Lords reform splits Labour

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A CABINET row has erupted over Labour's plans for reform of the House of Lords. Baroness Jay, the Leader of the Lords, and John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, are angry that Tony Blair has over-ruled them about the eventual make-up of the reformed Upper Chamber.

They believe his determination to back an entirely appointed House of Lords has left the Labour party open to accusations that it is determined to fill Parliament with "Tony's cronies".

Baroness Jay and Mr Prescott believe there should be an element of either directly or indirectly elected members included as part of the second stage of Lords reform.

The Lords leader believes this would allow the Government to contrast the democratic make-up of the reformed House with the inclusion of unelected peers in the current system. The Deputy Prime Minister also wants the regions to be able to send representatives to Westminster in order to ensure that all parts of the country are covered by the Lords.

However, according to Labour party sources, the Prime Minister insisted that the Upper Chamber should be entirely appointed because he fears that an elected element would create too much of a challenge to the Commons. One insider said he had personally made clear to Baroness Jay that the party line would be to support a House of nominees.

The row centres on Labour's evidence to the Royal Commission on Lords reform, which was submitted to Lord Wakeham last week. Although the document was left deliberately vague, the Labour party told journalists that Mr Blair did not support an elected second chamber. Reports last weekend said that the evidence would urge the Royal Commission to propose a wholly nominated House.

Baroness Jay and Mr Prescott were furious when they saw these reports, believing that they misrepresented a submission which had been carefully written to avoid coming down in favour of one particular system. They were anxious to avoid being seen to dictate to the Royal Commission what its conclusions should be. Keith Ewing, the author of the report, was also concerned that his ambiguous words had been turned into a tough commitment to a nominated House.

Baroness Jay was forced to issue a "clarifying" statement to Labour peers last week contradicting the suggestion that the party was backing an entirely appointed chamber.

The reports left the Labour party open to accusations of "cronyism" at a time when the Lords leader is struggling to force the Government's legislation removing the voting rights of hereditary peers through the Upper Chamber. They threatened to jeopardise the Lords reform bill.

Peers will vote on Tuesday whether or not to accept the compromise deal drawn up between Mr Blair and Lord Cranborne which would allow 92 hereditary peers to remain in the Lords until the second stage of reform is completed.