the course of his lecture, the hon. Member for Wantage—I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber to defend himself, should I misconstrue his comments—seemed to suggest that a valuable aspect of the other place is that many or most of its Members are men of property. He seemed to say that with property should go power and the right to transfer that power within a family from one generation to the next. There is no logic in that. How does that conform to the democratic principle or deliver justice? What is the justification for that system?

The hon. Gentleman was correct in his description of the House of Lords as a place dominated by hereditary peers who are propertied and come from the same social background.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. As I have frequently told the House today, we should concentrate on this group of amendments. That is what the hon. Gentleman should be doing.

6.15 pm
Mr. Bradley

I am trying to argue that we should support amendments producing a transitionary Chamber, in order to create a more democratic upper House than we have now. The provisions will create an upper House without vested interests and without, as is currently the case, a block vote against the Government of the day, who are seeking quite legitimately to exercise their democratic mandate and pursue policies spelled out in their manifesto.

Mr. Fallon

The hon. Gentleman could certainly argue that the Bill and Lords amendment No. 1 will provide for a different Chamber, but how can he argue that either will provide for a transitional Chamber? Where in the Bill or the amendment is there any commitment or promise to create a reformed Chamber?

Mr. Bradley

At the beginning of his speech, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) talked about a "measure of permanence". I was hoping to be able to challenge him on that expression and ask him if it did not mean temporary, what would constitute a measure of permanence. The Bill's clear intention is to move, in two orderly stages, to a comprehensively reformed upper Chamber. 1 do not understand why the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) has any difficulty with that.

I also suggest that the hon. Member for Sevenoaks and other Conservative Members have been entirely opportunistic and unprincipled in their opposition to the Bill. Do they want a reformed upper Chamber? In both today's and previous debates, I have had great difficulty in defining exactly what Conservative Members stand for on the issue. If they support a reformed upper Chamber, what did they do in their 18 years in government to bring it about?

It is extraordinary that we should be hearing arguments against a transitional Chamber from Members such as the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal, who belong to a party that has waited 1,000 years for change but now want change to be accomplished at a gallop. They have waited a millennium for change to our constitution and political system, but want it to be completed in the twinkling of an eye. There is a tradition among Conservative Members, and their Tory forebears, of opposition to constitutional reform. They opposed it in 1832, in 1867 and in 1884, until they were forced to accept it.

Today, some Conservative Members have been talking about one man, one vote as if we did not have women's suffrage—which they also opposed. They have had to be dragged kicking and screaming into every constitutional reform that we have ever had in Britain.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bradley

No; I should like to make a little progress and keep my comments brief, so that other hon. Members will be able to speak.

Conservative Members support the upper Chamber because they enjoy an in-built majority in that place.

Mr. Fraser

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Bradley

No, not on that point; but the hon. Gentleman may intervene on the next one, if he cares to.

If Labour had enjoyed for just 10 years the type of majority in the House of Lords that the Conservatives have enjoyed for 100 years, the previous Government would have abolished the House of Lords in one fell swoop.

Mr. Fraser

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bradley

No; I am sorry. [Interruption.] I tried to intervene previously in the debate to ask questions, but was not allowed to.

I wanted to intervene, for example, on the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal to ask him which chair in Cabinet he occupied when the previous Government abolished the Greater London council. Where was he then? Was he arguing for plurality in th debate, which he says is so healthy?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is wide of the group of amendments that we are considering, and many of his arguments would have been better suited to Second Reading. He is not the only hon. Member who is guilty of going wide of the amendments.

Mr. Bradley

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I spoke in the Second Reading debate, and these are just the bits that I could not get in—

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

My hon. Friend used all the jokes in that speech.

Mr. Bradley

Yes; I remember the joke about "The Scarlet Pimpernel". [HON. MEMBERS: "We seek him here."] Yes, but that Pimpernel has now shuffled off to health and I hope that he is faring better there.

I would have preferred a clean break. I would have preferred us to move straight from the present House of Lords to a comprehensively reformed upper Chamber, but matters of constitutional reform are extremely sensitive. They demand deliberation, consideration and, indeed, compromise. Even when a Government enjoy a majority of the size that we enjoy, there has to be room for compromise; but I would rather we have this change than none at all. For that reason, and despite its flaws, I shall support the Weatherill amendment.

Mr. John MacGregor (South Norfolk)

I will be brief, as I spoke when the amendment was last before the House. Then, it was ably proposed for the Conservatives by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing)

I partly disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie)—I am sorry that he is not here at the moment—but I strongly agree with him on two points. The first is in the tribute he paid to the work, dedication and contribution to our public life that the hereditary peers have made for many years. I pay a personal tribute as I was delighted that my non-voting constituent, Earl Ferrers, came top of the poll among the elected Members. That really is a tribute to his service on both the Back and Front Benches, but mainly on the Front Bench, for many years.

Secondly, I agree with my hon. Friend that the biggest charge against the Bill is that we are to get phase 1 without phase 2, which is fundamental to the amendment. That argument was ably made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). It has been made time and again throughout our debates on the Bill; it is supported by many commentators outside the House; and many people across the country have latched on to the argument.

The Leader of the House attempted to justify the situation in her opening remarks by saying that she very much hoped that there would be agreement on how to proceed to stage 2, so it was most unlikely that the mechanism of by-elections would ever need to be used. That mechanism is the point of amendment (c), tabled by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay).

However, the right hon. Lady later introduced a note of caution, giving herself a considerable let-out when she admitted that there might never be agreement on how to proceed. That is terribly important. She attempted to justify phase 1 without phase 2 on the ground that the Government had to break the log-jam of delay in reform of the past 89 years. The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) made the same point and suggested that Conservative Governments had delayed reform. In the 15 years since 1945 that previous Labour Governments were in power, they did not make any moves either. They attempted to do so on one occasion, but failed totally.

The biggest problem, and the cause of what the right hon. Lady described as the log-jam, has always been phase 2. That is why there has been no agreement on how to reform the House of Lords since the Parliament Act 1911. The argument about what should replace what we are putting in place through the Bill remains most germane. We are going towards the end of a plank with no idea of what is at the end of it and may well stay on the end for a very long time.

I suspect that there will be no phase 2 for a long time. As for the amendment, we must proceed on the basis that there is a considerable probability that there will be no phase 2, or at least not in the lifetime of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) as he put it, although I, too, hope that that will be a long time. We have heard some indication of that from those on the Labour Back Benches. That fact is very much in everyone's minds as we consider what we are putting in place.

If that is, indeed, the case, as I believe it will be, the biggest threat that we face is an increasingly appointed second Chamber. Reference has been made to the fact that 171 life peers have been appointed by the present Prime Minister—a high proportion in only two and a half years. I have heard rumours from more than one quarter recently—I have no idea whether there is any truth in them—that the Prime Minister is minded to appoint 200 life peers as part of the millennium celebrations. That may or may not be true-it has a certain resonance—but, even if it is not true for that occasion, one can well imagine that that is precisely the sort of thing that the Prime Minister would be tempted to do on another occasion, not least if the country had the misfortune to find him Prime Minister after the next election. It is the sort of step that he might well take, if he had a second victory, shortly after the election when it could be done swiftly without being a feature of the election campaign after that. That is a particular threat because the Government are yet again refusing to allow a statutory appointments commission to be included in the Bill. One must ask why. Naturally, one suspects that they do not want such a commission because the Prime Minister's pledge not to have patronage of his own could easily be broken and he might not necessarily follow it through later. We only have his word for it.

Therefore, the threat of an increasingly appointed second Chamber remains strong. That is why I support the Lords amendment. At least it preserves the element of independence and experience until we get to phase 2. It is that independence which is so important. As long as there is a risk of an increasingly fixed Chamber, the 92 hereditary elements are vital. As we may well have phase 1 for so long, I totally reject the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Thurrock, which could mean an increasingly small number of hereditary peers in the Chamber.

As for the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester, I do not believe that because the hereditary peers who have been elected by their peers have the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads—ultimately, the abolition of the right of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords—they will be as unwilling to be independent as he suggests. I think that those peers who are allowed to stay under the amendment will be independent. My hon. Friend argued that they would not be able to exercise real power because of the sword of Damocles.

This is an argument not about composition but about the powers of the House of Lords. The House of Lords would not be able to use any more powers than they have at present.

Mr. Tyrie

It is not a question of power—the Lords already have adequate powers. It is a question of whether they have the moral authority to exercise them. The present House does not have the moral authority and nor will the interim House have it; that is why I favour democracy.

Mr. MacGregor

That is looking to the long term. I am talking about the situation in the interim—it could be a very long interim—until we get phase 2. The powers are not changed. The House of Lords has been willing to exercise the limited powers that it has, and I do not envisage that the hereditary peers will be any less willing to exercise them during the next interim phase. It is much more important for them to be there to exercise the powers that they have than to have a Chamber that is appointed increasingly by the Prime Minister. As my hon. Friend knows, I think that one crucial element of the reform of the House of Lords is to increase its powers. That is at least as important as its composition, but that is not an argument for today.

