Reform of the Lords: Tories attack `half-baked' reform

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The Independent Online
LORD STRATHCLYDE, the Tory Leader in the Lords, spoke yesterday of his disquiet about the Government's proposals for a transitionary Upper Chamber, saying they marked a "sad day" for Parliament.

Launching his attack during the statement on Lords reform, he criticised the Government for failing to treat peers with the courtesy they deserved. "There is a deep sense of disquiet and regret about what you have announced, not because we always want to be as we are or where we are. We do not.

"Are we not entitled to know in the long run where we are heading? We have seen no clear vision of the future for this House of Parliament, and to say it is modernisation is simply not enough."

While welcoming the Royal Commission and the prospect of Lord Weatherill's amendment to retain 91 hereditaries until stage two, Lord Strathclyde, himself a hereditary peer, warned the Bill could bring to end the delicate balance between the two Houses of Parliament that had served Britain well.

"We are not opposed to reform, but we do oppose these half-baked and self-seeking proposals masquerading as reform. What we will also question are gimmicks masquerading as solutions."

He was joined by Baroness Young, a Tory peer, who urged the Government to make "genuine" progress towards stage two of the reform. "Otherwise we end up with a transitional chamber dressed up in the new buzzword `modernisation' and ... legislation reminiscent of a sixth-form debate."

Viscount Cranborne, who was sacked as Leader of the Lords by William Hague for accepting the deal to keep the 91 hereditaries, regretted the Government was not reforming the Upper Chamber in "one fell swoop". In the Commons, Tony Benn, the Labour MP for Chesterfield who relinquished his peerage to sit in the Commons, voiced concern about government plans to accept the Weatherill amendment.

"Short term hereditary peers will rub shoulders with nominated people's peers who will have a job for life. We are entitled to an elected Parliament," he said.

Kenneth Clarke, the former Tory chancellor, accused the Government of having embarked on Lords reform with "no policy" at all.

"Ministers are hoping the Royal Commission will come up with one. But not so quickly as to interfere with the Government's legislative timetable for the remainder of this Parliament," he said.

Donald Anderson, Labour MP for Swansea East, said Parliament should guard against the Lords becoming a "retired persons' home for politicians".

Dennis Skinner, MP for Bolsover, argued the Royal Commission was a mistake. "We have got a parliament for Scotland, we are going to have a Welsh assembly, they're going to have another in Northern Ireland, in a few years there is going to be one in every region of England. Why on earth do we need a second Chamber at all? Adopt the Third Way - and get rid of it."