Hereditary peers fight for survival ends in defeat

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Hereditary peers have lost their historic rights to sit and vote in the House of Lords despite 11th-hour attempts by die-hard peers to disrupt the legislation.

Hereditary peers have lost their historic rights to sit and vote in the House of Lords despite 11th-hour attempts by die-hard peers to disrupt the legislation.

The Government won the vote on the third reading of the House of Lords Bill 221 votes to 81 after a battle lasting more than six months and hundreds of hours of debate.

The start of the third reading debate was marked by a protest by the Earl of Burford who sparked uproar when he leapt onto the Woolsack to denounce the legislation.

Lord Burford, who had been allowed into the Chamber to watch proceedings from the Steps of the Throne as the eldest son of the Duke of St Albans, was pulled down by ushers and ordered out of the peersÿ entrance by Black Rod, General Sir Edward Jones.

However, while rebel hereditaries opposed the measure, the Tory front bench had pledged to abstain in the crucial vote, unwilling to risk the so-called "Weatherill compromise".

Under the deal, proposed by Lord Weatherill, who is the chairman of the crossbenchers, 92 hereditaries will be retained during the interim stage of reform.

They have already submitted their election manifestos and the final list of those who will be allowed to stay will be announced next Friday.

But the vote did not mark the end of the Bill's passage through Parliament, because it will now return to the Commons, where the Government will reverse two defeats inflicted by peers. But ministers, who said they would agree to keep 92 hereditaries in return for their willingness not to disrupt the parliamentary timetable, are likely to delay the return of the Bill to MPs until peers have passed remaining controversial legislation such as the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill.

Ministers are also likely to face a backbench rebellion over the Weatherill amendment by MPs committed to a fully elected second chamber.

During the debate Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor, rejected Tory amendments that would limit the number of the transitional House of Lords to 750.

Lord Kingsland, moving the amendment, said the restriction would be an incentive for the Government to implement stage two of reform not long after the Royal Commission on House of Lords reform reports early next year.

"If we adjust the House of Lords with parity and proportionality, if we want the second chamber to be a photograph of the first, we will have over 1,000 peers by the next general election, which is far too high," he said.

But Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, the Liberal Democrat Lords leader, said the prospect of limiting the scope for further life peers should be a "sobering thought" for many former cabinet ministers and "those who have made substantial contribution to party funding".

Lord Cranborne, who was sacked as the Tory Lords leader for negotiating the Weatherill deal behind William Hague's back, urged the Lord Chancellor to add "pepper and salt" to his undertakings that there would be no delay in bringing forward stage two of reform.

The Lord Chancellor stressed that he did not want to include any proposals in the Bill that would influence the conclusions and recommendations for stage two of reform.

"The transitional composition should relate to balancing the forces in this House, and not the number," he said.

He also renewed his undertaking that the reform of the House of Lords would not stop with the abolition of hereditaries' voting and sitting rights.

Earlier, Lord Coleraine called for changes to the legislation, which would allow a further 90 hereditaries to keep their Lords seats with the right to speak but not to vote.

But Lord Strathclyde, the Tory leader of the Lords, warned him that "in creating a class of non-voting peers, we would be including in our number a class of second-class peers." Dismissing the amendment, Lord Carter, the government Chief Whip added: "Our commitment to the principle of ending the right of privileged access to this House by reason of birth is not dimmed and it applies to those who might not vote as much as to those who may."

Lord Richard, the former Labour leader of the Lords, stressed that most of the 17 tabled amendments had been discussed before and did not "add anything new" to the debate.

Later in the debate, Lord Strathclyde said: "What angers so many of my friends in the House of Lords is that we are heading down a road - Lords leader Baroness Jay calls it reform; I don't use that word - where we have no idea what is going to happen next." But Lady Jay insisted: "It is a vastly undemocratic set-up in which huge numbers of people are born to automatic right to seats in the Houses of Parliament at the end of the 20th century going into the 21st century."

The most serious challenge to the Bill's passage was by Lord Tebbit, the Tory peer, who said hereditaries should stay until the next general election instead of the end of this parliamentary session next month. But other opponents of the legislation softened their opposition. Lord Onslow, who before had threatened to use the tactics of a football hooligan but has now put himself forward for election to one of the 92 seats, said he would vote with the Government, because ministers had come "halfway to meeting my demands".

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