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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 08:13 GMT 09:13 UK
Q&A: House of Lords shake-up
Why is the House of Lords in the news?

The government has announced how it wants to break the deadlock to a second stage of reforming 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 705 peers can sit in the Upper House - 181 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Labour came to power in 1997 with a pledge to reform what it believed was an outdated and undemocratic system.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 Conservative 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.

Did the government adopt these proposals?

Last year, ministers 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.

Did those plans get support?

No. They were attacked not only by the opposition political parties and democracy groups but also by many Labour backbenchers.

The influential cross-party Commons Public Administration Committee said 60% of peers should be elected.

Why was there resistance to the reform plans?

Many campaigners believed they just continued the traditional powers of patronage when what was needed was a truly democratic upper house.

Others believe that there should be a higher proportion of non-political appointees in an effort to maintain a degree of expertise above the political fray.

They believe such independent peers would provide a more effective check on the government.

Those wanting more elected peers argue this role can best be done if the Lords has a democratic mandate, with experts brought in to work on detailed plans.

How does the government plan to make progress now?

Commons Leader Robin Cook and Lord Chancellor Derry Irvine have announced a new joint committee of MPs and peers will be set up.

That means ministers have abandoned five years of work on reform.

The new committee will look initially at the role and composition of the House of Lords and examine how much power it should have.

It will then draw up detailed proposals for reform, with MPs and peers being given a free vote on the options.

How long will that take?

Mr Cook insists the move is not a delaying tactic and says he hopes peers will be elected by the time of the next general election.

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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