Leadership plan to elect more peers

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Indy Politics

Labour avoided an embarrassing defeat on reform of the House of Lords yesterday when delegates backed the leadership in voting for a mainly appointed chamber.

Labour avoided an embarrassing defeat on reform of the House of Lords yesterday when delegates backed the leadership in voting for a mainly appointed chamber.

But the party leadership, which for the previous 24 hours had been working behind the scenes to persuade delegates and union officials to support the official party line, was accused of "heavy handed" tactics by senior Labour figures.

Those campaigning for peers to be elected accused the party of "twisting people's arms". Diana Jeuda, a member of the national executive committee, said: "There has been a lot of heavy leaning by the leadership who didn't want this to go through."

Delegates had forced a vote on a proposal for 50 per cent of the Lords to be elected. But the attempt to change party policy failed despite their pleas for Labour to be "democratic".

Baroness Dean of Thornton- le-Fylde warned delegates that an elected upper chamber could become a clone of the House of Commons. She said it would lead to parliamentary gridlock. She also said that it would not help minority groups gain seats in Parliament.

"We must have our second chamber with a better balance, more women, more ethnic minorities and more people with disabilities," Lady Dean said. "The Tories support an elected House. If they support it there must be something wrong with it when it comes to democracy."

Earlier this month, Mo Mowlam, the Cabinet Office Minister, wrote to delegates urging them to back the party's policy on the chamber.

But Paul Simpson, a member of the national policy forum, said yesterday: "We are in danger of adopting a policy in the House of Lords which is less democratic than what any other party is advocating. Less than 50 per cent elected will fall short of the promise we made to the British people. We are a democratic party, let's have a democratic reform of the second chamber."

Damien Welfare, of the Campaign for a Democratic Upper House, said: "History is on our side. A democratically elected upper house is inevitable. The question is how quickly it comes."

The vote followed a poll which showed that 78 per cent of the electorate favoured a mainly elected House of Lords.

Many of the constituency Labour parties voted against the leadership, and two of Britain's biggest unions, including the GMB, abstained on the vote that would have forced Tony Blair to abandon his policy on the chamber.

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