War between parties in Lords escalates

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The Independent Online
THE Government yesterday threatened the use of the Parliament Act to demolish the threat by Tory peers to use the House of Lords to block measures in the next Queen's Speech.

The growing hostility between the Government and the Opposition in the Lords shows that a complete breakdown is near in the Government's attempts to win cross-party support for its reforms to the Lords, which could lead to a constitutional clash between MPs and the Lords.

Viscount Cranborne, the Tory leader in the Lords, provoked a full-scale war of words when he threatened to use a Tory majority in the Lords to block government bills in protest at ministers' handling of Lords reform.

Lord Cranborne said ministers should "come clean" about their plans, which include, as a first step, removing the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the Lords.

Lord Richard, the Leader of the Lords, hit back yesterday by warning that the Government would use its ultimate deterrent to force the Queen's Speech through the Lords, if the Tories try to block it.

Lord Richard told a news conference at Westminster yesterday: "If the Tories are going to pretend we have not got a mandate for this reform, they are wrong. They can stop the Bill in the Lords.

"If the Tories want to play their games they can wreck the Bill sufficiently by amendments to make it unrecognisable, then, in that case, we will use the Parliament Act. The Tories should not forget that.

"The idea we are going to be pushed away from this reform by such threats is ludicrous," he said.

Lord Richard made clear his disdain for what he called Lord Cranborne's "blast" yesterday. He said it was like "sabre-rattling with a somewhat rusty sword.

"The idea that in 1998 and 1999 we are going to have another Tory hereditary peers versus the people row seems frankly ludicrous.

"The truth of the matter is that the Conservative Party have been playing with this issue since we started trying to get a consensus for it. This is the latest stage in their games ploy."

Lord Richard said the Tories were divided and could not make up their minds about the future of the hereditary peerage.

"Are the Opposition really saying they are going to wreck the whole of the Government's programme next year in order to protect the hereditary principle and their hereditary votes in the Lords? I find that very difficult to believe."

Lord Richard promised he had no plans to swamp the House of Lords with 1,000 Labour peers. "It would be unmanageable," he added.

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