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Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, 12:17 GMT
Q&A: House of Lords reform
MPs and peers will be voting on what proportion, if any, of the House of Lords should be elected.

BBC News Online political correspondent Nyta Mann lays out exactly what options they are choosing from, and why.

Haven't we already reformed the House of Lords?

Only up to a point. In its first term, Tony Blair's government got rid of most hereditary peers from the House of Lords as a "first stage" of reform on the way to a more democratic second chamber.

This banished those people who were there by pure accident of birth rather than merit. But it left a Lords that was almost wholly appointed - a chamber of "Tony's cronies", according to critics of the prime minister.

This latest second stage of reform is meant to deal with this problem.

What exactly are MPs and peers voting on, then?

They face a veritable multiple choice of votes. A committee was set up to propose a way forward and has come up with seven options for MPs and peers to choose from, ranging from wholly elected to wholly appointed, with varying percentages of each in between.

But surely Tony Blair backs an elected Lords?

Not now, he doesn't. He intends to fly back from the Anglo-French Le Touquet summit to vote to block an elected upper House.

Why the change?

New Labour's 1997 manifesto promised to make the Lords "more democratic and representative". Since then, his government has faced persistent trouble getting controversial legislation through the Lords - unlike the Commons where he enjoys a gargantuan majority.

The cooling towards the idea of an elected Lords was evident by the time of the government's own November 2001 white paper on further reform. It proposed just 20% should be elected, causing deep disappointment among many Blairite MPs long in favour of constitutional reform.

Last week, Mr Blair put to rest growing speculation by coming out for a wholly appointed second chamber. He isn't alone in the cabinet on this: Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Home Secretary David Blunkett and the Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine are among the senior colleagues who agree with him.

What Downing Street appears to favour now is a second chamber which would have members of the UK's devolved assemblies providing the "elected element".

So is the government's position now that it is in favour of an appointed Lords?

Not quite. It is a free vote, so MPs can vote as they please. But Mr Blair's view is bound to have an effect on what some of his backbenchers do.

What are the chances of a rebellion?

As it is a free vote Downing Street is keen to say that people voting against Tony Blair's view would not be rebelling as they have not been told to vote a particular way.

But there are many who will vote against Mr Blair's preference - not least Leader of the House Robin Cook, a longtime constitutional reformer who has made no secret of his disagreement with the prime minister on this issue.

Others expected to back either a fully or significantly elected Lords include Welsh Secretary Peter Hain, Education Secretary Charles Clarke, and ministers Yvette Cooper, Stephen Twigg, David Miliband and Ben Bradshaw.

When will this second stage of reform take place?

It would be safest to say don't hold your breath. For the last century, Lords reform is a task many have set out on only to retire defeated. After this vote, the Joint Committee on Lords reform, which came up with the seven options on offer, will once again convene and discuss the issue before reporting back to parliament.

What exactly are those options Parliament will be voting on?

There are seven of them:

  • Fully appointed
  • Fully elected
  • 80/20% appointed/elected
  • 20/80% appointed/elected
  • 60/40% appointed/elected
  • 40/60% appointed/elected
  • 50/50% appointed/elected

  • Talking PointTALKING POINT
    House of Lords
    How should it be reformed?
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