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Mr. Letwin: Will the hon. Gentleman clarify something of great interest to me, if not to the rest of the House? Is he asserting that there is no problem with the supremacy of the Executive at present, and no excess of patronage in our constitution?

Mr. Winnick: No, I am not saying anything of the kind. Part of the function of this House is to keep the Executive in check. One can criticise, as Conservative Members do, and say that we are not doing our job as well as we should. That is fair enough for the Opposition, although I personally believe that Select Committees are

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effective. If necessary, I will be controversial and criticise the Government. I do not lack the necessary courage, but I always bear it in mind that I was elected as a Labour candidate. I was not elected as an independent, any more than was the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). We must bear such factors in mind when deciding whether to take a certain line.

It is not for us tonight--although it will be in the future--to make the final decision about the second Chamber, which is what we would be doing if the amendment were to be accepted. In those circumstances, I hope that it will be rejected decisively.

Mr. Shepherd: I think that the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) should accept his peerage as soon as possible, before the amendment tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) comes into effect.

I am truly disappointed in the hon. Member for Walsall, North, if only because he has a touching faith in royal commissions. We must remember that this House has not even had an opportunity yet to discuss the White Paper, with its extraordinary contentions. In point of fact, the amendments are a device to allow us to try to examine the shape of the House of Lords, or the second Chamber, in the future.

One of the most remarkable features of the House is that we are often denied the opportunity to discuss the most important, relevant and immediate subjects that confront us. The Bill is drafted almost to ensure that any comment we may make on the future composition of the House of Lords will be out of order. It is a nightmare, and it is nonsense.

I gave a cheer for the hon. and learned Member for Medway. It is a great privilege, of course, to be able to hear him without having to pay a king's ransom in fees, and for that reason, if for no other, some patronage should perhaps be put in his direction. I cheer, too, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) who has voiced what many Members of the House feel. The Committee has seemed to come alive, and we are having a debate on Back-Bench amendments that have brought out a large number of Government supporters. Our depleted numbers have been well represented too. The debate has even diverted from his journey to Downing street the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan). That is a rare privilege, and we should acknowledge it.

The debate has not, however, produced the principal actors in the drama. We hardly see the Prime Minister, so important and grand is he. He can boom forth an Act that will consecrate and secure his patronage without troubling himself with its passage, or troubling us with his presence in the House. That is how contemptuous the Crown in Downing street--the right honourable Prime Minister--now is of the House of Commons.

The Prime Minister's spinning wheel has also deserted the Chamber. It would be too much to expect the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) to attend a

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debate that is clearly beyond the control of the bleeper machines with which we are all issued so that we may be summoned to address the great issues of the day.

Mrs. Beckett: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that we have seen neither hide nor hair of the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Shepherd: What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition voted, and I give a cheer for that, but a vote is one thing. The tradition and custom of the House used to be that those who seek to govern us, and who govern us only because they have the support of the majority of the Members of the House, should occasionally attend the House, if only to salute those who slave away in the salt mines to try to give effect to their will.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: My hon. Friend may recall one of the formidable episodes of the previous Government. At 4 am once we were all at a low ebb, and through the door came, immaculately turned out, the then Prime Minister, ready to attend upon debates on important constitutional matters.

The Chairman: Order. I had more or less made up my mind that the encomium to Back Benchers given by the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) should cease so that he could move on to the terms of the amendment.

8.15 pm

Mr. Shepherd: I am obliged to you, Sir Alan, for a ruling that exhibits the very limitations that restrict us. We are confronted with an issue, yet we may not address its substance. I am not qualified to comment on the dress sense of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), and I was not summoned here to do so. I agree, Sir Alan, that it does not seem greatly in order to try.

The House is attempting to wrestle with a matter of importance. There is a White Paper, and we have not discussed it. We are leaping into the dark with a flurry of explanatory footnotes. The right hon. Member for Hartlepool gave us his attention yesterday and has been here today. On Second Reading, he advised us that he, and he alone, was responsible for feeding us a royal commission. He has, of course, departed the scene now.

We are grappling with an horrendous process. The absurdity is that a growing number of Members across the Floor of the House are articulating a profound belief that we should rein in the powers of Downing street. Those of us who have sat here for more than one Parliament have transferred from one side to another of the Chamber. The complaints of yesterday, which we rejected so grandly when we were in office, are now our complaints.

What gels and cements subservience into us? I was elected only by the people of Aldridge-Brownhills, just as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield was elected only by the people of Chesterfield. Our authority is not on sufferance from the Prime Minister, even one whose general policy we might support. Before us is a proposal for the future that will curtail patronage.

The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross has not commented on the fact that his own party leader glues his party together by the exercise of

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patronage. There is no question about that. For all the right hon. Gentleman's grand phrases--and his even grander equivocations--about where he stood on the terms of the amendment, I was not sure whether he, a distinguished lawyer, knew whether he would vote for or against the amendment. At the end of his lengthy speech, I was none the wiser.

I earnestly ask the House to support the hon. and learned Member for Medway. He offers a chink by which to remove patronage as the basis for future membership of the House of Lords--the same reason for which I tabled amendment No. 15. After a period, when the present beneficiaries of patronage have suspired their last at the end of their labours, we would be left with a House passing laws, but constituted only of judges and bishops and archbishops of the Church of England.

No one in Aldridge-Brownhills thinks that a serious suggestion. My constituents would be puzzled if a House were satisfactory to the Government that merely contained bishops, however worthy they may be. No matter how much we may seek out the bishops for spiritual guidance--even, sometimes, for temporal advice--we should not seek them out to make our laws. As for Law Lords, I should gladly turn to them for advice on the meaning of the laws on which we have decided, but I cannot think in truth that they should make the laws that they themselves will judge. That is why the amendment is so important.

Mr. Swayne: On the subject of bishops, is there not a danger of Cardinal Wolsey's words being fulfilled? The cardinal wished that many things were reformed, but feared that others would come after who might reform upon the reformations, and so proceeding, there would be nothing left. I fear that we are being led in that direction, and that we are unpicking delicate questions that may leave the very monarchy exposed.

Mr. Shepherd: I wish my hon. Friend well on the Bench of bishops. As for the concept of the monarchy exposed, I merely have to think of Lady Bracknell. This myth has been exploded. The Scandinavian democracies of Norway, Sweden and Denmark have no hereditary peerage to act as legislators, yet their attachment to their present constitutional arrangements is in some respects perhaps even stronger than our nation's attachment to ours.

Mr. Rogers: Does the hon. Gentleman really believe that it is impossible to have patronage in Government and society? I will briefly tell him a story about Wales. We were in opposition for 18 years. After we came to power, someone asked me, "What are you doing trying to abolish all the quangos? We've been waiting for 18 years to be appointed to them". Last year, democracy was extended. Labour Members voted for that extension in the form of the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. I do not think that we have abolished any quangos in Wales. We will now have a democratically elected Welsh Assembly and more appointed--through patronage--quangos. The two will always be together.

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