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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 19:39 GMT
We'll listen to Lords complaints - Cook
House of Lords at the state opening of Parliament
The reformed Lords would be largely appointed
The government has pledged to listen to all the arguments in what will widely be seen as a bid to avert a rebellion by its own backbenchers over House of Lords reform.

Plans for the next stage of Lords' reform have come under fire in the Commons from all sides of the House.

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

The reformed chamber
20% elected
20% independently nominated
60% nominated by political parties

There is widespread anger that only 20% of peers will be elected under the plans.

The Commons debate follows a private meeting of Labour MPs on Wednesday at which the Lord Chancellor's plans were described as "undemocratic" and "a dog's breakfast".

But Mr Cook said: "What is now urgent is to find the package which would establish the greatest consensus among MPs and the public.

Lord Wakeham
Lord Wakeham is concerned about the chamber's authority
"Of course we are going to listen to what is said during the consultation period and, in that period of reflection that will follow, we will see if we can find the centre of gravity in order to move forward with reform."

Mr Cook insisted there would be no compromise on ending the hereditary principle nor on the government's belief that the make-up of the Upper House should reflect the country's broad political balance.

Former culture secretary Chris Smith was one of the first MPs to speak out against the government's reform plans, which he said were just plain "wrong".

Many Labour MPs fear 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.

Another former Labour minister, Mark Fisher, said that while there was a need for a "robust and effective second chamber" the government's proposals made for "a feeble and weak chamber that would jump at its own shadow".

Meanwhile Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews said that the White Paper meant that 80% of the Upper House would be chosen by a system of patronage.

"Patronage is the curse of the British political system," he said.

Patronage powers

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.

Mr Smith said that 20% "would not do" and a minimum of 50% should be elected.

Lord Chancellor Derry Irvine, who met Labour MPs on Wednesday, has defended the reform plans and saying they would "hugely decrease" Tony Blair's powers of patronage.

But 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.

Click here to see how the proposed chamber would look

"Frankly I am fearful of the consequences," he told peers as the House of Lords began to debate the issue fully for the first time on Tuesday.

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

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.

Lord Irvine
Irvine says the plans would reduce Tony Blair's patronage power
The Conservative's leader in the Lords, Lord Strathclyde has 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 governments in the world, argued Lady Williams, as she pressed for a "substantially elected" upper chamber.

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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jonathan Beale
"179 MPs have called for a larger elected element"
Rebel MP Graham Allen
"This flies in the face of Labour tradition"
Former Foreign Secretary Lord Hurd
"A substantial minority of peers should 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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