Lords threaten to reduce Labour programme to a 'shambles'

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Indy Politics

The Conservatives are threatening to reduce the Government's programme to "a shambles" in the House of Lords if ministers do not back down over plans to remove the remaining hereditary peers from the upper chamber.

Lord Strathclyde, the Opposition Leader in the Lords, said the Government could face a repeat of November's parliamentary log jam which threatened to kill legislation on foundation hospitals and limits to the right to trial by jury.

In an interview with The Independent, he called on Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, to set up a constitutional committee of MPs and peers to review plans to remove the 92 remaining hereditary peers, set up a new supreme court and abolish the centuries-old post of Lord Chancellor.

"I don't think we want to look too closely at the shambles the government programme could end up in, because it can all be so easily avoided," he said.

Lord Strathclyde insisted that opposition parties in the Lords had to act with caution, but warned that individual lords could make life difficult for the Government.

The peers' symbolic defeat of the Queen's Speech in November, an act of defiance last seen in 1914, was designed to highlight the growing anger over Lords reform, he said. The discontent could "spill over" to other legislation such as university top-up fees.

Ministers face a potential opposition alliance of Liberal Democrat and Conservative peers, with both parties in favour of a largely elected House of Lords and opposed to university top-up fees.

The two parties proved devastating in the last session, forcing David Blunkett to shelve plans to limit the right to trial by jury in complex fraud cases and only backing down over foundation hospitals at the 11th hour before the Bill was killed at the end of the last Parliamentary session. But Lord Strathclyde said Opposition peers could also rely on support from crossbenchers and many Labour members. "I'm sure they had a miserable time at the end of the last session. I can't believe they think it's going to get any better in this session."

He accused ministers of breaking promises to move to a full second stage of Lords reform and instead threatening simply to remove the remaining hereditary peers.

"You can't believe these people. They talk about a stage two, they break their promises on that, they break their undertakings to Parliament at the dispatch box. Now they think they can get away with saying there will be a stage three in due course. It is too much for people to accept at face value and I certainly don't.

"Apart from the political issue that this Bill removes 20 per cent of all non-government peers, including 50 Conservatives, and incidentally, the Leader of the House of Lords for the opposition. This is not the full and fundamental reform the Government has promised. Democracy is complicated when it comes to this chamber but a number of proposals are on the table and the Government seem to be running shy of what it boasted about, the radical reforming zeal."