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9.45 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): The one thing for which the people of this country did not vote at the general election was a Government who would treat Parliament with contempt and seek to steamroller legislation through the House using their huge majority, and with absolute disdain for any other point of view. This debate has been a classic illustration of the Government's intolerance.

I do not remember any previous occasion in this House when the Minister's winding-up speech has been made before that of the Opposition spokesman. Nor do I remember an occasion on which the Deputy Chief Whip has so blatantly toured his Back Benches, asking Labour Members not to make a speech but to intervene on the Minister of State, Lord Chancellor's Department so that his speech could continue for 25 minutes.

Before the Minister got up to speak from the Government Front Bench, several hon. Members--I can see at least two of them in the Chamber--rose in the hope of catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would not accuse any Government or any Opposition Member of trying to filibuster; this has not been a long debate. There were three statements and a ten-minute Bill, so it was 6 o'clock before we began Third Reading. Members on both sides of the House have taken a close interest in this Bill, and wanted to contribute to Third Reading. Had they all been allowed to do so--speeches were averaging no more than about 12 minutes--we would have concluded our proceedings at about 10.30 pm which is hardly a very late

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hour of the night. Instead, the Deputy Patronage Secretary has been urging his hon. Friends not to take part. Then, the Minister--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing Third Reading.

Sir Patrick Cormack: That is precisely what we are trying to do, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and what some of my hon. Friends have been deprived of doing.

The Leader of the House described the Bill as significant, simple and exquisite. I certainly accept that it is a significant measure, because it attempts to re-write the constitution, and there can be nothing more significant than that. I accept that the Bill is simple, because it is very brief. But to describe it as exquisite is about as gross a misuse of the English language as I have heard in this Chamber.

There have been some interesting speeches, but none has been more interesting, and none more significant, than that of a fellow Staffordshire Member, my hon. Friend--I deliberately call him that--the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), who made the very pertinent point that all the indications were that, when the Bill comes back to us from the other place, it will have been wholly re-written. I see him nodding.

There are very few precedents for such legislative change. The Leader of the House and other Ministers have indicated that an amendment similar to the one voted down in this place at the behest of the Government Whips will, if tabled in the other place, be accepted--as long as their lordships behave themselves. Then those very Members who, a couple of weeks ago, were dragooned through the Lobby to vote down the amendment when we proposed it, will be dragooned through the Lobby to do the opposite.

Dr. George Turner: I assure the hon. Gentleman that the vast majority of Labour Members will go with joy through the Lobby to see the Bill reach the statute book, and that the vast majority of us will be delighted if it does so without amendment by the Lords.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I fear that one of the dangers of the present Parliament is that the vast majority of Labour Members would go through the Lobby with joy to vote for anything and everything that the Government sought to place before them. If ever there was a negation of parliamentary democracy--a denial of what this place should be about--it is that.

We had several significant speeches--

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South): I seem to remember that, some years ago, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues went through the Lobby willy-nilly on something called the poll tax. Is there any difference?

Sir Patrick Cormack: I never went through the Lobby in support of the poll tax. I consistently voted against it--I was one of only two Tories who did not support its introduction in Scotland before the 1987 general election--so the hon. Gentleman had better be careful what he says to me on that subject.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): But did the hon. Gentleman vote to set aside the 1689 Bill of Rights,

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which allowed his friend Neil Hamilton to bring an action against The Guardian for matters which were being discussed--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That is completely out of order.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Had I so voted, it would have been out of order, but I did not.

The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) launched into an extraordinary diatribe. He said, with some reluctance, that he was not actually proposing the guillotine, but I nevertheless felt that the sea-green incorruptible Robespierre had been changed for the drab grey uniformity of the hon. Gentleman, who stands for everything that is colourless in our national life. The hon. Gentleman wants to reduce everything to a sort of digital anonymity; what a ghastly speech it was.

Tonight we are discussing the removal from the House of Lords of the hereditary peers. My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) and I--and our right hon. and hon. Friends--have made it abundantly plain that, although we agree with the hereditary principle, as anyone who is a monarchist or who wants to leave his house to his child must, we accept that the Government have a mandate for removing from the other place those who are there because of their birth.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that selection on the basis of first-born sons may be better suited to the biblical plagues than to British Parliaments?

Sir Patrick Cormack: When I look at the hon. Gentleman I am certainly warned of plagues, but we entirely accept that the Government have a mandate. We are very much opposed to the Government's giving so much priority to the Bill, but we accept that they have a mandate. We nevertheless believe that they are doing a great disservice to the institution of Parliament by the way in which they are proceeding. What the Government are seeking to do, by removing the hereditary peers without telling us in any detail what they have in mind for constitutional reform, is to place the institution of Parliament in jeopardy.

Labour Members said that the Bill would improve the House of Lords. The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) was especially eloquent on the subject. However, when we sought by amendment to ensure that the House of Lords could continue to perform its vital functions of debate and of scrutiny of legislation and its vital Committee work, every amendment that we tabled was rejected by the Government, including the so-called Weatherill-type amendment, which the Government, by their own admission, accept will be necessary if the other place is to function. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] Oh yes. What we have been able to demonstrate as we have debated during these six, or, rather, seven days is that about half those who regularly attend the House of Lords are hereditary peers. By that, I mean those who play an active part in its deliberations.

I have cited before the fact that some 10 members of the European Communities Committee, which scrutinises European legislation, and does so to the admiration of the legislatures of the world, are hereditary peers. If we

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wanted any reminder of the need for proper scrutiny of European legislation, we had it in the Chamber this afternoon, with the first statement that followed questions.

If we are to have a functioning House of Lords able properly to perform the functions that we expect it to perform, we must do something about the numbers. Every time we have tried to do that in Opposition amendments, the Government have denounced us; the Government's troops have voted against those amendments and we are still left with the Bill.

I remind hon. Members on both sides of the House that the Bill does not mention the word "interim". The Bill will take away from the House of Lords a large percentage of its active and diligent membership and will put nothing in its place. Nor is there any timetable for the emergence of a new type of second Chamber. There will almost certainly be at least four years, and much more likely 10, of the so-called interim Chamber, which is not referred to as such in any part of the Bill.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Is not the logical consequence that the Government, through an excessive application of patronage, will have to appoint a vast raft of new Members to the interim House, who will have no experience, and will therefore be unable to exercise the necessary scrutiny? That means that the Government will enjoy a huge majority in this House and will be subject to no scrutiny in the other place.

Sir Patrick Cormack: My hon. Friend makes an extremely pertinent point.

Mr. Keith Bradley (Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:--

The House divided: Ayes 326, Noes 152.

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