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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 March 2007, 08:59 GMT
Straw 'means business' on Lords
House of Lords
MPs were presented with nine options for Lords reform
Commons leader Jack Straw says the government "means business" on House of Lords reform after MPs indicated they want its members elected in future.

The 113 majority for all members of a reformed Lords being elected rather than appointed, surprised many.

The vote was "indicative", not binding on ministers, whose favoured option had been 50% elected and 50% appointed.

But Mr Straw said: "There is a momentum behind change - we cannot put the genie back in the bottle."

All appointed house - rejected by 179 votes
20% elected - rejected, no vote
40% elected - rejected, no vote
Half elected/half appointed - rejected by 263 votes
60% elected - rejected by 214 votes
80% elected - backed by 38 votes
All elected - backed by 113 votes

Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4's Today he would now consult colleagues and opposition parties on "how we can take forward" the 100% elected or 80% elected options, which had also had a majority - of 38 - in favour.

He called the MPs' decisions a "pretty seismic shift" in favour of reform: "This is the first time there's been a clear view on this for 98 years, so it's progress.

"I mean business, so does the government and so, I think, do the other parties."

He said that now there had been a decision in principle backing Lords reform they would be looking at taking "practical steps towards a draft bill".

A previous attempt to reform the Lords in 2003 failed when MPs failed to agree on how much of the second chamber should be elected and how much appointed.

In an attempt to build a consensus MPs had a series of votes on Wednesday - ranging from an all-appointed to all-elected house, and various proportions in-between.

Reform plans will be debated and voted on in the House of Lords next week. The idea of a fully elected Lords is widely expected to face opposition from peers.

Even if it was backed by the Lords the chances of reforms happening depends on what priority Chancellor Gordon Brown gives the issue if he becomes prime minister as expected this summer. Mr Brown voted for an 80% elected and 20% appointed upper house

An accident of birth should never entitle someone to pass the laws of this land
Neil Small, East Kilbride

There have been suggestions that the majority in favour of a wholly elected Lords was swollen by opponents of reforms who wanted to scupper the plans by ensuring an option unacceptable to the government and/or Lords was chosen.

Shadow Commons leader Theresa May said: "The House of Commons has clearly expressed a preference for a substantially or wholly elected House of Lords.

"But this is only a first step and indeed it raises further questions. Given the tactical voting tonight we now need to establish what the House of Commons' settled view is."

'Momentous step'

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said it marked "a famous victory for progressive opinion".

The reform plans outlined by Jack Straw last month are for a new, smaller, second chamber of Parliament, no longer called the Lords, whose members would be elected or appointed for 15 year terms. They would not have to be peers.

Its powers would remain largely the same as at present - as a revising chamber which can "improve" or delay plans passed by the government on the day in the Commons, but which cannot actually block legislation.

A 'hybrid' of elected and appointed peers
Reduce size of House from 746 to 540 members
End hereditary and life peerages over time
Elected peers to be voted in at same time as Euro elections
Maximum time in office of 15 years for elected and appointed peers
Appointees a mixture of party politicians and non-party figures
Lords may be renamed - possibly 'The Reformed Chamber'
Anglican bishops and archbishops to keep seats

One of the fears of those who oppose having a substantially elected second chamber - especially if as proposed it uses a form of proportional representation - is that its members will feel that being elected gives it the authority to challenge the will of the Commons.

Conservative peer Baroness Fookes said: "The House (of Lords) will not be content with limited powers. They will push and push for more if they are wholly elected. If we have these ping pong matches head to head why should they give way?"

At the moment all peers are appointed, apart from the 92 hereditary peers who survived the first phase of Lords reform during Tony Blair's first term in office, and Church of England Archbishops and Bishops and the law lords.

In another vote, MPs decided by a majority of 280 to remove the remaining hereditaries.

Leader of the Commons Jack Straw reacts to Lords vote

Q&A: House of Lords reform
07 Mar 07 |  UK Politics

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