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Mr. Wells: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right--it is all factual stuff. However, he might like to recall the occasion on which that renunciation took place and the reason why it was so important: it was that Lord James Douglas-Hamilton represented the Government's majority in the House of Commons at the time.

6 pm

Mr. Mackinlay: That is an historical fact, but my argument is that we should tolerate no longer than is absolutely necessary even one hereditary peer in Parliament, because the whole thing is absurd. The pantomime that I described underlines that point.

The hon. Member for Woodspring, who is not present, raised, in a rather spurious point, the Act of Union. I refer to that because Conservative peers created a precedent on this issue--I went to the Lords to watch the case--when they sat in judgment on a peer of Ireland who wanted them to restore his right to sit in the Lords.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order.

Mr. Mackinlay: You allowed the hon. Member for Woodspring to raise this issue, Mr. Martin. He was referring to what would happen to Scottish peerages if the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Epping Forest were accepted. I simply want to draw attention to the fact that under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, the Irish peers withered on the vine and the last one to hold his seat was the grandfather of Richard Needham, who died in the 1950s. That Act accepted the fact that Parliament could abrogate the right of the peers of Ireland to sit here. After all, rightly or wrongly, a quarter of Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: That is relevant to our discussion because peers of Ireland who were sitting in the House in 1921, when the Irish free state was set up and Ireland became an independent country, were allowed to continue to sit here for the rest of their lives. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that that is a good example of the way that reform can be carried out in a transitional way that enables the country to continue to benefit from the wisdom of peers while changing its system? That demonstrates the evolutionary nature of reform, which is preferable to a destructive approach.

Mr. Mackinlay: I do not think that anybody should sit in Parliament by reason of birth, because that is an

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absolute absurdity. I understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point, but I reject it. I was drawing attention to the narrow point that there is no impediment to our doing away with the hereditary peerages. That would not in any way jeopardise the Act of Union with Scotland. Just as, in 1920, with the Government of Ireland Act, this place can decide to abrogate the right of Scottish peers to sit in the British Parliament. The end of the Irish peerage did not take immediate effect because those peers withered on the vine. During the previous Parliament, a case was retried by the House of Lords, which had a Conservative majority, who said that Irish peers had no right to sit in Parliament. That is the only point that I want to make.

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): I support the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing). They are not the best solution, which would be to keep what we have at the moment. The next best solution would be to abolish the House of Lords altogether.

I say that because we have in our country a system of government called the integration of powers. That means that the Executive are selected from the legislature. The chain of accountability goes from the Executive, through the House of Commons, to the people. The people are sovereign because the House of Commons is sovereign, and that sovereignty is maintained by the existing system. With, or perhaps because of, all the system's impurities in the House of Lords, to which the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) referred in a colourful way when he mentioned Lord Moynihan, who is present in the Gallery--

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman should know better than to make such a reference to anyone outside the Committee.

Sir Michael Spicer: I apologise, Mr. Martin.

The essence of the present situation is that there is no real rivalry between the two Houses. That position would be maintained by the amendments or by the abolition of the House of Lords. In the past, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has persuasively argued exactly that by saying that to maintain the sovereignty of the Commons, we should not change the Lords except to abolish it.

If we decide to change the present system, almost any alternative that is likely to be proposed will create a new rivalry between the Commons and the Lords. That will certainly occur under an appointments system, to which we shall refer in later amendments, whether or not people are directly appointed by the Government. The Executive would clearly be in charge of the House of Lords even if Members of that House were directly elected, because the Executive would have the capacity to divide and rule the two Houses of Parliament.

That possibility was recognised in New Zealand, which is a good example because it had a constitution identical to ours. New Zealanders recognised that if they set up a system of rival Houses from which the Executive would be chosen and to which they would report, that would give the Executive enormous new powers to divide and rule.

If keeping the present system, in which there is no question about the sovereignty of the House of Commons, is not on the menu, we should change to a system that is

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similar to it. Of course the proposals are a dog's breakfast, a mess of pottage and all the other descriptions that they were given in yesterday's debates, but that is exactly my point. The sovereignty of the Commons and, through that, its ability to hold the Executive to account, will be maintained, and that is why I support the amendments.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): As Churchill said, the people are sovereign, and many of us take the view that the House of Commons is not in itself sovereign but is the ultimate expression of the sovereignty that lies with the people.

Sir Michael Spicer: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, and that is exactly my view of the House of Commons. That is why I believe that no House of Commons can bind a future House. The single currency perverts that principle because its effect is permanent and binds every future House of Commons. The sovereignty of the House is what matters.

Mr. McAllion: The hon. Gentleman has referred several times to the sovereignty of the House of Commons. If the Commons is genuinely sovereign, why do we have to accept the compromise being forced on us by the House of Lords?

Sir Michael Spicer: That is for the hon. Gentleman to discuss with his Front-Bench colleagues. The House of Commons can do what it likes, as he well knows, especially in this particular House of Commons. I do not believe that the House has too much power, however. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said, the House is the representation of the people's sovereignty and that must be maintained.

Mr. Garnier: The complaint of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) relates not to the power of the House of Lords, but to the power of the Executive over this House.

Sir Michael Spicer: But my point is that, at the end of the day, the House of Commons is elected by the people and from it the Executive are chosen. I conclude by saying that I support the amendments for the reasons that I have given.

Mr. Grieve: I shall try to be brief. The debate has certainly been interesting, but I found the comments of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) a little rich. It is only because we have been badgering the Government consistently for a long time that we have a feasible opportunity to discuss these issues, instead of the Government having an easy path to getting rid of hereditary peers and doing nothing else. I welcome this debate because at least we are beginning to have constructive discussion about options for the future of a truly representative and democratic upper House. In that regard, Conservative Members are probably far more radical than the majority of Labour Members.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), in speaking to amendments Nos. 16 to 18, made a compelling case, and I do not want go back over that ground. I was happy to put my name to several amendments because a mechanism by which the talent that exists among hereditary peers can be maintained in the interim Chamber is worth while.

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My chief concern has always been, in relation to amendment No. 2, the possibility of representative peers, elected by their number, joining the interim Chamber. I am afraid that I take a slightly legalistic view on the issue. There are compelling grounds for believing that the amendment, if passed, will also help the upper House in its deliberations; but, quite apart from that, I am at a loss to understand the process by which we are embarking on reform.

If it were to be suggested that this House might wish to dispense with 300 parliamentary seats, it would be within our power to do so, and I would expect us to vote on it, and I would expect that, at the subsequent general election, there would be 300 seats fewer and that, thereafter, those seats would be redistributed. However, I would not expect us to expel 300 Members from the Chamber halfway through the currency of a Parliament. Yet what we are proposing to do in relation to the upper House, in relation to the hereditary peers, who do have rights--even if sometimes, listening to Labour Members, one wonders whether they have cottoned on to that--is to get rid of their right to represent themselves halfway through the currency of a Parliament--[Interruption.] Yes, without any right of representation thereafter.

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