Page last updated at 15:22 GMT, Wednesday, 22 June 2011 16:22 UK

Peers pour scorn on Lords reform plans

Peers have lined up to pour scorn on the government's plans for House of Lords reform during a second day of debate on the subject.

The House sat four hours earlier than usual at 11am on 22 June 2011 to accommodate all of the members wishing to take part in the debate.

Under the government's plans the House of Lords would be replaced with a Senate comprising 240 members elected on 15-year non-renewable terms, 60 appointed crossbenchers, 12 Bishops and a small number of appointed ministers.

But crossbench peer Lord Armstrong of Illminister, a former head of the civil service, warned of gridlock between the two Houses.

He said the setbacks governments received from the present chamber would look like a "vicarage tea party" in comparison to an elected Senate.

Labour's Lord Davies suggested there was a "slightly more sinister reason" behind the bill.

He told peers there was a "pervasive suspicion in the country as a whole" that it was to give Lib Dem leader and deputy PM Nick Clegg, who is leading the charge on Lords reform, a boost "after the humiliations of last few months" - a reference to the weak performance of the Liberal Democrats at the polls in May and the party losing the AV referendum result.

Lib Dem Lord Rodgers, a former Labour Cabinet minister and one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party, added his criticism of the bill.

"I remain opposed to a wholly or partially elected House," he told peers, adding: "With the coalition's heavy legislative programme for this Parliament, Lords reform will inescapably block or delay more important issues."

Former Tory home secretary Lord Waddington said he was not "in principle" against the idea of an elected upper House which could provide more of a check on the government than the Commons which has often become "little more than a tool of the executive".

But he was "dead against" creating an elected second chamber that was required "to do no more than we can do perfectly well now".

He wondered whether the Parliament Act, which can be used to override the views of the Lords when it is in conflict with the Commons, would be used to push through the reforms.

Labour's Lord Desai, who supports Lords reform, agreed that an elected second chamber could be a stronger check on government.

He suggested regional representation to "give a richer mix" of representatives in the Lords.

Speaking in support of the bill Lib Dem Baroness Brinton said it made clear the conventions covering relations between the two Houses "are to remain unchanged".

If a future parliament decided the conventions needed specifically codifying to protect them then legislation could be brought forward to bring that about, she added.

But fellow Lib Dem the Earl of Glasgow said he was "somewhat embarrassed" by the situation, telling peers: "As a Liberal Democrat I believe myself to be a member of the sensible party and on nearly all issues I still believe I am.

"But in the case of House of Lords reform, my official party's proposals make no sense to me at all."

Watch part two of the debate.


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