Peers vote for the 75 to stay in `the best club in London'

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The Independent Online
THE HEREDITARY peers who will retain their ancient rights to sit and vote in the House of Lords into the next millennium were announced yesterday.

In a historic ballot, 75 peers were elected by their fellow hereditaries under the so-called Weatherill compromise that allows them to stay until stage two of House of Lords reform.

More than 600 other hereditaries will lose their rights as members of what has been dubbed the "best club in London" when the House of Lords Bill becomes law next week.

On a day of parliamentary history, drama erupted when Lord Montague of Oxford, a Labour life peer, died after collapsing in the chamber. Attempts were made to resuscitate the 67-year-old businessman after he slumped forward in his seat during a debate within an hour of the election results being announced.

Lord Montague, a former member of the Millennium Commission and a director of Planet Hollywood, was taken to a nearby hospital. A Labour Party spokesman said later that he had died in the ambulance. He is thought to have suffered a heart attack.

The group of 75 elected hereditaries is made up of 42 Tories, 28 cross- benchers, three Liberal Democrats and two Labour peers. A further 15 who will act as deputy speakers and committee chairmen were elected last week, and there are two unelected holders of official positions, the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain.

However, the survival of the 92 hereditaries could still be in doubt after the Tories made it clear they would vote against the Government when peers debate the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill on Monday.

Senior Conservative sources said peers would defy the Government's veiled threats that any further obstruction of legislation could lead to a withdrawal of the Weatherill amendment when MPs debate the House of Lords Bill on Wednesday.

But Downing Street made clear that it expected the House of Lords to back down. "Clearly, the Government wants to be satisfied that the deal has been kept," a spokesman stressed.

Ministers fear that they may run out of time if peers continue to oppose the welfare reform legislation because the parliamentary session ends next week.