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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 12:23 GMT
Lords 'should be 60% elected'
House of Lords
Lords reform is a highly controversial issue
A Labour-dominated House of Commons committee has said that a reformed House of Lords should be 60% elected.

The suggestion - which is in marked contrast to the government's own plans for reform - is one of a series of recommendations by the Public Administration Committee (PASC).

Main proposals
Reduce chamber by more than half to 350 members
60% of the chamber should be elected
40% of the chamber should be nominated
Appointed members to be chosen by independent commission
Government must accept that political nominees be appointed by the commission
Life peers no longer have seats for life
Life peers must seek election or nomination to stay on
Bishops and law lords lose their right to sit
No major changes needed to the role or functions of second chamber
Their report follows immense disquiet on the government's benches over its plans to make just one fifth of a reformed upper chamber elected.

Branding the government's obsession with ensuring the "pre-eminence" of the Commons as "fundamentally misconceived" the report goes on to suggest that if the PASC can find consensus on an issue like Lords' reform then so can the House of Commons.

Committee Chairman Tony Wright said: "What this report shows is that it is perfectly possible to make progress on Lords reform on an agreed basis if there is the will to do so.

"It is simply not true that the range of opinions make this impossible."

Democratic legitimacy

The reason the committee backs a majority-elected upper house is because democratic elections would give it the legitimacy to hold the government to account.

"There is ample evidence that, for all its expertise and experience, it does not have enough confidence in its own legitimacy," the report says.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's preferred option is a system where about 60% of the chamber is nominated by political parties with a further fifth to be appointed by an appointments commission.

Dr Tony Wright
Dr Wright is chairman of the Public Administration Committee
But following criticism from opposition as well as its own benches the government has indicated it is prepared to modify its plans.

Another recommendation of the committee is to reduce the size of the second chamber over a 10-year period from its current 750 to 350 which would bring into line with its equivalents abroad.

The elected members would enter the chamber in two stages with half arriving at the next general election and rest at the election after.

Under the proposals existing life peers, law lords and bishops would after a time cease to have a right to a seat in the second chamber - although there would be a chance to seek either nomination or election to remain.

The report admits that its proposals were something of a compromise.

Early change wanted

"Had we started with a clean slate, we might well have come to a different conclusion.

"Indeed the majority preference on the committee would have been for a wholly elected and much smaller second chamber.

"However we all share a desire for a stronger and more effective Parliament, and we see early and credible reform of the second chamber as an essential part of that."

It adds that the government would be "very unlikely to achieve a consensus of opinion in the House of Commons in favour of the White Paper proposals on composition".

That view is supported by the sheer volume of Labour MPs who have said privately or publicly that they oppose the government plans.

The rest of the Commons largely supports an elected upper chamber.

Charter88, which campaigns for constitutional reform, said the committee's report showed the "forces of conservatism" in the government were now standing in the way of democratic reform.

"The evidence heard by the Public Administration Committee clearly demonstrates that the government has lost the argument," a spokesman said.

See also:

10 Jan 02 | UK Politics
We'll listen to Lords complaints - Cook
09 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Growing anger over Lords reform
07 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Lords reform plans at-a-glance
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