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EDITIONS
 Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 22:11 GMT
Heavyweights clash over Lords reform
House of Lords
Lords reform remains highly controversial
The chances of a clear consensus over the next stage of House of Lords reform looked slim after deep divisions were exposed on Tuesday between the views of MPs and peers.

House of Commons leader Robin Cook led the charge for a mostly-elected Second chamber, despite reports that Tony Blair opposes the idea.

I do not believe it is possible to subordinate a second chamber by denying it legitimacy

Robin Cook
While in the Lords, many peers opposed such changes, arguing they would reduce the House's expertise and independence if it became a largely elected body.

On 4 February, both the Commons and the Lords will vote on seven options put forward by a special parliamentary committee, which range from an all-appointed to an all-elected second chamber.

The two-day House of Lords debate is expected to run into the early hours, with 100 peers listed to speak.

'Deeply sceptical'

In the Commons, Mr Cook said the "never ending saga" of Lords reform should be brought to a conclusion during the current Parliament.

He hoped there would be a "commanding majority" for one of the seven options.

A YouGov opinion poll for democracy group Charter 88 this week suggested only 3% of voters backed an all-appointed Lords.

William Hague
Hague: Favours a mainly elected second chamber
But Mr Cook said he was "deeply sceptical" that removing the option of an elected element in the Lords would capture public confidence.

He pledged MPs a free vote on the issue and insisted the least acceptable option was no reform at all.

Tory former leader William Hague threw his weight behind a mainly elected Lords, warning MPs that choosing a 20% or 40% elected second chamber would bring "ridicule" on Parliament.

He said his colleagues needed to seize the chance to create a "stronger Upper House within a stronger Parliament" with a majority of elected peers.

'Abolition?'

Tory former chancellor Kenneth Clarke said he would prefer a wholly elected House of Lords and would be "very disappointed" if the result was anything less than 80% elected.

He dismissed claims that an elected second chamber would weaken the Commons, stressing that it would help strengthen Parliament's control over the Executive.

"If this government has ... waddled by accident into a situation where it finds it is now reforming far more than intended, we should take advantage of that and push on in the lifetime of this Parliament if possible ... to actually produce an elected and stronger Upper House," he said.

Shirley Williams
Baroness Williams said Tony Blair was 'profoundly mistaken'
Paul Tyler, for the Liberal Democrats, said his party wanted an "absolute minimum" of an 80% elected chamber - a view supported by the Tory front bench.

Labour former minister George Foulkes expressed his preference as the "revolutionary" option of abolition.

Blair's view

Conservative MP Sir Patrick Cormack warned that having most peers elected would throw away the expertise now offered by the Lords.

Instead, there would be "far more expensive and far less effective" scrutiny, he said.

Downing Street has yet to say precisely what Mr Blair's position is.

A spokesman said: "The prime minister will set out his view in due course."

But Shirley Williams, the Liberal Democrat leader in the Lords, said Mr Blair was "profoundly mistaken".

"If our country is to remain a Parliamentary democracy, the House of Lords must complement the House of Commons," said Baroness Williams.

"The Commons has decided to concentrate on policy and constituency issues, leaving legislative scrutiny to the Lords.

"The Upper House cannot do that effectively without a substantial elected element."

Gridlock?

Only by having half of its peers elected could the new chamber have enough legitimacy, she argued.

But Tory former deputy prime minister Lord Howe of Aberavon warned there could be a loss of expertise and independence if an elected element was introduced.

Lord Carter, the Labour former government chief whip, said the potential for legislative "gridlock" between the new Lords and the Commons had not been looked at.

Lord Craig of Radley, crossbench peers' convenor and Marshal of the Royal Air Force, supported the status quo of appointed peers and the retention of 92 hereditary peers.

Government proposals published last year suggested just 20% of the Upper House should be elected, but their unpopularity saw them dropped.

Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine has conceded that reform of the Lords is one of the "most difficult issues in politics for more than a century".

The first stage of Lords reform was introduced by the government in 1999 when the right of hereditary peers to sit in the House was abolished.

See also:

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