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Tuesday, 8 February, 2000, 12:03 GMT
Lords refuse to toe the line

Lords flexing their new muscles

By BBC News Online's political correspondent Nick Assinder.

For the second time since the House of Lords was partially reformed, rebel peers have kicked out a vital piece of government legislation.

Just a fortnight ago, they defeated Jack Straw's controversial measure to restrict defendants' rights to a jury trial.

Now they have overturned the attempt to repeal section 28 which seeks to ban the promotion of homosexuality in schools.

And there is the real prospect that the proposal to lower the gay age of consent will also eventually be thrown out.

If Tony Blair thought he would get an easier ride by reforming the upper chamber, he has been given a rude awakening.

Rather than finding the remaining peers eager to do the Commons' bidding, they seem more determined than ever to flex their muscles.

New legitimacy

Ironically, because the 92 remaining hereditary peers have been elected - albeit by themselves - there is a widespread feeling that the halfway-house chamber has more legitimacy than its predecessor.

Sacking hereditaries has not stopped rebels
That bodes ill for the government which has insisted it will force through its legislation, despite the rebellions.

That may now be more difficult than before as the Lords seek to exert their new found legitimacy.

It is quite possible that Section 28 reform, at least, cannot now be done this side of the next general election.

Ministers are expected to reintroduce the measure later this year but, if the Lords continue to block it, there is little chance it can be pushed through before the election without risking the loss of the entire local government bill.

After the previous defeat the prime minister's spokesman suggested it was evidence of the need to take Lords reform further than simply stripping the hereditary peers of their voting rights.

Tony's cronies

But it is by no means clear that anything other than an upper chamber comprising entirely of members appointed by the government - the "Tony's cronies" option - can be relied on to toe the line.

The Royal commission has suggested there should be a mixture of appointed and elected peers and Mr Blair has signalled he is now in favour of some elected members.

But most had believed he was determined to put further reform on the back burner.

The latest rebellions, however, may make him think twice and consider introducing reforms that would make the upper chamber more docile.

But, as has now been shown on two occasions, that is a lot easier said than done.

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See also:
07 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Government suffers Section 28 defeat
08 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
New talks after Section 28 defeat

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