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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 November, 2004, 13:27 GMT
Lords reform campaign launched
House of Lords
There are 92 remaining hereditary peers in the Lords
Plans for a 70% elected House of Lords can help create an unstoppable momentum for reforming Parliament's second chamber, claims a group of MPs.

Ex-Cabinet ministers Robin Cook and Ken Clarke are part of the cross-party plan for a draft bill to show a consensus can be reached on the thorny issue.

Ministers dropped plans for changing the Lords before the next election but promise to act early in a third term.

The MPs say the lack of reform prevents proper checks on the government.

Majority support?

The last attempt at reform foundered when MPs and peers failed to agree on any of a range of options, from a fully elected Lords to an all-appointed one.

The quintet of MPs, headed by Liberal Democrat Paul Tyler and including Mr Cook, Mr Clarke, former Tory minister Sir George Young and senior Labour MP Tony Wright, wants to get the process going again.

They say most MPs did back one of the three options for a mostly-elected Lords last year.

And they are disappointed there was no mention of the issue in this week's Queen's Speech and plan to get a vote of MPs to show support for their proposals before the next election.

There is expected to be wrangling among Labour chiefs about how Lords reform is addressed in the party's next election manifesto.

The group's new proposals include:

  • A "significantly smaller" second chamber with about 70% of its members elected

  • An appointments commission to choose independent peers to add expertise, with the prime minister able to appoint a small number of peers specifically to serve as ministers

  • Elected and appointed members to serve roughly 12 year terms - with one third removed every four years

  • Elections to take place region-by-region on the same day as a general election

  • New system to resolve disputes with MPs.

Elections would be through proportional representation - perhaps with the public's votes, rather than political parties, deciding which candidates from each party get chosen.

In the 21st century the British people are largely ready for democracy
Ken Clarke
Former Chancellor

Former Conservative chancellor Mr Clarke told reporters he thought 90% of the public wanted an elected second chamber.

And he said the MPs putting forward the new plans each represented the majority in their respective parties so consensus was possible.

"I cannot believe that if momentum was put back into it that it could be stopped because in my opinion in the 21st century the British people are largely ready for democracy," he said.

Mr Cook said Labour looked set to miss its manifesto pledge to make the Lords more democratic and he insisted the issue was still relevant.

He said: "The reality is that the second chamber will only be taken seriously by government if it has to be taken seriously."

Labour promise

Former Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine had once asked him whether there would be "enough people of calibre" to fill an elected second chamber.

That was "illogical" if there were enough people to appoint, said Mr Cook.

Mr Tyler said the group would be seeking support for its proposals from MPs and peers before publishing a detailed draft bill in the New Year.

The idea is to put the plans to a vote as a 10-minute rule bill rather than run the lottery of private members bills.

Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer accepted a motion at Labour's annual conference saying 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.

Lord Falconer promised the government would act on the issue early in the next Parliament.

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