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5.30 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack: Does that apply to the monarchy, in the hon. Gentleman's view?

Mr. McAllion: Absolutely. I have long been a republican and have made no secret of that fact, along with several of my hon. Friends. We would argue in any referendum or debate for the establishment of a republic, as exists in most democratic countries.

Mrs. Laing: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his honesty and consistency. His position is perfectly reasonable. He disagrees with me, but he has every right

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to do so. Will he vote against the amendment and any similar amendment, whenever there is an opportunity to do so?

Mr. McAllion: Yes. I was coming to that. I am happy to follow the Whips' advice tonight, but I am less happy with the clear implication, and the view of many of my hon. Friends, that, although we are voting against the amendment tonight, we will be asked to vote for a similar or identical amendment from the other place, not because we agree with it or think it right but because it is a price that we have to pay: a Danegeld that the House of Commons has to pay to the unelected House because of the threat of what it may do if we do not.

The House of Lords threatens not only to block the Bill and frustrate the will of the elected House of Commons but to wreck the elected Government's entire programme. For that deeply undemocratic behaviour, we are expected to reward 91 hereditary peers with a job for life. Their power to frustrate the elected House will continue unchecked under the new arrangements.

It is deeply dangerous for the House of Commons to give in to that blackmail and to write into our constitutional arrangements a deeply undemocratic strain that allows the other House continually to check our will and to threaten disruption if we are not prepared to give in to their demands.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford): I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument closely. How many Government Bills has the House of Lords wrecked, and on what subjects?

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. There has been some leeway on these amendments, but I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to go as wide as that.

Mr. McAllion: Let us be honest about it: the amendment was not generated here; an agreement was arrived at in the other House before it was handed over to the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing). The question before us is whether we--the elected representatives of the people--give in to the House of Lords and accede to its demands by voting for the amendment. Should we give in to the demands of people who are not elected by anyone, be they hereditary peers or those who sit in the other House by virtue of the Prime Minister's patronage?

It would be deeply wrong of us to give up our democratic credentials to a House that is not elected and should not in any sense be able to tell us what we can or cannot do. That is why I will vote against the amendment and against any similar Lords amendment.

We are told that there is nothing that we can do and that, because the Government do not have a majority in the other place, they must always bow the knee to it because of the threat of disruption, but that is not an insurmountable barrier. If the elected House and the elected Government were determined to do something about the unelected House of Lords, they could do it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has told us time and again how the problems could be overcome by the creation of sufficient peers to ensure that we could abolish the unelected nature of the House of Lords at a stroke. The problem is that the House of

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Commons has not yet made up its mind what to do about the House of Lords. That is the real problem, and it is why we are confronted with this difficulty tonight.

Many hon. Members, including Labour Members, fear an elected second Chamber on the ground that it could mean some diminution of the power of this House. That is why a compromise involving some form of unelected second House has been developed. However, such a compromise takes us away from the point of principle and leaves us at the mercy of the hereditary peers, who say that what is suggested as a replacement for them is no better than the hereditary principle.

I beg the Government to have the confidence of their democratic principles and credentials. As a Scottish Member, I am acutely conscious of the constitutional theory that underpins the United Kingdom--the Act of Union, to which the hon. Member for Woodspring referred. Under our constitutional arrangements, sovereignty does not rest with the people. In every other democracy in the modern world--in America, France and Germany, for example--sovereignty rests with the people, but, under our arrangements, it rests with the Queen and Parliament. That means that it rests with an unelected monarch, an unelected House of Lords, and an elected House of Commons.

That traps us in the past. It prevents us from being the proper, modern and democratic country that most others are, and all our fiddling about with what should happen with a second Chamber will make us a laughing stock unless we come to terms with that reality. It is time that this House grew up and realised that it should move into the 21st century with the rest of the world.

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): I begin by apologising, Mr. Martin, for my absence at the beginning of today's debate, when I was due to continue the speech that I began last night. I received an injection at lunch time and its effects meant that I could not be here earlier, but I am here now.

This debate is not about the eventual abolition of the rights of hereditary peers, which no doubt will come about sooner or later. It is really about the crucial matter of the composition of the interim Chamber between the time when this Bill is passed and the second stage of the process, which is the genuine creation of a modern, reformed House of Lords.

As I was saying in the last 60 seconds of last night's debate, the big question is whether the Government and the Leader of the House--whom I am very glad to see in her place--will let us have a proper debate, in this elected House of Commons, on that supremely important issue. I welcome the fact that the right hon. Lady is answering the debate, and I hope that we shall get a constructive response.

The Government have moved a bit and are entitled to some credit for doing so. Their outward stance for the first 18 months of this Parliament matched their manifesto proposals. The Government proposed the simple, naked abolition of the rights of hereditary peers and the consequent mutilation of the existing House of Lords which, whatever its origins, in many ways works quite well. They had no constructive proposals for what would replace it. As I and others have said, that can rightly be described as an act of constitutional vandalism. Watching the Prime Minister at Question Time some months ago

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not merely defending but luxuriating in what he seemed to regard as an almost ritual act of destruction--with some Labour Members behind him baying in support--was pretty bewitching, but it was no credit to parliamentary democracy on the eve of the 21st century.

Behind the scenes, however--and fostered by a mixture of common sense and a recognition of the need for parliamentary tactics--more sensible discussions were going on. Yesterday, the Government seemed to describe those discussions as some sort of open consultation. That was pretty good nonsense, but Lord Cranborne and Lord Richard--the then Leader of the House of Lords--were thinking about and tussling through to something approaching a sensible compromise for the interim. The result was the Weatherill amendment, as it is now called, which the Government have openly acknowledged and in effect recommended in the White Paper.

We are not allowed to vote on that amendment because the Government are determined to keep the whip hand in the Lords. They threaten not to permit any sensible interim Chamber to be created unless they get their way and unless they get their business through in what they regard as a reasonable time scale.

I have never been a Whip, but the Government are, within reason, entitled to pass their business. However, they are not entitled to stifle debate. I am asking for a more open mind from the Prime Minister and from the Leader of the House, because I suspect that although the Weatherill amendment is significantly better than nothing at all, it is by no means the best option for an interim Chamber.

The substance of amendments Nos. 16, 17 and 18 is simple. They offer an alternative way forward for the interim Chamber. They would mean that the Bill should not come into force for six months after Royal Assent. During that time--although there is no reason why the thinking process should not begin immediately--the Government should, in the words of amendment No. 18,

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda): I do not necessarily disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument, but its underlying ethic is a little hypocritical. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was part of a Government who rammed business through Parliament, used more guillotines than any other and completely ignored the concept of parliamentary debate in many areas. He was the Solicitor-General in a Government who abused democracy and parliamentary debate. I am a great admirer of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I find it a little sickening to hear him use such abuse as an underlying argument.

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