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Mrs. Beckett: I am, indeed, mindful of what happened to Richard Crossman: he got bogged down in stage two. Consequently, stage one was never achieved. It is not a precedent that I have any intention of following.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman--again, he tempts me on to precisely this territory--talks about the second Chamber's role and functions, bearing in mind that the House of Commons must remain pre-eminent, and he then goes on to talk about whether the Government will consider things that will, in his words, "clip the wings" of the Prime Minister. I simply say that the issue of role and functions--and, yes, that includes the powers--is one that the royal commission will consider, on which it will recommend and on which, ultimately, the House will take a view. One of the most noticeable things throughout the exchange so far has been that, despite all the absolute nonsense, and the very unpleasant nonsense, that has been said--not by the right hon. Gentleman but by others on the Opposition Benches--about the Prime Minister's unfettered use of patronage and power, not one Opposition Member has felt able to accept or to welcome the fact that this Prime Minister, unprecedentedly, is diminishing the Prime Minister's power of patronage. That is something that no Tory Prime Minister in history has ever even contemplated.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): As the late Dick Crossman's much put upon and much abused Parliamentary Private Secretary, I wish my right hon. Friend tons of luck, because she will need every ounce of it in this minefield. Is the appointments commission likely to show the same wisdom as the panel brought into being by the Labour party in choosing candidates for the Holyrood Parliament?

Mrs. Beckett: It is, of course, an article of faith that all panels set up by the Labour party in government, or as a matter party machinery, show wisdom.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) referred to 350 years ago. It might be wise for this Parliament to bear in mind that we may propose changes that ultimately the people will regret. I draw the attention of the Leader of the House

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to the fact that she refers to three main parties and forgets that there are other parties in the House, some of which have no representation in the regions, and particularly in Northern Ireland. None of the three main parties is prepared to stand for election there. Surely a large majority Government should not be afraid of minority representation.

Mrs. Beckett: I take the hon. Gentleman's point. He will have noticed, I hope, that although I referred to representatives from the three main parties, on a number of occasions in the statement I also mentioned that it is the Government's intention to bear in mind the wish to see fair representation for all parties in Britain.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Has my right hon. Friend noticed from the exchanges that have taken place already, especially the contributions of Opposition Members, that if they are given an inch, they want a mile? My right hon. Friend, mistakenly in my view, has given them the chairmanship of the royal commission, and to a man who has a string of jobs already, yet the Tories are still as mad as a hatter. Why does not she think in terms of the third way? We have a Parliament for Scotland, we will have a Welsh Assembly and another one in Northern Ireland, and, in a few years' time, there will be one in every region in England. Why on earth do we need a second Chamber at all? Adopt the third way and get rid of it.

Mrs. Beckett: I have no doubt that, should my hon. Friend catch your eye, Madam Speaker, he will have the opportunity to pursue that idea at some length. With regard to Lord Wakeham taking the chair of the royal commission, I simply say that he has a long and distinguished career, including as one of my predecessors in the House, although it came as a slight surprise to hear the hon. Member for Woodspring say that he showed--what was it?--independence as Chief Whip. A variety of qualities are qualifications for the role of Chief Whip, but I am not sure that that has ever been regarded as one of them. However, I take it on board.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): As the main criticisms that the Government are making of the House of Lords appear to be that it is undemocratic, unrepresentative and unaccountable, can the Leader of the House guarantee that at the end of the process, the second Chamber will emerge as democratic, representative and accountable?

Mrs. Beckett: The right hon. Gentleman identifies our case accurately. The House of Lords is uniquely undemocratic, unrepresentative and unaccountable. Even in the transitional stage, what replaces it will be better.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a good day for democracy, reaffirming to anyone who may have been in doubt that this is a radical Government? She is right to adopt a two-stage process and not to be tempted by those from either side of the House who want to get involved in the minutiae of what is to follow. There will be a spring in

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my step--I am sure that many of my hon. Friends share my feelings--when I walk through the Lobby to vote for the Bill.

Mrs. Beckett: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I hope that his view will be shared.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): May we start from the premise that no rational person would defend hereditary seats in the House of Lords? [Interruption.] I said no rational person. Does the Leader of the House accept that the imbalanced proposals for the transitional phase look like a pig's breakfast? Will the royal commission properly consider the option of no second Chamber and the adoption of pre-legislative scrutiny in the procedures of this Chamber? That is how the Scottish Parliament will work, without the need for a second Chamber. Will the Leader of the House accept as a fundamental principle that if there is to be a second Chamber, the only way for it to be representative is for it to be elected? Finally, what self-respecting, elected, full-time Member of the Scottish Parliament would consider coming down to London on day trips if the second Chamber were still nominated and full of 500 cronies?

Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman suggests that there should be no second Chamber. That is not the Government's view. He appears to be suggesting that, whether it is a transitional House or a different form of second Chamber, no one from the Scottish National party would wish to serve in the upper House. That is a matter for his party. He also talked about the nature of the transitional House. It is my strong view that we would probably never get to the transitional House if we spent all our time wrangling about its ideal form. We hope and intend that the transitional House will not last for long, so the issue is less important. It will certainly be better than what precedes it, but it is not so important if it is not in what might be considered an ideal form. I cannot repeat too often that the reason why we still have a second Chamber numbering 1,300 or more Members when the issue has been under discussion for 87 years is that those who believe that the current situation is unacceptable have always been more interested in talking about what we should ideally have in its place rather than embarking on the process of reform. We shall never have a proper debate about how a reformed second Chamber should be until we begin to take steps on the existing Chamber.

Jacqui Smith (Redditch): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the many disadvantages of the hereditary principle is that it has created a significant gender imbalance in the second Chamber, where only 8 per cent. of peers are women? I do not want to get involved in the minutiae of the second phase. The removal of the hereditary peers alone will go some way towards righting that gender imbalance, but it is also important that the appointments commission and the royal commission consider ways of ensuring gender balance in the second Chamber.

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is right. That brings us back to the effects of having a hereditary qualification for a seat in the legislature. The system has no regard for talent. It is not even the most interested or the most

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qualified member of an eligible family who is entitled to a seat, but in most cases it is the first-born male. My hon. Friend is right that that results in a House that is out of touch with today's world. I have no doubt that that will be taken into account.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): How can the right hon. Lady argue that the Government's approach to constitutional reform is anything other than piecemeal, given that she has just said that the position of the Law Lords and the Church of England bishops will not be considered in the reform? If the Government truly are looking at the constitution as a whole, why does the royal commission not have the power to consider the position of the Law Lords and the Church of England bishops?

Mrs. Beckett: That is not a matter that will be dealt with in stage one. The difficulty is that Conservative Members have certain lines that they like to use, irrespective of whether they have become irrelevant. It is clear that, although we are proceeding step by step and piece by piece, the reform is not piecemeal: it is an overarching programme of reform in which one part can intermesh with others.

The issue of the existence and the role of the Law Lords is, at least in part, also a matter for the judiciary and the judicial system. It was not thought sensible, even in the transitional House, to take steps to change that role. Similarly, we do not propose any change in the role of bishops in the transitional House. I have no doubt that if Conservative Members think that changes should be made in the transitional House, they will say so. However, we believe that it is a matter for stage two.


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