Lords to lose right to speak and vote

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The Independent Online
A ROYAL Commission is to be established to come up with proposals to reform the House of Lords after the Bill to remove the right of hereditary peers to speak and vote in the Upper House has been passed.

The commission could delay for years the second stage of the reforms to the Lords, with the possibility of an elected House. This led to demands by Conservative leaders last night for the Bill on hereditary peers to be scrapped.

With the Government determined to press ahead with the first stage of Lords reform next month, the Tories were last night preparing to do battle with Labour ministers in the Lords led by Baroness Jay.

She strongly hinted at the Royal Commission proposal yesterday on BBC1's Breakfast with Frost when she emphasised that there was a need to avoid rushing the fundamental reform of the Lords.

Lady Jay said the Bill, to be introduced in the next Queen's Speech, may stop the hereditary peers using the Lords as a "club" where they could go to have a sandwich and a glass of wine.

Stopping hereditary peers using the Lords will be viewed as vindictive by some Tory peers. Liam Fox, the Tory spokesman on the constitution, accused the Government of planning an "act of class spite".

He said: "If a Royal Commission is simply set up as a smokescreen so that they can create a chamber of Tony's cronies, then that is unacceptable to us."

Michael Ancram, the new chairman of the Conservative Party, and the heir to an hereditary title, said: "If they are going to have a Royal Commission they should stop the Bill on stage one of the reforms until the commission has reported. That is only reasonable."

The proposal for a Royal Commission is to be announced shortly in a White Paper. Going ahead with a Bill on hereditary peers will infuriate many of the 70 peers who are lining up to speak in a Government debate on Lords reform on Wednesday and Thursday.

Lady Jay, a life peer, said that in future peers could be called "ML" as a Member of the Lords, like MP for Member of Parliament. "The first object of the exercise is removing the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the Lords because at the moment you have a mirror image of the Commons.

"You have 478 Tory Lords and 174 Labour lords and a lot of Government legislation is threatened because of that hereditary peerage."

She said during a period of transition, the Bill will allow hereditary peers, such as Lord Cranborne, Tory leader of the Lords, to remain in the Upper House, but she made it clear that the hereditary peers would be replaced.

"There may be ways in which they may want to be readmitted to the second chamber but that doesn't alter the fact that there are vast numbers of hereditary peers who usually only turn up when it is actually something that affects their interests," she said.