I agree with some of my hon. Friend's criticisms of some elements of the election of hereditary peers under the Bill. Of course, it is not an ideal solution. The Bill is far from an ideal solution itself, but, because the Lords amendment would improve it to a certain extent, I support it.

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

I rise to support the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), and to speak against the Lords amendment. I did not like it when we debated it earlier this year and I do not like it any more now. It is unappealing to be asked to support it, because it would establish a non-democratic second Chamber with the power to renew itself. No timetable is offered for the existence of the new, non-democratic second Chamber.

Although I am grateful for the assurances of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that we will proceed to a second stage, there is no indication of what that second stage will be. If the Government intend to proceed to a second stage, I do not understand why the Bill does not say so. That would give us an assurance that the situation is an interim measure. It may be the Government's intention—I hope that it is realised—to proceed to a second stage, but, without such an assurance, we shall be passing legislation that will create a new second Chamber that lasts until it is repealed. That makes the amendment one of enormous consequence. It would change our constitution permanently, because it does not say that it is a temporary measure.

I am also confused by the reference in the amendment to the method of election, because that election took place last week. Perhaps I am being dim, but I am not sure under what powers that election took place. Was it a legitimate election? Where was the debate in this House that decided the basis on which those peers should be elected? I shall give way to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House if she wishes to intervene and explain under what power the Lords went through that election last week. It seemed to me to be an illegitimate election. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office winds up, he will explain whether the election last week was legitimate.

Sir Patrick Cormack

It is clear that if the House should reject the amendment, that election will be null and void. In that sense, it was a provisional election. If the House upholds the amendment, the election will be upheld.

Mr. Fisher

The concept of provisional action by this Chamber or the other Chamber is new and interesting. Those actions have not been determined by Act of Parliament. I am not aware of this provisional procedure.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Much of our European legislation is drawn up in that way. Ministers decide on the continent through the royal prerogative and we have to rubber-stamp their decisions back here.

Mr. Fisher

I am not sure that the election last week was decided under royal prerogative. It seemed to be an invention dreamed up by the Lords, perhaps in anticipation of the passing of the Bill. My understanding is that we have to pass legislation before we can act on it. That does not seem to have happened in this case.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Nobody has acted on the legislation. The Lords have made a provisional decision, acting according to their Standing Orders. Unless and until the Bill receives Royal Assent, the results of those elections will not take effect.

Mr. Fisher

I do not know which of their Standing Orders give the Lords the power to structure such an election. They seem to have acted ultra vires. To say that the election is provisional and that we may give it retrospective legitimacy by passing the amendment seems an extremely unsatisfactory way of conducting parliamentary business. I suspect that it is also illegal. I can see no legal basis for the election that happened in the other Chamber last week.

I should like to return to the reasons why the amendment makes me apprehensive. My right hon. Friend was honest and straightforward with the House in her opening remarks. When explaining the background, she conceded that it may be difficult to find a basis of agreement for the second stage. Having heard the many debates in this Chamber earlier in the year, that seems to me to be the understatement of the year. There are almost as many views on the best form of a second Chamber as there are Members. I tried to canvass cross-party support earlier in the year for an early-day motion calling for a directly elected second Chamber. Many of those who put their names to the motion did so for a variety of motives, because there are so many views.

The fact that there may not be agreement, however, makes it all the more important that the Government should provide leadership and not wait to be told by Lord Wakeham or anybody else. They should give a clear lead and say how our democracy ought to proceed. The Government have an electoral mandate and one of the largest majorities in living memory. They should set out the principles on which they believe the second Chamber should be based and put them before both Chambers.

Mr. Leigh

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that we should let off the handbrake of electoral reform with no idea of where we are going to drive to?

Mr. Fisher

On the contrary, I am making a plea for leadership from the Government about where we should be going and for that view to be debated by Parliament. That is how we should proceed. If we wait until we have the consensus that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House understandably seeks, we shall never reach agreement. That leads me to be even more apprehensive about the permanence of this very unsatisfactory amendment.

Subsection (4) refers to what happens in the event of death. Those of us who have looked at our noble colleagues in the other Chamber know that they seem to be a fairly healthy lot. I hope that none of them is going to die in the near future, but we are being asked to pass legislation that anticipates how we shall replace those hale and hearty people in the event that they die. That also smells to me of worrying permanence.

Mrs. Beckett

I know that my hon. Friend is being fair. However, I should point out that it was anxieties in the House of Lords among those who, for some inexplicable reason, mistrust the Government's motives that led to the provision being put in. The Government did not think the provision necessary.

Mr. Fisher

I am delighted to hear that. However, we are being invited to vote for that view of the House of Lords, which I do not find appealing. I also suspect that the new members of the second Chamber, who will be sincere men and women trying to do a good public job, will not be terribly anxious to have an early second stage, which would remove them just as they were getting used to their powers and getting good at exercising them.

The amendment is dangerously permanent and we have to assume that it will be with us for a considerable time. Our democracy has always been incomplete, and the amendment does not complete it as it should; it simply delays that completion. It reforms the second Chamber, but only by replacing a less than legitimate system with another, equally illegitimate system. In a democracy, the only legitimate basis for a house of representatives is the ballot box, which represents the view of the public. We are here because of the views of our electorate and so should Members of any other Chamber be. I am baffled that right hon. and hon. Members who owe their position and their right to speak here to the fact that they have been sent here by the electorate can argue against the democratic principle.

There can be only one form of legitimacy for the other Chamber, and that is direct democratic elections. At stage 2, we can debate the form of such elections, the nature of the constituency and the powers of the other Chamber. They should be powers of scrutiny and restraint on the Executive, not challenging the House but complementing and strengthening it. But that is a debate for another day. However, the amendment puts in place a non-democratic Chamber, and that is upsetting.

In this debate, we have not heard about the rights of the electorate. In determining here the form of the second Chamber, there is no mention of the electorate. The only people who have been voted for in the second Chamber are 90 men and women who happen to be hereditary peers. The public who sent us here have no rights at all; they continue to be excluded. They have no voice in half our democracy, and that is entirely unsatisfactory.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in her peroration said that this was a great reform. It should be an historic moment at long last to complete the loop of our democracy and ensure that whoever passes the laws of this country is sent to these Chambers by members of the public at their behest and can be removed by them; but the amendment does not do that, and it cannot have my support.

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

Unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor), I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) on his speech setting out the case for an elected second Chamber, and I agree with him. I also very much enjoyed the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young). He made an excellent case for voting against the measure, but I gather that that is not the instruction. Never has there been a measure for which so many will vote with as many reservations as have been expressed this evening.

Nothing that I say is intended to be in any way derogatory of the peers who have already been elected under the system in the measure. I was delighted that peers such as Earl Ferrers and the Lords Strathclyde, Trefgarne and Denham have been elected. They are great servants.

I was equally delighted by another development. A year ago, for some reason, the Home Secretary attacked Lord Ampthill by name. He said: we witnessed the risible spectacle of the fourth Baron Ampthill…claiming to speak for the British people…what right has Lord Ampthill or any other hereditary peer to sabotage the decisions of this elected House?"—[Official Report, 18 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 959.] I am glad to say that under the system that the Home Secretary has supported and introduced, Lord Ampthill has been elected as a permanent hereditary peer in the other place. But that is probably the best that I can say about the measure.

6.45 pm

To make the obvious point, which should not be ignored, we are debating the principle of the change, not what is best for existing members of the House of Lords. We are debating the make-up of the kind of second Chamber that we want. Against that criterion, the proposition in the amendment is complete rubbish.

I well understand that Labour Members claim a mandate for the abolition of hereditary peers. I have fought every election since 1970 and I cannot remember the issue having come up once in any public meeting that I have conducted. Nevertheless, they claim a mandate for it. But few Labour Members can claim a mandate for the kind of proposition in the new clause, which states: At any one time 90 people shall be excepted from section 1"— that is abolition— but anyone excepted as holder of the office of Earl Marshal, or as performing the office of Lord Great Chamberlain, shall not count towards that limit. I am sure that that was explained carefully in Liverpool and Lambeth during the election.

Few Labour Members would have set out the extraordinary idea that hereditary peers would have to circulate election addresses among their colleagues. One wonders whether at some stage the same will be necessary for life peers. If it is, the mind begins to boggle at the possibilities. I can see messages coming forward such as, "I was Prime Minister between 1979 and 1990 and nothing much good has happened since", and other election addresses of that kind.

Even Labour Members would not have come up with the by-election system for replacement of those who were elected but have prematurely kicked the bucket. As I understand the system, if one of the two elected Labour hereditary peers dies, the one surviving member selects his successor. That must be the minutest and most select electorate that we have ever put in place.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Sir Norman Fowler

I shall not for a moment. With the greatest respect, I do not think that my hon. Friend has been here for long.

Mr. Viggers

Yes, I have.

Sir Norman Fowler

All the same, I shall not give way.

In my national service days—I can speak to my hon. Friend in that way because we were at college together—there was a saying, "A joke's a joke, but I'm against a pantomime", although it was put rather more directly than that. We must understand how we have ended up with the new clause. At this point, there is a wise nodding of heads—a pragmatic compromise, I think one hon. Member called it. More unkindly, it could be described as a fix by political fixers. That is what has taken place, and I use the term with no admiration whatever. The Government wanted to get their legislation through without trouble. They were prepared to throw a bone to the Lords, but the bone was on a piece of string and would be hauled back if the Lords overdid their opposition to measures such as the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill.

