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Thursday, October 15, 1998 Published at 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK

UK Politics

Tories threaten Lords reform plan

The government says the composition of the Lords is unrepresentative

The Conservatives have kicked off the second day of the House of Lords' marathon debate on reforming the upper chamber with the threat that they may refuse to be bound by the Salisbury convention when it comes to government plans to remove hereditary peers' right to vote.

The shadow Lord Chancellor, Lord Kingsland, opened the second day of debate by repeating his party's line that abolishing the right of hereditary peers to vote in the Lords should not proceed until the government spelled out its long-term reform plans.

"Nothing less than the clear commitment of the Commons to stage two will do before the opposition could contemplate support for stage one," he warned.

[ image: Shadow Lord Chancellor Lord Kingsland: Salisbury convention may not apply]
Shadow Lord Chancellor Lord Kingsland: Salisbury convention may not apply
"The whole of the government's approach to constitutional reform seems to me to have been a story of shifting sincerities, based on no reason at all."

The government's plan for the Lords would have the effect of "reducing the independence of this House".

He told also told peers he had some doubts about whether the Salisbury convention - the arrangement whereby the Lords does not vote down proposals contained in a government's manifesto - applied to the bill to implement the reform.

"This is a constitutional bill. It is not a bill which seeks to change the law, but one which seeks to change the way we change the law," he argued.

'Where have Tories been?'

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Harris of Greenwich expressed wonder at the Tories' arguments against removing hereditary peers.

Referring to the argument that the government was seeking to reduce the independence of the upper house, Lord Harris said he was surprised at "the rather delayed discovery of the possible misuse of prime minister's patronage" on the part of the Tories.

Where, he asked, had they been during the prime ministerships of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, both of whom appointed more Tory life peers than they did Labour and Lib Dem combined?

[ image: Lord Denham: What will fill the vacuum?]
Lord Denham: What will fill the vacuum?
Tory peer Lord Denham said the Lords had worked well in the past.

"The price of getting rid of the hereditary peers must be getting the best possible alternative," he told peers.

He said he believed the government, once it had got stage one through parliament, might not be so determined to proceed to stage two.

"The removal of hereditary peers will create a vacuum," he predicted. It was essential that the precise nature of what would fill it should be made clear.

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