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Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that, in politics, one puts forward one's preferred option but may give notice that, in future, one might accept a second-best option? Is that not what Conservative Members are doing by moving this amendment, which they themselves say that they think is second best to maintaining the status quo? Is not that exactly what the Government and the Liberal Democrats are doing by signalling that this might be an acceptable amendment in future?

Mr. Clappison: The problem that Liberal Democrats and Ministers must face is that, in all this, the Government have argued, "This is the first-best solution." The hon. Gentleman will have to answer the question, for how long will the proposed arrangement continue?

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My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest did the House a service by bringing before the House the subject of the election in the House of Lords. How strange that election--an election of hereditary peers--will be!

4.45 pm

It is the only election that will occur because the other peers will be appointed. At the end of the day, we face the prospect that a substantial number of hereditary peers will remain in the House of Lords. Labour Members must face that fact. It may be, as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said, that those peers will receive the Prime Minister's blessing. However, they will not be genetically modified: they will remain hereditary peers.

In her speech on Second Reading, the President of the Council referred to the Earl of Dunmore, who travelled from Australia to take his seat in the House of Lords. The Government are saying to the Earl of Dunmore and to all other foreign residents of his ilk, "Sorry, chaps, you cannot come and sit and vote in the House of Lords any longer. But we will let you come along and choose other hereditary peers who can sit and vote in the House of Lords". I am looking forward to seeing how the procedure will work--particularly how the 62 hereditary peers resident overseas will choose other hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords. That will be very interesting.

Perhaps there will be some sort of "Blind Date in Ermine". There might be a "Lonely Peers" column in the House of Lords, which could read, "Foreign peer with villa in Tuscany seeks British peer with shooting in Scotland". That is what we could be reduced to. That is the sort of selection process that we face, and my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest has done the Committee a service by highlighting it. Who is to say how long this state of affairs will continue? It may be that the earls, viscounts, marquesses and dukes will sit in the House of Lords for a considerable time.

I read with interest the Government's account of the history of this matter this century. There have been three attempts to solve the problem of the House of Lords. In 1917--the first of three occasions when reform was debated--the Bryce committee produced far more detailed proposals that went much further than the present proposal. The Government say bluntly in their White Paper that, after the proposals were formulated:

Hon. Members must ask how long this proposed arrangement will last. As long as it does, I venture to suggest that we will have a tame and unsatisfactory second Chamber--it will certainly not be capable of robust scrutiny of the Government. The second Chamber will comprise a substantial number of additional Government appointees, hereditary peers and what are described as "independent" peers. We know that they will be independent because they will be appointed by the Appointments Commission--a Government body--which will tell us that they are independent peers.

We will have a tame second Chamber when we need a robust one, but I am sure that that is an entirely unintended consequence of reform. We know how much this Government--more than any other--welcome robust scrutiny of their activities. This Government look forward to challenging and vigorous debate and scrutiny,

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so a tame second Chamber is an entirely unforeseen consequence. I suppose that it is also wholly unintended that the Government's proposals include a formula that will provide for a vast increase in Prime Ministerial patronage. The Prime Minister has already created 105 life peers and he will also appoint the Appointments Commission. Under the reform, the formula for appointing peers will allow the Prime Minister to create enough peers to achieve parity with Conservative party peers. That means creating enough additional peers not only to overcome the small deficiency--

The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) is straying into the next group of amendments. I would be grateful if he would return to the amendments currently before the Committee.

Mr. Clappison: I shall certainly follow your strictures, Mr. Lord. The Government must face the fact that they will exercise patronage by creating Labour peers to compensate for the 91 hereditary peers who will also be appointed to the second Chamber.

In conclusion, I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest has done the Committee a great service: this reform is not rooted in principle, it is not built to last, and it does not do what it purports to do. It may therefore meet every requirement of a new Labour reform, but it is not good for our constitution as it would produce a thoroughly unsatisfactory second Chamber. My hon. Friend makes a powerful case in her amendment.

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk): A fellow Norfolk Member, the right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor), seemed puzzled that Labour Back Benchers might be happy to vote against the amendment today, but might be willing further to consider the position later.

In the many years before I came to the House, I learned not to trust the Conservative party. My goodness, I and other Back Benchers have found good reason not to trust the Conservative supporters in the House of Lords since we have been here. I shall be happy if the Bill comes back from the Lords essentially in its present form, and we bring about the abolition of the hereditary principle in the second Chamber. I am sure many other Back Benchers share that view.

If there is still mischief in the Lords, it is important that, through the Parliament Act, we can ensure that the Bill is enforced and we achieve our objective. That is why I shall be happy to vote against the amendments, and why I would be happiest if the Bill remained in its present form. For decades the hereditary principle in the House of Lords has been recognised as unsupportable, so we need waste little time discussing its abolition.

I listened with care to the speeches of right hon. and hon. Members who have been here much longer than I, especially the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who pointed out the future dangers if we vote against the amendment now, but are in principle willing to accept it.

The Committee deserves to know why we would be willing to support a Government compromise. The answer is, bluntly, not for the sake of compromise, or because that is what we want, but because we ask ourselves what

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the alternative is. Most of us came here to deliver the manifesto on which we were elected. Having seen the extent to which, in the first 18 months, the other place succeeded in thwarting the Government's intent and in delaying Government Bills, I wonder what would have happened in the Government's last 18 months if we had gone on in the same way. Undoubtedly, the closer to the election of 1997, the greater the Government's mandate and the stronger the authority for this place to impose its will on the other place.

I am confident that if we had not addressed the issue now and with firmness, the Conservative party, through its unelected, unrepresentative majority in the House of Lords, would have thwarted the Government's intent to deliver on their manifesto. If we had not taken a firm stance in this Session, there would have been further shenanigans, delays and filibustering in the other place.

I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that if they have to compromise in another place, we shall support them from the Back Benches because we want the Government to make progress on the more important matters--education, health, the reform of local government and so on. Those are the matters that affect my constituents and on which progress will be thwarted if we do not act firmly on an issue that figures little in my constituency mailbag, because my constituents do not have to deal with the problems that we encounter day in, day out in the House.

On behalf of my constituents, therefore, I shall vote against the amendment. I hope that the Bill will return without a similar amendment, but if that will allow us to get on with the more important business, I shall understand if my colleagues on the Front Bench are willing to compromise. Let us make sure that we get a good deal, and that those in the other place display an attitude of collaboration and co-operation in the best interests of the British people, not in the best interests of the British Conservative party.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): I should like to offer Conservative Front Benchers an opportunity to clear up one or two things. In common with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), I thought that the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) spoke with a lot of passion, but I cannot share his assumption that her speech had a certain charm and that the merits of her arguments had a certain compulsion. Those qualities certainly were not present, and sadly lacking was an explanation of why the amendment had been tabled by Conservative Back Benchers, not Front Benchers.

I should willingly give way to a Conservative Front Bencher who would explain to me, to the Committee and to the country whether those on that Front Bench will support the amendment. If they are to support it, why was Cranborne sacked? Surely this is all about trying to put together a political arrangement, using tactics, to make a measure work.

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