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Mr. Rammell: Absolutely. That is a fair point. My hon. Friend has rightly described the attempt to create a cloak of decency to hide the fact that, throughout its history and certainly at the last general election, the Conservative party fundamentally supported the hereditary principle: it said so during the last general election campaign.

The other objection to the amendments is one of fundamental principle. If hon. Members believe that the hereditary principle is fundamentally objectionable and that, therefore, the hereditary peerage should go, it is every bit as objectionable that those hereditary peers should be able to participate in the debate to determine who their successors and what the nature of the reformed second Chamber will be. Were we to agree to the amendments and introduce the timetable for the process by which the second stage had to be agreed, those hereditary peers would be able to participate and to influence the legislation on the reformed second Chamber.

Mr. Letwin: I know that the hon. Gentleman is one of most intelligent Members in the House--I mean that genuinely--but either he has not read the amendments or I have misunderstood them. Why does he think that they will change the relationship between existing peers and the debate?

Mr. Rammell: If we accept the Bill as it is drafted, hereditary peers will not be able to participate in the debate on reform of the second Chamber. If we accept one of the amendments, which sets a timetable that could mean a period of as little as 20 months between the passing of the Bill and the ceasing of its effect, it is possible that they will participate in the deliberations on the form and nature of the second Chamber. That would not be a legitimate role for hereditary peers in the House of Lords.

I do not accept the Conservative party's allegation that, either through intent or through lack of proposals, the Government intend such a second Chamber to be a permanent solution. The time scales set out in the White Paper require the royal commission to report by the end of the year. Even if we do not secure reform and the nature of the second Chamber agreed within this Parliament, it is inconceivable that the Labour party could go into the next general election campaign without explicit and specific proposals for further reform of the second Chamber.

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That leads me to conclude that, this evening, we are seeing a smokescreen and delaying tactics. We should stick to our guns. We should recognise the delaying and blocking tactics for what they are. We should go ahead with what we set out in the Labour party manifesto at the general election, which was once and for all to do away with the entirely objectionable principle of hereditary peers.

Mr. Tyrie: It is impossible to disagree more than I do with the last point made by the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell). If ever there was a set of amendments and new clauses designed to accelerate rather than delay what happens to the second Chamber, it is this one. The amendments and new clauses are designed to put a time limit on the prevarication and debate that might otherwise indefinitely delay a decision on the second Chamber in the second phase of reform. That is the purpose and intention behind new clause 18, which is quite the opposite of what the hon. Member for Harlow has suggested.

I shall return to the Liberals for a moment. I find it extraordinary that they should oppose these amendments and new clauses when they would inevitably and ineluctably hasten the speed at which we move to what the Liberal party has supported throughout its political life. Only a short time ago, I quoted the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who agrees exactly with that view. His view, as expressed a few years ago, was that to allow the Labour party when in government to go ahead with an appointed House could lead to indefinite delay or the non-realisation of what the Liberals have always stood for, which is an elected second Chamber.

I find it extraordinary--almost beyond explanation--that the Liberals should have suddenly capitulated on this most fundamental area of constitutional reform, which they have espoused for more than half a century. They have completely washed themselves out. In effect, they are saying, "Oh well, we quite enjoy our meetings in Cabinet. We get the odd secret document. In fact, it is all enjoyable." This has been a pathetic exhibition of capitulation and non-opposition.

Mr. Maclennan: There is nothing sudden about this. The agreement that the reform should take place in two stages, both of which would be conducted as speedily as possible, was entered into, quite some time before the last election, by the Liberal Democrat party and the Labour party. It was not a frolic of my own this evening. It is something that was ratified by my party at its conference.

Mr. Tyrie: So we now know that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) was saying one thing to his party conference and another in secret negotiations with the Labour party. It is an extraordinary and dreadful story of a party selling out its principles for virtually nothing--for a mess of potage.

Mr. Letwin: Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a remarkable precedent in Lord Jenkins's report, in that it seems likely that the Liberal Democrat party thought it had an agreement on that, too?

