Hoon: ban Lords from challenging controversial Bills

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Britain's peers would be legally forbidden from challenging controversial legislation, such as the ID cards Bill and the ban on glorifying terrorism, under a radical constitutional reform proposed by Geoff Hoon.

In today's Independent on Sunday, the Leader of the Commons says the time has come to settle once and for all the battle of wills between MPs and peers.

The breakdown of the tradition that the Lords do not block manifesto commitments, known as the Salisbury Convention, means Britain has entered "uncharted constitutional waters", he says.

"The debate on powers could be resolved by making established conventions, such as the Salisbury Convention, legally binding to ensure the primacy of the Commons," he writes.

But such a move would be hugely controversial, and Mr Hoon knows that even raising the prospect will raise howls of protest across the political spectrum. Ministers have grown increasingly angry after a series of defeats in the House of Lords, most notably over the creation of a new offence outlawing the glorification of terrorism. A new battle will be joined tomorrow when Tory peers try to wreck the Government's Bill to introduce a national ID card. They plan to table amendments allowing opt-outs from the scheme.

Labour's narrow majority in the second chamber means it is far more vulnerable to Lords' defeats than Conservative governments were. Although Tony Blair's administration managed to remove most hereditary peers, further reform has stalled amid disagreements over whether peers should be elected, appointed or a mixture of both. The last, so-called hybrid, option recently won the backing of Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, and Lady Amos, Leader of the Lords.

But Mr Hoon makes little effort to disguise his opposition to elected peers today in his article, which is certain to reignite a cabinet row over Lords reform.

"Having elected members in the second chamber, probably made up of politicians who were unable to get seats in the House of Commons, would change the entire nature of the legislature," he says. "It would also have implications for its relationship with the House of Commons. We only have to look to other nations, such as Italy, to see there are real dangers in having two rival elected chambers at permanent loggerheads."

Lord Lester, the Liberal Democrat constitutional expert, rounded on the proposal to legally limit the Lords' powers. "This is a wholly unacceptable attempt to increase the power of this elective dictatorship when what is needed, instead, is for it to be bridled."

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