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 Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 15:19 GMT
Irvine's warning on Lords reform
The Lords
MPs and peers are soon to be seven reform options
The debate over House of Lords reform is polarising around having either an all-elected or an all-appointed second chamber, says the lord chancellor.

Lord Irvine said ministers did not favour either of those options.

Lord Irvine
I think people are now looking at the issue more fundamentally and in terms of the stability of Parliament itself

Lord Irvine
He called Lords reform one of the most difficult issues to have faced politics in a century.

A special committee has produced seven options for reform - but Lord Irvine said it would take a "genius" to make sense of them.

MPs and peers are due to vote on those proposals later this month as the search for a compromise continues.

One Labour backbencher, former whip, Graham Allen, labelled Lord Irvine's intervention "unhelpful".

'All bets off'

Lord Irvine told BBC Radio 4's Today programme a growing body of opinion in Parliament was opposed to a "hybrid" House of Lords where some peers would be elected and some appointed.

His own proposal in a government white paper for 20% of the new Lords to be elected was strongly opposed by many Labour MPs.

Ken Clarke, former Chancellor
Ken Clarke predicts the final reforms will be "drastic"
He said now "all bets are off" and the argument had moved in favour of a fully elected or fully appointed house.

"Many, many voices are speaking out against what they call the nonsense of hybridity," he said.

"How can you have some who are elected, who claim greater legitimacy than those who are appointed? Some who are elected and therefore would want to be paid in the same way as members of Parliament?

Some MPs have spoken of there being a "centre of gravity" in views on reform that could produce a compromise acceptable to most.

But Lord Irvine said: "I think people are now looking at the issue more fundamentally and in terms of the stability of Parliament itself."

Years to reform

Lord Irvine's caution has been echoed by other senior Labour figures who privately warn it could take years to reform the House of Lords.

Commons leader Robin Cook said the reform issue was one for Parliament to decide.

Mr Cook, seen as one of those ministers pushing for a greater elected element, said he could see the case for a hybrid chamber.

Graham Allen
Graham Allen: MPs quite able to agree a solution
He told Today: "What I am very keen on is that we do make progress on reform.

"I do not want to end up in the situation where we've been so often in the past where there is no reform because those who want reform cannot agree on what type of reform it should be."

Conservative shadow attorney general Bill Cash said the issue was controversial but reality would force an outcome.

"Ultimately, we will end up with a largely elected House of Lords," predicted Mr Cash.

Former chancellor Ken Clarke, an advocate of an all-elected second chamber, warned the government against dropping into indecision and delay on the issue.

'Losing control'

Mr Clarke told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "One or two members of the government have finally decided to get hold of it.

"They will lose control because neither the government nor anybody else have any real idea of what the Commons and the Lords will eventually decide upon.

"But I think it will be quite a drastic reform compared with what we have got now."

Labour MP Graham Allen, another elected chamber enthusiast, said Downing Street should make clear any views it had on the way forward and not indulge in "shadow boxing".

Mr Allen said: "If Lord Irvine and the government leave well alone, the two Houses of Parliament are quite capable or coming up with a compromise figure."

That compromise could even become law before the end of the year, suggested Mr Allen.

There was clear backing in the House of Commons behind a second chamber which was substantially elected, he added.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine
"The last stage of the House of Lords reform is undoubtedly very difficult"
  The BBC's Norman Smith
"Lord Irvine accepts the difficulties the government faces in completing the reforms"
See also:

06 Jan 03 | Politics
11 Dec 02 | Politics
17 Jun 02 | Politics
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