New Lords offer may widen rift

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The Independent Online
WILLIAM HAGUE was facing further damaging rifts with the Tory peers last night after it emerged that they were willing to accept an offer of closer co-operation with Labour.

Baroness Jay, the Leader of the Lords, has written to Tory peers in an effort to reach a consensus, which would further undermine Mr Hague.

Yesterday the Tory leader, facing a crisis after four peers resigned from the front bench and two more quit the Tory party, attempted to shore up his embattled leadership by acting tough. He warned other Tory frontbenchers that they would be sacked as Viscount Cranborne had been if they attempted to bounce him into deals with the Government.

But Lady Jay has offered ministerial meetings with Tory, Liberal Democrat and cross- bench peers on the whole of the Government's legislation in the Queen's Speech.

The deal was set out in a letter to Lord Weatherill, the chairman of the crossbench peers, and Lord Cranborne, the day before the Tory leader of the Lords was sacked by Mr Hague for negotiating behind his back with Tony Blair on Lords reform.

In the letter, seen by The Independent, Lady Jay offered to hold a meeting before the committee stage in the Lords on each bill for peers of all parties and their advisers with ministers and civil servants "to answer questions and offer clarification on aspects of the legislation".

Lord Weatherill, who is promoting the deal on the reform of the House of Lords that led to Lord Cranborne's sacking, said: "This way peers and their advisers can meet ministers and their aides and discuss any planned amendments and iron out any problems in private."

Lady Jay's letter is certain to drive a further wedge between the Conservative leader and his Tory peers, who are ready to take up her offer. Lord Strathclyde told The Independent yesterday that the Tories will vote for the Cranborne deal when it is put forward in an amendment by Lord Weatherill.

Some Tory peers accused Mr Hague of `losing the plot' in sacking Lord Cranborne. In spite of claims that Mr Hague did not know what was going on, The Independent learnt last night that Michael Ancram, the Conservative Party chairman, was told about the deal by Lord Cranborne's deputy, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, at a meeting of frontbenchers two hours before Mr Hague's clash with Mr Blair in the Commons.

Lord Fraser, who resigned out of loyalty to Lord Cranborne, told Mr Ancram in front of other Tory frontbench peers they wanted to accept the deal. They assumed that Mr Ancram had reported back to Mr Hague that he was facing a mass rebellion by his front bench if he continued to reject the deal.

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