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Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring): Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what proportion of peers in the other place take the Conservative Whip? How many, as a proportion of the other House as a whole, do so?

Mr. Mandelson: We hear constant rehearsal of that facetious and ridiculous point. If the Conservative Front Benchers are the only people in this country who do not understand and recognise that, one after another and time after time, so-called independent peers hear the arguments independently, weigh up those arguments independently, arrive at their views and their judgments independently and then vote Conservative independently, they must be the only people who are in such a state of self-delusion.

Dr. Fox: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mandelson: No--the hon. Gentleman made his point, but failed to do so satisfactorily.

It is precisely for that reason that Lord Cranborne and Lord Strathclyde decided that to give hereditary peers and their allies such an opportunity to frustrate the democratic will and the Government's mandate and manifesto would be an unacceptable use of unaccountable power by those Members of the other place. They recognised that the Government had a mandate and so, in a spirit of compromise on their part, they secured a small, temporary return as the price for our and their good will. That is a perfectly straightforward matter.

That is why I have no compunction and no hesitation about saying that I, along with the bulk of my right hon. and hon. Friends, will both vote against the amendment as it is proposed today and vote in favour of it on a future occasion, if it is offered to us to do so. That amendment in the other place will have been agreed as the price of the good will and the spirit of compromise that joins both Labour Members and those Conservatives who are democrats, who want it to be clearly demonstrated to the public that, when the Government have a mandate to implement a commitment in the manifesto on which they have been elected, they will be given the means and the power to do so.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): I have not heard such unadulterated humbug for a long time. Why cannot the right hon. Gentleman secure that good will by voting for the amendment tonight? Surely those in the other place who want the amendment to be made will be happy if we do it for them.

Mr. Mandelson: Let me put it bluntly: the price of accepting the amendment will be the peers' good will and their commitment to ensuring the passage of the Bill through the other place without it being strung out, impeded, frustrated and filibustered in the way that some Conservative Members, as their behaviour demonstrates, appear determined to do in this place. We are simply not going to give them the opportunity to do that, and we deny them that opportunity in agreement with, and with the good will and commitment of, many members of the other place who take the Conservative Whip and who do

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not want to be seen to behave in as undemocratic a manner as some Conservative Members of this place appear determined to behave.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Will the right hon. Gentleman define, for the benefit of the Committee, consistency and blackmail?

Mr. Mandelson: If I thought it remotely relevant to my argument, I would do so. I recall the right hon. Member for South Norfolk yesterday accusing my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of bully-girl tactics. Save for the change of gender, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) would have to take exactly the same precaution as that taken by my right hon. Friend if he were faced, in the other place, with that built-in 3:1 majority against his party and its manifesto, which some Opposition Members would clearly like the Lords to deploy if they have the opportunity.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mandelson: No, I see no point in stringing out this argument any longer.

Of course we want to secure the Bill's passage and protect the rest of our legislation, which contains important measures concerning the fight against crime, the improvement of the health service, raising educational standards and industrial policies. Those myriad measures are absolutely essential for improving and transforming our society and economy. It is the duty of Labour Members to ensure that all those measures pass through both Houses of Parliament. It is precisely in order to do so that we are prepared to take the amendment at face value if it is moved and made in the other place and to agree to it in this House as the temporary and small price of securing good will for the passage of the rest of our legislation.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if we were to make the amendment today, their lordships might find other ways of trying to rescue another 91 of their Members, as well as employing all the procedural devices that he has outlined?

Mr. Mandelson: My hon. Friend touches on an important point, which makes it all the more important for us, in rejecting the amendment today, to give those in the other place, if they wish to make the amendment, the added incentive to allow us to protect the rest of our programme. I am sure that, as democrats, they will be happy to do so.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he and his colleagues are creating a significant precedent in sacrificing the democratic rights of this House to discuss a measure that is an important part of a Bill in order effectively to blackmail the other House?

Mr. Mandelson: I do not know how we are jeopardising anyone's democratic rights, given that the amendment has been moved and we have been discussing it at inordinate and ridiculous length. We shall then exercise our democratic right--at least on this side of the

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Committee--to vote against it. We shall then give Members of the other place the chance to exercise their democratic right to consider the amendment if they wish to table it and vote for or against it. If they vote for it, we shall then be able to exercise our further democratic right to vote for or against it when it returns to this place. That is called democracy: exercising one's right to vote. We are doing that in a way that will ensure the Bill's safe passage as well as the protection of our programme, which consists of important measures that, at the last general election, we were elected to implement.

Mr. Clappison: I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate, which was opened by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) with an excellent, powerful, well argued speech.

I listened with interest to the arguments made by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson); I appreciate the fact that he wanted to express to the Committee his views on this matter. I am slightly disappointed, however, that he did not say anything newer and more interesting than the authorised version that he presented to us. With his knowledge of such matters, it would have been interesting--I would have said this in an intervention if the right hon. Gentleman had been prepared to give way--to hear how long he considers that the transitional phase will last, and what he would like to happen at the end of it.

It was interesting to compare the speech by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool with the almost identical speech by the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan). I must say to both right hon. Gentlemen--especially the former--that I disagree with their view of the role of the Committee of this House in all these matters. Why on earth cannot we debate this amendment now? [Hon. Members: "We are."] That is only because the amendment was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest. If the Government had had their way, we would have had no opportunity to debate the matter.

Mr. Mandelson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clappison: I give way to the right hon. Gentleman, although he did not do me the courtesy of giving way.

Mr. Mandelson: What does the hon. Gentleman think we are doing if we are not debating this now? Moreover, if this debate is so fundamental to the passage of the legislation, will he please explain why it has not been initiated by Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen?

Mr. Clappison: In her opening speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest clarified the position on that. She moved the amendment, and both the right hon. Member for Hartlepool and the Liberal Democrats have tried, in effect, to bypass the Committee and say that it was very wrong of us to debate the matter now.

The President of the Council has been very coy, talking about

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    It is hardly a state secret that something like that will happen. It is hardly hanging in the balance, with everything to play for. The Government's White Paper states that such an amendment may well be tabled in the other place. There has been speculation on the subject in all the newspapers and throughout the media. That being the case, why cannot we have a debate now, in the Committee of this House, before the matter is debated in another place? The right hon. Member for Hartlepool accuses us of filibustering when hardly a word has been said.

The Government have adopted a curious position on this subject. In yesterday's debate, we were repeatedly met by what I regard as counsels of perfection from Labour Members, with continual attacks on the hereditary principle, the number of Conservative peers and of Conservative hereditary peers. We have covered the background to this issue; we have discussed custard pie manufacturers, turkey breeders and people who did favours for Charles II.

I understand the arguments that Labour Members are making, but I believe that the problem in the amendment--for them and for the Government--lies in the way in which the Government are approaching the matter. On Second Reading, the President of the Council launched an all-out assault on the hereditary principle. She did so with some relish--I understand that she may have personal views on the matter--but it must be strange for members of the Government to understand that, after all that, we have reached a position where the Government may be minded to accept an amendment in future that will allow for a significant number of hereditary peers in the House of Lords: up to 91 of them.

On Second Reading, the President of the Council appeared to set things out as a matter of principle, when she said:

What the right hon. Lady and the Government are now saying is that if one goes to the airport, one will meet someone who will say, "I cannot fly the plane, but the grandfather of that chap over there is a pilot, so he can come in and fly the plane." That is the point. Let us face it, every single one of those 91 peers is--

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