The issue then became, as so often these days it regrettably does, an issue of spinning. Would it be the Government who got the blame for giving in on the principle of total abolition, or would it be the Opposition parties for going quietly and giving up on the fight?

I say this in parenthesis—it has been touched on and I may be in a better position than most to know some of the things that took place—but one of the worst features of the affair has been the way in which the issue has been decided behind closed doors before the debate could be properly joined, or before people and hon. Members had the opportunity to come to a position—a point made by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay).

I have in mind particularly the part played by Lord Cranborne. When Lord Cranborne agreed to the deal he did so without the authority of the leader of the Conservative party, without the authority of the special committee that had been set up inside the shadow Cabinet to deal with the issue, without the authority of the shadow Cabinet and without the authority of the parliamentary party. For those reasons, he was rightly sacked from the shadow Cabinet. As a member of the committee in question, I would take some persuading to vote for what, in effect, as has already been said, is the Cranborne deal.

But I have even less intention of voting for the amendment on the basis of the choice that we have today. From now on, one of two courses will be followed. The Government may keep their word and reform will take place, in which case the system being proposed today will almost certainly fall to the ground and become a deal not worth the making.

One of the biggest fears in the debate has been that the alternative system will continue because the Government will find the reform too difficult to carry out. We will then be stuck with the worst of every conceivable world—a predominantly appointed House of Lords. That is the position we have been left with—90 or so hereditary peers, dwarfed by the appointed Members.

Some will say that there is nothing wrong with that. We know from the diaries of Lady Richards—which we have all enjoyed—that the Home Secretary believes in an appointed House. He showed that by appointing his own special adviser to it. It is no longer an accident of birth. The argument is that these are men of undoubted distinction and they are being appointed entirely on their merits.

I have been around the table when some of these decisions have been taken, and I must say that it is possible to be too distinguished. If a Cabinet Minister, a European Commissioner or a member of the successful 1966 English football team is mentioned, the Leader of the Lords will say that that person will never have time to come to the House of Lords—"He is too distinguished". He then puts forward the name of Smith, a junior Whip with the best possible division record as a

Back Bencher. He voted for Government policies when they were put forward and, with an equally clear conscience, voted when they were abandoned later.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk)

A sound man.

Sir Norman Fowler

Indeed. In case anyone thinks that this is confined to one party, we know that Labour has asked new life peers to sign a declaration that they will turn up to vote. They have had to go to that extreme.

Mr. Fraser

I would like to draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that the top Labour fundraiser, Lord Levy, has missed 105 of the 160 Divisions in the Lords. Lord Bragg—who came into the House, according to the Government, to help to change it radically—has missed half of the votes that he could have attended. The Prime Minister's great ally, Lord Simpson, has voted six times out of 157. The billionaire Lord Sainsbury, now a Minister, has managed 38 out of 161 division, and the billionaire Lord Haskins, another Labour donor, has yet to vote.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. We cannot have an endless list.

Sir Norman Fowler

I would like to assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that although my hon. Friend makes my case much more eloquently than I could, there has been no collusion between us. It has to be said that, on our side of the Lords, there are also doubtless those who do not turn up.

Mr. Fisher

Surely not!

Sir Norman Fowler

The hon. Gentleman may disagree. However, the Government are making more permanent that sort of system—the system for which Labour Members will be voting.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said that the debate on this new clause could have been avoided had the Government set out what their alternative second Chamber was. Throughout the debate, we have been in a fog as regards where the Government want to go. The trouble is that the Government themselves do not know—they have no idea. Again, the diaries of Lady Richards tell us that some are for an elected assembly, but the Prime Minister and others are not.

It is the job of the royal commission to make sense of this, and I hope that it will come forward with a clear report and proposals, not some compromise which manages to achieve an uneasy agreement among the members of the commission.

I oppose the new clause for these reasons. The Government can claim a mandate for change in the second Chamber, but they have no mandate for this dog's breakfast of a new clause. As a temporary measure, it borders on the ridiculous. All its defects have been set out by Members on both sides of the House. As a more permanent measure, it is utterly indefensible.

If we are to have elections—which I support—the electorate cannot conceivably be the closed electorate envisaged in the new clause. If we are to have elections for the second House, the public should decide. An elected House means a House elected by the nation. Having started on this course, that is the goal at which we should be aiming.

Dr. Ladyman

This has been a strange debate. I do not think that I have ever heard the official Opposition take up so many positions in such a short time, and I am still not entirely sure what their position is. Some Opposition Members seem to support the amendment, while others do not. There is no harm in that—it is reasonable. Labour Members are equally divided.

However, even Conservative Members who support the amendment have not described it as good or pragmatic. At least we recognise it for what it is—a pragmatic amendment, intended to achieve a specific purpose. Whether we like it or not, we see the benefits of that pragmatism.

We have heard much about the independence of the hereditary peers, and much about place men and cronies. Is it not extraordinary that everybody in the other place who represents the Labour party is a place man or a crony, while all those in the Lords who support the Conservatives—and there are a lot more of them than there are Labour Members—are free-thinking individuals? Were they free-thinking individuals when they were bussed in to support the poll tax? Were they free-thinking individuals when they were bussed in a few months later to vote it out again?

Were Tory peers free-thinking individuals when they came in to the Chamber to support the Maastricht treaty? I suspect that they would pay their own bus fare if they had the chance to vote it out again now. The comments of Conservative Members about the need to preserve hereditary peers because of their free thinking and independence are hot air. They have no substance or credibility.

Opposition Members have said that the reforms should not go forward, as there would not be attempts in the Lords to block Government legislation if the amendment were not included. They seem to have airbrushed from history the fact that Lord Cranborne was fired for not being willing to oppose the policy outright. They seem to have erased from their memories all the comments made from the Opposition Front Bench about their determination to oppose these reforms. They seem to have forgotten many of the statements made on Second Reading and earlier, when many Opposition Members were clearly arguing for the retention of the hereditary peerage.

We have heard today that we needed both stages of reform at once. Does anyone seriously believe that if we had proposed a complete reform of the House of Lords in one stage, the Conservatives would not be opposing it today, hook, line and sinker, and that they would not have fought it every step of the way through the House of Lords?

Stage 2 reform will happen. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] I hope before the general election—although that is extremely unlikely. However, we have said that we are committed to putting stage 2 reform in our next manifesto, as have the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives have now said that they are committed to putting it in theirs. Unless Lord Burford forms a political party and wins the next general election, the second stage of reform will happen. I think that it will happen within a few years, so we should base our policies on that. We should start the debate now. One of the advantages of having the debate as part of the next general election is that we will be able to get some of the views of our electorate on what shape the new House of Lords should take.

7 pm

The amendment is pure pragmatism. I want to make some comments to my hon. Friends who have spoken against it. I do not believe that the Bill has been improved by the amendment, but I believe that we will get our Bill because of it. By being prepared to compromise and accept it, we have got several of our other Bills through the House of Lords. The Leader of the House mentioned the Food Standards Bill and the Railways Bill. They were the tip of the iceberg because there are also other Bills that we would have lost if we had had to fight this all the way through the House of Lords. It is pure pragmatism.

Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is not in his place. I reminded him on Second Reading of the years when he used to tour the country telling Labour party members how it would be necessary to create 1,000 life peers to vote the House of Lords out of existence. He used to tell us that that was the only way we could do it. Today, he tells us that neither hereditary nor life peers have any legitimacy and so we must get rid of them all as quickly as possible. Why was it better to create 1,000 life peers without legitimacy than to allow 92 hereditaries to stay for another a year or so to get our Bill? We have achieved something that the party of which I am proud to be a member has been trying to achieve since the day it was set up. We are within hours of that historic achievement, purely as a result of a piece of pragmatism.

I do not believe that this pragmatism has improved the Bill, but it has made it possible for us to get our Bill. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) described the amendment as a dog's breakfast. If one wants to feed a dog, a dog's breakfast is sometimes the best thing to have. We have never denied that the amendment is anything other than pure pragmatism. It makes the reformed Chamber less legitimate than I would like, but a lot better than it would be without it. I shall support the amendment, as I shall support the Government as we bring through stage 2 reform and finally achieve the goal of a reformed Chamber and the end of all the hereditary peers.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

I am disappointed this afternoon. I had hoped that, even at this 11th hour, the Government would think again, do what most people thought that they would do and abolish the House of Lords once and for all. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) pointed out that the only legitimate second Chamber is a directly elected one. I can find no excuse to vote for the amendment tonight. I certainly shall not abstain. I shall vote against, because I do not believe that anything else makes sense.

The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley) suggested that the amendment was a temporary measure. He is not here, but I asked him in the Corridor what he meant by temporary. He said "Anything but permanent." It could have been a decade or 50 years, but he did not want anything that suggested permanence. The problem for most of us is that there is a sense of permanency about the amendment. There is an element of doubt even in the minds of the most ardent supporters of a compromise. They must have serious reservations about the amendment's implications.

