Parliament: Lords Reform: Hereditary peers fight on for right to speak in debates

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The Independent Online
HEREDITARY PEERS should continue to be allowed to speak in debates once their voting rights are scrapped, the Tories said yesterday.

They claimed that if this was not preserved the upper chamber's ability to scrutinise legislation would suffer.

Sir Patrick Cormack, the Deputy Shadow Commons leader, launched the last- ditch attempt to save some rights of hereditary peers during the detailed committee stage of the House of Lords reform Bill.

Pointing to many hours of "selfless duty" provided by hereditaries, Sir Patrick suggested that until stage two of the reform, they would not be allowed to vote but would be able to attend debates and speak in them.

"We are fearful that if a great many people who had a lot to contribute are suddenly obliged to withdraw, the quality of work in the Lords won't be what it was hitherto," he said.

But ministers are opposed to the measure, arguing they have already indicated that they will accept an amendment to be put forward by Lord Weatherill, the chairman of the crossbenchers, under which 91 hereditaries will be retained until stage two of the reform.

The full reform of the upper chamber is being considered by a Royal Commission chaired by Lord Wakeham, the Tory former cabinet minister, and is expected to publish its proposals at the end of the year.

The Tories withdrew an amendment to grant the exemption of the Prince of Wales from the Bill, insisting they would have included it only with "the express consent of the Prince of Wales".

A spokesman for the Prince of Wales denied there had been any pressure from his office and such amendments were a matter for the Opposition.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Patrick claimed a sudden removal of hereditaries' rights to attend would throw "large consequential burdens" on life peers and damage the effective scrutiny of legislation.

Richard Shepherd, the Tory MP for Aldridge-Brownhills, could not agree with his own front bench. "In truth, I have the greatest difficulty taking this call very seriously. I believe in an elected second chamber."