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Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman is developing a most extraordinary theme. Would he care to explain how putting the commission in statutory form impedes moving on to the next stage of the reform of the other place?

Dr. Turner: The point has already been made that what we are being asked to add in by statute addresses but a tiny portion of the problem. We do not know what will be the constitution of the new House that we want to establish in the second phase; nor do we know what its functions and role will be. When we know the purpose of the new House and from what sections of society its Members come, we shall know what form of scrutiny the commission will need to undertake.

Many different views are held by hon. Members about the make-up of the future House. When we have decided that, and what its functions will be, we must return to the issue of scrutiny to ensure that we get rid of the ills of patronage.

Mr. Hogg: The majority of hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have rallied round one proposition: the Minister's speech disappointed. It did so for this reason. He said that the Prime Minister wants to divest himself of patronage and wants to set up an independent commission. He said quite a bit about what the independent commission will be like, although that is not set out in any formal documents, and, as it happens, his remarks were almost identical to the provisions of the Lords amendment. Therefore the House is entitled to say, "If that is the case, why not put it in the Bill?" The arguments advanced by him are simply spurious. He does not want to include such a provision because he knows that, were he to do so, his ability to change his mind and the Government's ability to handle patronage would be diminished. They want to retain flexibility.

Mr. Bermingham: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hogg: I shall proceed a little more.

I do not want the Government to retain flexibility because I want to stop Governments having great powers of patronage--for that matter, not only Governments, but all parties. The objection of the hon. Member forStoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) to the Lords amendment is wholly right. The genuine criticism is that it does not go far enough. As he said quite correctly, it

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touches only on the Cross Benchers, which is a pity. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke): it is better to have what we have than to have nothing at all, but it would be better by far if the restriction on the power of patronage extended to the party appointments as well.

I say that for two reasons, and one is that I want the power of the other place to be enhanced, so that it will constitute a much more effective brake on the activities that take place in this Chamber. I do not believe that we can enhance the authority of the other place until it has greater legitimacy, and that is why I agreed so strongly with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) when he spoke of an elected Chamber. I believe in that, and always have. Until we can secure it, however, we must underpin legitimacy in a different way--and one way to do it is by removing the smell of patronage from the process. I believe in democracy.

The hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) sniggers. [Hon. Members: "He is a Whip."] I know that, and it brings me to my second point. The other reason why I am against patronage is that it demeans the House of Commons. We all know--I have been here for 20 years, and know far too well--the ways in which the party machine controls this House, not just my party but, more particularly, the Government party. One of the ways in which it does that is by exercising its power of patronage. I want to take that power away from the party machine, so that we can increase the independence of hon. Members. I also believe that the power of patronage is demeaning to public life. There is a deeply rooted belief, which I consider to be justified, that people can secure preferment in terms of membership of the other place in return for services rendered to the Government of the day.

For all those reasons, I support the Lords amendment. It does not go far enough, but it represents a small step forward, and on that basis, we should welcome it.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): It is an honour to follow my neighbour, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who, as the elder son of a most distinguished peer, speaks with great knowledge of these matters.

Debates on this subject are always characterised by arguments between what I term the radicals and the ministerialists--or the proto-ministerialists. Radicals can be found on both sides of the House, and, in these debates, I agree with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) when he argues for an elected House. I fear, however, that Chesterfield is the home of lost causes, in the context of this issue and, indeed, others.

It is sad that, on this historic day on which 800 years of history are coming to an end, we should debate one narrow little amendment that could only improve the Bill, and that even that fig leaf should be rejected by the Government. On a day when we are ending 800 years of history, we should create something of which we can be proud: an elected Chamber, a democratic body. Instead, we are debating whether the Government are prepared to include in the Bill provision for a commission to appoint a few Cross-Bench peers--and the Government are rejecting even that on the grounds that it goes too far and is too democratic, on this historic day.

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What is so sad is that the establishment--new Labour is the new establishment--will be happy. Everyone is happy. The hereditaries, who have been treated appallingly, have got something out of this. I support the retention of a small number. There should be more--we should have asked for more--but at least some will remain to retain some kind of democratic credibility in the other place. [Interruption.] After next week, they will be the only people in the other place who will have been elected by anyone. At least there will be a few there, and they are happy.

