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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 September, 2004, 13:24 GMT 14:24 UK
Early changes promised for Lords
House of Lords
Lords reform remains unfinished
Labour would move to make the House of Lords more democratic soon after being re-elected, Constitutional Affairs Secretary Lord Falconer has said.

He accepted calls for reforms which could include directly or indirectly electing peers or appointing them by a democratic body.

Labour's conference in Brighton has also heard appeals for the voting age for elections to be lowered to 16.

The elections watchdog opposes the move but the government is considering it.

Deadlock

Previous attempts at completing Lords reform foundered when MPs and peers failed to agree on seven options for change.

There are still 92 hereditary peers sitting in the second chamber but a Bill which would have removed them has been shelved until after the next election.

Lord Falconer said there had been arguments about the issue for too long.

Baroness Amos
Amos: Predicted opposition

"There are too many reasons why every proposed solution fails," he said.

"We need between now and the preparation of our manifesto to identify a solution which makes for a representative chamber, and then commit ourselves to it, in the manifesto."

He agreed to accept a policy change which said the Lords had to be as democratic as possible including direct or indirect elections or appointment by a democratic body, or a mix of the three.

That kept all options open, he stressed.

Voting fairness

Calls for lowering the voting age were not pressed to a vote on the conference floor.

Unison delegate Graham Carswell said it sent the wrong message if 16-year-olds could work, marry, pay tax and join the armed forces but not vote.

But 20-year-old Liz Naylor, from Sheffield, said she would love to live in a world where 16-year-olds would take an hour off from texting their friends to exercise their democratic rights - but that was not reality.

The Electoral Commission has rejected the idea, saying it did not have enough public support.

Lord Falconer acknowledged the arguments in favour of changing the voting age.

He said the government would continue to keep an open mind and respond to the commission's report in due course.

"We don't want make changes which fail to obtain the buy-in from the public we need," he added.

Reconnecting

Lords Leader Baroness Amos said further Lords reform would be "opposed by those determined to cling on to their ancient privileges".

"The same people who have always used the Lords as a political tool to attack Labour governments," she said.

Lady Amos urged delegates to remember how much progress had been made on the issue but said the government had been blocked 88 times in the last parliamentary session.

She described disengagement as the greatest threat Labour faced and said the party had to do more to convince people that politics could change people's lives.

"Imagine what Emmeline Pankhurst would have thought if she had know the turnout was just 59% at the last general election," she said.

Lady Amos said she was proud to be the first black woman Cabinet minister but she would be prouder still to see the first elected black woman in a British Cabinet.

Quentin Williamson, for the UK Independence Party, said: "Most Labour proposals for constitutional reform are intended only to benefit the Labour Party... They would do better to look at the over-representation of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland."




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