Other hon. Members have paid tribute to the other House and the hereditary peers. I have had the pleasure and privilege of serving with many of them on the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. The likes of Lord Ponsonby, Lord Newall, the Earl of Dundee, Lord Grenfell and many others have put in distinguished service in the House of Lords and outside it on behalf of all parties in Parliament. They will be sorely missed, but if we had gone for a democratically elected second Chamber, they would have had the opportunity to seek election to it and continue their work. The suggestion that there is some benefit in allowing 92 hereditaries to remain is nonsense. It is a stitch-up—tokenism. We are trying to avoid dealing with the issue.

The hon. Member for Basildon (Angela Smith) talked about how many electors had told her that they wanted the matter at the top of the Government's agenda. My mind goes back to the days when I used to listen to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) speaking to Labour party meetings, when I was a member of that party. I well remember his speech in which he said that we needed to create 1,000 life peers to abolish the House of Lords. He used to go on to say that we would then establish a democratically elected second Chamber. He wanted the 1,000 peers to be created only for that moment to get rid of the second Chamber altogether. How right he was. It was right then, and the overwhelming majority of people recognise that. People did not queue at my advice centre, or on the campaign trail in 1997, 1992, 1987 or 1984 to say that they wanted the matter high on the agenda. Most thinking people, the overwhelming majority of people, expected the Labour party to abolish the House of Lords and create in its place a democratically elected second Chamber. That is the failure.

The Leader of the House and others have said that the reason that they did not pursue that endeavour was because they would have been held to ransom. She said that they would have lost precious legislation. She was probably right. There would have been some delay. I do not think legislation would have been lost because I do not think that the House of Lords and its Members would have wanted a confrontation with the nation. Does she seriously maintain that the hereditary peers, the House of Lords and the Leader of the Opposition would have advocated to the nation that there was a legitimate role for them to frustrate a Government with a 170-seat majority simply to keep unelected people in office? I do not believe it.

There is a second and more compelling reason. Some people were nervous about what would happen with a democratically elected second Chamber. They thought that the ballot box would not deliver what they wanted and looked for excuses for not going down that line. That will be the stumbling-block over the next few years, as they try to create a second Chamber that will deliver what whichever Government are in power want. The ballot box is not prone to doing that. Many of us who have been in the House and out again have suffered from that. Governments would suffer, as they do in the United States and many other places with democratically elected second chambers. The people have the habit of going against the Government of the day in second chamber elections. The distinct possibility of that happening is what made the Prime Minister and others nervous and take the cautious line that I think will turn temporary into semi-permanent. We will end up with a stitch-up. We will not have improved Government or scrutiny. We will not get better Government by flooding the place at the millennium with another 200 life peers, as someone speculated that the Prime Minister intends. That will not make anything better. What I suspect that the House will vote for tonight will diminish not only the second Chamber, but this Chamber. This country will get worse, not better, government. That is a denial of what most of the nation's electorate expected the Labour Government to deliver.

We are to have a second-rate solution to first-class problem, but what we in this country need is the support and the conviction to ensure that, sooner rather than later, we get a democratically elected second Chamber. I am sure that there will be endless debates in the royal commission now sitting—and the next, as I am sure that the first will not come up with a solution that satisfies everyone.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central suggested that people had envisaged at least 659 varieties of future second Chamber and he pleaded for the Government to give a lead. The Government cannot start from a better position than the premise that they want the new second Chamber to be established soon, to be democratically elected and to be doing a job that the people of this country believe is worthy of it. Instead, if we support the Government motion tonight, we shall downgrade the second Chamber and, in so doing, diminish this House and the democratic processes of this country.

Mr. Forth

Every now and then in a debate such as this comes a moment of truth or revelation that sets the subject in context. That moment came, somewhat surprisingly, in the speech of the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), who revealed what we all knew but no one had dared to say out loud: that the amendment is the result of a rather sordid and dirty deal done—mainly by the Government, but with the connivance of others—to get the fag end of the Government's ill-managed legislative programme through. To achieve that, we are being asked tonight to alter our constitution and our legislature irrevocably.

That strikes me as one of the most disgraceful suggestions that I have heard in my time as a Member of Parliament. It certainly contrasts with the high words used by the Leader of the House, who spoke of solutions for the millennium and claimed that, for centuries to come, people would praise us for what we are about to do. It is as well that she did not have to listen to her hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet before making that opening speech, because, thanks to the hon. Gentleman, we now know the real truth. We are being asked to alter the upper Chamber—the second part of our legislature—to fulfil a grubby deal done partly to save some skins, but mainly to enable the completion of an ill-managed legislative programme. That is what the hon. Gentleman says, and I believe him.

Mr. Nicholls

I accept the accuracy of my right hon. Friend's account of the motivation of Labour Members, but does he agree that the motivation of those hereditary peers who are to remain might be entirely different? Might they not be telling themselves that they could not have prevented the Government from getting their legislation through because the Parliament Act would ultimately have ensured its passage? Will my right hon. Friend at least entertain the possibility that some of the 92 are, out of a sense of duty, trying to make a thoroughly bad system work slightly better than it would otherwise have done?

Mr. Forth

Of course I accept that and, like my hon. Friend, I impute to the hereditary peers only the highest motives. However, I dispute whether what has been done is a proper solution for our legislative process, for our constitutional arrangements and for the long-term benefit of the country. Those are the things that matter, not pleasing a few people or accepting that their motivation is honourable, for such things are merely temporary.

I should have thought that we should be discussing a long-term proper dispensation for the governance of the country. Regrettably, the debate has been reduced to far less than that. We have ended up being asked to accept a peculiar arrangement whereby hereditary peers are elected—not properly elected, but elected by each other—and so are allowed to continue to be part of the legislative process. That strikes me as containing a greater number of contradictions than I would ever have thought possible, but it is all that is on offer tonight.

7.15 pm

It pains me to say it, but I accept the thrust of the argument advanced by the Labour party ever since the changes that we are now making were proposed. Labour started from the proposition that the upper House as it has hitherto been constituted is an affront to democracy. I accept that, even though I have always been prepared to defend the hereditary arrangement in the form that it has taken until now. I have no problem defending the long-standing hereditary element of the House of Lords; but, that having been swept away, I move to asking what the alternative is. The odd thing is that, if I accept Labour's original proposition, I have to adopt Labour's analysis and say that an upper House composed of appointees is also an affront to democracy.

Mr. Peter Bradley

I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman clarified his position. In an intervention earlier in the debate, he said that patronage corrupts both the granter of the patronage and the recipient. If the argument that patronage corrupts can be used against life peers, it can be used also against hereditary peers. Where does the right hon. Gentleman stand on the hereditary principle in the current constitution of the House of Lords?

Mr. Forth

Unusually for me, I have not intervened in the debate, but sat patiently and listened carefully, so I did not say what the hon. Gentleman says I said—I may well agree with it, but I did not say it. In any case, my point is far more fundamental: if we are to rest the argument on what is or is not democratic, we cannot accept the continuation of an appointed element in a part of our legislature; nor can we accept the continuation of a rump of hereditaries who must, by definition, be an affront to democracy, as the Government told us from the start. Having those hereditary peers electing one another in some peculiar way makes their presence no less of an affront unless we redefine democracy and say that the electorate is not the people at large, as we all thought that it was, but can comprise the hereditaries themselves. That cannot be right, yet that is what we are being asked to accept in the amendment.

I cannot accept the amendment, or any part of it. I cannot accept the continuation of life peers in the upper House, although I realise that that is not the subject of our debate. It strikes me as bizarre that people who give large donations to a political party can, as a result, end up as part of the legislature; that is neither acceptable nor democratic. Neither do I accept the continuation of an hereditary element.

Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea)

Does the right hon. Member accept that many hereditary peers are Members of the House of Lords precisely because their ancestors gave money to the Conservative party? Indeed, that category includes many of those who were elected by their fellow peers to continue to sit in the Lords. For example—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. This is not a general debate on the hereditary principle. We are debating the amendment.

Mr. Forth

Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Simply because something happened in the past does not legitimise it now. Is the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) suggesting that it does? If so, and he believes that past events legitimise the giving of peerages to those who have made donations, that is a development that we do not want to pursue, do we, Mr. Deputy Speaker?

The other arguments expressed in the group of amendments are even more bizarre. One appears to be that the peculiar European principle of the list should now be imported into the composition of our Upper House. It is suggested that if, alas, one of the elected hereditaries passes on, the next one on a list should automatically fill the position. I do not find that an acceptable principle—even though, much to my regret, it has already crept into our politics—and I do not see why we should legitimise it or revalidate it tonight.

Even more peculiar is the concept of a by-election. The process is not defined anywhere in the amendments, apart from a single reference to a by-election; nor is there any description of how it might work. It has been suggested that such matters would be adequately covered by Standing Orders in another place. I am not sure that I accept that as a satisfactory principle for appointing members of a legislature. We do not know who would conduct the by-election and on what basis. We know only that the provision is in Standing Orders—which, presumably, are subject to alteration at the whim of the House. A series of propositions would deliver a fully functioning, law-making body within our constitution comprising either appointees or hereditaries—a rump of people chosen from a list or via an unspecified by-election; we know not what in any detail.

