Irvine warns on reform of Lords

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The Lord Chancellor yesterday appeared to back the idea of an elected second chamber in the Government's plans to reform the House of Lords.

Lord Irvine, who will chair the Cabinet committee handling the reform, said he did not want a reformed chamber to become the ``biggest quango in the nation's history''.

Speaking on the Radio 4 programme Today, Lord Irvine said the Constitutional Reform Programme (HL) committee, which meets for the first time in January, would consider all the options; a fully nominated, a wholly-elected chamber, or a mixture of the two.

But asked about a fully-nominated chamber, he said: "I think that it would be very important to avoid the perception of the biggest quango in our nation's history.

"It would be very, very important to ensure, if the nominated option prevailed, that it was perceived not as a big quango but as a house of all the talents of the nation and fairly appointed in a way - if you went down that route - which would unquestionably involve a significant declension from the Prime Minister's powers and indeed from the powers of the political parties."

The Government has indicated that a Bill to abolish hereditary peers' voting rights will be introduced in November next year.

The Tories' leader in the Lords, Viscount Cranborne, approved the Lord Chancellor's remarks, adding:: "What I find depressing is the idea of a huge additional accretion to the Prime Minister's power of patronage." His fear was that the Government would embark upon two-stage reform but only carry out stage one - the abolition of hereditary peers' rights - without moving on to how best to replace them. "It's far too interesting for a Prime Minister to have a huge increase in his patronage and ... never proceed to stage two," he said.