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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 13:56 GMT
Q&A: House of Lords shake-up
Why is the House of Lords in the news?

The government is unveiling its latest proposals for the reform of the House of Lords.

What is the House of Lords?

It is the second chamber of the UK Parliament and has the power to scrutinise and delay legislation put forward by the government in the House of Commons.

What did the first stage of reform involve?

People with hereditary titles made up a substantial proportion of the Upper House until the first raft of reform was pushed through.

Only 92 hereditaries now remain including dukes, earls and viscounts in a deal hammered out between the former leader of the Tories in the Lords, Lord Cranbourne, and the government.

How many peers are entitled to sit in the Lords at the moment?

Currently 704 peers can sit in the Upper House - 180 of those are 'crossbenchers' with no party affiliation.

When was the Lords founded?

In the 14th century two separate houses came into being.

What was to become the Lords was composed of religious leaders (Lords Spiritual) and the magnates (Lords Temporal).

The beginnings of the Commons was made up of shire and borough representatives.

Why was the reform begun?

Labour came to power in 1997 with a pledge to reform what it believed was an outdated and undemocratic system.

The key element of this process was the ending of the hereditary peerage system, whereby someone could sit in the House of Lords by inheriting a title from their father.

What happened next?

A Royal Commission was set up to examine further possible ways of reforming the Lords after the stage one reform. It was chaired by Tory peer Lord Wakeham.

What were their recommendations?

The report called for a new chamber of about 550 members with between 65 and 195 made up of elected members from the regions.

It rejected demands for a wholly elected chamber and said the remainder should be chosen by an independent appointments commission to reflect British society as a whole.

Has the government adopted these proposals?

It recommended that 20% of the House of Lords should be elected by the public, with the remaining hereditary peers removed.

A further 20% would be appointed by an independent appointments commission.

The remaining 60% would be political nominees chosen according to each party's share of the vote at the general election.

Why is there resistance to the reform plans?

It has been argued that the House of Lords was able to rise above the fray of party politics and offer a degree of expertise and independence to scrutinise plans put forward by political parties.

More than 100 Labour MPs have signed a motion calling for an entirely, or near entirely elected House of Lords.

Others believe that there should be a higher proportion of non-political appointees.

They fear that the House of Lords could be packed with government appointees, and therefore be less likely to act as a check or counter balance to the government of the day.

See also:

07 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Anger mounts over Lords reform
26 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Jenkins urges voting reform
20 Jun 01 | UK Politics
House of Lords reform promised
08 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Wakeham defends Lords report
20 Jan 00 | UK Politics
Lords reform proposals at a glance
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