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Mr. Hoon indicated assent.

Mr. Letwin: We are never shy in trying to find means by which the Government may get themselves off the hook. The first means is to delay the effective introduction of the Bill until such time as, by the grace of God and

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Lord Wakeham and his colleagues, it will have been possible to define what the long-term Chamber will look like. The other is a sunset clause that would curtail the life of the interim Chamber, thereby presumably forcing some substitute to be constructed.

5.30 pm

It is a dangerous business for anyone, certainly for an Opposition, to speculate on the reasons why Her Majesty's Government, in all their might and with all the wise advice at their disposal, should so far have proved resistant to enacting as modest a measure as the implementation of their own stated desires in their own legislation. In the spirit of constructive opposition, rather than speculation, I offer the Minister four possible explanations of that bizarre reluctance.

The first possibility is that the Government do not believe that they will be able to enact stage 2 because of the serious internal division in the Labour party which has become abundantly apparent from many admirable contributions.

The second possibility is that the Government will not accept measures that would ensure that the Chamber was interim because they do not believe that they can enact stage 2, and do not intend that stage 2 should be enactable, given the royal commission and the Joint Committee, until after the next general election, which they believe they will lose. That view is not shared by most pollsters, but perhaps the Government know something that we do not.

The third possibility is much more generous to the Government's acuity but perhaps less so to their motivation, so I advance it only tentatively. They may not wish to enact stage 2. They may regard the interim Chamber as semi-permanent. That would make abundant sense of their reluctance to accept amendments and is a coherent rational position. Alas, it is not one that they have ever announced. It would be interesting if, in his no doubt admirable summary, the Minister revealed that the Government had changed their mind and that the royal commission was the farce that its terms of reference--though not its membership--suggest it may be intended to be, and that they had not the slightest intention of implementing stage 2 during their tenure of office, before, or, as they may hope, after the next general election.

The fourth possibility, Sir Alan--I am sorry. My goodness me, Mr. Winterton, there has scarcely been a more pleasurable moment than seeing you, alas not yet ennobled, in the Chair. In due course, you may gain a hereditary peerage of first creation and yet be able to sit in this Chamber and in the Chair.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Nicholas Winterton): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It is long overdue that I should be recognised.

Mr. Letwin: The first three possibilities induced little enthusiasm among Ministers. I think the fourth is much the most plausible. I think that the four describe the universe of possibilities. The fourth possibility is, of course, that the Government have not the slightest idea whether the interim Chamber will be long, medium or short term. They hope that it might be short term but do not know whether the royal commission will produce anything acceptable or whether the divisions in the Labour party will prevent proposals from being accepted

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even it they are acceptable to the Government. They do not know whether they want a second Chamber in any event. They want to keep us in a sort of animated suspension. That is the interpretation that the British public are most likely to place on the Government's reluctance.

That approach speaks well for the Government in some ways because it suggests that there is no deep and malign intent. However, it brings us back to the point, which the Government can rebut only by accepting some or all of the amendments and new clauses, that this is a constitutional outrage. To proceed with a Bill of this magnitude without, if my speculation is correct, the slightest idea of whether what is being created will last a long or a short time is genuinely irresponsible. When the history books come to be written, the Government will be held to account.

Mr. Hogg: Does my hon. Friend agree that his points are made even stronger by what the Prime Minister said but a few days ago at a press conference when explaining his commitment to the retention of duty free--that one should not change existing arrangements unless one can see the nature of what will succeed them? If he was prepared to adopt that position with regard to duty free, why does my hon. Friend suppose that a different policy has been adopted on reform of the other place?

Mr. Letwin: As so often, my right hon. and learned Friend makes a particularly acute point. The Committee can speculate that the reason why the Prime Minister has taken that view in one case but not in the other is that he believes that it is popular to keep duty free and popular with some of his Back Benchers to get rid of hereditary peers. In short, we, and constitutional change, are being governed by the Prime Minister's desire to do what he believes to be politically expedient. That is why I call this a constitutional outrage.

