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Wednesday, August 25, 1999 Published at 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK

UK Politics

Peers consider their CVs

Peers will have to justify their presence in the Lords

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

Hereditary peers are up in arms at the suggestion they should have to write a 75-word explanation of why they should be allowed to continue in the House of Lords until Tony Blair finally decides what to do with them.

Is this another attempt to humiliate them? They have never had to justify their existence in the past, so why should they have to start now?

And how on earth will they be able to fill the allotted space?

Assuming the question is something along the lines of "Why should you continue to sit in the Lords?" many of the hereditaries will have problems.

Answers like "Because it's been in the family for generations", "Because it's my divine right" or "Because it's the best club in the country" almost certainly won't do the trick.

Presumably they will have to come up with more detailed explanations of exactly what they have done in the past to contribute to political life.

Scores of them will have serious trouble with that as they have never actually done anything. Some would probably have trouble finding the House of Lords outside of a black London cab.

And those that have contributed will also have problems because, as is the nature - some would say the main function - of the upper chamber, it is likely the most significant thing they ever did was to stymie some piece of government legislation.

Then, of course, there is the other, much smaller group of hereditaries who actually take the job seriously and do things.

This group includes a number of talented and committed peers who have engaged in politics proper and succeeded over the years.

A smallish number have risen to cabinet rank and done sterling service for their country, even though they weren't elected to do so.

But anyone who regularly watches the Lords in action will know that, when many lesser peers who do take the job seriously get to their feet, they can take more than 75 words just clearing their throats.

No campaigns

It is claimed that the idea of making the peers write brief job applications was thought up in an attempt to stop the hereditaries launching long election campaigns.

But bearing in mind that they have never engaged in elections in the past, this might actually have been an instructive exercise and shown exactly which of them was most at home with the democratic process.

It is also fairly obvious what the more astute peers might use their 75 words to declare. They will list their professional attributes, assert their independent spirit and conclude by stating that they will do exactly what Tony Blair wants.

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