Parliament: Peers' legal challenge will delay hereditaries Bill

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR suffered his biggest setback so far over plans to scrap hereditaries' voting rights after peers backed calls for a legal challenge questioning its principles.

Peers voted 353-203 to refer the House of Lords Bill to the Lords' Committee for Privileges, which will delay its third reading until October. The motion was brought forward by Lord Mayhew of Twysden, a former Tory minister, who said the legislation wrongly linked voting rights to the inheritance of a title rather than to receipt of a writ from the Queen.

The Government was defeated again over a call by the Tory Lord Gray, who said the plans violated the 1707 Treaty of Union, which guarantees the right of a number of Scottish hereditaries to sit in the House.

Baroness Jay of Paddington, the Lords leader, accused the Tories of simply wanting to delay the Bill becoming law; the Government would withdraw support for the Weatherill amendment, under which 92 hereditaries will be kept during the interim stage of reform, if there were more disruptions.

Lord Mayhew said: "If the argument I have suggested is right, then it is the hereditary peers who have returned their Writs of Summons before Royal Assent who may not be prevented from sitting until the end of this Parliament." He said the language of the Bill and the uncertainty created "could so easily have been avoided".

Lord Richard, former Lords leader, denounced the motion as "a transparent political device to attempt to delay the operation of the Bill. That is the doubt which will open up if this Bill becomes law without a clear interpretation from the committee."

Viscount Cranborne, sacked by William Hague for negotiating the Weatherill amendment behind his back, said: "A great deal of doubt has been cast on the Government's interpretation, of which it has said it is so certain. That is the can of worms peers should be addressing. If this Bill were to be passed without this matter being resolved, then there will be a legacy of bitterness."