The political parties are also happy, because they preserve their right to appoint, through patronage, their own people. I suppose that the Cross Benchers will be happy, whether or not there is an appointments commission. One very large body of people will not be happy: the public. Only the public are excluded. We are talking about half the British Parliament. After this week, a quarter of it will have been appointed by this Prime Minister. If we were talking about Latvia or Estonia, people would consider it an extraordinary state of affairs, but we are talking about the mother of Parliaments. The Government will continue to appoint three Members a week, until half the membership is appointed by the current Prime Minister. The appointments commission is no more than a fig leaf.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business),

Question agreed to.

Lords amendments again considered.

Question again proposed, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

10 pm

Mr. Leigh: At least the amendment would have been something. At least the Prime Minister, or the political party leaders could not have got their sticky fingers on one part of our Parliament--just one small part. We asked for one small thing and even that has been rejected.

What arguments have been advanced today? It has been argued that the amendment may be technically flawed, or that it is not appropriate to put Privy Councillors in an amendment. That is nonsense. The Government should be ashamed of themselves. I hope that at least some Labour Members will have the decency to vote for what is a small amendment.

Mr. Tyrie: In contrast to the previous debate, Conservative Members all agree that we want to keep the Lords amendment. That is also my view, but not because I think that an appointments commission is a tremendously good idea. I would prefer legislators to be chosen by election. It is extraordinary that, in this day and age, as we approach the 21st century, they should be chosen in any other way. Therefore, the commission is not so much second best; it is third best.

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The commission is, I suppose, a constraint of sorts on prime ministerial patronage and we do need some constraints on such patronage. The Prime Minister has appointed more life peers per annum than any other since life peers were introduced.

The Minister said earlier that I had got my facts wrong, but I have gone to the Library to check them. They are right. It is also true that the Labour Government have appointed more Labour peers as a proportion of the total number than any Government have ever appointed from their own side. Packing is taking place on a huge scale, so we need something to restrain it.

What is more, patronage will be much more important in the interim House than it is now because there will be far more life peers as a proportion of the total and also means that the House will be smaller. Therefore, any addition to the House is disproportionately more important.

The proposals were set out not just in the Government's own White Paper, but in detail by Baroness Jay in Committee. The drafters of the amendment have clearly gone into that detail. They have looked at what she said and ensured that, as far as possible, the amendment conformed to what the Government want. The Government will vote down their own amendment tonight. It is extraordinary.

Why have the Government decided to turn the amendment down tonight? I cannot think, but we have been given a few reasons. I shall go through a few of them. First, the Minister said--he can correct me if I am wrong--that there is no need for an appointments commission because it is only an interim House; it will be gone in a few minutes, so we do not have to worry about it much. That seems to contradict all the other arguments about the Weatherill amendment, which could last for some considerable time, as several hon. Members have acknowledged. I fear that it may last for a very long time indeed, as the last interim House did: it was introduced in 1911 and we have only just started to reform it.

That may have been the Minister's argument--that the commission would deal only with a temporary House--but Baroness Jay gave exactly the opposite reason when she discussed the measure in the other place. She said that we must get it in quickly and promised that she would do so to deal with the new year's honours list; clearly, that will not now happen.

Baroness Jay made her promise in June and we have had no action since. The only action taken seems to have a been a memo to the Treasury saying, "We need a few bob to start work on the commission, so if we want to spend any money please could we have some?" That would take only 48 hours. I am sure that the Chancellor has ticked it off, so that is no reason for not agreeing to the amendment.

The Minister's second argument was that work on establishing the commission would be impeded simply because the other place has put a proposal on the commission into a Bill. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) said, such an argument could only imply that the Government are planning to establish a different commission from the one proposed in their White Paper, and that Ministers are now halfway down the road and do not want to allow the provision into the Bill.

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It is extraordinary to suggest that, every time an amendment on a key issue is tabled in the other place, Government planning should grind to a halt until that amendment has been dealt with. That is not an argument.

The Minister's third argument was that Privy Councillors are entirely unsuitable to serve on the commission. Such a proposition is barely worth debating. The Minister could alter the provision by tabling a small amendment to widen or narrow the list to include those whom hon. Members on both sides of the House think should serve.

Finally, the Minister argued that we could do without a statutory body. That argument gave away much of the truth. If the commission is not statutory, the Prime Minister will be able to change its terms and structure. Consequently, we should have no confidence that there will be an open and transparent system to appoint legislators.

The Minister gave those four reasons for not accepting the amendment, and they were barely worth even articulating. I hope that we shall not hear the arguments again, and that he has kept something up his sleeve to encourage us to think differently.

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