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Mr. Swayne: I had intended to detain the Committee for some time, but I now see little point in doing so. The speech that has silenced me is that of the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell). He pierced the heart of the issue when he pointed out that Labour Members simply did not trust us.

The amendment, and those grouped with it, were tabled largely because we are not persuaded of the Government's good intentions in respect of pursuing the agenda for phase two. That is certainly true of me. The amendments are, as it were, an engine to ensure that the matter is dealt with. The hon. Member for Harlow said that, from his party's perspective, the amendments are seen as proof of our own lack of good intent to pursue phase 2, and as merely providing a means whereby the status quo ante can be returned to after a period of filibustering, havering and scuppering of reform.

Following that impasse, I am not sure what the way forward is. I can only say that I believe the amendments to be important. They are particularly important in respect

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of the historical perspective. For 80 years, this issue has been bedevilled by an inability to concentrate the mind of the Executive on the question of reform. The amendments provide the necessary perspective--with the exception of new clause 10, tabled by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). I hope that he will explain the new clause to us, because it mystifies me.

It seems to me that new clause 10 falls into precisely the same error as the Parliament Act 1911, in that it makes a statement of intent. The 1911 Act made a statement of intent, but it has not been implemented in 80 years. I fear that any kind of statement of intent would be no more effective in this Bill than it was in that Act. The other amendments and new clauses, however, give us a range of options for providing the focus that is proper to the issue. It is undoubtedly the case that the focus of Ministers will change--as, indeed, it has already changed--but we are told that this is a matter of urgency. It was not a matter of urgency 20 months ago; it was not a matter of urgency in the first Session of this Parliament.

Other things will happen. The Government may lose their extraordinary run of good luck, and, like most Governments before them, become captive to events. They may have to react to events, and have to dominate their agenda very differently. In that case, this issue will be lost sight of; and that is why the amendment should be accepted.

7.30 pm

Mr. Garnier: I shall be brief, because all the Conservative speeches have been excellent. I particularly commend the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) and for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie).

The dangers of clauses 4(1) and (2) are highlighted--as are the advantages of the amendments--by what follows in subsequent subsections. There we see the Government giving a Secretary of State powers to make an order for

Clause 4(4) goes further, allowing the Secretary of State to modify--another word for amend--

    "the effect of any enactment or any provision made under an enactment."

If we are to allow this Government or the Secretary of State to have those powers to tinker with the constitution in a way that he sees fit or appropriate, the sooner we get the Bill time-limited, the better. Whether it is a 24-month, a 12-month or a 36-month limit--or a sunset clause, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie)--the sooner we get such a clause bolted on to the Bill, the better. If there is a constitutional outrage, it is to be found in the Secretary of State being given powers to tinker with the constitution by statutory instrument. I find that obscene. For that reason alone, I hope that my hon. Friends will pursue these amendments.

Dr. Fox: One of the difficulties of the amendments has been that this is the precursor of a precursor Bill. It is a

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precursor because we are getting only an interim House, because we are not moving to stage 2 and because we know that the Government will alter the content of the Bill in the other place. Indeed, the Leader of the House has stated that that is the Government's intention.

Several points were made on clause 2 this afternoon concerning anomalies in the Bill, caused by the way in which it will be enacted. The Bill will be brought in halfway through the Parliament, and the question of the disfranchising of hereditary peers was mentioned. The amendments seek to avoid that by bringing the Bill into effect at a time different from the one the Government want. Labour Members have said that this will tie the hands of the Government. Any Government wanting to come forward with a real stage 2 proposal would be glad to have their hands tied in that way.

The amendments do not thwart, but--as my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said--augment the position of anyone who wants stage 2 reform. That is all we seek. We have been consistent in saying that we did not want stage 1 reform without knowing what stage 2 was to be. The amendments propose to put into the Bill something that guarantees that we will not move forward until we know the final position. Amendment No. 5 proposes to bring the Bill into effect at the next general election, and we intend to divide the House on it.

Our intention is to avoid having the interim, unwanted, halfway and unnecessary House. It will be an interim House--but between what and what? We currently have an interim House--it has been there for 88 years. By that reckoning, our great-great-grandchildren will be back here in 2087 to discuss what should happen to the Chamber that the Bill proposes.

The Bill proposes that the royal commission and the Joint Committee should agree on a proper stage 2 proposal without considering something that nobody wants and which does not do what is required. That is one of the points that we have made. The interim Chamber does not represent an improvement on the government we have. Any substantial change in our constitution should represent an improvement on the way in which we are governed.

The proposal will not bring the Executive better to account than at present. It is not the House of Commons that is too powerful, but the Executive. When the House of Commons fails to do its job in bringing the Executive to account in a proper bicameral structure, we need a second Chamber which is willing to do that and which has that authority.

That is why I found the speech of the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) rather strange. The Opposition are trying to strengthen the upper House to control the Executive--not the reverse. The Government's proposals will weaken the upper House's ability to call the Government to account. That cannot be right. We are accused of being suspicious. Why? We genuinely doubt the Government's motives, and their willingness to move to the second stage. We believe that the first stage will be what we get in terms of reform. We want to know the end product--that is perfectly rational.

We believe that the Government's intention is to kick the matter into the long grass, and we have perfectly reasonable grounds for that suspicion. We have had to drag the White Paper and the royal commission out of the Government--neither was offered at the outset. It was

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only when the Government were faced with huge opposition--not least in the other place--that they were willing to grant these reforms. Why should we not doubt that they genuinely want reforms that will create a different locus of authority in this Parliament--something that might bring the Executive to heel?

We all know the real debate--we have been having it for 88 years. Should we have a second Chamber, as the hon. Member for Braintree legitimately asked? If so, should it have more or less power? If more power, what should these powers be? If it is more powerful, how should it be composed? Should it be appointed, elected, or a mixture of the two? We all know the arguments well enough to be able to move straight to the second stage without an interim Chamber that no one really wants, and which is composed in a way that is entirely opposed to the Government's manifesto. It will be a hotch-potch, cooked up to suit Labour Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) asked perhaps the most legitimate point of all. He said that the Government are asking us to accept a change to our system of government without telling us what that change will be. That is the most unacceptable thing of all. They say that they want stage 2--this is their chance to prove it. By accepting the amendments--and by tying their own hands--they will make it clear.

Any alternative proposed by the Minister will reinforce our suspicions that we will never see stage 2, and that the Government's intention is to provide a pliant halfway House full of yes-men with no power to stop the Government doing what they want. With the House of Commons already under the control of the Whips, there will be little to bring the Executive to account. That cannot be a healthy democratic structure.

These amendments give the Government a chance to propose a properly structured stage 2 reform. They will have the support of the Opposition should they choose to do that, and we will co-operate fully in the royal commission. We wish to see stage 2 completed. What we find unacceptable is that the Government--for party political reasons and reasons of convenience--should try to gerrymander our constitution.

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