Mr. Tyrie: The Liberal Democrat party thought that it would get all sorts of marvellous things out of the

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Labour party. In fact, the Labour Government have merely implemented the agenda they would have implemented anyway.

The Temporary Chairman: Order. That is all very interesting, but it has little to do with the commencement and duration of the Act, which is what the amendments and new clauses are about. I know that the hon. Gentleman has tabled new clause 18, to which, no doubt, he wishes to direct his remarks and the attention of the Committee.

Mr. Tyrie: I have heard you make many apposite remarks, Mr. Winterton, in the Chair and elsewhere, and never was one more apposite than that. I shall return quickly to new clause 18 in particular, and to the group of amendments and new clauses in general.

The key question is whether we shall be better off with the interim Chamber or by staying as we are. If we cannot find a stage 2, we should return to where we are now, which is at least with a House that has some experience and tradition of scrutinising the Executive. What sort of House shall we be left with if the Bill is enacted as it stands, without a sunset clause? There are two possibilities. One is that we would have a House more than ever dominated by patronage. The Appointments Commission is nothing more than a fig leaf. It affects only a small proportion of appointments, and when set against the dramatic increase in appointments that the Government have been pushing through, it is scarcely relevant.

The average number of appointments each year over the past 40 years has been 22, yet the Government have been appointing an average of 66. That is packing on a grand scale and is in breach of all precedent. A House of patronage is not an attractive prospect. I have discovered, sitting in my place during these few days in Committee, that a good number of Labour Members have their doubts about patronage, too. An interesting amendment was tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews). I think that he overdid it a bit. He said that patronage was the bane--I cannot remember his exact words--of British political life, as if there was something uniquely bad in the state of Britain that did not exist in other countries. I have in mind Roman and Belgian patronage--

The Temporary Chairman: Again, this is very interesting, but it is not appropriate to quote what occurred in a previous debate. The issues that arise from the amendments and new clauses are very clear, and I request the hon. Gentleman to direct his remarks to them.

Mr. Tyrie: A more likely prospect is that we would end up with a patronage House, plus a rump of 91 peers. We must ask ourselves whether that or the House of patronage is something that we would be prepared to carry on with indefinitely. The purpose of new clause 18 is to establish whether there should be a provision in the Bill to stop that situation continuing indefinitely.

I believe that the interim House would leave power in the hands of the Executive to an unprecedented degree, such as we have never seen before. The interim House would probably be shorn of any ability to ask the Government to think again.

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It is clear that many people in the Labour party do not believe that. They consider that the interim House would be an improvement; that has been suggested in several speeches this evening. I respect and understand that interesting view, which is based on a deep dislike of the hereditary principle. However, I ask Members who have put forward that view to consider the point that the interim House would lack the tradition that the current House has on its side. At least as a body it has a system and a way of working. That has enabled it to get on with its job, which would be severely disrupted by the Bill.

The interim House would be dominated by patronage. Nothing could be worse than a second Chamber completely dominated by the Executive; that would be worse than unicameralism. On that, I seem to have some Labour Members agreeing with me, including the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and the hon. and learned Member for Medway.

It is not at all likely that the interim House would want to move on to stage 2. One of the extraordinary pieces of implicit nonsense in an otherwise excellent speech by the hon. Member for Harlow was the notion that hereditary peers were in themselves a greater obstacle to reform than an interim House would be, and a greater obstacle to stage 2. The hereditary peers know that they have little legitimacy; they have always said that. The hon. Gentleman referred to a debate that took place many decades ago in which they said that. We must ask ourselves what motive the interim House will have to move to stage 2. What possible motive would it have for pressing for that?

The lifers will be clinging on like grim death. As for the 91--if there are to be 91 of Cranborne's troops--they will be sitting on death row, and are hardly likely to be pressing for stage 2. They are likely to comply with the Executive on absolutely everything, except for the one thing that we need from them--sensible stage 2 reform. What is to be done about it? How can the interim House be made tolerable? I shall suggest some of the possibilities, but shall not allow myself, Mr. Winterton, to drift too far--to drift at all--from this group of amendments.

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