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Mr. Fisher: I welcome the amendment, as it gives us the opportunity to discuss what role, if any, should be played by appointment and patronage in determining the membership of the second Chamber.

At last we are reforming the House of Lords and abolishing the hereditary principle. That is long overdue, and I congratulate the Government on fulfilling their manifesto commitment to end the hereditary principle. There are, however, two aspects of the House of Lords that I find unacceptable. The first is that its membership is, in large part, hereditary. The second is that it is not democratically elected. The Bill attempts to reform only the first of those two defects.

The amendment is important because it allows us to discuss the second defect. The question goes right to the heart of politics: how should any society decide who should govern, who should legislate and who should determine the membership of the bodies that legislate and govern? I believe that all the key legislative and administrative institutions, and above all Parliament, should be elected by the people, by direct democratic election.

Throughout this century, ever since the 1911 Act, we have tolerated the hereditary and unelected House of Lords because we could not change it. Here at last we have a Labour Government with a good working majority, a will to challenge the House of Lords and the mandate to reform it. I have waited for all that for the 35 years that I have been in the Labour party and all my political life.

That is wonderful, but we are planning to correct only one of the political defects of the House of Lords, and we seem to be planning to perpetuate the other. Is that the

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case? What will the royal commission consider? Is the Government's mind still open to a wholly elected second Chamber? I believe that it is for this Chamber and the Government to determine the principles on which the other Chamber should be constituted, and it is for the royal commission to consider the details.

Tonight we are discussing the principle--the shape. That should not be left to a royal commission. It is a matter that only an elected body such as ourselves--elected by the people of this country--should determine. There is an enormous distinction between the principles and the detail.

If the royal commission is not to consider the principles, why is it that the Government appear to believe in appointment and in patronage as the way of determining membership of the second Chamber? They do not believe in that for any other body. They have done extraordinary work in creating an Assembly for Wales and a Parliament for Scotland, and in restarting directly elected democracy in Northern Ireland. There is no element of appointment or patronage in any of that--everybody is directly elected.

What about local government, where the Government also plan reforms? If any Opposition Member proposed that the reform of local government should be based on patronage and appointment, rather than direct election, the Government would rightly ridicule any such suggestion and laugh it out of court. What about the European Parliament, to which there was indirect appointment, rather than election, until 1979? Would the Government want to return to an appointed European Parliament? If not--and, of course, they would not--why do they want to have a system of appointment built into the membership of the second Chamber?

Mr. Gerald Howarth: The hon. Gentleman talks about the European Parliament. Is he aware that a Labour Member of the European Parliament was effectively deprived, not of his membership of the European Parliament, but certainly of the Labour Whip, by the withdrawal of patronage by the Prime Minister on the ground that that Labour MEP opposed the closed-list system?

Mr. Fisher: That individual is a Member of the European Parliament for the duration of the Parliament, because he was elected by his constituents. He is a Member by election, not by appointment.

Mrs. Beckett: That person walked out.

Mr. Fisher: I give way to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Mrs. Beckett: I was not intervening on my hon. Friend, but should say to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), who clearly does not know what he is talking about, that nobody was deprived of the Labour Whip. A couple of people chose to leave the Labour party in circumstances where nobody was seeking to remove them. That was nothing whatever to do with the closed list and the hon. Gentleman does not know what he is talking about.

Mr. Fisher: I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. We are discussing how to determine membership. Those people are Members of the European Parliament because they were elected to it.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), whom I respect in many matters, does not want a directly elected second Chamber because it would have a legitimacy that would threaten this Chamber. I believe that he is fundamentally wrong--there is a great difference between primacy and legitimacy. That view was held by Mr. Michael Foot, and others whom I also respect, but it is a poor argument and simply not true.

Fundamentally, that argument lacks confidence in this Chamber and in our ability to design a remit for the second Chamber that would provide legitimacy of its own, but not legitimacy that had primacy over us. It would be for this Chamber--in determining our role and that of the second Chamber--to determine the separation of powers and maintain our primacy.

Mr. Grieve: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fisher: The Committee wants to move swiftly to a vote, so, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will not give way. He has already spoken.

If the amendment is put to a vote, I shall vote for it. I have never voted against the Government, and I shall do so with considerable regret and sadness, but this question goes to the heart of our politics. As several hon. Members have said, it is a simple question: who should decide who sits in Parliament? I believe that it should be the people. We are accountable to our constituents. That is what gives us our authority. That is why we are Members of Parliament. The same should be true of the whole of our Parliament--of the other Chamber, as well. The people should decide who sits in that Chamber, not Members of this House. We have our chance to extend that principle of democracy right across our Parliament. We should grasp it.

9 pm

Mr. Letwin: It has been a privilege for someone relatively new to the House to listen to the entire debate, which has been occasioned by the amendment tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) and colleagues from both sides of the House. His eloquence and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and others has been occasioned by the fact that this group of amendments takes us to the heart of the great issues that the Bill raises.

At the heart of the Bill is the question whether the Executive currently have an overweening power that must be addressed, whether the Bill in its current form and without amendment does that, or whether the Bill as drafted makes that problem worse.

On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) and I argued vigorously in the first day's debate that this country suffers from a lack of scrutiny of critical measures that come before us in this House and in the other place. There is a lack of scrutiny of the Administration, of the 3,000-odd statutory instruments that come before us, of the legislation by prerogative power in Brussels, of appropriations and primary legislation. We argued then and I argue now that,

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without any of the amendments, the Bill does nothing to solve any of those problems. In fact, it worsens them, because, as many hon. Members on both sides have said, it creates a second Chamber that is even more in the hands of the Executive--were that possible--than today's Chamber.

The question that we have been debating for the past few hours is how best to address that problem within the confines of the Bill. The amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Medway is a radical solution that, in many respects, attracts us. It would become yet more radical by intention if amendment No. 15 tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills were accepted. If the amendment was tabled with the purpose of allowing us to speak about the final solution for the House of Lords--if I can use that dreadful phrase, by which I mean the second phase--it has provoked the profoundest reflections, expressed in the right spirit. We owe my hon. Friend a great favour.

It is the duty of Her Majesty's Opposition to consider what has, alas, befallen us. We are not merely a debating society discussing a possible future phase 2. I think that it was the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) who said that, in the absence of a constitutional convention, the House is the constitutional convention. We face the reality that, as things stand, the House is so in the grip of the Executive that, de facto, it is they who are turning into the constitutional convention, and they have been able to introduce wide-ranging constitutional reforms with hardly a check. As a result, there is a great likelihood that we will have a second Chamber that is interim in name only. That point has repeatedly been made today, yesterday and on Second Reading by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

It falls to Her Majesty's Opposition--I hope that the Government will feel that it falls to them also--to consider the question of how we shall be governed in what may be a very long interim period. In that context, we see a problem with the amendment tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Medway. Although it serves admirably to force the issue and to push towards phase 2, were it to be implemented in the form in which he proposes it, and were there never to be such a phase or were there to be a prolonged interim period, the power of the other place would dwindle remarkably. If amendment No. 15 were also accepted, a further problem would ensue. Indeed, we might have a House that was no House at all: we might have unicameralism by default. In that event, hon. Members who seek that as a long-term solution would have achieved their goal, but I suspect that they are few in number, and that neither Her Majesty's Opposition nor the Government seek such a result at present.

We must address the serious question of how we are to deal with a Bill that will bring us an interim Chamber, and try to find a solution to the problem that amendment No. 13 rightly raises.

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