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Last Updated: Monday, 9 February, 2004, 16:40 GMT
Ministers press new Lords reform
House of Lords
Tories fear ministers want to exercise control over Lords
An indirectly elected House of Lords could be the solution to reform of the second chamber, ministers suggest.

It would mean the proportion of votes at a general election would determine the balance of parties in the future House of Lords.

The idea came as Commons leader Peter Hain admitted a wholly appointed Lords was "not a durable long term solution".

But Tory Lords leader Lord Strathclyde accused ministers of trying to exercise control over the Lords.

'Encouragement to vote'

More than 600 dukes, earls, marquesses, viscounts and barons were thrown out of the Lords in 1999 leaving behind mostly appointed life peers, bishops and law lords.

MPs are due to vote on a plan to get rid of the remaining 92 hereditary peers later this month.

Tory and Liberal Democrat peers have pledged to fight the legalisation at every stage.

The kind of thing they're floating now I think makes no sense at all and has been accepted by nobody
Tony Wright
Labour MP

But now ministers believe they may have come up with a solution to meet concerns.

Commons leader Peter Hain said: "One idea that may help us to square this circle is to elect the second chamber through a secondary mandate.

"In other words, the proportion of votes at the general election would determine the balance of parties in the second chamber."

As no party ever receives more than 50% of a vote in a general election "there would be no majority in the second chamber" as there is now.

"It would be an added encouragement to vote at general elections as every vote would count ... While fully elected and therefore democratic, it could not fairly claim to have the same mandate as MPs elected personally by their own constituents.

"Whatever the final precise system we reach consensus on, it's clear we do need to find a workable long term solution to the Lords.

"Evidently, a wholly appointed second chamber is not a durable long term solution."

Legislative impasse

Singer songwriter Billy Bragg is so taken with the secondary mandate proposal, he will be discussing it with Constitutional Affairs Secretary Lord Falconer.

Bragg also plans to send a DVD explaining the scheme to all constituency Labour parties.

Billy Bragg
Bragg: Sending DVD on indirect voting to Labour supporters
He told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "The whole point of the secondary mandate is to make everybody's vote count.

"Part of the reason why it's on the agenda again is because the Conservative leader of the House of Lords ... has said that unless the government explains what they are going to replace the hereditaries with, then the House of Lords is going to completely bung up the legislative process.

"I think that has focused everybody's minds. The Tories are playing politics on this and the Labour Party has a practical answer which is also good for our democracy and good for the country."

'Makes no sense'

But Tony Wright, Labour chair of the Commons public accounts committee, dismissed the ministers' proposal as "disastrous".

"It's absolutely clear they have got to come back with a scheme for a properly reformed House of Lords. They haven't got one. The kind of thing they're floating now I think makes no sense at all and has been accepted by nobody."

Lord Strathclyde said this was "not the way that we should be reforming the second" chamber.

"If they want to come through with proposals on indirect elections, then let's debate them.

"The fact they haven't come forward with a proper and coherent public statement leads me to believe they have no intention of doing anything other than trying to control the second chamber as effectively as they control the first."

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Lord Falconer also worries that too many judges are white and male"

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