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Sir Patrick Cormack: I echo the final words of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), who is self-cast as the president of the Burford preservation society. He made some extremely good points in his peroration. We owe a great deal to those who have given selfless service over generations--centuries for many families. It is a pity if we allow our zeal, whichever side of the argument we are on, to obscure our sense of gratitude for services that have been rendered. I am delighted to echo the eloquent words of my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire(Sir G. Young).

My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said in a splendid speech that we were all voting for different reasons for fear of something worse. He talked of the Prime Minister exercising patronage in a way that had not been seen since the 18th century. I had not considered the Prime Minister as a latter-day Duke of Newcastle, but it is a thought. We are witnessing a crude exercise of patronage.

We must face the fact, not that we may have a different second Chamber in some years' time, but that a week today, the Queen will open Parliament and we shall have a House of Lords. The issue that we must address is whether the House of Lords that assembles on 17 November 1999 will be better for the presence of the 92 hereditary peers, or the poorer without them.

I believe without equivocation--I was delighted that so many of my hon. Friends, including my right hon. Friends the Members for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) and for Suffolk, Coastal and my hon. Friends the Members for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) and for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) believe it, too--that the House of Lords will be better for the 92.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire said, this is a bad Bill. It is a sad day. This is a shabby little Bill, but it will be improved by the amendment, because the House that will come into existence at the beginning of the next Session will be the stronger and better preserved from the undue influence of patronage if the 92 are present.

I am delighted to see the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) taking his place. He made a wonderful speech. I did not agree with all of it, although I concurred entirely with his comments on the danger of the over-mighty Executive. He secured an Adjournment debate on the subject in the small hours of this morning. He knows better than most what an over-mighty Executive can do to this place.

I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) when he disputes whether the92 will be able to be their own men and women. They will be the ones who sit in the second Chamber not as a result of patronage. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire pointed out, something like a quarter of the Members of the House of Lords who assemble on 17 November entered it since 1 May 1997. We must also consider the issue in that context.

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I know that some hon. Members on both sides of the House cannot bring themselves to vote for the amendment. I respect the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), although I am bound to point out that on the previous occasion that such an amendment was debated, he voted for it, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler). Everybody is entitled to a change of mind. I hope that, even at this late stage, they will consider the proposal the lesser of two evils and vote for it again.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) has been consistently against the proposal. I admire his consistency, but regret the fact that he does not take the line of those Labour Members whose speeches must have seemed dream contributions to the Whips. I think of the hon. Members for Harlow (Mr. Rammell), for Basildon (Angela Smith) and for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley), who are very happy to stand on their heads and vote for the amendment, having followed the Whips a few months ago and voted against the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing).

I point out to the hon. Member for The Wrekin that before he entertains the House with historical facts again, he ought to get the facts right. The Reform Act of 1867, for which he castigated the Tories for voting against, was an Act of Disraeli's Government.

Of all the speeches in this debate, I must single out that of the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan). This Galahad of debate, who has so entertained us so often, gave a clarion call to abstention. I hope that even he--I know his views on the ultimate reform of the House of Lords--would recognise that the interim House, as it is called by some, which will assemble next week, could exist for some considerable time.

Many hon. Members on both sides of the House thought that that would be so, including the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, who said that such a Chamber would still be here when he went, and that he would live to be 100 years old--I hope that he lives to be 150. His comments bear the close consideration of us all.

We return to the central point of whether the House that will meet next week will be the stronger, the more independent of patronage and the better able to discharge its functions because of the experience of those who sit in it if the 92 are present than if they are absent. Therefore, although no one is ecstatic about what we are doing, I hope that Members in all parts of the House will recognise a vote for the amendment as a sensible vote to cast tonight.

8 pm

The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), who is not in his place, should think again. He made another eloquent denunciation of the powers of patronage--although, in a phrase that I shall always remember, he exempted the Prime Minister, whom he described as

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    Doubtless that will lead to a little patronage being exercised in the hon. and learned Gentleman's favour in the not too distant future. What an adornment he would be to the other place.

However, as we near the end of four-and-a-half hours of debate, I have this to say to all my colleagues, especially on the Opposition Benches. Like the Irishman, we would not have started from here.

Mr. Tipping: Or at all.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Or, indeed, at all.

We did not see the need to meddle. We did not see the need to upset. Accepting that the Government had a mandate, we urged them to exercise it with discretion, dignity and proper courage; and to decide what they wanted to replace the second Chamber with, by setting up a royal commission and awaiting its report. The Government came very late to that decision. Even now, they could have waited for the Wakeham commission to report before rushing the Bill through.

We do not like the Bill. We do not think that it is doing a service to the constitution of our nation. Nevertheless, we will vote for the amendment, because it will ensure that the Chamber that meets next week is a better Chamber than it would be without those 92 hereditary peers. On that basis, and that basis alone, I commend the Weatherill amendment to my colleagues. I hope that they will all support it.

Mrs. Beckett: As the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, this has been a long debate, following our previous three-hour debate on the principle of the matter, but it is a very important debate and the House should take time to consider the issues.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan), the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) all raised the issue of whether the amendment represented a breach of our manifesto commitment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) asked whether changes should be made, even now, in the text of what is now known as the Weatherill amendment, because of fear of delay between stage 1 and stage 2. I repeat what I said earlier in these debates: that is not what the Government have in mind, and it was solely to reassure those who had such fears in the House of Lords that the mechanism to which, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway took exception--the by-election mechanism--was inserted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central questioned the basis on which the shadow elections for the 92 peers have been held. I simply refer him to subsection (5) of the amendment, which gives

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that authority. I understand the elections to have been undertaken on the basis of the Standing Orders of the House of Lords.

Mr. Fisher: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mrs. Beckett: I am sorry, I must get on. I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me. I gave way to everyone first time around.

The hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) made a distinctive contribution. I believe that he was saying that we should keep the hereditary principle. That is a legitimate point of view, which others have expressed during the debate.

The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) spoke to his amendment. I understood that amendment when it was part of a group of amendments. I fear that although I read his amendment and listened to what he said, I did not understand what he was trying to do. What his amendment would do is unclear, but what is clear is that it would add nothing to the Bill's effectiveness. Therefore, I must ask the House to resist it should he press it to a vote.

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