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Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend should recognise--this is, I fear, a consistent pattern--that, when Lord Hailsham spoke about the dangers of elective dictatorship he was talking about the possibility of the Labour party holding such power. It never bothered him when the Conservative party was in that position.

Mr. Mackinlay: That may well be Lord Hailsham's position. He chopped and changed a great deal and moved about like a yo-yo.

The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) referred to possible abuse. If I cannot persuade the Committee of my view on the basis of Quintin Hogg's expression, I ask hon. Members to reflect on the large majorities produced by our existing electoral system, which I expect will endure for a long time. Governments obviously want enthusiastically to support and push through their manifesto, but a braking mechanism is necessary so that details are considered and such foolishness as the poll tax legislation does not result. That is a classic example of legislation being pushed through the House with no brakes being applied.

Mrs. Dunwoody: Will my hon. Friend bear it in mind that the method of election can produce a direct form of

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patronage? For example, he might think that a bicameral system that used proportional representation or a system of closed lists, in which parties rather than individuals are chosen on the basis of their position on a list, would produce checks and balances, but I have very severe reservations about that.

Mr. Mackinlay: If I trespassed on to that subject, Mr. Lord, you would pull me up. Obviously, I have views about a revised electoral system and the methods of selecting and electing candidates for the European Parliament.

We are trying to minimise patronage and abuse, and we cannot, in this Bill, legitimately sustain the case for a parliamentary Chamber that does not have a democratic base. I say to my hon. Friends, and also to Opposition Members: surely we can trust the electorate. Why are we so afraid of democratic elections for a parliamentary Chamber? Of course there would be a change of culture and a change in the relationship between the two Houses, but so be it--I welcome that. At present, far too much is choreographed and so much is certain.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, if we had a wholly elected second Chamber--that option may eventually be chosen--enormous power would be given to the party machines and no Cross Benchers would ever be elected?

Mr. Mackinlay: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned Cross Benchers; they have no legitimacy whatsoever. Whom do they represent? Only themselves. Conservative Members have said that great contributions have been made by Cross Benchers, and indeed that is so, but many people who are not in the House of Lords would have made great contributions if they had been in the Lords. We can all think of wonderful people who, no doubt, if ennobled, would make wonderful contributions in the House of Lords. The choice of appointment is arbitrary. People who are Cross Benchers are those who have found the favour of a Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition. Even when the Bill is passed, with this fancy commission, the oligarchy of the great and the good will still make the selection. There will not be many people from Dock road, Tilbury on the list, will there?

Sir Patrick Cormack: The hon. Gentleman misses the point. Two hundred and six or 210 of the Cross Benchers are hereditary, so they are not there as a result of immediate patronage. However, as we know to our cost in this Chamber, in an elected Chamber people can be elected only if they represent a party and have a party ticket. That gives enormous power of patronage--of choice--to the party. That is the sort of Chamber that we would have.

Mr. Mackinlay: I am prepared to do battle in my party, as I do, and I will live with that. Every democracy has imperfections, and it is a fact that political parties are controlled by party managers, but, by and large, I believe that we have shown, in our respective parties, that we can cope with that, and we shall endeavour to fight our corner. I am catching the eye of the Deputy Chief Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley), who wants me to conclude. I shall do so

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in a moment, but that is an illustration of the fact that they want to choreograph everything. They find parliamentary debates irritating.

Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton) rose--

Mr. Tyrie rose--

Mr. Mackinlay: I will give way to one independent in the Chamber.

Mr. Bell: Is the hon. Gentleman maintaining that a Cross Bencher has no part to play in this House?

Mr. Mackinlay: A Cross Bencher who is elected demonstrably has a large part to play in this House, because he has the mandate of the people to whom he presented himself at an election, but an appointed Cross Bencher has no mandate, and can speak for himself or herself only. They may or may not make common-sense contributions. In a democracy that has reached the stage that ours has, we cannot have people in Parliament who have no electoral base; it is absurd.

I urge my hon. Friends to try to prove me and other doubters wrong, by demonstrating much more forcefully that there will be a second stage. I should like to know, either in the debate or elsewhere, how the Labour party will prepare its evidence to the royal commission and whether, after that evidence has been presented to the royal commission, I am expected to sign up to whatever is presented. In this very important constitutional debate, we need some relaxation of rules of party discipline. We need the freedom to generate ideas and express them to ascertain reactions.

I suspect that, if there were a free vote in the House of Commons, there would be at least a narrow majority for a democratically elected upper House. However, we may well not be presented with that opportunity. In the absence of any constitutional convention, hon. Members are "the constitutional convention". I hope that that will be borne in mind.

