Parliament Lords reform: Hereditary peers deal upsets MPs

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The Independent Online
GROWING DISCONTENT was apparent among Labour backbenchers yesterday over Government plans to retain nearly 100 hereditary peers beyond stage one of House of Lords reform, although Peter Mandelson, the former cabinet minister, insisted that the deal would safeguard other important legislation.

Andrew Mackinlay, the MP for Thurrock, made clear he was "not happy" about the proposal and said there was "deep concern" whether the "unsatisfactory" transitional stage would endure. "The principle of hereditary peers is alien to us who are socialist," he said.

But Mr Mandelson defended the amendment, to be put forward by Lord Weatherill, the chairman of the crossbenchers, which would allow 91 hereditaries to be elected to the Lords during the transitional stage. He said it would be "an added incentive" for hereditary peers not to disrupt the reform.

Speaking during the resumed committee stage of the House of Lords Bill, which will scrap their right to sit and vote, the MP for Hartlepool said the deal would enable the Government's entire legislative programme to proceed "expeditiously."

John McAllion, the Labour MP for Dundee East, said he would vote against such plans if introduced into the Bill in the Lords. The Commons was being asked to pay "a kind of Danegeld" to the Lords to stop it blocking other Bills, he said.

Tony Benn, the MP for Chesterfield, has already warned that the Government could face a backbench revolt if it accepts the proposed compromise because it would breach the party's manifesto commitment to abolish hereditaries' voting rights.

Dr Liam Fox, the Tory constitutional spokesman, said the Commons was being "treated with contempt" by a Government that expected Labour MPs to oppose the amendment if put forward in the Commons but vote for it when the Bill comes back from the Lords. "We have a eunuch parliament. Labour backbenchers are there merely for the convenience of the executive. Members allowing themselves to be patsies of the executive is a deeply dispiriting experience."

Margaret Beckett, the Commons leader, ruled out accepting the compromise move in the Commons because, if the Bill is blocked in the Lords, ministers want to be able to invoke the Parliament Act to force it onto the Statute Book without the Weatherill amendment.

Mr Benn said: "If this goes through, the first example of the modernisation for the millennium is the Prime Minister making 91 hereditary peers into life peers."