Politics: Tories bid to block reform of the Lords

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The Independent Online
CONSERVATIVE peers threatened yesterday to disrupt the Government's legislative programme in order to block House of Lords reform.

Lord Richard, the Leader of the House of Lords, will today announce the appointment of around 600 life peers for an "interim" second chamber. Legislation expected in the autumn will abolish the voting rights of hereditary peers.

The Opposition has already promised to vote against the measures, but will probably be unable to prevent them from going through despite its built-in majority in the Upper House.

The Government has already threatened to invoke the Parliament Act, a little-used device, to stop such a move. However, Conservatives in the Lords can delay the rest of the legislative programme by putting down huge numbers of amendments to Bills.

Yesterday, Lord Cranborne, the Conservative leader in the House of Lords, hinted that the party might resort to such measures. "It certainly could happen. What would be extremely sensible of the Government is if, even at this late stage, it managed to get its act together and realised that what we want to do is to play a constructive part in reform."

He called for a forum to agree a way forward for reform of the Upper House, which could include abolition of the hereditary peerage. "That's not what we are dying in the ditch over. What we do want to do is to prevent an accretion of power to an already over-mighty Prime Minister," he said.

It would be difficult to oppose the Bill setting out plans for reform because it had been included in Labour's election manifesto, he said. Parliamentary convention prevented the upper chamber from opposing such a measure at second reading. But we do have a constitutional obligation... to improve and amend up to the point when amendments become wrecking amendments," he told BBC1's On The Record programme.

In a separate interview yesterday, the Conservative leader, William Hague, also attacked the Government's reform proposals. Mr Blair's plans would render the House of Lords even less effective, he said. His party would not co-operate in planning the changes because the Government had no clear vision of how a post-reform Lords would function.

"They have had an opportunity to come forward with a different plan for what the second chamber should be like and we would have talked to them about that. They have failed to produce that plan, they don't know what they actually want to do to the House of Lords, so now they are falling back on their contingency plan, which is to say let's just get rid of the hereditary peers and leave it as a huge quango," he said.

The two-stage plan for the House of Lords to be unveiled by Lord Richard would see 750 hereditary peers losing the right they have had since the 14th century to sit in the House of Lords, although they would keep their titles and other privileges.

A Labour Party spokesman said: "William Hague does not want the House of Lords to be reformed... It shows that the Tories are reverting to type, preferring to stand up for the few, not the many."

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