None of those propositions is acceptable. I believe that, once we have swept away the hereditary principle, we should go straight to a proper directly elected upper House. I will not dwell on that point, because this is not the time or the place to do so. However, that is my response to questions that were posed legitimately during the debate. I would have defended the hereditary principle; my party and I did not suggest that it should be changed. However, now that it is to happen, we must respond. My response is that the present arrangement is totally unacceptable. Until someone suggests a proper, legitimate, accountable, directly elected upper House, I will be unable to accept any alternative.

Mr. Nicholls

I always enjoy following my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) in debates as I can usually declare that I agree with everything he said. I cannot go that far tonight—although we start from the same position.

There is an assumption running throughout the debate and underlying this amendment that the hereditary principle cannot be justified in any circumstances. The assumption, to a greater or lesser extent, is that the case has never been made for the hereditary principle. However, I can explain—I can do so in a few words because it underlines my position on the amendment—why the case for the hereditary principle can be, and should have been, made.

We are always told that the hereditary principle cannot be justified because it is not democratic—as though one can examine every ingredient of Parliament and say that each must be democratic before the whole can be. Some people think that sovereignty lies with the House of Commons. The Prime Minister believes that it lies with him. In fact, sovereignty lies with the Queen in Parliament. The monarch is not democratic, and nor is the House of Lords. However, the Queen in Parliament is an institution which works democratically because it makes sure that the people can elect and depose their representatives.

Is the Parliament responsive and democratic? That is the beginning, middle and end of the democratic process. We could have a long debate on another occasion about how we got here, but it is no argument to say that the House of Lords is not democratic and thus should be abolished. However, I accept that we are beyond that point now.

What should we discuss when considering the House of Lords? We should talk about how it functions.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will confine his remarks strictly to the amendment.

Mr. Nicholls

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I will define what I think the Weatherill amendment will achieve. We must ask what the reformed House will do after Weatherill. There is no point claiming that Weatherill will enable the reformed Chamber to stand against the House of Commons. It is pointless electing another Chamber simply to oppose the House. I do not want another House to be elected and given democratic legitimacy simply so that it can hold the Prime Minister to account. The correct time to do that is at the next general election, when Conservative Members will go out and make our case—and many believe that we can defeat him in open country. That is our purpose. Creating an upper House simply to start a constitutional fight with another place is not an attractive prospect.

I like to think that, after Weatherill, the upper House will continue to carry out its current functions. Many in the other place say that the scrutiny role appeals to them, and I am sure that many noble Lords perform that role very carefully. After Weatherill, the second Chamber should not hold up the House of Commons but ensure that the Government of the day—be it Labour or Conservative—act in the full light of day. Although one might not have designed it that way if one had had a blank sheet of paper, the marvellous thing about the House of Lords was that it performed that task. The House of Lords ensured that the electorate could have a second look without holding up the House of Commons. It ensured that the public knew what was afoot so that they could use that information at the next election.

Several hon. Members have asked, in the context of the Weatherill amendment, whether the new reformed House will work. The short answer is: I do not know, but we will find out because it will clearly be some time before the new reformed House is changed. I suppose that views on the matter will differ. A close friend in the upper House believes that, given what has happened to it since 1997, the House of Lords is an institution that can no longer perform the sort of scrutiny role to which I refer. After many years of public service, he decided not to stand for re-election. He will say, "That was a job well done for 600 years" and leave. I understand his view. He is probably wrong, but only time will tell.

If the new House comprises only Members appointed by Prime Ministers—let us face it, the Leader of the House of Lords is there only because she is the daughter of a Prime Minister—how can we be confident that it will perform the tasks that I have set out? Weatherill will achieve that objective. It will keep within the system a body of people who have—I say this without a hint of humour or irony—been judged by their peers; they are there because those with whom they have worked know that they can do the job. They are unwhippable and unbiddable and can provide a degree of independence. That objective must be desirable on pragmatic grounds alone.

Mr. Swayne

Is not the fact that the noble Lords opted for this sordid compromise and failed in the total warfare that we expected from them—which would have cost the Government much of their legislation—proof that they were biddable?

Mr. Nicholls

That is a good point, but it is entirely wrong. It is not based on fact. My hon. Friend and I are Members of Parliament. I am sure that all hon. Members think about the next election. All hon. Members know that the key issue facing the country at the next election is their return to the House, even if no one else makes it. Members of Parliament think in terms of those time scales.

However, the time scale in the upper House is much longer. It is ridiculous to think that the noble Lord Cranborne could be biddable: give him a life peerage and he will hang around for two years in a partially reformed House. I do not know Lord Cranborne; I met him a few times when I served with him in this place and I have talked to him in the Corridor. He does not think in terms of the next election: historically, his family thinks in terms of half a millennium. It is nonsense to think that he could be bought off with a life peerage. I know many hon. Members who could not be bought off with a life peerage—except, of course, my hon. Friend and me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak for yourself."] That comment must go on the record.

The idea that Lord Cranborne, Lord Strathclyde, Lord Ferrers and others of that calibre want to stay on in the other place—which many regard as a house of cronies—for the money and the social prestige is completely risible. What is the real motivation for this change, which the Weatherill amendment will improve slightly? It has nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with the Prime Minister. He had a problem. He intended to gain government, abandon his principles and run a right-of-centre fiscal policy. He thought, "How can I keep my Back Benchers happy when, for the most part, they have not secretly abandoned their principles? I'll fling them the hereditary peerage because that does not matter, and I'll give them fox hunting as well."

7.30 pm

If anybody has any doubt that that is the motivation for the reform, they should consider the exchange that took place in Prime Minister's Question Time on 27 October between the Prime Minister and the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), to whom I have written to say that I intended to mention the exchange. When she asked the usual fawning question of the Prime Minister about whether he agreed that he was a marvellous chap because he wanted to do in the hereditary peerage, she lingered over the names of the Earl of Burford. She called him Charles Francis Topham de Vere Beauclerk, and the way in which she pronounced those names absolutely reeked of the class hatred that underlies the Labour party.

If I had used the name of the hon. Lady and had milked it for its ordinary origins, I would have behaved in a disgraceful and ungentlemanly way, but Conservative Members believe that the fact that Labour Members think that it is a legitimate tactic of public debate to mock and sneer at somebody because they hold a name of great nobility says a great deal about them.

The Weatherill amendment is not the most brilliant amendment in the world. It will not achieve a reformed House that is the best that can be devised. It will not enable people to have the social cachet that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) thinks will be achieved by being a Member of the reformed House, but, for the time being, it will enable peers to continue to do the job that they have done for the past 600 years, which is to make sure that there is a degree of independent scrutiny. Anybody who thinks that, under this Prime Minister, anything better could be achieved is, frankly, not living in the real world.

Mr. Fallon

After having listened to this debate for four hours, I think that its most singular characteristic so far has been the dawning realisation of Labour Members that stage 2 simply will not happen. There has, of course, been one exception—the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) has blind faith that, somehow, he will be re-elected and the first Bill that he will support will be a stage 2 Bill.

What Conservative Members have been pointing out ever since we began proceedings on the Bill much earlier this year, and what Labour Members have now begun to realise, is that we shall be stuck with the Bill for perhaps 40, 50 or 60 years. If that were not the case, the Government would have accepted the range of amendments that we offered them in Committee specifically to link the Bill to stage 2. I moved some of those amendments, which offered a range of ways of binding the Government to stage 2. We shall be stuck with this Bill, and we shall be stuck with the Weatherill amendment.

Another characteristic of the debate has been the singular lack of enthusiasm for the Weatherill amendment. I certainly share the reservations of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) about the amendment. It will create something of a hostage House. Those surviving hereditaries, knowing that stage 2 can be produced at any time, will be on their best behaviour. Who knows? They may want to be part of stage 2.

I can well envisage the leader of the Labour hereditary peers trotting round to No. 10 to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) to conclude his own variation on the so-called Cranborne deal. Labour peers will also want to stay on, and the best proof of that lies in the wording of the Weatherill amendment. It contains the arrangements for perpetuation. The 90 will continue.

Other hon. Members have drawn attention to some of the more farcical aspects of that perpetuation. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said, we have not heard properly described how by-elections would be organised, or indeed where they would take place. The peers have been expelled from the House of Lords; would they be recalled for the day, given a glass of champagne and invited to vote in the Moses Room? Would they cluster together in White's on a winter morning for a glass of madeira and have the by-elections there? Would the voting be done by post? Special messengers could walk up the gravel drives and through the ducal halls, bearing the ballot papers on silver salvers. Who knows how those by-elections would be organised?

I have some sympathy with the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) and the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall—Andrews). I pointed out that they will stand as somewhat unusual friends of the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Earl Marshal, whom they have exempted from their amendment. They are happy for those two hereditary peers to continue.

It is clear that the perpetuation of those peers has the Government's blessing. It is no use the Leader of the House trying, as she has done several times during the debate, to pretend that the amendment has nothing to do with her. It is clear from the drafting of the Weatherill amendment that the Government were involved in its preparation, and I give the right hon. Lady the opportunity to deny that. The inclusion of the peculiar words in brackets in subsection (3) in the amendment has clearly been condoned by the Government. They, too, realise that we will be stuck with the Weatherill peers for a long time to come.

