Cranborne plotted deal on Lords before election

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The Independent Online
LORD CRANBORNE, the sacked Tory leader of the House of Lords, contacted Tony Blair's office before the general election about doing a deal on voting rights of hereditary peers.

He invited Tim Allan, then Mr Blair's deputy press secretary, to a meeting in his office to discuss the possibility of a compromise arrangement.

Disclosure of the secret meeting will further infuriate William Hague. It reveals the full extent of the planning which had gone into the final agreement between Lord Cranborne and the Prime Minister, which was announced earlier this month and prompted Mr Hague to dismiss Lord Cranborne.

It also shows that Lord Cranborne - and other hereditary peers - assumed that Labour was certain to win the election and were already planning for this eventuality before 1 May last year.

Lord Strathclyde, who has taken over from Lord Cranborne as leader of the Lords, was also present at the meeting. It had been arranged after Lord Cranborne was introduced to Mr Allan in the St James's fish restaurant Wilton's. The Tory peer's secretary then telephoned Mr Blair's spokesman to set up a meeting.

Over tumblers of whisky, Lord Cranborne warned Mr Allan that Tory hereditary peers would wreck a future Labour government's legislation if Mr Blair pressed ahead without coming to some sort of an "accommodation". He indicated that the Tories might be willing to do a deal in return for retaining a proportion of those with inherited voting rights in the short term. Labour Party sources said there were no negotiations then, but the Prime Minister "took note" of Lord Cranborne's desire to do a deal. After the election he asked Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, to reach a compromise.

It was the meeting between Mr Allan and Lord Cranborne which eventually led to the deal announced earlier this month under which almost 100 hereditary peers could stay in the Upper Chamber until the Government completes its full programme of Lords reform.

Mr Hague sacked Lord Cranborne after he signed the agreement with Mr Blair without the consent of the Shadow Cabinet. The Tory leader was furious that he had gone behind his back and Lord Cranborne admitted he had behaved like an "ill-trained spaniel".

Last week sources revealed that not only did Lord Cranborne meet the Prime Minister and sign the deal in Downing Street, he also went to draw up a media strategy for announcing it with Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's press secretary.