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Mr. Tyrie: Does the right hon. Gentleman think that there is much likelihood of securing a largely elected House from his own party?

Mr. Benn: This debate has brought the House of Commons back into existence, as people begin to realise that patronage applies not only in the House of Lords, but in this House. After all, the Leader of the Opposition summarily sacked his party's leader in the House of Lords because he disagreed with him. Certain penalties may be incurred in my party if one steps out of line. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) is having a little trouble because patronage is being extended in terms of the mayor of London. The debate has brought the Commons out of hiding. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway said with passion, we should have the right to decide and not be told what to do.

Mr. McWalter: Does my right hon. Friend accept that some of us may be unhappy with his suggestion, on the ground that it seems to set up a conflicting mandate--that is, it equals powers? Some of us are not of the view that a relationship similar to that between the United States Congress and Senate would be a real development, and we want to see some other way of entrenching our democracy.

Mr. Benn: I understand my hon. Friend's position, but the constitution of this country is loaded with conflicting jurisdictions, the biggest one of which is the Commission in Brussels, which can repeal our legislation without it ever coming to the House of Commons. Local government clashes with national government, and the

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Greater London council clashed with Mrs. Thatcher. Arguments may develop between the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the mayor of London and this House. There are more nuclear weapons in this country governed by the President of the United States--who is answerable to the Senate--than there are weapons of our own. I hope that my hon. Friend will not be too tracked into the idea that there must be only one centre of power. The real centre of power is Crown power, which never comes to us at all. We could go to war without ever asking the House of Commons--and we do.

The best way is to have a small, elected second Chamber, using every European constituency, with one man and one woman for each. We would have a small Chamber representing England, Scotland, Wales and so on, and at the critical moment when the Bill was passed--with the amendment tabled by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway--responsibility would be transferred. That is my conviction. I do not know whether we will do that. If we do not, it will be because neither Front Bench wants to lose the patronage that the present system and the new system give.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: The right hon. Gentleman is obviously concerned about the patronage being exercised by the Labour Prime Minister. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) said that we have the power to control the Executive. We are a small number on the Opposition Benches. There are a large number of Labour Members of Parliament in whose hands lies the power to control the Executive. If the right hon. Gentleman could persuade them that the Prime Minister was wrong in his excessive abuse of patronage, something might be done.

Mr. Benn: Patronage is an abuse, whoever has it. I do not want the debate to deteriorate into a silly exchange over different Prime Ministers and how many peers they have made. The existence of the power to put someone into Parliament without their being elected is an abuse of democracy. That is my conviction. It is quite straightforward; I am not attacking anyone who uses it. As I said to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), patronage is not just about the people who get it, but about those who hope for it. Every Prime Minister is surrounded by hangers-on who hope that, if they are nice to him, they will get a peerage.

I have never forgotten that, on the day Harold Wilson resigned, I went through the Lobby with him. Everyone in the Chamber must have been through the Lobby with the Prime Minister, and there are always people saying, "What a brilliant speech, Prime Minister . . . I did enjoy your question . . . Would you come to my constituency?" On the day Harold resigned, no one spoke to him at all. The man was stripped of his patronage by his own resignation. It made a profound impression on me, which I keep to this day.

7.45 pm

I must not anticipate a Bill--for which I now have all-party support--to take all the Crown powers, including the power of patronage, from the Prime Minister and put them into this House to be authorised by vote. If we did that, we would make the final advance towards a democratic system. In Britain, we are allowed to elect only a third of our constitution; we do not elect the second Chamber and we do not elect the Head of State.

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The Prime Minister's powers do not come from the electorate; once he has a majority, they come from the Crown. Until we look at all those issues together, we will not make sense. Getting rid of a few old hereditary peers will not move us a little bit closer to the democratic society in which I would like to live.

Mr. Maclennan: I, too, have a memory similar to that of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) scorched into the back of my mind. Within five days of Harold Wilson's resignation, I went into the Members' Dining Room and saw him sitting there alone, clearly lonely. I took it upon myself to sit beside him; something I would have hesitated to do a week before, lest it be thought that I was currying favour with him.

There are other respects in which I found the development of the thinking of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield extremely interesting. At one stage, he was less enthusiastic about a second Chamber. I am happy to hear that he has thrown his weight behind an elected second Chamber. As others have said, there have been three occasions, at least, when the Labour party has campaigned for a unicameral solution.

Mr. Benn: For the record, I wrote a pamphlet 42 years ago on turning the Privy Council into a second Chamber. I do not hold to that view now, but please acquit me of being a unicameralist. I have always thought that a second Chamber had useful functions to perform.

Mr. Maclennan: I am happy to hear that, and I note the distinction between the right hon. Gentleman's position and that of the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), whose trenchant speech and powerful statement--that patronage tends to corrupt--is one with which we all ought to agree. We witness it in this place. When the hon. and learned Gentleman said that we were elected to control the Executive arm of Government, it was an aspiration that, no doubt, he and others have voiced to the electorate. However, we must have a realisation of the corrupting effect of patronage on the exercise of that power in this Chamber.

It is partly for that reason that it is so important that we have a second Chamber--perhaps one from which no Ministers are drawn in patronage, and which does not offer the opportunities to Governments to draw into their wake those who are elected to scrutinise their activity. I would like the royal commission to consider that.

I hope that our debate and its probable outcome will not be taken by the royal commission to show that the House, not having made the amendment, pins its colours to a second Chamber in which patronage is a predominant element. Such a Chamber would be basically undemocratic. The more it is appointed, the less democratic it will be and the less value it will have in our constitution as a watchdog and a restraint on the Executive.

I do not expect the amendment to be passed, partly because the Government are committed to the view that they should not take a stand on the second Chamber's composition and powers before the royal commission has reported. As they have such a substantial majority, they will undoubtedly carry the day.

Mr. Marshall-Andrews: It is always interesting to hear the right hon. Gentleman's exposition of Government

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policy, which is often much clearer than when we hear it from the Treasury Bench. If the royal commission says that patronage is an essential part of a second Chamber, will the Liberal Democrats accept that?

Mr. Maclennan: Our view is a great deal clearer than that of the Labour party. We have decided in considerable detail how we believe the upper House should be constituted. We think that it should be predominantly elected, and we have held that position for many years. As the right hon. Member for Chesterfield said, election is essential.

I argued strongly within our party that the second Chamber should be filled entirely by election, and I believe that our constitution is tending in that direction. On that, I agree with more than one Conservative Member. Once we have unlocked the issue and exposed the anachronism and anomalies, the great good sense of the British public will be brought to bear on the subject, and the views expressed by Winston Churchill as a Liberal in 1907 will be seen to be contemporary and appropriate.

It is ludicrous to have different categories of Members, some of them elected, with undoubted legitimacy, and some appointed, with questionable legitimacy. A system with two classes of citizen in the upper House simply will not last, although it may be an acceptable staging post. That is why it is not unprincipled to advocate an incrementalist approach to a written constitution.

As the right hon. Member for Chesterfield said, we have no experience of the interactions involved; more's the pity, perhaps. Without the interruptions of wars or revolutions or events such as those that brought about the fifth republic in France, these exercises in Cartesian logic are something that the British public have found exotic and have not been willing to embrace.

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