Dr. George Turner: Has not the hon. Gentleman missed out the entirely honourable possibility that we were elected on a manifesto commitment to abolish in a single stage the hereditary right of peers to sit in the other place? Our manifesto spelled that out as a stand-alone commitment. Is it not honourable for the Government to deliver on their manifesto--or is that news to Conservative Members?

Mr. Letwin: It is perfectly honourable. We do not question the legitimacy of the Government's seeking to abolish the hereditary peerage. They were quite properly plain about it in their manifesto. They received an overwhelming endorsement for that--and, alas, for many other policies--from the British public, and they are now enacting it. We do not agree with it, but we do not complain about its propriety. However, it would have been proper for the Government either to work out what they wanted do in the long run or to ensure, as they could by accepting the amendment and new clauses, that the interim Chamber thereby created was genuinely interim, as it was described in the manifesto. We do not question the validity of the Government's getting rid of the hereditaries. We question the creation of an interim Chamber for which the Government have made not the

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slightest reasoned case and in whose interim nature no one, including members of the Labour party, can have any confidence. This is a modest proposal. The Minister should relax from his partisan tactics and consider whether he can justify the idea of an interim Chamber being created without its being in some way curtailed and, therefore, interim. That is all that we ask.

Mr. Winnick: The hon. Gentleman said that the Prime Minister is trying to be popular with his Back Benchers. I am always pleased when that happens. Certainly, such policies win my approval, including the removal of hereditary peers from the Lords. That is an important gain for all Labour Members. It is only right and proper that the longer term should be given more consideration. There are bound to be divisions of opinion. Why should we apologise for that? Some want a fully elected second Chamber, as the Tories now want--or claim to want. Others, like me, have different views. What is wrong with that? The royal commission should consider all those aspects and there should be a proper public debate on its recommendations.

Mr. Letwin: I do not have the slightest argument with the hon. Gentleman. He is right that it is appropriate that those long-term matters should be considered by a royal commission. So they will be, although alas not with the right terms of reference, not over the right period and not starting at the right time. The process could have started 21 months ago. The commission would have had 30 months to think about the matter. It did not start because the Leader of the House decided not to set it up. That is not our problem, although it will be the problem of the whole country, but we do not have the slightest disagreement with the hon. Gentleman that these things should be considered. Nor do the amendments and new clauses seek to prevent that occurring.

We merely seek to ensure that at the end of the royal commission's deliberations, there is a long-term Chamber in place or, failing that, that the Act does not come into force. All that we are asking is that the passage of the Act be made contingent on the Government doing what they say they want to do.

Mr. Swayne: If I understood correctly the intervention of the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner), he suggested that simply abolishing the rights of hereditary peers was all that was required to meet the manifesto commitment, and that the question of an interim Chamber did not arise. That is a perfectly proper and honourable position to take, but it is inconsistent with the position that the Government have taken. The Government maintain the fiction that they are creating an interim Chamber. Therefore, there is a gulf between the Government and the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk.

Mr. Letwin: My hon. Friend, as so often, moves us to the centre of the debate. As we go through the amendments and subsequent amendments before the Committee, we shall discuss the serious question of how the interim Chamber is to work. It is a question that, alas, the Government have not addressed. In not doing so, the Government have failed to resolve a number of serious practical questions about how the constitution will operate in the interim. The new clauses and amendments, alas, cannot in themselves resolve that problem.

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At a later stage, owing to the admirable selection of amendments and new clauses, we shall have the opportunity to discuss those matters. I shall not trespass on your good will by describing them now, Mr. Winterton. These new clauses and amendments seek to ensure that there is sufficient pressure, or else a sufficient pressure valve, to ensure that there is not an interim Chamber without a proper constitution for ever. That is the modest intent.

The reason why we are so urgently concerned with that matter is that when the Government decided to get rid of the hereditary peers, they did not consider--this was the precise point made by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne)--whether the Chamber that they thereby created would be capable of doing the job for longer than a very short period indeed.

There are severe problems with a Chamber that is the result solely of patronage, which is inevitably what the interim Chamber will be at first. From a sedentary position, the Leader of the House is quietly making remarks about appointments, commissions and Cross Benchers, but--

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