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Mr. Forth: It would concentrate the Government's mind rather wonderfully; that is self-evident.

Mr. Grieve: Labour Members seem to have completely missed the point that nothing would prevent a subsequent Government from returning within the period and saying, if they so wished, that the interim arrangements should remain for eternity. At least the Government would have to come back to the House and state that that was their

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policy decision regarding stage 2. Under the present system, they need not say anything at all and the process may meander along for ever.

Mr. Forth: Of course, my hon. Friend is right. We are trying to guard against incompetence or, worse, a deliberate attempt, which could be made only by the Government, to prolong the interim arrangements of stage 1 in a way that would be unacceptable not only to most of my hon. Friends, but to most Labour Members. I hope, therefore, that we shall find consensus on that matter as the debate develops. Who knows?

I do not want to take up undue time.

Mr. John M. Taylor: I am almost as near cross as I could be with my right hon. Friend, because in the previous debate, he confessed to his colleagues that he had not sufficiently prepared his work and that he could have said a great deal more. I hope that he will not say that to us all over again.

Mr. Forth: No, I assure my hon. Friend that I have covered most of the ground that I wanted to cover in the way that I intended.

In conclusion, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset that although I support the new clauses in his name and the names of other hon. Friends, I hope that he will ensure that at some stage we have the option of making a proper choice between the time scales in his new clauses, after we have had the debate to find out hon. Members' views. Unless the Government give us more assurances about what is in their mind and what commitment they are prepared to make, we should certainly press one of the new clauses so that it can form part of the Bill and we can reassure the people of this country that there is no possibility of this legislature having an interim upper Chamber that is not fully formed, fully supported or fully accountable.

Mr. Winnick: I get the impression that the Conservatives have changed their ploy because it is not popular in the country, to say the least, to be seen to defend the hereditary principle. They have decided that that is out of the question because they know, as we do, that they are not likely to win much public support by doing so. They have therefore changed their tactics. Instead of giving the impression that they will fight tooth and nail for the hereditary principle, all the emphasis is now--as it has been during the Committee proceedings--on whether the second stage should happen sooner or later. That is purely a ploy.

Mr. Letwin: I want to correct an impression. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that we have made it abundantly clear that we support the hereditary principle in the monarchy, where property is concerned and in other respects. We accept that there is great merit in the proposition that hereditary peers should not have the right to vote in the House of Lords.

Mr. Winnick: Yes, but it is remarkable that not once during their time in office did the Conservatives take any action to undermine the hereditary principle. When the Bill becomes law and perhaps after a few years have elapsed, the Conservatives may want to give the impression to the country that it was they who did their

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best to get rid of the hereditary peers. They are quite capable of doing so, and the way in which they have claimed credit for the welfare state should give us cause for suspicion. [Interruption.] I do not know what the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is saying from a seated position, but I know that at no stage in the previous Parliament or any other Parliament in which I sat during those ancient times have the Conservatives made any proposals to get rid of the hereditary peers. They might as well admit it because everyone knows that to be the case.

Mr. Letwin: The hon. Gentleman ought to admit that it is slightly odd for a member of the current Labour party to complain about another party having adopted somebody else's clothes.

6.15 pm

Mr. Winnick: I have made it clear that the Conservative party came to the conclusion that there is no point in defending the hereditary principle; there are no votes in doing so, and the party would be discredited at the next general election if it tried to do anything of the kind. All the Conservatives' emphasis is therefore now on stages 1 and 2. The gist of their argument is that it would be highly undesirable to implement only stage 1 and we should know about stage 2 and when that will be implemented.

Angela Smith (Basildon): Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming what appears to be a recent conversion by the Conservatives to not supporting the hereditary principle for the House of Lords? In its 1997 election guide, the Conservative party supported that principle.

Mr. Winnick: Indeed, my hon. Friend makes a valid point, but we know how opportunist the Conservative party is. As Conservative Members would no doubt argue privately--

The Temporary Chairman: Order. I remind the Committee that we are debating a specific group of amendments and new clauses, and we should not go wide of that.

Mr. Winnick: I return to the point from which I did not want to depart--the argument about the first and second stages. No one knows what the royal commission will recommend. Indeed, we do not know whether there will be a consensus among its members. However, I have long thought that it would have been arbitrary of the Government to propose a long-term solution for the other place without having an inquiry such as that by the royal commission and, following that, a proper public political debate about what should occur.

I do not for a moment accept that as a result of the elimination of hereditary peers--not literally, I am glad to say--in the first stage, it will be difficult for the other place to function, as the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) argued from the Dispatch Box. There may be problems, but he greatly exaggerated the possibilities, and serious problems will not occur. I am sure that the other place will be able to carry out its functions without the hereditary peers.

Mr. Letwin: Has the hon. Gentleman read the list that has been compiled of the amount of time that Labour

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working peers appointed by this Administration spend in the House of Lords? If he does so, he will discover that one such noble Lord--to avoid embarrassing people who are not present, I shall not read out names--who is a major donor to the Labour party's coffers, has participated in none of the possible votes and has attended the upper House twice. There are many others who have attended for less than 50 per cent. of the possible time. That is in stark contrast to the high attendance of some of those working hereditary peers who will be removed. I do not criticise the noble Lords concerned--they are out there earning an honest crust.

The Temporary Chairman: Order. I criticise the hon. Gentleman for something unforgivable--an overlong intervention.

Mr. Winnick: The bulk of work is undoubtedly carried out by life peers.

Mr. Letwin: No.

Mr. Winnick: Yes, it is, and I could quote statistics, but I do not want to prolong the debate. Moreover, there is no doubt that, although their lordships may have to work longer hours, they will be able to carry out their functions properly in the first stage.

I turn now to a serious point that was the subject of a leading article in The Times on Monday--the nature of the second stage. The hon. Member for West Dorset said that there were differences of opinion on the Labour Benches. Yes, there are, and why should there not be? Are we to believe that every Opposition Member now thinks that the second Chamber should be elected?

Sir Patrick Cormack indicated dissent.

Mr. Winnick: I see that the hon. Gentleman shakes his head. There are differences on the Labour Benches, just as there are on the Conservative Benches.

When we get to the second stage, I want--preferably on the basis of consensus, although that may not be possible--a long-term solution to the membership of the upper Chamber. That is why I am pleased that we are not rushing into the second stage and that we are having a royal commission. It is also why I argue strongly that, following the recommendations of the royal commission, we should have a full and proper debate--to some extent, that debate will take place within the parties themselves.

I do not for one moment dispute that I am reluctant to see a fully elected second Chamber--not, I hope, because I have ceased to be a democrat, but because I am concerned about the powers of this House. I want us always to take the leading role, so I am bound to be concerned that a fully elected second Chamber, with all the legitimacy of a directly elected House, could challenge the role and authority of this place. Some hon. Members believe that that would be right, but I do not. All that I am saying is that we need to pause, have a debate and come to a conclusion in due course which will, in the main, meet the wishes of the vast majority of the Members of the House of Commons.

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