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Wednesday, 8 March, 2000, 14:42 GMT
Wakeham defends Lords report

The Royal Commission produced its report this year
The chair of the Royal Commission into the reform of the House of Lords has defended his report published earlier this year.

Conservative peer Lord Wakeham told a conference on Lords reform that its recommendations were "politically realistic, workable and achievable.

"We were not interested in producing a report that would gather dust in a pigeonhole," he said.

Lords Reform
On Tuesday, Leader of the Lords Baroness Jay promised that reform of the upper chamber would not be left on a "dusty top shelf".

The government removed hundreds of hereditary peers last year during the first stage of its reform of the House of Lords.

Armoury of weapons

The house now comprises appointed life peers, bishops, law lords and 92 elected hereditaries who are allowed to stay on until the second stage of reform is complete.

Lord Wakeham said there were weaknesses in the present system of parliamentary democracy.

"Party discipline, particularly in the House of Commons, is very strong and the party whips have an armoury of weapons at their disposal for ensuring party loyalty," he said.

"This is reinforced by the fact that politics is nowadays a full-time occupation.

Lord Wakeham: Vital role for second chamber
"The House of Commons finds it increasingly difficult to balance its twin functions of sustaining a government in office and holding it effectively to account.

"There remains a vital role for the second chamber of Parliament in helping to exert a degree of restraint on the government of the day."

Lord Wakeham said the second chamber's role should not be to confront or override the government and the House of Commons, but to challenge them to justify or reconsider their positions.

He said it would be difficult to see MPs voting for a largely elected second chamber, adding: "they will not want to create electoral rivals and give them a national political platform".

Robert Hazell, director of the Constitution Unit, which organised the conference, urged the government to forge ahead with its reforms of the House of Lords and end allegations of political "cronyism".

He said such a move would make the Lords more effective and improve its standing and reputation.

Commission member, Labour MP Gerald Kaufman told the conference that whatever objections or misgivings people might have about the Royal Commission's report, it was clear reform was essential.

"It is unacceptable and untenable that a house which is the product of prime ministerial patronage and still contains remnants of hereditary privilege should be in a position to frustrate the holding of an election," he said.

"The United Kingdom needs a second chamber which is independent; but it must not be indefensible."

He urged everyone to accept the Royal Commission's recommendations as offering a practical way forward.

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07 Mar 00 |  UK Politics
Labour promises action on Lords reform
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