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EDITIONS
Thursday, 6 February, 2003, 13:52 GMT
New path floated for Lords reform
House of Lords
The Lords reform saga continues
Indirect elections could be the way to reform the House of Lords, according to the chairman of the committee in charge of plans for change.

Labour MP Jack Cunningham's suggestion comes after Tuesday's votes in Parliament left reform efforts in disarray.

MPs rejected all seven options, while the House of Lords backed Tony Blair's preference of an all-appointed second chamber.

Seven options
100% elected
80% appointed, 20% elected
20% appointed, 80% elected
60% appointed, 40% elected
40% appointed, 60% elected
50% appointed, 50% elected
100% appointed

Mr Cunningham's joint committee of MPs and peers will discuss the votes on 25 February.

But Commons leader Robin Cook, who led the charge for a mostly-elected second chamber, said he did not want the process to "continue for a further 18 years".

"It's important if we make a change, we make a change that will stand the test of time," he told MPs.

Mr Cunningham, a former minister, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is at least worth examining whether people could be brought into the House of Lords on the basis of indirect elections.

"It would be a significant change. It would enable use to get better regional representation, better gender balance and a much better age profile."

Under the system, which has also been backed by Labour MP Clive Soley, members of the second chamber would be chosen by local councillors and members of new regional assemblies.

Way ahead?

Supporters of the scheme argue the scheme would have more legitimacy than simple appointment.

But it would not rival the authority of the Commons and would get round the problem of low voter turnout.

Mr Cunningham noted that the only change which got majority support when the votes of both peers and MPs were added together was an all-appointed upper house.

Jack Cunningham, chairman of the Lords reform committee
Cunningham's committee faces a tough task
He said: "The question is does Parliament, as well as the government, want to continue with any reform and if that is so, what can the joint committee do."

The committee could, for example, look at removing the 92 remaining hereditary peers and establishing a statutory independent appointments system.

The committee had also not yet tackled the question of whether bishops and law lords should keep their current roles in the House of Lords.

Arm-twisting

Mr Cunningham suggested Labour whips had worked to get MPs to vote for Mr Blair's preference of an all-appointed house - which was defeated by 323 votes to 245.

Tony Blair
Blair's preference was at least rejected by peers
But he argued the prime minister would have been criticised had he not given his opinion in public ahead of the vote.

And there had been intensive campaigning from all sides of the argument.

"I don't think in the circumstances and the prevailing climate very many people were arm-twisted into doing anything they weren't going to do anyway."

In the Commons, shadow leader Eric Forth called for a "complete re-run" of Tuesday's votes because he had been "astonished to find" that the prime minister had only voted once, Chancellor Gordon Brown had failed to vote and "it wasn't a free vote at all".

Mr Cook retorted that the majority of Conservative MPs had voted against the party's policy for an 80% elected chamber.

"The fact of the matter is, all options were defeated on Tuesday - there were no winners ..." he said.

"The bottom line is there will be no reform of the House of Lords until there is a majority vote in the House of Commons."

Into the mire

Veteran Labour MP Tam Dalyell said the reform issue should be allowed to lie "for a bit", especially with more important issues looming, such as possible war.

Mr Dalyell was parliamentary aide to Dick Crossman when his Lords reform efforts in the 1960s foundered in the face of allied opposition from Michael Foot and Enoch Powell.

He told Today: "It's like sinking into the mire that is described in the Hound of the Baskervilles...

"Any solution is going to get into a mire."

Mr Dalyell argued the worst solution was a mixture of appointed and elected peers.

Former Conservative minister Douglas Hogg disagreed, but stressed he favoured a wholly elected second chamber.

Mr Hogg said he was "deeply depressed" by the votes, adding that an effective House of Lords was needed because the Commons was the "creature of the prime minister of the day".

 VOTE RESULTS
House of Lords reform

Elected
 53.81% 

Appointed
 17.01% 

A mixture of both
 29.19% 

4598 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


Talking PointTALKING POINT
House of Lords
How should it be reformed?
See also:

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