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Dr. Fox: I will happily put the Committee out of its misery, faced with this particularly puerile line of questioning. Conservative Front Benchers will support the amendment, and Lord Cranborne was not sacked because of anything to do with the substance of the agreement, but for trying to negotiate away the Opposition's ability to oppose the Government in the other place.

Mr. Hancock: That is an interesting spin to put on it; as a turn of phrase on a set of circumstances, the right

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hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) would have been hard pressed to better that one. How right the right hon. Gentleman was to spell out the issues, and I share entirely many of his sentiments about the way in which this matter has been handled. Conservative Members seem to have a fixation that we have not had a chance to debate it, but that is absolute nonsense. About a dozen hon. Members have already participated in the debate on the amendment.

Conservative Members have talked about the lack of democracy and the lack of consultation, and what they would have done. The right hon. Member for Hartlepool was right to draw the comparison between what is being done now and what would have happened in the past, but he missed the subtle difference. I remember what happened in the past, when another major constitutional change--the abolition of the Greater London council and the metropolitan counties--was made. That change was not only put through the House in similar fashion to this measure, but there was a guillotine--not only in the Chamber, but in Committee, night after night. The results of consultation were not listened to.

Yesterday I heard gasps of, "Humbug, humbug, humbug", about what was going on, but Conservative Members have short memories about what they were up to in their previous existence in government. They certainly never listened too hard to the various consultation exercises that took place about the three reorganisations of local government that I have experienced in a 30-year career in local government. They never listened once to the people of Hampshire, or to the people of London, when they campaigned on the reorganisation of local government. Why on earth should they be listened to now?

It is heartening for hon. Members such as myself, who won Conservative seats, to see how many Conservative Members are going to the wire to defend the hereditary system in the House of Lords.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Does the hon. Gentleman not think that it is sad, particularly for his constituents, that he has given up his role in opposition and become part of the Government coalition? Is it not about time that he started opposing the Government, not backing them at every turn?

Mr. Hancock: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and I am grateful for the lead, because I am with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield. I hope that we reject the amendment--not only tonight, but when it comes back to the House, because I am in favour of the big bang philosophy. I want the serious constitutional imagination suggested by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) to be adopted, and, as a starting point, I want that to start and finish with a democratically elected second Chamber. I do not want compromise, I do not want fudge; I want the system to be changed, which is why I will vote against the amendment.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the only reason that we are even discussing phase 2 of the reform is that the Government

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have been put under pressure not to introduce a simple Bill to remove the hereditary peers and nothing else to reform the upper House?

Mr. Hancock: No, not at all; that is not the reason. The hon. Gentleman has missed the point of what has been going on for the past 18 months. We are using a political tactic to get a Bill through the House without sacrificing a whole raft of legislation, and much needed changes to legislation, which the nation needs.

Conservative Member after Conservative Member said yesterday that the measure is not a high priority for the people of this country. How right they are. However, it is a high priority of the House to establish a democratically elected second Chamber.

5 pm

The Government have had to balance the necessity to get much needed legislation through Parliament to achieve improvements in education, health, social services and in many other areas with the need to avoid it being wrecked by an unelected, undemocratic other Chamber. The Conservative Opposition could not have failed to grasp that point. To do that, the Government have had to come up with a political compromise. I do not like it, and I am sure that few people in the Committee do.

It is interesting that a succession of Conservative Members have tried to support the hereditary system. The gay cavalier from Aldershot acknowledged the fact that he was right behind them; I can imagine him leading the charge to bring back hereditary peers. Sadly, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) is not present to continue his campaign.

Some Conservative Members, however, said that they did not like the current system, but that they wanted to get a few more hereditary peers kept on the books. I was somewhat confused about the spin they put on it. They wanted us to remember those people who do good work, all of whom we have met at some time or another. We meet them in parliamentary Committees and at outside organisations, and we know of the work they do. No one is under-selling the case that much good work is done by many good people who will no longer be Members of Parliament. The same could apply to this place. Yesterday, we argued against the idea of people being allowed to speak but not to vote. Hon. Members immediately reacted against the suggestion that that should apply in this place. It was nonsense, and it exposed the nonsense of trying to do the same in the other place.

The price of change is that some people will lose out. Any democratic process will encounter that problem, and people will be disappointed by the results at the ballot box. We have waited for the Government of this country to be decided universally by the ballot box for both Chambers.

I assume that if the people whom I represent were asked, they would not place this measure high on their list of priorities, but most of them would place it on a list of things that need to be done. The Conservative Opposition are fixated on the length of time that this process of reform will last. It was suggested that it could take several Parliaments or even decades. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) asked what was meant by "decades"? If taken to its ultimate conclusion, it could mean another millennium.

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I do not know what evidence there is for hon. Members to hold that view. It is a terror tactic. That has been a familiar trait of the Conservative party in local government, and Lady Thatcher exposed the nation to such tactics when she gave the worst case scenario. She could then, with a defter and softer touch, say, "What a good job we've done. We told you that it could be that bad, but we have delivered this." It is a simple tactic used by the Conservatives to stir up the fear that the proposed reformed second Chamber will remain for generations to come. I do not believe that to be case. It is not in the Government's interest to allow us to wallow in that pitiful situation.

I want us to make progress and to reject this amendment and the others. What we really want is imaginative constitutional reform delivered to the people of this country with a deftness of touch, in the shortest possible time. If we do that, we will all be thanked by not only the present generation, but future generations.

Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea): I object to the survival of any hereditary peers, even in this transitional second Chamber. It is not personal: I am not against any of the present incumbents. It is a pure point of principle. Many Conservative Members seem to have trouble coming to terms with that. I have counted the number of hon. Members who say that they are in favour of the hereditary principle and those who say they are against it. The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) said that she was against it, but it is clear that the amendment hides a deep division among Opposition Members.

I would accept the amendment only in exchange for a clear and tangible benefit. The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) did not seem to understand why the White Paper had said that the Government might accept it in the House of Lords, but not in the House of Commons. The White Paper spells that out very clearly: moving the amendment in the House of Lords would enable the first stage of the legislation to be agreed

It is not that any Labour Member wants hereditary peerages as such to continue, but the Opposition are in no position to negotiate. They have no power or strength with which to negotiate. They have nothing to offer; they are not in the poker game. They therefore look rather wistfully to their party colleagues in the other place, who are in a stronger position. The Government have a majority in the House of Commons, but no majority in the House of Lords. Between them, the Conservative peers and the Cross Benchers have 80 per cent. of the votes, while the Labour party has 3 per cent. That is a fairly crushing majority. In the circumstances, it is understandable that the Government in the House of Lords will pay a good deal of attention to what Cross Benchers propose, and to the conditions on which they make their offer.

I shall not detain the Committee for long, but I want to make a point that I have made before. I cannot question the credentials of the 75 Members of the House of Lords who may be elected by the hereditary peers, because we do not yet know who they are, and the same applies to the other 14. The only two who are mentioned specifically in the amendment are the Lord Great Chamberlain--I must confess that I do not know who he is; I should be glad to be informed, but I think that it is a post rather an

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hereditary title--and the Earl Marshal. His, I know, is an hereditary post. If the amendment were passed, it would be the only hereditary post left in Parliament: the other postholders would be elected by hereditary peers, or by the entire House of Lords. The Earl Marshal's post belongs, by heredity, to the family of the Dukes of Norfolk.

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