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Thursday, December 14, 2000

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People's Peer plan comes a cropper

By Hasan Suroor

LONDON, DEC. 13. The Blair Government's move to give the House of Lords a more egalitarian complexion by appointing ``People's Peers'' is not turning out the way it had imagined, and there is worry that the ``new'' look may do little to change its stodgy image.

The idea was to appoint, every year, eight to ten ordinary people as ``Peers'' to make House of Lords more representative of the diversity of modern Britain but when the last date for applications closed this week, most of the applicants were found to be true to type: old, middle class white male mainly from London and other big cities. The response from ethnic minorities, women and the youth has been disappointingly poor, raising the possibility that the Government might have to exercise positive discrimination in favour of the few who have applied. As of now, however, officials have insisted that merit alone would count, in which case the House of Lords wo-uld end up with more of the same.

Figures published in The Times show that 80 per cent of those who have applied are male, 85 per cent white and 53 per cent come from London and south England. There are only about 600 women among over 3,000 applicants, and ethnic groups account for a mere 15 per cent. Considering that there is virtually no criterion for the job - except that the applicant should not have a criminal record - and that the Government made an extra effort to target the campaign at the younger people, particularly those from ``unconventional'' background, the result is disappointing.

Some attribute this to lack of sufficient publicity and one applicant - a young sportswoman - wrote in her application that she had not heard of the scheme until a few days before the deadline. ``I imagine there are loads of other people like me who would have applied if they had known about it earlier'', she wrote prompting speculation that the Government might re-open the scheme to get the kind of people for whom it is intended. The concept of ``People's Peers'' is a part of the Labour Government's attempt to get the House of Lords shed its ``exclusivist'' character.

It has already done away with the hereditary Peers, and by getting ordinary people into the Upper Chamber, it expects the traditionally insular House of Lords to become more responsive to public mood.

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Section  : International
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