A lifetime of lunch without peer

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The Independent Online
JOHN RENTOUL

Political Correspondent

Labour hopes to persuade hereditary peers to accept the abolition of their rights to speak and vote in the upper house of Parliament by offering them the "sweetener" of keeping their rights to dine in the House of Lords and attend the Queen's Speech.

According to an authoritative Labour source, the party will not make a definitive statement on the fate of hereditary peers' so-called "club rights" before the election - in order to use them as bargaining counters in negotiations on the future of the House of Lords if Labour wins.

Some peers might view such a suggestion as a form of blackmail or inducement. But the prospect of hanging on to the right to use the dining-rooms, bars and other facilities that form an integral part of the upper house's sumptuous atmosphere could tempt some hereditary peers to accept quietly their fate.

Others might be only too keen to grasp a negotiating possibility rather than give up all contact with what must rank as the cheapest gentleman's club of them all in London.

For some, the prospect of good seats at the State Opening of Parliament will not be something to be passed up easily, while others may well bargain to retain access to an excellent library and research facility.

The source said a Labour government would attempt to reach a "consensus" on the long-term future of the Second Chamber in talks modelled on the Scottish Constitutional Convention. In the convention, Labour, Liberal Democrats, churches and others drew up plans for a Scottish parliament - but the Tories and the Scottish National Party refused to take part.

Tony Blair, the Labour leader, last month confirmed that hereditary peers would lose speaking and voting rights if he became prime minister. But he also backtracked on previous commitments to a directly elected Second Chamber as the ultimate aim.

Labour leaders are concerned that simply abolishing the rights of hereditary peers will leave the House of Lords as a "super quango", opening Mr Blair to charges of cronyism.

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