Move for a third of Lords to be elected

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The Independent Online
FEWER THAN half the members of the new House of Lords would be directly elected under government plans. A White Paper on reform due in the new year is expected to propose only a third of members would be chosen by the public.

Supporters of radical reform had hoped a clear majority would be chosen by voters, believing it would give the House greater legitimacy to challenge the government of the day.

Under the blueprint another third could be indirectly elected from among members of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies to be set up next year and the planned regional assemblies for England. The final third could be appointed from the ranks of the present 500 life peers. One option is to impose a "retirement age" to keep the Lords to a manageable size.

The Government's plans for the second phase of its reforms are being drawn up by a Cabinet committee chaired by Lord Irvine, Lord Chancellor. "Stage two" will follow coming legislation to remove most of the 750 hereditary peers.

Lord Richard, sacked as Leader of the Lords in July, favoured a scheme under which two-thirds of members would be elected and a third appointed. But ministers believe many MPs may be reluctant to support a second chamber with a strong democratic mandate, as it would bring demands for it to have wider powers to reject legislation.

The blueprint emerged as William Hague's rift with Tory peers over reform deepened as he was accused of treachery. Allies of Viscount Cranborne, sacked last week as Tory Lords leader, said he was ordered to carry on talks with Tony Blair about an all-party consensus on reform even though Mr Hague had no intention of accepting the deal. Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, former deputy Tory leader in the Lords, said Mr Hague planned to allow the secret talks to continue to dupe Mr Blair into thinking a deal was likely. He had intended to disclose the scheme to allow 91 hereditary peers to keep their seats in the Lords to embarrass Mr Blair and accuse him of abandoning his principles.

Lord Fraser, one of four frontbenchers who quit in support of Lord Cranborne, said that despite claims that the talks were unauthorised, he was told to keep them going with Mr Hague's knowledge after they had been rejected by a shadow Cabinet sub-committee on the constitution.

"What they really wanted was to show Tony Blair up for departing from his principles. If we are talking about dishonourable treacheries, it would be pretty dishonourable to send Lord Cranborne to continue negotiations with the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor without even the slightest intention of coming to a bona fide agreement."

Mr Hague's allies dismissed the criticism last night, saying Lord Cranborne had admitted he had exceeded the brief given to him by the Shadow Cabinet.