We must decide what to do. That particular deal has been described as grubby, and my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) said that it was a sordid compromise, but deals and compromises often are grubby and sordid. I do not take the particularly purist line adopted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, who said that hereditary peers are unacceptable and nominated peers are unacceptable.

There are degrees of acceptability and I, for one, do not see how a peer whose ancestors have served the public in the legislature simply because one of them was the result of a liaison with the mistress of the sovereign is any less equipped to be a lawmaker than someone who happens to be the Prime Minister's tennis partner and has given the Labour party shedloads of money. I do not draw those fine distinctions. It seems to me that someone whose family have handed down that legislative seat in trust from one generation to another and have retained it through acting responsibly may well claim to have a more legitimate place in the legislature than the Prime Minister's tennis partner.

Mr. Forth

As we share an admiration for that sense of tradition and continuity, does not my hon. Friend believe, as I do, that such people could readily offer themselves for election and be elected overwhelmingly by an electorate that shares our view of them?

Mr. Fallon

That may well happen, who knows? However, that takes us slightly wide of the amendment on which we have to decide tonight.

I, too, without any particular enthusiasm, will be supporting the Weatherill amendment, and I shall do so for four reasons. First, I shall support it because Lord Weatherill is my constituent and, although he does not have a vote, every bit of support counts, and one should support one's constituents. Secondly, I shall vote for the amendment because it gives us an element of continuity, and it is worth reminding ourselves that the other place is the prescriptive part of Parliament. That is why it has survived so long, and the amendment gives us a small measure of continuity and a little link back to the history that has shaped our country.

Thirdly, I shall support the amendment because it gives us a small safeguard against a wholly crony House. It means that the House cannot be filled simply with the Prime Minister's tennis partners and that it will have some Members who have not been appointed by one Prime Minister or another. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), I think that that is an important advantage and it will give us a small element of independence.

Fourthly, it can be argued that the very survival of the Weatherill peers will be a standing reminder that there is unfinished business. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst wants to have a wholly elected House, and other hon. Members support their own particular schemes. The peers' survival will remind us that there is a further job of reform to be done, although I do not expect that it will be done.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

When my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) pointed out that the real failing of the Bill is that there is no plan for stage 2, we relied on the Leader of the House when she told us that she rested her confidence on the capacity not only of this House, but of the country, to come to some consensus as to what should replace our current arrangements. However, what tonight's debate has revealed—in spades—is that, even though there are only about 40 right hon. and hon. Members in the Chamber, there is no agreement between us, so if there were 659 Members, we would not reach a consensus, unless the measure is driven through against much opposition from one quarter or another. The real failing of the Bill is that it leaves the other place exposed and, as some hon. Members have pointed out, there will be no check on the Executive—at least, we currently have some modicum of a check.

This is the saddest day of the 11½ years during which I have been privileged to serve as a Member of this House. The banishing of most of the hereditary peers and the suspended sentence on the remaining 92 marks the end of a 600-year reign in our history. That is a great sadness for us. 1 am sorry that most people do not realise what is going on in their name, because the issue does not dominate our tabloid press—or even our broadsheet press.

The measure is shameful. It is being introduced—as with so much under the Labour Government—as modernisation; it is the Prime Minister's substitute for a big idea. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), who has unfortunately left the Chamber, said that he might have discussed the matter when he was a member of the Labour party—it is interesting to see how members of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties move around. He said that people discussed the House of Lords and its abolition.

However, all the evidence shows that people do not support the Government on this matter. Last year, Common Sense for Lords Reform canvassed views and people were asked, "Would you prefer to leave things as they are for the moment, until all the details of the reform have been decided?". No fewer than 68 per cent. supported that proposition, rather than the view that hereditary peers should be abolished before the other details of the reform had been decided. Only 25 per cent. supported that view. It is thus not right to claim that there is popular demand for abolition, although I accept that it formed part of the Labour manifesto.

We do not receive letters from our constituents complaining about the way in which the other place works. It is interesting that no one argues—least of all people all over the country—that the other place is not up to the task of revising the legislation proposed by the Government. Legislation is often given scant scrutiny in this place—whether we or Labour are in government. On the contrary, there is widespread recognition that the other place acts as a reservoir for extensive talent, knowledge and commitment. That means that the other place commands some respect—possibly more than this House.

Notwithstanding the claims of Labour Members, few people argue that their lordships have abused their right to delay legislation. To be sure, they have caused trouble for the Government—as they did for the previous Government. However, they have not abused their right; peers realise that they lack the democratic legitimacy that we enjoy in this place. They know that it is the will of this House—

7.45 pm
Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is widening his argument too far. He must come back to the amendment.

Mr. Howarth

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for drawing that point to my attention. I was paving the way for my references to the Weatherill amendment. I do not know how the Government can so shamefacedly support the amendment, because, when my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) tabled a similar measure in February, they instructed their troops to vote it down.

As the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) implied, the real reason for the amendment was devoid of principle or of any high motive; it was only to push a squalid deal through this place so as to ensure that the rest of the Government's legislative programme was not disrupted by the other House. Thus, the Government engaged in naked blackmail so that we would deal with the matter today—the very last day of the parliamentary Session—and they could ensure that the rest of their legislation was already in the bag. That is pretty squalid and I think that people outside this place will agree. Having used the measure to bludgeon the other place into submission, the Government now invite us to support it, even though they refused their support when my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest introduced a similar measure earlier this year.

Unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), I am in two minds as to whether to support the amendment. Part of me said that we should take the Burford approach. Along with many other good Tories throughout the country, I felt that it was good to see an English peer—with the blood of England coursing through his veins—standing up for something in which he believed. On 26 October, I attended the debate in the other place and tried to encourage some of my noble Friends to do the decent thing and to have nothing to do with the Weatherill compromise, but to fight it on principle: either the hereditary principle remained, or they went down fighting.

However, I have reflected on the matter and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), I am inclined to support the amendment—not because it should be part of any kind of deal, or because I am in favour of allowing one or two of our noble Friends to carry on. The balance of advantage lies in our passing the amendment. Although it is an emasculated form of the hereditary principle, it ensures that the principle continues.

I suspect that the real reason that the Government now support the amendment is not simply because they are honouring their side of some bargain, but because they realise that if those 92 peers do not remain, there will be no one to do the work in the other place. Many of those hereditary peers chair Committees and the proceedings of the other House. If they were all to go, it would not be possible for the Government to rely solely on the life peers to man the other place. The Government have taken a pragmatic approach.

I shall vote for the amendment tonight because it will give me great pleasure to see yet another Labour election promise dishonoured. As some of the hon. Friends of the Leader of the House pointed out, they will vote for the Government—if they do—with a heavy heart. They thought that getting rid of the hereditary peers altogether was a Labour election commitment, and they are not happy with this compromise.

I shall also vote for the amendment because at least the 92 peers will remain as a testimony to the whole country of the part that the hereditary principle can play. If those peers were to go, the monarchy would be left exposed as the only hereditary office in the land, apart, of course, from the senior management of News International—another hereditary organisation in which power goes down the family line. The Leader of the House should be pleased because I understand that some of the power goes down through the female line. I am a monarchist—I support the monarchy. Unless the hereditary also applies elsewhere, the monarch will be exposed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks mentioned continuity. That is extremely important. If we were to abandon the hereditary principle altogether, this nation would be the poorer. The continuity and stability of this country are admired. That continuity does not come out of the ether. It comes from our constitutional arrangements. The hereditary principle is one of the essential components of such arrangements, providing roots that go deep into the earth. It is also a good antidote to the word "global", which seems to appear everywhere these days, and helps us when at risk of becoming detached from our roots.

The hereditary principle will be advantageous in ensuring that people who have a sense of duty remain in the other place. Labour Members who are inclined to dismiss the attitude of their lordships do them a disfavour. It is therefore interesting that some have paid tribute to the work of those in the other place.

I should like to quote the words of Lord Wedgewood, whose family seat is not a million miles from the constituency of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher). He said: we are applauded as a revising Chamber, which delivers in a non-partisan manner like no other second Chamber of Parliament. That might be disputed, although he goes on to say: Why? Because we believe in duty and principle; and we are unpaid."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 26 October 1999; Vol. 606. c. 287.] Those words came from the heart. I believe that he spoke for many peers. They are men of principle, and I hope that their sense of duty will continue. One young peer told me, "I do not want to be a full-time politician, but I want to make my contribution in this place from time to time, and I believe that I can do that."

The onus is on those who wish to bring about change to prove that they have something better to put in place of the—perhaps imperfect—mechanism that operates at the moment. I do not believe that they have made such a case. Indeed, on the contrary, they are all over the shop. While any new constitutional arrangements are being set up, we shall face a long period of turmoil, as we are in many others respects in our national life as a result of the Government's policies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) said that he was worried that those who remain will be hostages to their good behaviour. I hope that the noble Lords and ladies who remain in the other place will never allow themselves to be used as hostages, and that. they will uphold the sense of independence, impartiality and duty to which I have drawn attention and which I believe is recognised throughout the country. If they do that, who knows, they may sit in the other place for another 600 years.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I echo the final words of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), who is self-cast as the president of the Burford preservation society. He made some extremely good points in his peroration. We owe a great deal to those who have given selfless service over generations—centuries for many families. It is a pity if we allow our zeal, whichever side of the argument we are on, to obscure our sense of gratitude for services that have been rendered. I am delighted to echo the eloquent words of my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young).

