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Wednesday, 9 January, 2002, 23:18 GMT
Growing anger over Lords reform
House of Lords at the state opening of Parliament
The reformed Lords would be largely appointed
The government is facing a growing revolt among its own MPs over its plans to reform the House of Lords.

More than 100 Labour MPs look set to oppose the plans that include the ejection of the remaining 92 hereditary peers from the Upper House.

The reformed chamber
20% elected
20% independently nominated
60% nominated by political parties
Concern on the Labour benches relates to growing criticism that the government will open itself up to charges of "control freakery" and cronyism by allowing a majority of members in the reformed chamber to be appointed.

Lord Chancellor Derry Irvine told peers at the start of a two-day debate of the proposals that reform was "unfinished business".

But even before the debate got under way, the man who helped shape the proposals said the plans would result in more political cronyism.

Conservative peer Lord Wakeham, who headed the Royal Commission that investigated the issue for the government, has attacked ministers for departing from his recommendations in several important areas.

But the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, defended the reform plans and rejected suggestions they would increase Tony Blair's powers of patronage.

He came under pressure on Wednesday at a private meeting of Labour MPs, some of whom believe the proposed changes do not go nearly far enough.

Lord Wakeham launched his attack on the plans as the House of Lords began to debate the issue fully for the first time.

Click here to see how the proposed chamber would look

He told peers: "The Royal Commission... managed to get a consensus during our deliberations and the government have departed from that consensus in several important respects.

"Frankly I am fearful of the consequences."

The government wants to replace the existing House of 704 peers, 92 of whom are hereditary, with 600 members.

Of these, 20% would be directly elected, 60% appointed by the government and the other parties, and 20% appointed by an independent commission.

But Lord Wakeham wants a different independent commission to oversee all the appointments.

"A continuation of direct political patronage, whoever's cronies they are, is unlikely to give the reformed chamber the necessary authority to play an effective role," he said.

Lord Wakeham
Lord Wakeham is concerned about the chamber's authority
The Tory peer also believes elected members should serve a fixed term of 15 years, so they are not under too much pressure to toe any party line.

At the moment it has been agreed that they must serve a fixed term, but the length of that term has not yet been decided.

Opening the Lords debate Lord Irvine instead argued the plans signalled a "huge decrease in the prime minister's powers of patronage".

Predicting there would be no consensus on the issue, Lord Irvine challenged critics of the government's plans to propose a viable alternative.

Keeping the status quo was not an option, he continued.

The government's plans may run into further trouble from senior Labour figures when the Commons starts its debate on the issue on Thursday.

Blair questioned

Many Labour MPs want a much higher proportion of peers to be elected.

Labour's Bob Marshall-Andrews used prime minister's question time to ask Mr Blair: "What is the point of replacing a second chamber that was rotten because of inherited patronage with a second chamber which is rotten because of contemporary patronage?"

Mr Blair said the second chamber could have independent members of the Lords, appointed by commission, be wholly elected, or have appointments made by political parties.

"It is a matter for the House to debate," he said, attracting laughter when he added: "Of course we will listen carefully to the House's views as to what is the right way to proceed with House of Lords reform."

Lord Irvine
Irvine says the plans would reduce Tony Blair's patronage power

The Conservative's leader in the Lords, Lord Strathclyde, predicted the government faced a "very rough ride indeed" if it tried to stick by its plans.

Lord Strathclyde described the proposals as "at best a camel and at worst an albatross".

He pressed for a cross-party committee to be convened to try to reach consensus on how to move reform forward.

Although pressed to reveal the Tory blueprint for change, Lord Strathclyde only promised that it would be published by the end of this month, when consultation on the plans closes.

Lib Dem Lords Leader Baroness Williams said the crisis in confidence in the UK's parliamentary system made the reform issue particularly vital.

The UK had one of the most powerful government's in the world, argued Lady Williams, as she pressed for a "substantially elected" upper chamber.

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 ON THIS STORY
Lord Stoddart, Labour peer
"What the government is... proposing is completely unsatisfactory"
Conservative leader of the Lords, Lord Strathclyde
"We're not in a position yet to unveil our policy"
The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"Only one in five peers would be elected"
See also:

09 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Lord Archer set to keep his title
07 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Lords shake-up under fire
07 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Lords reform plans at-a-glance
07 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Q&A: House of Lords shake-up
07 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Head to head: Lords reform
09 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Lord Wakeham - the 'Fixit' man
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