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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 February 2007, 17:18 GMT
Lords reform back on again
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

The last time Parliament tried to reform itself, MPs were pitched into agonies of indecision and confusion, and spectacularly failed.

Still battles ahead over Lords reform
It was generally agreed that the farcical sight of elected representatives throwing out, one by one, all seven options for reforming the unelected House of Lords did little to promote the view of the Commons as the cradle of democracy - more a palace of varieties.

This time, Commons leader Jack Straw has done his best to avoid a repetition of that debacle and ensure MPs can actually come to a decision.

And he appears to have done it by introducing, for the first time in Commons history, a form of PR voting.

When he puts a series of options before MPs for a free vote later this year, it is believed they will be able to list their preferences rather than simply throwing out options.

So, at the end of the day, there should be a clear decision about what proportions of the reformed Lords should be elected and appointed.

Cronies' charter

Mr Straw is said to back a 50-50 split while other ministers like David Miliband, Hilary Benn and Peter Hain want up to 100% elected.

But there are plenty of rows to be had before any final decision is reached.

Obviously, the Lords themselves have to agree to the changes and there are likely to be divisions over the way both the appointed and elected peers are chosen.

Jack Straw
Mr Straw has sought to ensure a conclusion to debate
For example, it is suggested the elections to the upper house would be carried out under another form of PR, namely the regional list system.

That system sees voters putting their crosses against a party, not an individual's name, with party bosses then choosing which of their list of approved candidates is given a seat.

That system has already been branded by some as a charter for cronyism because it can leave the power of patronage firmly in the party leaders' hands.


Similarly the method of appointing peers is bound to come under attack if it allows parties to nominate individuals who are then approved by an independent appointments commission, presumably chosen by the government.

Then there may well be debates over any redundancy package offered to hereditary peers who may be allowed to continue sitting during a lengthy transitional period.

And, unsurprisingly, there appear to be no plans to abolish the right of the bishops to sit in the upper chamber.

Still, the optimists believe that by coming up with that unprecedented voting system on the options, Mr Straw has done the business and has devised a plan that should at least end up with a single proposal to argue over.

Except, perhaps, for one thing. Before any of this takes place, MPs will have to vote on whether or not to accept that voting system.

And this was meant to be simple.

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