Jenkins fails in bid to head reform of Lords

HOUSE OF LORDS
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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR is set to reject a late bid by Lord Jenkins, the former SDP leader, to chair the Royal Commission on the long-term reform of the House of Lords.

Lord Jenkins, who was appointed by Mr Blair to head the review on electoral reform, has only recently delivered his report but offered his services for the review of Lords reform.

The Prime Minister has taken advice from Lord Jenkins since coming to office, but has decided to appoint Lord Butler, the former head of the Cabinet Office under successive prime ministers, as a non-partisan chairman who would be acceptable to the Tories.

Lord Mackay, deputy Conservative leader in the Lords, yesterday said Lord Jenkins would not have been approved by the Tories. The Commission will consider options for long-term reform of the Lords, including direct elections. This idea was supported last night in a report by the Tory Bow Group calling for the Upper House to be made independent of the Government.

It came as William Hague, the Conservative Party leader, laid plans to force the Government into a fresh constitutional clash with the House of Lords.

The Conservative leader has ordered Tory peers to vote down the Government's Bill to allow the European elections to be fought on a "closed list" system of candidates.

Mr Blair will have to resort to the Parliament Act for the first time to override the Lords' vote and force the Bill through in time for the elections.

Speeding up the passage of the European Parliamentary Elections Bill will allow time for three new Government Bills, listed in order of priority by Downing Street yesterday: John Prescott's Bill to introduce a rail regulator, the Ministry of Agriculture Bill to introduce a Food Standards Agency, and a Bill to crack down on sleaze in local government by allowing directly elected mayors.

Tory peers last night claimed the high moral ground over a system to which even some Labour peers, MPs and MEPs are opposed, on the grounds that it gives party leaders, not voters, the final choice over which candidates to send to the European Parliament.

Lord Strathclyde, the Tory leader in the Lords, said rejecting the European Parliamentary Elections Bill showed the Tories would not be "soft" on any legislation, in spite of the recent controversy over deals to allow 91 hereditary peers to survive until the Royal Commission has reported.

"We have no desire to co-operate on the Bill. We think it is a bad Bill. It does bear an undemocratic flaw which wrecks the traditional right of the electorate to vote for a candidate," said Lord Strathclyde.

Lord Cranborne, who was sacked by Mr Hague for doing a deal behind his back with Mr Blair about long-term reform of the Lords, is not expected to vote tonight. The decision to vote the Bill down was taken yesterday at a meeting between Lord Strathclyde and Mr Hague.

Tory peers who attacked Mr Hague for sacking Lord Cranborne were firmly behind his tactics on the Bill. Lord St John of Fawsley said: "I do approve. This is an issue which goes to the heart of the constitution."

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