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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 19:56 GMT 20:56 UK
'People's peers' under scrutiny
House of Lords at the state opening of Parliament
Labour's reformed Lords would be largely appointed
Tony Blair has never used the phrase "people's peers", Downing Street has insisted.

Fifteen non-political crossbenchers - dubbed "people's peers" - were appointed last year in a blaze of publicity.


The people selected are almost exclusively members of the metropolitan elite

Diane Abbott
The idea was to throw the House of Lords open to ordinary people.

But critics have called the scheme a sham after the new peers' voting and attendance records were exposed in a national newspaper.

The scheme has also come under fire for awarding seats to members of a privileged elite rather than ordinary voters.

In May 2000, Tony Blair said the new Appointment Commission would ensure a House of Lords that was "more representative of our diverse society".

Seven knights

"The Commission will look for suitable candidates in a wider field than up to now," he added.

But the final selection included seven knights and a number of leading academics and scientists.

Downing Street has said it did not invent the phrase "people's peers".


It is doubtful a postman or a lollipop person could afford to give up their job to come and sit in the chamber every day

Lord May
A spokeswoman told BBC News Online the candidates had been selected by an independent Appointment Commission - not the prime minister.

Labour backbencher Diane Abbott said the scheme has been a major disappointment and only strengthened the case for a wholly elected Lords.

Exclusive

"It was sold as a way of letting ordinary people join the House of Lords," Ms Abbott told BBC News Online.

Lord Browne
Lord Browne: Man of the people?
"They were meant to contribute from an ordinary person's perspective.

"But the people selected are almost exclusively members of the metropolitan elite."

She added: "They clearly haven't lived up to their billing.

"It strengthens the argument for a wholly elected House of Lords."

Pay 'exaggerated'

According to the Daily Mirror, BP Amoco chief executive Lord Browne has made just one speech since his appointment and has never voted.

Others, including Lord Adebowale, Lord Sutherland and Baroness Greenfield, were also accused of making meagre contributions.

Leading biologist and President of the Royal Society Lord May - who the Mirror said "needs to pull his weight more" - said he thought the criticisms were "not unreasonable".

Robert May
Lord May feels he has made a contribution
But he said the critics had underestimated the amount of work peers do behind the scenes.

"The work of the House of Lords is about a great deal more than turning up in the chamber and making the odd remark," he told BBC News Online.

He had become involved in the work of a select committee and had already made useful contribuitions to the Export Control Bill, despite working only one a day a week in the Lords, he said.

Peers' pay had also been greatly exaggerated.

"It is doubtful a postman or a lollipop person could afford to give up their job to come and sit in the chamber every day," Lord May told News Online.

Patronage

A spokeswoman for the Appointment Commission said the peers had been selected for the expert knowledge they could bring to the Lords.

"They attend when they have something to contribute.

"The idea was to remove some of the patronage traditionally associated with the House of Lords.

"To make the process more open and accountable," she said.

See also:

09 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Prescott rejects Lords reform deal
18 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Lords plans to be shelved
23 Jan 02 | UK Politics
New bottom line on Lords reform
23 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Lords debate goes public
10 Jan 02 | UK Politics
We'll listen to Lords complaints - Cook
18 Jan 02 | UK
Lords not a leaping topic
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