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John Pienaar reports for BBC News
"The Royal Commission ruled out a wholly elected second chamber"
 real 28k

Royal Commission Chairman Lord Wakeham
"This will be a powerful body"
 real 28k

Thursday, 20 January, 2000, 15:28 GMT
Lords reforms 'will not be shelved'

Wakeham: 'Solid basis for successful reform'

The government has denied it is reluctant to implement a Royal Commission's proposals to introduce limited elections for the House of Lords.

Proposals for a new-look second chamber were unveiled by Lord Wakeham on Thursday, and set out the case "for radical evolutionary change which will contribute to better government for all".

The new House of Lords would have around 550 members with a significant elected minority from the regions.
Lords Reform

The commission panel, chaired by the Conservative ex-cabinet minister, said it was determined to make recommendations that were not only "persuasive and intellectually coherent but also workable, durable and politically realistic".

The government came under attack in the Commons for not making an immediate response to the report, but Commons Leader Margaret Beckett insisted that there was no intention to delay reform.

Mrs Beckett said the government would make a statement when it had time to study it.

The Government is not anxious to delay.
Margaret Beckett
The government denied suggestions that Prime Minister Tony Blair intends to shelve the recommendations because he opposes introducing an elected element into the Lords.

A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Blair was pleased that Lord Wakeham had delivered "a very, very good report".

But although the report proposes direct elections to the upper house, it has disappointed many pro-reformers by ruling out the option of a wholly elected chamber.

Our proposals would produce a chamber with the authority and confidence to carry out a vital role at the heart of the UK's system of parliamentary democracy
Lord Wakeham

Instead it proposes a range of options, none of which allows for anything more than a minority of elected members from the regions.

Around 20% of the membership would be made up of independent cross benchers, and existing life peers would stay on to ensure a smooth change over to the new arrangements.

Most members would remain appointed by an independent commission.

Speaking at report's launch, Lord Wakeham said: "Our recommendations build on the strengths of the present House of Lords, but incorporate a number of radical new features."

Key recommendations include:

  • The political balance of the second chamber should reflect votes cast at the general election;
  • Directly-elected regional members to provide a voice for the UK's nations and regions;
  • A totally independent appointments system, in which the prime minister and government would play no part;
  • A statutory minimum of 30% women members, fair representation for ethnic minority groups, and a broader range of religious representation than at present;
  • Increased powers to scrutinise scrutinise the executive and challenge government legislation.

'Authority and confidence'

The report will propose an independent appointments commission
"Our proposals would produce a chamber with the authority and confidence to carry out a vital role at the heart of the UK's system of parliamentary democracy," said Lord Wakeham.

"Its members should come from all walks of life and be representative of the whole of British society."

The report follows last year's landmark scrapping of the right to sit and vote in the Lords of more than 600 hereditary peers.

Just 92 hereditaries remain in the upper house on a temporary basis, along with life peers and bishops.

The commission's proposals will go before a joint committee of both the Commons and Lords for further examination.

Reform waits until after election

The government is thought to have cooled on the idea of enacting further reform before the next general election, raising fears that the issue will be kicked into the long grass - leaving a chamber of predominantly unelected life peers.

But Lords leader Baroness Jay insisted the report would not be on a back-burner.

She said: "We have no intention whatsoever of shelving further House of Lords reform."

Tony Blair: The signs are that he wants to delay enacting any further reform
Answering questions at the report's launch, Lord Wakeham denied he was disappointed by signs that the government wished to delay implementation of his recommendations.

"I'm not the remotest bit disappointed," he insisted.

"I believe the right course of action for the government is to read the report before coming to a conclusion and I have every good reason to understand that that is exactly what they are going to do."

"I do not believe they have made their minds up at all as to what they are going to do."

He also denied the commission was split because it had put forward three different alternatives for electing a minority of members to the reformed second chamber.

"We are totally agreed that there should be a minority of regional members, we are totally agreed on the length of the term that they should serve, we are all agreed they should not be able to stand again and we are also agreed on the restriction of their ability to go back to the House of Commons.

"The only bit we are disagreeing about is exactly the numbers and the way we do it."

Lord Wakeham also defended the decision not to recommend a totally elected second chamber.

He said when the commission had travelled round the country people had told them they did not want a second chamber with politicians "banging on at each other" like they did in the Commons.

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See also:
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Lords reform at a glance
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