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Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): How does my hon. Friend know that they are legitimate, anyway?

Mr. Linton: I shall come to that.

There are many things for which people have been rewarded with a seat in the House of Lords. I have mentioned one or two of them before. There have been the founders of political parties, the custard powder manufacturers, the family who paid off George IV's gambling debts, the family who married William IV's illegitimate daughters, the Bovril tycoon whose great-grandson still sits in the House of Lords, and--as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) mentioned--the four descendants of the love children of Charles II.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): I hope that my hon. Friend will not continue with his list for much longer. He is making the House of Lords sound much more interesting than the House of Commons.

Mr. Linton: Indeed, it covers a multitude of sins, but I have no intention of going through the entire list of peers, lest--as my hon. Friend suggests--I make the House of Lords sound like something worth retaining.

Mr. Stunell: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could tell the Committee exactly how many of those hereditary peers are women?

Mr. Linton: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I think that the figure is 18. Those 18 have been able to take their seats in the House of Lords only since the Life Peerages Act 1958, or perhaps it was the Peerage Act 1963. Only a few years ago, there was a move to allow the eldest daughter of peers to succeed to titles, which would have transformed the position and brought much greater female representation into the Lords, but it was defeated by their lordships.

Mr. Peter Bradley (The Wrekin): Just for the record, I should like to say that my hon. Friend has vastly inflated the number of women hereditary peers. The number is not 18; it is 16.

Mr. Linton: I beg their lordships' pardon. I underestimated just how out of date and out of this century they are. However, I want to discuss the credentials of the one hereditary peer who, under the amendment, would remain in the House of Lords, as of right, by heredity: the Duke of Norfolk. As all those other people were rewarded for giving money to political parties or to kings, or for marrying their love children, it seems particularly inappropriate that one should pick out of the entire peerage the Duke of Norfolk as his ancestors were rewarded and put in the House of Lords for regicide.

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That is to say, the original John Howard was the constable of the tower of London in 1483 when two of his most eminent prisoners--

Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman should not try to give the Committee a totally bogus history lesson. The Dukes of Norfolk were around as peers of the realm a long time before 1483. Indeed, the probable reason why they hold hereditary office is that they have been around almost as long the current monarchy itself. The hon. Gentleman should not make bogus points.

Mr. Linton: Far from it.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. I find the history lesson very interesting, but the hon. Gentleman must keep to the amendments that are before us.

Mr. Linton: Thank you, Mr. Martin. I refer to the Duke of Norfolk only because he is specifically mentioned in the amendment as someone who should he picked for an hereditary post. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) is wrong, because not only was that person Richard III's right-hand man in the literal sense--he sat at his right hand at his coronation--but, three days later, he was made the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl Marshal.

A few years ago, I happened to read a small article in a local newspaper in Horsham; the single-paragraph story caught my eye. The Duke of Norfolk, or rather the heir to the Duke of Norfolk, had met a group of sixth formers to discuss the House of Lords. The paper reported that he had told them that his family ascribed their membership of the House of Lords to the fact that their ancestor had killed the princes in the Bloody tower. It may be that the Horsham weekly paper misreported him, or that he was not aware of the fact that there was a reporter in the audience, but many historians will confirm that version of events. In most historians' view, it is more than likely that that is the origin of the Norfolk title.

No Labour Member wishes the hereditary principle to survive in that form for its own sake. We will support it only if the great majority that the Conservatives and Cross Benchers have in the House of Lords forces us into a position whereby the arrangement is the only way in which to ensure the smooth passage of the legislation.

Dr. Fox: I realise that many hon. Members are waiting to speak, so I will be as brief as possible.

I welcome the chance to discuss the amendment, and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) on introducing it in such a remarkably spirited fashion. We are being treated to the most perverse part of the entire debate. The Government claim democratic legitimacy for introducing the Bill because the measure was in their manifesto; I do not think that any democratically elected Member would dispute any Government's right to introduce a measure that was in their manifesto. But, at the same time, they say that they will accept in another place something that is the opposite of the policy in their manifesto--they will keep a number of hereditary peers in the House of Lords. Only a Government with the moral double-speak of the current

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one could possibly contemplate maintaining such a position without blushing, yet the Leader of the House is quite cavalier about doing so.

5.15 pm

Another nonsense is that, had my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest not tabled and moved amendment No. 2, the Government intended that the issue should be debated only in the other place. As I told the Leader of the House yesterday, the Government planned that there should be no debate on the issue in the Chamber that the Government claim has democratic legitimacy, but it would be debated and decided in the Chamber that they claim has no democratic legitimacy.

Although the Government's position is deeply perverse, a much worse fact is that the House is being treated with contempt. Today, Labour Members will be asked to vote against amendment No. 2. However, when the Bill returns to the House from the other place, Labour Members will be asked to vote for the same provision. If Members in another place are good boys and girls, they will be blessed by his holiness the Prime Minister and their wishes will be granted, at least in the short term. For the Prime Minister, there seems to be only a fine line between divine and divine right.

We have had long Parliaments and short ones, but now we have a eunuch Parliament, in which votes mean nothing in themselves. There will no intrinsic merit in the votes cast by Labour Back Benchers--who are here only for the convenience of the Executive, casting their votes as the Executive wants. If Labour Members have to do intellectual and moral somersaults to reconcile conflicts, they will be expected to do so.

Mr. Mackinlay: Not so.

Dr. Fox: It is up to all Labour Members to make up their own minds.

More than anything, the Bill's passage shows that the Government have very little understanding of the importance of Members of Parliament and of our role--on both sides of the House--of scrutinising the Executive. It is deeply dispiriting to see hon. Members allowing themselves to be patsies of the Executive.

In the debate on amendment No. 2, the facts have been further twisted. The right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson)--the twister par excellence--managed to say that the Conservative party has a 3:1 majority in the upper House. Yet the Government's own White Paper states that 476 peers have taken the Conservative Whip, out of a total of 1,165 peers. Goodness only knows how 41 per cent. of peers could constitute a 3:1 majority. Ability and attention to detail have never been the strong points of the right hon. Gentleman, or of the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton)--who just said that Labour has 3 per cent. of votes in the House of Lords, whereas the White Paper states that there are 175 Labour peers, out of a total of 1,165.

Mr. Linton: I said that the Conservatives and Cross Benchers have 80 per cent. of the votes of hereditary peers--of whose votes the Labour party has 3 per cent., and the Liberal Democrats have 4 per cent. The figures are from the White Paper; the hon. Gentleman can check them. While he is on his feet, will he explain something

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that has been troubling me since he spoke in the previous debate? Does he, or does he not, support the hereditary principle?

Dr. Fox: That is a very good red herring, with which I shall deal later in my speech. The hon. Gentleman cannot be so selective in his figures. In a Chamber comprising 1,165 peers, there are 175 Labour peers. I should be the first to acknowledge that that is well below the number that would accord with Labour's voting strength in any recent general election. However, the hon. Gentleman should try not to twist the figures that he gives to the Committee--as the right hon. Member for Hartlepool did.

The hon. Member for Battersea asked me about the hereditary principle, and I should like to deal with that point--although you, Mr. Martin, may rule me out of order if I do so. I have not heard any Labour Member say that he or she is against the hereditary principle itself. Labour Members do not seem to be against handing property over to their children, or against the monarchy's line of succession. They should therefore not confuse the hereditary principle with an hereditary ability to vote in the House of Lords. However, I know that I am straying far from the territory covered by the amendment. I can tell by the benign look that comes over your face before you stand up, Mr. Martin, that I had better move on and deal with another point.

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