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Mr. Marshall-Andrews: Does the hon. Gentleman really believe what he has just said? If the amendment were passed, it would concentrate the Government's mind something wonderful, and it would not defer the

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long-term reform of the House of Lords that all Labour Members support root and branch; indeed, it would hasten it beyond our dreams.

Mr. Letwin: The hon. and learned Gentleman is right. It would concentrate the mind something wonderful, and, taken with amendment No. 14, it would concentrate it even more. Alas, that is the very reason why, I am presumptuous enough to guess, the Government will not accept either amendment. We therefore face a practical problem: we shall have an interim House that will not benefit from amendments of this kind for the very reason advanced by the hon. and learned Gentleman--that it would force an early move to a system to which we believe the Government have not the slightest intention of moving in the early future.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: Is it not nonsensical to suggest that the transitional House will extend into the indefinite future without collusion between the two Front Benches? If the Liberal Democrats and the official Opposition are calling for a directly elected Second Chamber, it simply is not practical politics--especially given the divisions on the Labour Benches--for the transitional House to continue indefinitely. It will not happen.

Mr. Letwin: I fear that the divisions of which the hon. Gentleman speaks--the divisions in the Labour party--will prevent the Government from moving rapidly towards a system that would split their party very fast. The Government may have the necessary courage; Opposition Members hope that they will. They may establish a royal commission that will produce serious results, but, in framing the commission's terms of reference, they have done their best to prevent such an eventuality. None of us has any more faith than the hon. Gentleman's colleague, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, that the interim solution will soon disappear and give way to phase 2. Even if it does, there will be a period during which the interim solution is the solution: during which--this is the serious aspect of today's debate--we shall have a House of Parliament formed by the Bill.

This is not just a debating society; we are making a constitution, for at least a period. The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) is bound to grant me that. I speculate that it will be a long period, and he thinks that it will be short, but for a time that will be our constitution.

Because the Government, however regrettably, will not accept the amendments, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester has come up with a different proposal: an attempt to control patronage by means of an Appointments Commission, whose members will be appointed by the Speaker and which will be free from prime ministerial patronage. Perhaps the Government will see fit to accept his proposal, which would be splendid. The Opposition, however--some of my hon. Friends may blame me for this--have learnt something from the excessively supine attitude of Liberal Democrats. We have sought to table new clauses that are eirenic, constructive and abominably nice from the Government's point of view--new clauses that make it as easy as possible for the Government actually and practically to address, within the spirit of their own measure, the problem to which their Bill would give rise without such amendment. That is the intention of new clauses 5, 4 and 3.

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I put the new clauses in that order because we designed them to meet specific aims. New clause 5 is intended to give the widest possible effect to our intentions. If the Government reject it because they think that it goes too far, we offer them new clause 4; if the Government think that even that goes too far, why! in our boundless attempt to be "Liberal Democrat" and constructive in our pursuit of a less bad Bill, we offer them new clause 3.

New clause 5 is based on a document to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester referred and which should be familiar to Ministers. That document states:

It is not a document that will appear unduly revolutionary to Ministers. It is, of course, the Labour party manifesto. New clause 5 should have the appearance of some legitimacy as it attempts to translate into legislative practice precisely the words that I have just read from the Labour party manifesto. In so doing, it tries to remove some--only some, but some--of the power of the Executive through the patronage of the Prime Minister under the Crown.

New clause 5 gives the Appointments Commission statutory existence in the first place. In passing, may I say that it is remarkable that the Bill does not do that? It is remarkable because, throughout the passage of the Bill, Ministers have said that they intend to have such an Appointments Commission and have made much of the fact that the commission, rather than the Prime Minister, will appoint Cross Benchers. Is it not odd, then, that there is no Appointments Commission mentioned in the Bill? Through new clause 5, we introduce such a commission. We also invoke a rule of double proportionality: first, that the appointments that the commission makes in respect of party representatives should be proportional to the results of the votes in the last general election; and, secondly, that Cross Benchers should be appointed in proportion to the number of people not voting in the last election.

I do not describe those devices as grand or wonderful. They are simply a constructive attempt to get through to Ministers something better than the ghastly, overweening patronage in the Bill. What better source for that can we possibly find than the proposals in the Labour party manifesto?

Mr. Winnick: The hon. Gentleman criticises at every opportunity the patronage of the present Government. As an Opposition spokesman, there is no reason why he should not do that, but the Prime Minister has said that he will give up the veto on nominations by the Conservative party and other political parties. Is the hon. Gentleman aware--obviously, he was not in the House at the time--that, following the 1983 election, Michael Foot, then Labour leader, made a number of nominations and the then Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, vetoed nearly all of them? That was excessive patronage by the then Prime Minister over nominations by the Opposition party. That was an abuse of patronage.

Mr. Letwin: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raises that point because the next thing that new clause 5 does is precisely designed to address that. It puts in the hands of the Speaker the appointments of the Appointments Commission. It distances the commission entirely from

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prime ministerial patronage. That is surely an aim that Labour Members, Conservative Members and Ministers should share.

New clauses 4 and 3 are merely variants on that theme. They attempt to give, by statute, registered political parties--hence without the Prime Minister's veto of which the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) speaks--and the Speaker, via the Appointments Commission, a clear role in appointments which distances those appointments from the Prime Minister.

I cannot understand why Ministers should find it difficult to accept one or other of the new clauses--of course, in some revised form if Ministers object to their drafting. Any one of them would at least represent an important advance on a Bill that will create a new Chamber that may last a long time, and will have the disastrous effect of putting in place a huge number of new placemen.

Mr. Winnick: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene so soon after my first intervention.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that what Lady Thatcher did in 1983 was a great abuse of patronage, which has never been repeated by the present Prime Minister and that there has never been the slightest suggestion that he would do so?

9.15 pm

Mr. Letwin: The hon. Gentleman sorely tempts me to start repeating some of what my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester said about current patronage, but I shall not, because I do not want now to engage in party political bickering. We are talking about a Bill that very soon will create a new House. Surely it falls to us to try to remedy the problems to which the hon. Gentleman alluded--regardless of which party gives rise to the problems or the Government who are responsible for them. Many hon. Members have spoken eloquently to that purpose in this debate, and I do not see why we should allow ourselves to descend into party political bickering when such a matter is under consideration.

It may be argued that there is no need for this group of amendments. I half suspect that, in his reply, the Minister will tell us that there is no need for them. He will tell us, perhaps, that the Neill Committee, the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee and I know not what other worthy bodies--of which there are many--can be appointed by the Prime Minister but that their members can, nevertheless, display an admirable independence. That is perfectly and abundantly true.

Members of the Neill Committee have been--to the Government's considerable discomfiture--extremely independent-minded in their critique, for example, of the recent Welsh referendum. We shall owe to them much of what I hope will be enacted by passage of the Referendums Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), and in the Government's future legislation. I do not for a moment deny that we will owe such future provision to the independence of those committee members.

Before the Minister makes that argument today, however, I hope that he will reflect on the fact that his own logic is utterly destroyed by his own proposals. If the

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Minister really believes that the Prime Minister will be able to appoint or select Members of the upper House on a basis that will ensure their independence, the Government do not need an Appointments Commission.

It is very odd that the Leader of the House should have made such great play of the fact that the Prime Minister will hand over selection of Cross Benchers to such a commission. If the Prime Minister is capable entirely of selecting an independent Appointments Commission, why not simply select an entirely independent set of Cross Benchers? The fact is that the Government have admitted that there is at the very least a problem of appearance, and possibly--

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