Labor takes aim at Britain's House of Lords
Party leader wants to strip hereditary peers of voting rights
April 9, 1997
Web posted at: 5:55 p.m. EDT (2155 GMT)
From Correspondent Siobhan Darrow
LONDON (CNN) -- The hereditary peers sit for life in
Britain's upper chamber, the House of Lords. They have earned
their right to that seat, as they have for hundreds of years,
by virtue of their birth.
They wear wigs and have titles like viscount, baron and earl.
Some are descended from kings, although the connection
sometimes is convoluted.
Take Duke of St. Albans, for example. The duke hails from the
bastard offspring of King Charles II or the Earl of Onslow.
And a distant relative was a drinking buddy of King George
As British as the queen, Beefeaters or an English pub, the
hereditary peers defend their place as a British tradition.
"People get their morals, ideas, philosophy from their
forebears," says Lord Mancroft. "There's nothing particularly
strange about also passing political power down."
But Britain's Labor Party disagrees.
"It is a fundamental principle of democratic government that
people who pass laws should be elected to do that, shouldn't
be born to do that," says Robin Cook, Labor's shadow Foreign
Lord Merrivale, who inherited his title through his
grandfather's service to the crown, counters that being
elected to parliament does not guarantee more knowledge about
the country's issues.
Labor Party leader Tony Blair calls the upper chamber an
anachronism full of dotty old eccentrics, occasionally hauled
in from their country homes as Tory voting fodder. Labor
wants to take away voting rights of the hereditary peers, who
make up two-thirds of the upper chamber.
But Lord Mancroft says Blair's opposition is simply a ruse to
"get rid of ... those members who he perceives quite rightly
won't vote for him."
The clash between the aristocracy and democracy is nothing
new in this country. For more than a century commoners have
whittled away at the powers of the House of Lords.
With a general election looming and Labor well ahead in the
pools, the blue bloods are bracing for another assault on one
of their last trappings of power.
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