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Reform 1999:
The eleventh hour of the eleventh day


"The time has come to wish you well and say 'Thank you and goodbye'."

Baroness Jay, Leader of the House of Lords

Eleventh hour reform

After nearly a century of piecemeal attempts to reform the House of Lords, the axe finally fell on the old chamber on November 11 1999.

At a stroke, more than 660 hereditary peers lost their right to sit and vote in the Lords, as the government's reform bill was given Royal Assent.

Lord Cranborne
Lord Cranborne: sacked after secret negotiations.
The significance of the date - Armistice Day - was not lost on peers themselves: "We will remember them" was the message on television screens in the Lords that day. Journalists wondered whether it referred to the war dead, or to fellow peers who were to sit in the chamber for the last time.

In fact, the mood in the Lords that night was muted. Much of the high drama of the hereditaries' struggle for survival had already taken place.

The Tories' leader in the House of Lords, Lord Cranborne, had, the year before, negotiated directly with Number Ten to save some of his fellow hereditary peers.

Video Clip VIDEO
Inside the Lords BBC 1999
Lord Cranborne's secret negotiations to save the hereditaries.
When his boss, the Tory leader William Hague discovered exactly what he'd been up to - he sacked him on the spot. But the deal survived, despite Hague's disapproval.

Elected hereditaries

The following Spring, the government went ahead with its bill to reform the Lords - with one big compromise.

Ninety two hereditary peers would be allowed to carry on in the Lords, after being elected by their colleagues.

Each hereditary candidate was asked to provide a 75 word manifesto to help his colleagues choose. One argued the case for muzzling cats outdoors, to preserve Britain's wildlife. Another promised fresh flowers.

These "elected hereditaries" are still at work in the Lords today, and include the current leader of the Conservatives in the upper chamber, Lord Strathclyde.


 OPPOSING VIEWS
Quote Mark The House of Lords must be reformed. As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute Quote Mark

Labour manifesto 1997
Quote Mark .fundamental changes which have not been fully thought through - such as opposition proposals on the House of Lords - would be extremely damaging. We will oppose change for change's sake. Quote Mark

Conservative manifesto 1997

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