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Thursday, November 5, 1998 Published at 02:15 GMT

UK Politics

Lords leader: 'Peers are hopeless'

Baroness Jay must steer Lords reform past her peers

Leader of the House of Lords Baroness (Margaret) Jay has said that "quite a few" of her fellow peers are "hopeless".

Lady Jay has the task of steering through a reluctant upper chamber the government's plans to scrap the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords.

She and the government have come in for criticism for having so far failed to spell out what the next step in reforming the Lords would be.

Removing the hereditary element would leave it as a wholly appointed chamber - likened by opponents to a giant super-quango.

A Royal Commission to consider the next stage of reform is due to report in 2000.

[ image: Lords in the chamber:
Lords in the chamber: "Not all hopeless, but quite a few are"
Lady Jay, in an interview with this week's issue of the New Statesman magazine, said of hereditary peers: "We haven't said they're all hopeless, but quite a few of them are."

She was "honestly not sure" if they would in the end delay the bill abolishing their voting rights.

But she insisted: "The bottom line is that any chamber which replaces the hereditary peerage with the nominated peerage is better, because of the way they are appointed."

Lady Jay - who is the daughter of former Labour Prime Minister Lord (Jim) Callaghan, and the former wife of the then-ambassador to Washington, Peter Jay - denied that she was practically a hereditary peer herself thanks to her family connections.

"That's daft. For a start, my father's still alive. Second, if he was a hereditary peer, I wouldn't inherit the title. My brother would."

[ image: Lady Jay on her way in to Number 10 at the summer reshuffle]
Lady Jay on her way in to Number 10 at the summer reshuffle
She added that she "couldn't understand" the views of Labour life peer Lord Winston who recently wrote an article defending hereditary peers and doubting the House of Lords could be replaced with anything better or as valuable.

"There he is, a brilliant doctor who has come up through a meritocratic system. How could he say that?" she asked.

Lady Jay is also minister for women, a job she took over from Harriet Harman in the summer reshuffle.

She said the Women's Unit, now based in the Cabinet Office, had "great political clout".

Next week Lady Jay and deputy women's minister Tessa Jowell, the public health minister, will launch the government's future agenda for women.

The leader of the House of Lords, who considers herself the cheerleader of the 'working gran' tribe, also said in the interview that marriage was not vital for giving children stability.

"I don't feel people have to be married to create that stability," she said. "Long-term relationships are frankly no different, except they don't have the sacrament."

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