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Mr. Nigel Griffiths: Why?

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

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

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

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

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

The American revolution was not founded in an abyss. Thomas Paine's great language--which fired that part of a discovered continent, and helped inform the French revolution--was a declaration of principles. When the

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revolution was successful, those principles were filled in by the building of a constitution. The American constitution--which was spoken of disparagingly by some--has stood the test of two centuries. It has protected and enhanced the freedoms and liberties of the American people, and it has protected them against revolution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: I am not too keen on the thin majority point.

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

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

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

I am deeply concerned, as many hon. Members have been. I believe that the second Chamber should be elected and that its powers should be enhanced to provide the

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

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

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

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

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