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Thursday, November 19, 1998 Published at 18:45 GMT


UK Politics

Lords have voted for their extinction

Voting for their own extinction?

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

If there was ever any doubt about Tony Blair's determination to kill off the House of Lords as we know it, then the antics of the last few days have laid them to rest.

By persisting with their Tory-led campaign to destroy the government's Euro elections Bill, the peers have ensured they will be reformed out of existence.

They have signed their own death warrant more certainly than if they had attempted to storm the Commons mob handed and wigs flying.

But, by attempting to curb their power, Tony Blair could be landing himself with even more problems.

Admittedly, there is something slightly bizarre about one of Europe's largest unelected bodies protesting that the government is not operating a more democratic policy.

But it is equally fair for the Lords to question why Tony Blair appears to have abandoned his pre-election commitment to more democratic government in favour of a party list system for appointing Euro MPs - one of the most centralising options imaginable.

Cliff hanger

The argument turned the dying days of the current parliamentary session into a cliff hanger which saw the Euro elections bill ping-ponging between the two houses.

The end result was a hugely-diverting constitutional row that, truth be told, will have little or no resonance with the majority of voters who don't care about the Lords and don't vote in Euro elections.

But it has left Tony Blair and his ministers seething with anger that the Lords can thwart their plans, and more determined than ever to tear up the whole shooting match.

And once again the Conservatives have shown that they might lose elections but they can still inflict damage on the government through their inbuilt Lords majority.

The whole affair now raises the fascinating question - so far ducked by both the party leaders - about exactly how you get the Lords to abolish themselves.

One of the top items on the government's agenda for the next session will be a Bill to abolish the voting rights of hereditary peers.

These are the people - Tories almost to a man - who have done such damage to the Euro Bill. Few people can imagine them simply rolling over and voting for their own extinction.

Borrowed time

So will they adopt the same wrecking tactics they have used over the Euro Bill to fight for their own future?

If the do, they will ultimately lose. Ministers are now determined to rid themselves of this troublesome House - even if that means invoking the Parliament Act yet again at the end of the year 2000.

In the mean time, however, the Lords who are living on borrowed time can cause the government massive problems by engaging in a campaign of guerrilla tactics that could undermine the entire legislative programme.

And it is already being suggested in Westminster that the government will give itself a light legislative programme in 1999 simply so it can engage in the battle.





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