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Thursday, September 17, 1998 Published at 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK


UK Politics

Lords reform - any ideas?

What future for the Lords?

A commission set up by Tory leader William Hague has suggested that a reformed House of Lords could be given power to consider European law and approve government, civil service, diplomatic and judicial appointments.

The suggestion is contained in a range of proposals made in an interim report published by the commission, which is headed by the Conservative former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.

The government plans to do away with hereditary peers - a measure expected in the next Queen's Speech - but there has been growing criticism of its failure to bring forward any alternative.

The option of simply creating more life peers is seen as equally undemocratic because it would give absolute control of the upper house to the prime minister of the day.

An unclear future

Launching the report, Lord Mackay said: "The government has undertaken to change the Lords. However, the shape of its successor is far from clear.

"Our report details a comprehensive range of options for a new second chamber. We hope it will prompt debate and will result in proposals for a chamber which will enhance our constitutional arrangements and make for a stimulating and constructive relationship between the Houses."

Commission member Lord Hurd of Westwell - the Tory former Cabinet minister Douglas Hurd - said that reforming the Lords should be used as an opportunity to rebalance the constitution.

"Far-reaching changes are under way within the United Kingdom through the creation of devolved assemblies. Our existing institutions should also be serving us better in ensuring accountability in our dealings with the European Union," he said.

"Creating a new model for a Second Chamber is an important task to be done with thought, with care and on the basis of informed debate."

Emphasis on elected rmembers

Mr Hurd had earlier told BBC Radio 4 that there was also a "strong case" for not reforming the Lords at all, but that if change did come, then some members should be elected.

"I think it's a good idea that there should be an elected element - it doesn't have to be everybody."

He said the aim would be "not to make the Lords as equal in political strength as the Commons, maybe doing it in a different way, with a different electoral system from the Commons".

Lord Hurd said the commission had not decided to back the abolition of hereditary peers.

The report recognises that composition of the Chamber is likely to be on a representative basis, but asks if members should be selected through either direct or indirect election or perhaps by ex-officio membership or direct appointment.

The commission wants the report to stimulate debate and it wants to receive written contributions by 11 December.

It will then hold a series of public meetings around the UK in the New Year to take the issue out to a wider public.



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