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Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2007, 17:30 GMT
Will vote U-turn kill off Lords reform?
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

It took less than a fortnight for the latest plans to reform the House of Lords to start falling apart.

Leader of the Commons Jack Straw
Jack Straw favoured a 50/50 split of elected and appointed peers
Commons leader Jack Straw has been forced to abandon his proposal to give MPs a form of PR voting on the makeup of the upper chamber after powerful opposition from all sides.

Just 12 days after he announced his proposal, and as MPs returned to the Commons after a week's recess, he has withdrawn it.

That retreat means it is now possible that, once again, MPs might vote against all the possible options, ensuring the reform is killed off for the forseeable future.

That was exactly the "train wreck", as Mr Straw called it, that torpedoed the last attempt at reform four years ago.

And it was Mr Straw's determination to avoid a repeat of that embarrassing fiasco that led him to suggest the innovative voting system.

Favoured option

Opponents, however, warned it would set a dangerous constitutional precedent and deny MPs their democratic right to throw out all the options if they didn't like them.

They also argued that, once such a system had been used, it could be deployed in future difficult votes to avoid government embarrassment.

House of Lords
Lords reform now faces a troubled passage
The PR voting system would have seen MPs asked to list in order of preference a series of options from a fully elected to a fully appointed upper chamber, with a 50/50 split being Mr Straw's favoured option.

Only when they had decided the makeup of the chamber would they have gone on to debate the other issues such as the new look upper chamber's powers, name and so on.

All of that must now be thrown into doubt with the possibility that, once again, MPs will fail to back any single option on the proportion of elected and appointed members.

Mr Straw will now enter frantic negotiations with all the parties, and discussions with MPs in an attempt to find some sort of consensus likely to attract the widest support.

If he fails, and this remains one of the most controversial of issues before the government, it is unlikely any third attempt will be launched this side of the next general election.

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