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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 5 February, 2003, 13:54 GMT
Lords reform left in disarray
House of Lords
The Lords reform saga continues
Far-reaching reform of the House of Lords looks set to be delayed - possibly for years - after none of the options put before MPs gained majority support.

Jack Cunningham, who chairs the joint committee in charge of reform, said the inconclusive votes meant Parliament was unlikely to agree a way forward for some time.

In Tuesday's votes, Tony Blair's preference for an all-appointed "revising" chamber was the least popular option - rebuffed by 323 votes to 245.

Seven options
100% elected
80% appointed, 20% elected
20% appointed, 80% elected
60% appointed, 40% elected
40% appointed, 60% elected
50% appointed, 50% elected
100% appointed

Clive Soley, another MP on the reform committee, said there could now be only limited immediate reform, including removing the remaining 92 hereditary peers.

With the votes leaving reform hopes in disarray, the joint committee meets again on 25 February to discuss what to do next.

Mr Soley said the appointments' system could be updated, with the prime minister losing his powers to choose them.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We can make some immediate reforms, such as getting rid of the remaining hereditaries.

"But then we do have to take a bit longer on the other reforms."

Cabinet challenge

Four cabinet ministers and 21 other ministers were among those rejecting Mr Blair's calls for an all-appointed second chamber in the free vote.

The cabinet ministers were Education Secretary Charles Clarke, Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt, Welsh Secretary Peter Hain and Commons Leader Robin Cook.
Tony Blair
Blair's preference was roundly defeated

At prime minister's questions on Wednesday, Mr Blair told MPs: "What yesterday's votes show is that there is indeed no consensus in this house."

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith accused Mr Blair of betraying Labour's manifesto promise to make the Lords more representative and democratic.

Mr Blair instead said the government had given MPs a free vote when its own proposals failed to win support.

The prime minister's preference for an all-appointed chamber did win overwhelming majority support in the House of Lords in Tuesday's votes.

Mr Cook, the prime advocate of a mostly-elected Lords, suffered a blow too when none of the options he supported gained majority support.

An 80% elected, 20% appointed Lords - something backed by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats - was the least disliked option among MPs, defeated by just three votes.

And they rejected the idea of an all-elected upper house by a slender 289 to 272 margin.

Committee's tasks

A series of proposals involving partly elected, partly appointed versions of the upper house were roundly rejected.

Robin Cook, Commons Leader
Cook said MPs should "sleep on it"
Mr Blair rushed back from his summit with French President Jacques Chirac in time for the key votes.

Number 10 insisted the whole point of a free vote is for MPs to be free to express their opinions

But the debate produced a rare display of ministers openly challenging the prime minister's view.

Modernisers are disappointed by the votes, with Labour MP Anne Campbell calling it a "bleak day for democracy".

She told Today: "I hope that enough public debate will be engaged by this catastrophe to make people sit up and think that actually we have got to move forward, we can't just stay where we are."

But fellow Labour MP George Foulkes called the votes a "victory" for the status quo.

Abolition calls

Ahead of the votes, Mr Cook stressed his desire for a largely elected second chamber as he argued it was crucial MPs came to "one single commanding view on the way forward".

But once all the options were rejected he conceded that it might be a good time to "go home and sleep" on the events of the day.

Labour MP Joyce Quinn, who is on the reform committee, said: "During the course of the debate and vote it became clear that a number of members back the idea of indirect elections but their votes were split between elected and appointed."

MPs rejected a bid by Labour left-winger Dennis Skinner to abolish the Lords by 390 votes to 172.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Tessa Duggleby
"One by one MPs knocked down the options"
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"The government is in a terrible mess"
 VOTE RESULTS
House of Lords reform

Elected
 53.81% 

Appointed
 17.01% 

A mixture of both
 29.19% 

4598 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


Talking PointTALKING POINT
House of Lords
How should it be reformed?
See also:

04 Feb 03 | Politics
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29 Jan 03 | Politics
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