I believe that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, or whoever replies to the debate for the Government, has a duty on this occasion to flesh out how and when the Joint Committee will work. Will it be able to take evidence? Will its sittings be limited? What will be its size and scale? There is nothing to prevent the Joint Committee from comprising the whole House. I believe that the recent Australian Constitutional Convention embraced most of the Members of the House of Representatives. We need to know that, because we are acquiescing in something without knowing all the ground rules.

8.45 pm

Mr. Wells: Amendment No. 13 is a compromise. Unfortunately, it says:

I would have preferred it to continue, "or shall be appointed by a member of the House of Lords by exercise of patronage"--in which case we would have left the House of Lords without hereditary peers or life peers,

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but with bishops and Law Lords only. In so doing, we would point up the fact that this Bill is a leap into the dark--as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said. It is a leap into the dark because we do not know the membership of the two Chambers committee. We now know some of the composition of the royal commission--and we are all drawing our own conclusions from its chairmanship and membership as to its remit. It is certainly not intended to engage in a serious discussion about important constitutional matters--if for no other reason than it is to report within nine months.

My starting point is not the same as that of the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). I would leave the House of Lords roughly as it is at present, with some major changes regarding retirement arrangements and size. It is a strange and a crazy place. I believe that the right to sit in a legislature by virtue of birth is crazy and unacceptable. However, I would leave the House of Lords undisturbed because it is doing some useful work--which I acknowledge and pay tribute to, as did the Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) and many others. Yet this Bill will not allow the House of Lords to remain as it is--we must face that fact.

It has been suggested that we should consider electing people to the House of Lords. That is clearly one option. It has also been suggested that we should continue the patronage system and appoint an unspecified number of people to the House of Lords by virtue of their success in life or, by some other means, provide the majority in the House of Lords that is necessary in order to pass without delay or obstruction whatever legislation the House of Commons has decided upon.

It is clear that that is what the Government intend: they are prepared to appoint at least 55 people in addition to the appointments that they have already made to the House of Lords to ensure that there is a rough balance between Conservative and Labour Members, without taking into account Cross Benchers who will support much of the Government legislation. The Government's objective is clear: they wish to create a Chamber that will be subservient to this place and will do what they say.

That appointed Chamber will be created by virtue of patronage of the grossest kind and the exercise of increasing Executive power. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and many other hon. Members have drawn attention to the immense power of the Prime Minister, which he gains by means of Crown patronage and by using the monarch in order to extend his power well beyond the capacity of the House of Commons to gainsay him or call him to account. Without this amendment, the Bill would leave us in that position.

The amendment would make us think about where we are going. I think that we are being driven inexorably down the route of a unicameral Parliament. There is no way that any Prime Minister or Executive will endorse a scheme of elections that will second-guess the House of Commons that they control. They simply will not do it: turkeys do not vote for Christmas and Prime Ministers do not vote for second Chambers that obstruct their power and control over the House of Commons. That is entirely logical.

An elected second Chamber may seem like a nice idea, but why do we need a second Chamber to second-guess the first Chamber if it is working properly? We must

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consider that question in relation to this Bill. The House of Commons is not working properly because of the huge patronage power of the Prime Minister, because we do not consider Bills properly, and because Select Committee procedures are incomplete. Much reform is needed. Once we pass the Bill, the House of Commons must reform and recapture the power that it has lost to the Executive over the years.

I commend the amendment because it will prevent the creation of a Chamber of which we cannot be certain whether it is temporary or permanent. The present one, as I pointed out earlier, has lasted 88 years. Once the Government get control of the second Chamber, they will have increased power of patronage. Lord Cranborne told me that, despite the House of Lords being dismissed as a useless debating chamber, he has people from the Conservative side of affairs who have given some service, usually to industry and business, but also to sport, the arts and so on, lining up to become life peers and wanting the exercise of patronage.

The House that would be created by the Bill without the amendment would fall in public opinion and would be seen to be made up of Tony's cronies. Presumably, after the Prime Minister has left office, it would consist of the next Prime Minister's cronies. That is a despicable way to appoint a second Chamber. We shall not get an elected Chamber, and we shall have huge arguments over that. An elected Chamber would quarrel with this Chamber.

We are therefore inexorably driven to a unicameral Parliament. If there is to be a unicameral Parliament, we must recapture the powers over the Executive that this House has lost, and we shall have to reform this House in great detail.

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