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Mrs. Dunwoody: I should not like to suggest that the hon. Gentleman is being slightly selective in his rendition of history, but the reality is that--whatever one thinks about the creation of large numbers of life peers--over a number of years, previous Prime Ministers' refusal to appoint Labour peers created the disastrous imbalance. If those who support the hon. Gentleman's amendments had been prepared to put pressure on the previous Conservative Prime Minister, we might not be facing the current situation.

Mr. Tyrie: I do not have the figures to hand. For a time in the 1970s, of course, Labour did not make nominations to the upper House. Had it done so, those nominations would have become appointments. A very long-standing convention holds that some Opposition nominations for peerages should be accepted. As I said, there has always been an acceptance of the need for balance, which requires that less than 50 per cent. of appointments by any Prime Minister should be for his own party.

Historically, we have had an average of 22 peers appointed a year. We now have an average of 66--three times the previous annual rate. If that is not packing, I do not know what is.

7.30 pm

Mr. McWalter: Would the hon. Gentleman like to reflect on the fact that every Conservative Prime Minister finds the upper House already packed in his favour and any Labour Prime Minister is trying only to mitigate the damage?

Mr. Tyrie: Several hon. Members have referred to the effect that my amendment would have on the balance. I have tried to explain that it is not designed to deal with that. I am trying to deal with the exercise of patronage by the Prime Minister to control his party.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): The hon. Gentleman is giving us a scholarly account and a detailed remedy. Has it occurred to him that there is an alternative to the elaborate schemes of percentages and numbers? Let the people decide who is in the House of Lords--which I hope would

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not be called that--just as happens for the House of Commons. I was in the House in the early 1950s when successive Colonial Secretaries came forward with proposals for colonial administrations. They sounded exactly like the hon. Gentleman's proposal, giving a certain number to the Governor, a certain number to the white community, a certain number to the black community and so on. Democracy has a refreshing simplicity and acceptance. The hon. Gentleman should consider it when he gives further thought to the issue.

Mr. Tyrie: The right hon. Gentleman is right. I am not supposed to advertise in the Chamber, but I commend to him my paper on the subject. I came out in favour of an elected upper House some time ago. That remains my view, just as it has been the view of a large number of Conservative thinkers throughout the century, including Curzon, Churchill, F E Smith, Lord Home and Lord Carrington. I am not alone.

For much of this century, the Labour party has been in favour of unicameralism, as is the hon. and learned Member for Medway. Three times this century it has been part of Labour manifestos. I realise that I am being dragged into a digression, but it is important to bear in mind that the great divide in the Chamber on the issue--some divides cut across parties--is between the unicameralists and the bicameralists. The majority of bicameralists have been Conservatives. Unicameralism has always flourished better among Labour Members.

I shall conclude my comments on the scale of the patronage that we are talking about. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] It is interesting to hear that Labour Members feel that it would be a good idea for the Prime Minister to hang on to the patronage that he is exercising and abusing.

The figure of 66 new peers a year excludes several peerages that have been given to those who are registered as having given large donations to the Labour party but have decided to sit on the Cross Benches. That figure of 66 and my points about party balance understate the real situation. The Prime Minister is clearly abusing his powers of patronage, as they have been exercised by all previous Prime Ministers. I regret that the customs that had built up around appointments to the Lords have been so flagrantly abused and ignored. I regret that my amendments have become necessary, but they have and I urge the Committee to support them.

Mr. Benn: These debates have been among the most interesting ever. An understanding of our constitution and the House that is not normally available to us has emerged from our exchanges. I listened to the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) with great interest. The colonial parallel came readily to mind.

We boast of democracy, but, when I was born, women were not trusted with the vote until they were 30. We have had a Parliament for 700 years, but only in my lifetime has the principle of universal adult suffrage been accepted. I do not believe that democracy is as deeply entrenched in the hearts and minds of parliamentarians as some hon. Members believe.

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Mr. Wells: Would the right hon. Gentleman like to reflect on those colonial constitutions?

The Chairman: Order. I do not think that any such invitation should be proffered and it should certainly not be accepted.

Mr. Benn: I could refer the hon. Gentleman to some of my writings on the subject, but I shall not detain the Committee.

These debates have clarified the position. The Government have no policy for a second Chamber. The Opposition have no policy for a second Chamber. I am not making a party point. This is a more serious point--nobody wants to change the House of Lords except to alter the political balance. The Conservatives are not as committed to the hereditary system as they make out. When I was 11, they got rid of a king because he wanted to marry Mrs. Simpson. If they had been committed to the hereditary system, they would have stuck with him through thick and thin. The Conservatives have done well out of the current system, so they want to hang on to it. Now that the Labour party has got to power, it sees the benefits of patronage.

Some people think that I am cynical, but I believe that there will never be a second stage. When the new Chamber is set up, it will have the legitimacy of everyone having been freshly appointed. Even the hereditary peers will just have been made life peers by the Prime Minister. No Labour Cabinet will go to them a year later and say, "By the way, we are slaughtering you and introducing a new system."

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner) shrewdly pointed out that we want to get our legislation through. The problems that we would have had if we had tried this two years ago during our first year's legislative programme will apply next time as well. In a couple of years, when the royal commission and the Select Committee have reported, how many Labour Members will want to go over the issue again when it could endanger the rest of our legislation because the new Lords will not want the changes?

I pay tribute to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), who made a classic parliamentary speech. We are planning to set up a second Chamber appointed by eight men and one woman--the Prime Ministers who have been in power since the Life Peerages Act 1958. Three of them are dead, so we are setting up a Chamber appointed by five men and one woman, claiming that it is better than what we have. It is not better than what we have. What we have is rotten, but we shall be entrenching patronage.

How does the Prime Minister of the day get his patronage? He harnesses the powers of the Crown. The possibility of other people creating peerages has been raised, but I am afraid that the fount of honour has only one tap--the Prime Minister. Nobody else can undo the fount of honour. The Labour Prime Minister--a socialist Prime Minister--is turning on the tap of royal patronage, allegedly to produce a better House. He will produce a House stuffed with people who have earned his approval--the largest number--or that of some other Prime Minister.

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The hereditary system is unacceptable. I have always believed that we should be allowed to elect our Head of State. That point is not relevant or in order, but it anticipates a possible question. I do not say that with any hostility to anyone who holds hereditary office, because they cannot be blamed for that. If someone has a hereditary job, it is not his fault. When Harold Wilson rather foolishly attacked the 14th Earl of Home, Lord Home replied very wittily, "I presume that he is the 14th Mr. Wilson." That very clever response put Harold down in a way that did not always happen. It has nothing to do with heredity. With the balance of power that exists in the House of Lords, Labour Governments get four years and Conservative Governments get five--because the delay of a year is a veto when it comes to the fifth year.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk spoke with feeling about getting Bills through. I sat in many legislative committees in the Cabinet in which the party's leader in the House of Lords had to warn the Cabinet that a Bill would be delayed in the Lords. Bills are killed before they start because of the huge majority in the Lords.

As I have made clear, I am in favour of an elected House. We do not need the complexity suggested by the hon. Member for Chichester, who is skilled in history and knowledge. If every European constituency elected one man and one woman within the existing boundaries, we could have a second Chamber by 1 October. If we passed the amendment tabled by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway, that would take over from the second Chamber. The idea has such simplicity that I am sure it will scare some people.


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