Brown signals push to fulfil Cook's vision for the Lords

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown used a memorial service for the former foreign secretary Robin Cook yesterday to signal that he wants to push ahead with reforming the House of Lords.

The Chancellor was speaking at St Margaret's Church, Westminster, where Tony Blair led a congregation of more than 850 people in a tribute to Mr Cook, who died in August.

Listing his achievements, Mr Brown pointed out that during Mr Cook's spell as Leader of the Commons: "He came within a few votes of achieving his ambition of a fully elected House of Lords." Mr Cook's attempt to create an elected House of Lords was rejected by the Commons in February 2003, after public opposition from Tony Blair. One MP who was in the congregation said: "I can't think Tony Blair enjoyed hearing that. Gordon wouldn't have said it like that if he didn't agree with Robin."

Mr Brown described Mr Cook as "the greatest parliamentarian of his generation" and hinted at the well-known rift between the two men, which continued for most of the time that they were in the Commons but was made up towards the end of Mr Cook's life. The Chancellor said: "We were tremendous friends in the beginning and again at the end, but not too much in between. I wish it had been better in the middle, and I regret that." The congregation also heard a warm tribute from the former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who described Mr Cook him as the "guiding force" over the intervention in Kosovo.

Tony Blair read the lesson. One of Mr Cook's sons, Peter, read from his father's columns in The Guardian and the Evening Standard. His other son, Chris, read a poem by Philip Larkin.

The congregation included international diplomats, as well as the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, representatives from various socialist movements, the Racehorse Association, the Horse Racing Levy Board and the British Horseracing Board.

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