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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 March 2007, 09:13 GMT
What chance now for Lords reform?
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

If anyone believed the clear vote by MPs for a fully elected House of Lords would mark the end of this historic battle, they should think again.

Protesters demanding Lords reform
Much can still go wrong with plans to reform Lords
The very fact that the Commons gave such overwhelming support for an entirely elected chamber may ensure the battle is more intense than it might have been had they accepted the 50-50 option favoured by Tony Blair and Commons leader Jack Straw.

Indeed it is believed many MPs who were against the reforms voted for the most extreme option in an attempt to maximise opposition to the package when Lords have their vote on it next week and, in effect, kill the whole thing off.

That may, however, have backfired as the size of the majority for the 100% elected option was so large it makes it hugely difficult for opponents to claim the will of the Commons was unclear.

That is particularly true as the only other option backed by MPs was for an 80% elected chamber - none of the other options suggesting a smaller elected element, or none at all, were passed.

And that itself suggests the will of the Commons is clear. Mr Straw has accepted there has been a "shift in the landscape" on the issue and insisted that, even without tactical voting, the result would have been the same.

Final outcome

"Judging by the pretty substantial 38 majority for 80% elected, I'm clear 100% elected would have passed in any event," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"The words mean what they say; people knew exactly what they were doing and they voted for a fully-elected House," he said.

Leader of the Commons Jack Straw
Mr Straw's option was roundly defeated

In any case, Mr Straw now has to map out the way forward on this century-old battle.

Clearly the debate is far from over and it would still be premature to confidently predict the final outcome.

For a start, the Lords themselves will next week have to vote on the options already debated by MPs and hardly anyone believes they will come to the same conclusion.

Following that, Mr Straw will have to consider legislation taking into account the votes in both houses - which are only advisory, not binding.

But supporters of a fully-elected chamber will undoubtedly insist he has no option by accept the will of the Commons.

Manifesto pledge

Assuming he can map a way through that maze, there will be plenty of other issues related to the actual working of the new upper chamber - whatever it ends up being called - that could prove hugely controversial.

What precise powers the members should have, what level of salary they should be paid, how they should be elected or appointed and for how long are just some of the issues still to be decided and bound to be controversial.

Finally, of course, there is the issue of government will. To push legislation through will require a great deal of parliamentary time and serious commitment from the prime minister and cabinet.

The Labour manifesto certainly promised to give MPs the chance to come to a decision on the issue. But there is no pledge to follow through.

So it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the prime minister and Commons leader Jack Straw simply decide after debates in both Houses that there is still not a clear enough consensus and abandon the project or attempt to offer voters a say by making it an manifesto pledge at the next election.

In the wake of the overwhelming Commons vote, that would prove hugely controversial.

The upshot of all this is likely to be another protracted constitutional battle, the conclusion of which remains entirely unpredictable.

MPs voting in the House of Commons

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