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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 July, 2003, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Lords reform hits new delay
House of Lords
Lords reform remains in limbo
Hopes for House of Lords reform have been hit by a new delay as the government backed off publishing its latest plans on the controversial issue.

New Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer had been expected to publish new proposals before Parliament started its long summer recess this week.

But in a statement to MPs and peers, Lord Falconer has said further consultation will be put off until the autumn.

The news has prompted the Liberal Democrats to accuse ministers of breaking their manifesto promise to create a more democratic and representative House of Lords.

'No consensus'

And the Charter88 campaign said the move showed "contempt for a democratic House of Lords".

Earlier this year, in a series of chaotic votes, MPs and peers failed to agree a way forward for House of Lords reform.

Since then, a joint committee charged with examining the issue of Lords reform has said it would examine at least removing the remaining 92 hereditary peers.

It has been waiting for the government's own proposals.

We cannot accept the removal of the remaining hereditary peers on its own
Lib Dem statement
But in a statement to the committee on Thursday, Lord Falconer says: "The government is grateful to the joint committee for the work that they have done and their efforts to take forward the question of House of Lords reform.

"It agrees with the joint committee that its work and that of the Royal Commission and the government itself before it have produced a considerable degree of consensus on the roles, functions and powers of the House of Lords.

"They have demonstrated, in contrast, that there is no consensus about the best composition for the second chamber.

"For the time being the government will concentrate on making the House of Lords work as effectively as possible in fulfilment of its important role."

Appointments changes

Lord Falconer says the government still wants to remove the remaining hereditary peers but does not say when they might be pushed out.

He does promise consultation on a new appointments commission this autumn.

That signals the government's continuing support for a wholly appointed second chamber.

The statement prompted a strong attack from the three Lib Dem members of the joint committee: MP Paul Tyler, Lord Goodhart and Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay.

In a statement, they said: "We, together with other members of the committee, issued a statement at the same time stating our belief that the committee could not continue to act in the absence of an indication of the government's preferred route to achieve its manifesto commitment to a more representative and democratic House of Lords."

Disband?

Ministers have failed to give any such indication, despite the substantial Commons majority against a fully appointed upper house, they complain.

They add: "We cannot accept the removal of the remaining hereditary peers on its own, but only as part of much wider measures of reform to create a democratic and accountable second chamber.

"We therefore see no role which the joint committee can usefully play in achieving the reformed House of Lords which we seek."

If the committee does not decide it should itself be disbanded, the Lib Dems warn they might withdraw from it.

During business questions in the Commons, Mr Tyler described Lord Falconer's statement as "a miserable little response to an extremely important issue".

'Scandalous'

Karen Bartlett, director of Charter88, said Tony Blair had "reneged" on a manifesto pledge to bring in an elected second chamber.

"It is scandalous that the government has disregarded the majority of MPs of all parties, as well as the people of this country who want a majority-elected second chamber," she said.

"Charter88 have always campaigned for an elected second chamber. We have support from of members of the public, representatives from all political parties, as well as the leading thinktanks. How can this be ignored?"

Former Commons leader Robin Cook also stressed that Labour's manifesto "promised a democratic second chamber".

Defeated

He pressed his successor, Peter Hain: "Unless the government brings forward a perspective for a democratic reform in the longer term, then you will have difficulty ... getting through Parliament this pusillanmic, mean measure."

Labour left-winger Dennis Skinner said over 100 of his colleagues "want to abolish the undemocratic" House of Lords.

Mr Hain agreed that abolition of the upper chamber had been an option.

"All the proposals were defeated," he said. "So the House knows what it is against, but it doesn't know what it is for."

If a government bill is introduced on the issue in the future, it will be pushed through on a whipped vote, he said.

Downing Street said the government's response highlighted that Lords reform was a matter for Parliament.

Tony Blair's official spokesman said: "That however should not stop the government being able to make incremental changes where there is a consensus behind those changes."


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's James Landale
"The government still wants an entirely appointed House of Lords"



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