My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said in a splendid speech that we were all voting for different reasons for fear of something worse. He talked of the Prime Minister exercising patronage in a way that had not been seen since the 18th century. I had not considered the Prime Minister as a latter-day Duke of Newcastle, but it is a thought. We are witnessing a crude exercise of patronage.

We must face the fact, not that we may have a different second Chamber in some years' time, but that a week today, the Queen will open Parliament and we shall have a House of Lords. The issue that we must address is whether the House of Lords that assembles on 17 November 1999 will be better for the presence of the 92 hereditary peers, or the poorer without them.

I believe without equivocation—I was delighted that so many of my hon. Friends, including my right hon. Friends the Members for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) and for Suffolk, Coastal and my hon. Friends the Members for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) and for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) believe it, too—that the House of Lords will be better for the 92.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire said, this is a bad Bill. It is a sad day. This is a shabby little Bill, but it will be improved by the amendment, because the House that will come into existence at the beginning of the next Session will be the stronger and better preserved from the undue influence of patronage if the 92 are present.

I am delighted to see the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) taking his place. He made a wonderful speech. I did not agree with all of it, although I concurred entirely with his comments on the danger of the over-mighty Executive. He secured an Adjournment debate on the subject in the small hours of this morning. He knows better than most what an over-mighty Executive can do to this place.

I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) when he disputes whether the 92 will be able to be their own men and women. They will be the ones who sit in the second Chamber not as a result of patronage. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire pointed out, something like a quarter of the Members of the House of Lords who assemble on 17 November entered it since 1 May 1997. We must also consider the issue in that context.

I know that some hon. Members on both sides of the House cannot bring themselves to vote for the amendment. I respect the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), although I am bound to point out that on the previous occasion that such an amendment was debated, he voted for it, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler). Everybody is entitled to a change of mind. I hope that, even at this late stage, they will consider the proposal the lesser of two evils and vote for it again.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) has been consistently against the proposal. I admire his consistency, but regret the fact that he does not take the line of those Labour Members whose speeches must have seemed dream contributions to the Whips. I think of the hon. Members for Harlow (Mr. Rammell), for Basildon (Angela Smith) and for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley), who are very happy to stand on their heads and vote for the amendment, having followed the Whips a few months ago and voted against the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing).

I point out to the hon. Member for The Wrekin that before he entertains the House with historical facts again, he ought to get the facts right. The Reform Act of 1867, for which he castigated the Tories for voting against, was an Act of Disraeli's Government.

Of all the speeches in this debate, I must single out that of the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan). This Galahad of debate, who has so entertained us so often, gave a clarion call to abstention. I hope that even he—I know his views on the ultimate reform of the House of Lords—would recognise that the interim House, as it is called by some, which will assemble next week, could exist for some considerable time.

Many hon. Members on both sides of the House thought that that would be so, including the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, who said that such a Chamber would still be here when he went, and that he would live to be 100 years old—I hope that he lives to be 150. His comments bear the close consideration of us all.

We return to the central point of whether the House that will meet next week will be the stronger, the more independent of patronage and the better able to discharge its functions because of the experience of those who sit in it if the 92 are present than if they are absent. Therefore, although no one is ecstatic about what we are doing, I hope that Members in all parts of the House will recognise a vote for the amendment as a sensible vote to cast tonight.

8 pm

The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), who is not in his place, should think again. He made another eloquent denunciation of the powers of patronage—although, in a phrase that I shall always remember, he exempted the Prime Minister, whom he described as a luminous and beautiful human being". Doubtless that will lead to a little patronage being exercised in the hon. and learned Gentleman's favour in the not too distant future. What an adornment he would be to the other place.

However, as we near the end of four-and-a-half hours of debate, I have this to say to all my colleagues, especially on the Opposition Benches. Like the Irishman, we would not have started from here.

Mr. Tipping

Or at all.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Or, indeed, at all.

We did not see the need to meddle. We did not see the need to upset. Accepting that the Government had a mandate, we urged them to exercise it with discretion, dignity and proper courage; and to decide what they wanted to replace the second Chamber with, by setting up a royal commission and awaiting its report. The Government came very late to that decision. Even now, they could have waited for the Wakeham commission to report before rushing the Bill through.

We do not like the Bill. We do not think that it is doing a service to the constitution of our nation. Nevertheless, we will vote for the amendment, because it will ensure that the Chamber that meets next week is a better Chamber than it would be without those 92 hereditary peers. On that basis, and that basis alone, I commend the Weatherill amendment to my colleagues. I hope that they will all support it.

Mrs. Beckett

As the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, this has been a long debate, following our previous three-hour debate on the principle of the matter, but it is a very important debate and the House should take time to consider the issues.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan), the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) all raised the issue of whether the amendment represented a breach of our manifesto commitment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) asked whether changes should be made, even now, in the text of what is now known as the Weatherill amendment, because of fear of delay between stage 1 and stage 2. I repeat what I said earlier in these debates: that is not what the Government have in mind, and it was solely to reassure those who had such fears in the House of Lords that the mechanism to which, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway took exception—the by-election mechanism—was inserted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central questioned the basis on which the shadow elections for the 92 peers have been held. I simply refer him to subsection (5) of the amendment, which gives that authority. I understand the elections to have been undertaken on the basis of the Standing Orders of the House of Lords.

Mr. Fisher

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mrs. Beckett

I am sorry, I must get on. I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me. I gave way to everyone first time around.

The hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) made a distinctive contribution. I believe that he was saying that we should keep the hereditary principle. That is a legitimate point of view, which others have expressed during the debate.

The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) spoke to his amendment. I understood that amendment when it was part of a group of amendments. I fear that although I read his amendment and listened to what he said, I did not understand what he was trying to do. What his amendment would do is unclear, but what is clear is that it would add nothing to the Bill's effectiveness. Therefore, I must ask the House to resist it should he press it to a vote.

Mr. Tyrie

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon; I really must get on. [Interruption.] With respect, he did not give way to me.

My hon. Friends the Members for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) and for Basildon (Angela Smith), like my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), accepted the compromise, although with some reluctance, as did the hon. Members for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) and for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth).

The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) was pretty rude about everyone else who accepted the amendment, although it turned out in the end that he accepted it, too, because it retained the position of some of those who sat as hereditary peers.

Mrs. Laing

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

I am reluctant, but I will give way to the hon. Lady because she did not speak in the debate.

Mrs. Laing

I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Lady for her courtesy in giving way. On the point that she has just made about those who accept or do not accept the amendment, I recall that on 15 February 1999, when I was trying to elicit from the right hon. Lady whether she would accept an amendment in very similar terms that I had proposed that day, she said to me: I do not know why the hon. Lady is wasting the Committee's time with this nonsense."—[Official Report, 15 February 1999; Vol. 325, c. 681-82.] Will the right hon. Lady now concede that I was not wasting the Committee's time? I was then urging it to vote for the very measure that she is now urging the House to vote for.

Mrs. Beckett

I apologise if I hurt the hon. Lady's feelings, but it is possible that she misunderstood what I was saying. I accused her then of wasting the Committee's time because she kept asking us to explain why we were not going to accept her amendment, even though that had already been explained several times. I have enough respect for the hon. Lady's intelligence to think that she understood the explanation the first time that it was given.

However, the hon. Lady's intervention is perfectly timed, because I was about to mention the right hon. Members for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), both of whom have taken exactly the same stance but from opposite points of view, in that they supported her amendment but appear to be saying that they will reject a similar one tonight. That is obviously because of the way in which the Bill's passage has been conducted, and our recognition that we might be prepared to accept the amendment at this stage but were not at an earlier stage.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley) quite properly asked what the Conservatives had done to advocate and promote reform in the 18 years during which they had the opportunity. The right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) suggested that although the Labour party had talked about needing to break the logjam of reform and hence passing the legislation in two stages, previous Labour Governments had not taken action to bring about reform. I believe that I am right in saying that the 1945 Labour Government developed the reduction in the powers of the House of Lords, which was one step towards reform; that the 1964 to 1970 Labour Government famously attempted, and failed, to reform the House of Lords; and that it would have been an act of crass folly for the 1974 to 1979 Labour Government to attempt such a step, given that they hardly had a majority. It has therefore been a consistent theme of Labour Governments to seek reform of the Lords.

The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) suggested that the Conservative party had in fact progressed towards reform because it had invented the notion of life peers. He was reminded several times in the debate that, having invented the concept of life peers, the Conservative party has consistently used it to reinforce and expand its already substantial majority in the House of Lords.

Throughout the debate, issues have been raised that are familiar to those who have participated in these discussions. There was the usual dismissal of the concession made by the Prime Minister, for the first time in our history, to reduce his power of patronage—as though it were illegitimate for that to be done by a Labour Prime Minister. The notion continued to be trumpeted that, by consistently supporting Conservative Governments and attacking Labour ones, the House of Lords has shown its independence. That notion was amply discredited during the debate, if only by statistics revealing a very different picture.

