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Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 19:46 GMT
Appointed Lords gets Blair backing
House of Lords
Ministers want to end the Lords reform saga
Tony Blair has made clear his support for an all-appointed House of Lords despite pressure from Labour MPs for elected peers.

Mr Blair revealed his position for the first time in public at prime minister's questions ahead of next week's votes on the issue.

He explained he did not favour a "hybrid" second chamber of Parliament made up of both elected and appointed peers.

The Lords also had to be a "revising" chamber, not one which would rival the authority of the House of Commons, argued Mr Blair.

In an effort to stave off accusations of a Lords filled with "Tony's cronies", Mr Blair said the prime minister's power to appoint peers should be scrapped.

Manifesto pledge?

MPs will have a free vote on a range of options for the second stage of Lords reform next week.

Mr Blair's comments put him at odds with ministers like Robin Cook, who last week restated his desire for a mostly elected second chamber.

Labour's last election manifesto pledged to make the Lords "more representative and democratic while maintaining the House of Commons' traditional primacy".
We need to make sure that we do not have gridlock and our constitution works effectively

Tony Blair

Cabinet minister Chris Smith and Labour backbencher Martin Salter on Tuesday suggested a wholly-elected chamber could break that promise.

Mr Smith said on Tuesday: "I fail to see how an all-appointed House can be described as being democratic."

A substantially-elected second chamber "would be in line with our manifesto promises and in line with the democratic instincts of the British people", added Mr Smith.

Mr Blair told MPs everybody agreed the current position, under which 92 hereditary peers still sit in the Lords, could not remain.

Revision or rival?

"Everyone agrees what's more that Prime Ministerial patronage should go.

"However, the issue then is do we want an elected House or do we want an appointed House?

"I personally think that a hybrid between the two is wrong and will not work.

Robin Cook, Leader of the House of Commons
Robin Cook wants a mostly elected second chamber
"And I also think that the key question on election is do we want a revising chamber or a rival chamber?

"My view is that we want a revising chamber and I also believe we should never allow the argument to gain sway that somehow this House of Commons is not a democratically elected body, as I believe that it is."

Mr Blair said MPs should remember as they cast their free vote that they were trying to reach a long-term constitutional settlement.

There also could not be "gridlock" in Parliament, he warned.

'Undermining Parliament'

Last week, Mr Cook said some of his colleagues feared elected peers would "get above themselves".

He argued: "It is possible to keep a democratic second Chamber subordinate by law and convention.

"I do not believe that it is sustainable to keep a second Chamber subordinate by denying it legitimacy.

"That not only weakens the second chamber, but undermines Parliament."

The Commons public administration committee says survey suggest MPs three-to-one in favour of a mostly of elected second chamber.

Both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats want 80% of peers to be elected, although individual MPs have different views.

Sleep walk warning

MPs will vote on seven options drawn up by a special committee on Tuesday.

The committee will then use those votes to come up with a solution which can command majority support in Parliament.

On Wednesday afternoon, a source close to the prime minister said Mr Blair believed it would be a huge error to "sleep walk" into Lords change without thinking through the implications.

Mr Blair thought getting reform wrong could hamper the government's ability to do what it was elected to do, the source told BBC News.

A Labour Party spokesman insisted Mr Blair was not going back on the 2001 manifesto and stressed he was still talking about reform.

But democracy campaign group Charter 88 accused Mr Blair of showing he did not trust voters.

See also:

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