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Monday, July 26, 1999 Published at 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK

UK Politics

Public must be heard on Lords reform

Reform will fail unless the public back it says Pam Giddy

In a second of a series of articles on Lords reform written for BBC News Online, Pam Giddy, the director of the pressure group for greater democracy Charter88, argues that the government may not be listening to the public. To send us your views click here.

They are reforming the Lords. They are reforming the Lords. I say it twice in case you haven't noticed - and why should you have?

This must be the most un-public of public consultations: many sessions of the Royal Commission's public meetings, and one whole day in Belfast, have been cancelled because of a lack of interest.

Lords Reform
On Tuesday 27 July the Royal Commission holds its last public meeting, and then will spend the next five months writing the final report - although already there may be little point.

The manner of the consultation suggests they have made their minds up already.

The consultation process has been mechanical and static - and this is why Charter88 is holding an interactive People's Assembly on 26 July - but there is still time for our voice to be heard, and for us to feed into the process.

Unanswered questions

There are many questions that have to be answered. What should the role and functions of the new second chamber be? Who do we want to see sitting there? Should it have any judicial functions? What roles will the nations and regions of the UK play? Should organised religion have a place? Can the new chamber be a constitutional or a human rights watchdog?

All these questions have to be answered, but if we want an input it's up to us to make our voice heard. Everyone I have talked to about Lords reform, both inside and outside the narrow streets between Westminster and Whitehall, has an opinion on all of these matters.

The public should have its say

But not only must everybody in Britain have the chance to have their say - they must believe they will be listened to.

This is particularly important for reform of the House of Lords.

Hereditary peers were abolished because the people of this country finally decided that they were not a legitimate part of a modern legislature.

Whatever comes out of the reform process must have the support of the general public - if it does not then it will be illegitimate and we are setting it up to fail.

The Royal Commission consists of experienced people who have given much to public life - but the impression created is that an elite few are in charge of reform and are making decisions for all of us.

But it is our Parliament, our voice must be heard, and it's time that the government listened.

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