Blair's adviser on Lords launches attack on reforms

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Indy Politics

Government plans for the House of Lords have run into further trouble after the Conservative peer who was commissioned by the Prime Minister to come up with reforms launched an explicit attack on "Tony's cronies".

Lord Wakeham, who headed an independent commission into the second chamber, said he would not vote for the proposals published in a White Paper.

In his first comments on the Government's plans, the former Tory cabinet minister criticised the lack of an independent appointments panel and the length of term of members. The peer said he remained hopeful ministers would listen to criticisms and revise the proposals during the three-month consultation period.

Labour MPs are angry that only 120 of the 600 members of the new Lords would be elected, well short of the 190 suggested by the Wakeham commission. The proposals include the removal of the remaining 92 hereditary peers as part of the "second stage" of reforms left after the initial reforms of 1999.

Under the plans, only a fifth of the new chamber would be elected by the public, another fifth nominated by an appointments commission and the majority appointed by political parties.

In addition, the proportion of appointed party members would broadly match the distribution of votes between the parties at the most recent general election.

All new appointed members would be appointed for a fixed term, ending the practice of appointing people to Parliament for life. Instead of the 15-year term recommended by the Wakeham commission, comments were invited on whether this period should be as short as five years. The new chamber would be capped at 600 members after a transitional period of 10 years.

Interviewed on the BBC1 Breakfast with Frost programme yesterday, Lord Wakeham said the Government had "got several things wrong" in its White Paper. "First of all I wanted a wholly independent appointments commission. I wanted an end of Tony's cronies or any politician's cronies; I wanted people appointed on an independent basis. And they seem to have gone soft on that.

"Secondly, I wanted the elected element in the House of Lords to be there for a long time rather than a short time because I did not want them to be rivals of the House of Commons. The House of Lords has got to be a revising chamber and separate from the House of Commons. I think their idea of less than 15 years, something like 10 years or even five years would be very damaging.

"And the third thing is that we proposed safeguards in the House of Lords in our proposals which would have stopped any government changing our constitution about dates of elections, things of that sort."

Asked whether he would back the reform package as currently constituted, Lord Wakeham said: "No I wouldn't. But I'm hopeful that they will change some of these things."

The Wakeham commission, which spent more than a year on its proposals, suggested that an independent body should have the final say over peers nominated by political parties.

But the proposal, which was aimed at preventing "cronyism" and making appointments solely on merit, was explicitly rejected by the Government last week. Ministers claimed that it would be impossible for parties to give up the right to appoint their own peers.