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Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK
House of Lords reform promised
House of Lords
Reform of the second chamber will spark controversy
Further reform of the House of Lords to create a majority of appointed members has been announced.

We do need to change our composition and we shall

Lord Williams of Mostyn

The House of Lords Bill, announced on Wednesday in the Queen's Speech, promises to create a second chamber "better equipped" to work alongside the House of Commons.

The government has promised there will also be a new electoral system to choose the elected members.

But a constitutional reform pressure group says the changes are undemocratic and has called for a committee of both Houses to reconsider the future make-up of the upper house.

Lord Williams of Mostyn, the new leader of the House, has said the time is ripe for change of the upper chamber.

Hereditary peers

The reforms, to be introduced after consultation, will also see the continued removal of hereditary peers which, in the first stage, resulted in over 600 being axed.

But the constitutional reform pressure group Charter88 said the legislation did not go far enough in making the upper chamber more democratic.

Labour peer Melvyn Bragg
Melvyn Bragg was appointed to the Lords in 1998

Its deputy director Chris Lawrence-Pietroni said the government remained committed to a largely appointed chamber.

He said: "This would lack the democratic legitimacy and public confidence to do its job of scrutinising legislation and holding the government to account."

Mr Blair has come under repeated fire for "cronyism" in his appointment of peers.

Chief among Charter88's criticisms was the appointment of Sally Morgan, who was given a peerage and made minister for women in the government's post-election reshuffle.

Voter support

Mr Lawrence-Pietroni said that a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament should be established.

"It would develop proposals for reform that can command the support of the voters as well as across the political parties," he said.

The reforms are also likely to ignite the wrath of Labour peers.

Lord Melvyn Bragg is prominent among those who previously warned that they would oppose the reforms by demanding that more of the second chamber be elected.

Dozens of Labour MPs, MEPs and peers were so incensed by Prime Minister Tony Blair's previous reforms that they joined a group, the Campaign for the Democratic Upper House, to lobby against the government.

The government says it is committed to implementing the proposals of the Wakeham Commission into the reform of the House of Lords in the most effective way possible.

it is unclear yet how exactly the House of Lords would be split between elected and appointed peers.

But Lord Wakeham's proposals included provision that only 12 per cent of peers be elected.

The first stage of reforms left 92 elected hereditaries on a temporary basis, appointed life peers, Church of England bishops and law lords.

Democracy cornerstone

Ministers believe the further reform would "preserve the position of the House of Commons as the cornerstone of our democracy".

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "It would reduce the ability of any government to pack the House with its supporters and would open the way to modernisation of the way the House works."

The new leader of the House of Lords, Lord Williams said: "We do need to change our composition and we shall.

"We do need to improve our working practices and we must."

He said that he hoped a small leader's group would be set up to draw up proposals for the House of Lords to find ways to better serve the wider public interest.

It had been expected that the government would steer clear from further reform of the House of Lords in this Queen's Speech.

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See also:

15 Oct 98 | R-S
27 Mar 01 | Facts
08 Mar 00 | UK Politics
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