Hundreds of peers to go in reforms

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The Independent Online
HUNDREDS OF hereditary peers are to culled under the Government's plans to reform the House of Lords, which will be outlined today by Baroness Jay, the Leader of the Lords, in spite of a warning by a Labour peer that it would "degrade Parliament".

Baroness Jay will announce the plan to set up a Royal Commission on the long-term reform of the House of Lords, to report by 2000. It will have awide-ranging remit to include a review of other constitutional developments, including devolution, but it will not be asked to look at the monarchy or the seats in the Lords for senior members of the Royal Family, including the Prince of Wales.

In the meantime, the Government will lay out plans in a Green Paper to be published next month for an interim House of Lords and The Independent understands that it will propose capping the seats in the House of Lords at roughly the current level of life peers. That could mean sacking nearly half of the peers who are now eligible to sit in the House, reducing it to just over 500 members. Hereditary peers to go would include about 300 Tories, 17 Labour, 24 Liberal Democrats and 200 cross-benchers. That would leave about 174 Tory life peers; 158 Labour life peers, 125 cross-benchers, and 46 Liberal Democrats.

Baroness Jay will deny today that the Government is planning to "flood" the Lords with new Labour life peers, which would open Tony Blair to accusations of appointing "Tony's cronies" to the Upper House.

Baroness Jay is expected to mount a charm offensive to win support for the plans. Her predecessor Lord Richard will, at the start of the two- day debate, call for an interim House of about 600 life peers, with a small government majority.

But as The Independent reported yesterday, Baroness Jay is facing criticism from other Labour peers. Lord Randall, the former Labour MP, last night became the latest to come out against the Bill to abolish the rights of hereditary peers to vote and speak in the Lords before the elected chamber is introduced. "All sorts of ghastly things are said about hereditary peers. But there were some terrific people among them who contribute massively to the Parliament and to wipe them out overnight is not only unacceptable in humanitarian terms, but would degrade Parliament," he said.

Mr Blair would create more Labour life peers to overcome the small in- built Tory majority, but a Westminster source said: "There will be no attempt to match the Government's majority over the Opposition in the House of Commons."

To give Labour a working majority over the Tories, Mr Blair may have to create at least 30 Labour life peers. The Tories would be allowed to make some hereditary peers life peers to make them eligible to sit in the Upper House.

Lord Cranborne, the Tory Leader of the Lords, said he would retire from Parliament when his hereditary seat is abolished, and would not "club rights" to visit the Lords for lunch or dinner. "I'd rather go to Whites'," he said.