As he came to the end of his remarks, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire, expressing the Conservative party's attitude to the proposals and the amendments, said in one sentence that the way in which the House of Lords had been dealt with was charmless, and in the next that the transitional House would become inferior as a result of the removal of some 659 hereditary peers.

We have had a re-run of many of the arguments that we heard previously, but a consistent feature—and one that is to be regretted—has been the tendency of Opposition Members to denigrate life peers in order to praise the role of hereditaries. That is wrong; we should not denigrate either. Both groups have given service to our country and to our Parliament, and it is right to recognise that. As the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) let fall in an inadvertent remark at the end of our exchanges, for the whole of its history the Conservative party has resisted reform, in particular reform of the House of Lords, although some Conservative Members have reluctantly accepted the amendment.

Today, we are discussing a further dramatic and historic step in our constitutional development. The proposal enshrined in the amendment is not the Government's proposal—it came from the Cross Benches. However, we regard it as offering a prudent and sensible route towards the early removal of all hereditary peers. It ends the hereditary principle as the basis of a seat in the legislature. It means that 659 hereditary peers will leave their House when the Bill is passed. To have incurred potential delay would have meant that 750 hereditary peers would have retained the right to sit and to disrupt the Government's legislative programme for a further year.

We are taking an historic step tonight. After 89 years, I suggest to the House that it is time that it was taken.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) wish to press his amendment to a Division?

Mr. Mackinlay

No, Sir. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) wish to press his amendment to a Division?

Mr. Tyrie

No, Sir.

Motion made, and Question put, That this House agrees with the Lords in said amendment.—[Mrs. Beckett.]:—

The House divided: Ayes 438, Noes 22.

Division No. 318] [8.12 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Beard, Nigel
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Ainger, Nick Beggs, Roy
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Alexander, Douglas Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Allen, Graham Bennett, Andrew F
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Benton, Joe
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Bercow, John
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Beresford, Sir Paul
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Bermingham, Gerald
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Berry, Roger
Ashton, Joe Best, Harold
Atherton, Ms Candy Betts, Clive
Atkins, Charlotte Blackman, Liz
Baldry, Tony Blair, Rt Hon Tony
Barnes, Harry Blears, Ms Hazel
Barron, Kevin Blizzard, Bob
Bayley, Hugh Boateng, Rt Hon Paul
Body, Sir Richard Donaldson, Jeffrey
Borrow, David Donohoe, Brian H
Boswell, Tim Doran, Frank
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Drew, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Duncan, Alan
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Bradshaw, Ben Edwards, Huw
Brazier, Julian Efford, Clive
Brinton, Mrs Helen Ellman, Mrs Louise
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Evans, Nigel
Browne, Desmond Faber, David
Browning, Mrs Angela Fabricant, Michael
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Fallon, Michael
Burden, Richard Field, Rt Hon Frank
Burgon, Colin Fitzsimons, Lorna
Burns, Simon Flight, Howard
Butler, Mrs Christine Flint, Caroline
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Flynn, Paul
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Follett, Barbara
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Caplin, Ivor Fox, Dr Liam
Casale, Roger Fraser, Christopher
Cash, William Fyfe, Maria
Caton, Martin Gale, Roger
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Gapes, Mike
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Gardiner, Barry
Garnier, Edward
Chaytor, David George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Chope, Christopher Gerrard, Neil
Clapham, Michael Gibb, Nick
Clappison, James Gibson, Dr Ian
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Godman, Dr Norman A
Godsiff, Roger
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Goggins, Paul
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Golding, Mrs Llin
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Gray, James
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Green, Damian
Clelland, David Greenway, John
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Grieve, Dominic
Clwyd, Ann Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Coaker, Vernon Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Coffey, Ms Ann Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Cohen, Harry Grocott, Bruce
Coleman, Iain Grogan, John
Collins, Tim Gummer, Rt Hon John
Colvin, Michael Gunnell, John
Connarty, Michael Hain, Peter
Cooper, Yvette Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Corbett, Robin Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Cormack, Sir Patrick Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Corston, Jean Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Cousins, Jim Hanson, David
Cran, James Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Cranston, Ross Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Healey, John
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Cummings, John Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hepburn, Stephen
Curry, Rt Hon David Heppell, John
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Hesford, Stephen
Darvill, Keith Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Hill, Keith
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Hinchliffe, David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Hodge, Ms Margaret
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Hood, Jimmy
Dawson, Hilton Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Dean, Mrs Janet Hope, Phil
Denham, John Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Dismore, Andrew Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Dobbin, Jim Howells, Dr Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay Mactaggart, Fiona
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) McWalter, Tony
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Madel, Sir David
Humble, Mrs Joan Mahon, Mrs Alice
Hunter, Andrew Malins, Humfrey
Hurst, Alan Mallaber, Judy
Hutton, John Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Iddon, Dr Brian Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Illsley, Eric Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Martlew, Eric
Jamieson, David Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Jenkin, Bernard Maxton, John
Jenkins, Brian May, Mrs Theresa
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Meale, Alan
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Merron, Gillian
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Miller, Andrew
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Mitchell, Austin
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Moffatt, Laura
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Moran, Ms Margaret
Keeble, Ms Sally Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Morley, Elliot
Kelly, Ms Ruth Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Kemp, Fraser Moss, Malcolm
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Mountford, Kali
Khabra, Piara S Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Kidney, David Mudie, George
Kilfoyle, Peter Mullin, Chris
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Kumar, Dr Ashok Naysmith, Dr Doug
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Nicholls, Patrick
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Norris, Dan
Lait, Mrs Jacqui O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Lansley, Andrew O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Lawrence, Ms Jackie O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Laxton, Bob Olner, Bill
Leigh, Edward O'Neill, Martin
Lepper, David Organ, Mrs Diana
Leslie, Christopher Osborne, Ms Sandra
Letwin, Oliver Ottaway, Richard
Levitt, Tom Page, Richard
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Paice, James
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Palmer, Dr Nick
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Paterson, Owen
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen Pearson, Ian
Lidington, David Pendry, Tom
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Perham, Ms Linda
Linton, Martin Pickles, Eric
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Pickthall, Colin
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Pike, Peter L
Lock, David Plaskitt, James
Love, Andrew Pollard, Kerry
Luff, Peter Pond, Chris
McAvoy, Thomas Pope, Greg
McCabe, Steve Pound, Stephen
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield) Powell, Sir Raymond
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Macdonald, Calum Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
McDonnell, John Prescott, Rt Hon John
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Primarolo, Dawn
McIntosh, Miss Anne Prior, David
McIsaac, Shona Prosser, Gwyn
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Purchase, Ken
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Quinn, Lawrie
Mackinlay, Andrew Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Maclean, Rt Hon David Rammell, Bill
McLoughlin, Patrick Rapson, Syd
McNulty, Tony Raynsford, Nick
MacShane, Denis Redwood, Rt Hon John
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Roche, Mrs Barbara Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Rooker, Jeff
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham) Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Rowlands, Ted Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Roy, Frank Temple-Morris, Peter
Ruane, Chris Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Ruddock, Joan Tipping, Paddy
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Todd, Mark
Ryan, Ms Joan Touhig, Don
St Aubyn, Nick Tredinnick, David
Salter, Martin Trend, Michael
Sarwar, Mohammad Trickett, Jon
Savidge, Malcolm Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Sayeed, Jonathan Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Sedgemore, Brian Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Sheerman, Barry Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Shipley, Ms Debra Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Tynan, Bill
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk) Vis, Dr Rudi
Singh, Marsha Walley, Ms Joan
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Walter, Robert
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Ward, Ms Claire
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S) Wareing, Robert N
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Waterson, Nigel
Watts, David
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Wells, Bowen
Smith, John (Glamorgan) White, Brian
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Whitehead, Dr Alan
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S) Whittingdale, John
Snape, Peter Wicks, Malcolm
Soames, Nicholas Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Soley, Clive Wilkinson, John
Southworth, Ms Helen Willetts, David
Spellar, John Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spring, Richard Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Squire, Ms Rachel Wills, Michael
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Wilshire, David
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Wilson, Brian
Steinberg, Gerry Winnick, David
Stevenson, George Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Wise, Audrey
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Wood, Mike
Stinchcombe, Paul Woodward, Shaun
Stoate, Dr Howard Woolas, Phil
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Worthington, Tony
Streeter, Gary Wray, James
Stringer, Graham Wyatt, Derek
Stuart, Ms Gisela Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Sutcliffe, Gerry Tellers for the Ayes:
Swayne, Desmond Mr. Jim Dowd and
Syms, Robert Mrs. Anne McGuire.
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Loughton, Tim
Blunt, Crispin Randall, John
Brady, Graham Robathan, Andrew
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Robertson, Laurence
Ruffley, David
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice & Howden) Shepherd, Richard
Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)
Fisher, Mark Viggers, Peter
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Whitney, Sir Raymond
Gill, Christopher
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Tellers for the Noes:
Hancock, Mike Mr. Eric Forth and
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Mr. Andrew Tyrie.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Forward to