Page last updated at 11:00 GMT, Tuesday, 1 May 2012 12:00 UK

Peer: Lords 'a unique institution'

A Conservative peer has described the House of Lords as "a unique institution, highly expert, highly cost-effective" and declared that Parliament is "100% democratic" even with an unelected Upper House.

Speaking as peers resumed debate on a report into House of Lords reform, Lord Higgins said "we are already 100% democratic and that democratic legitimacy rests in the House of Commons" and that he believed that this legitimacy would be "divided" if both Houses were elected.

However, he argued that reform was needed "at the other end of the building" in the Commons, alleging that MPs had not given enough scrutiny to peers' amendments to legislation.

Peers resumed a general debate on the report, published by the Joint Committee on the draft House of Lords Reform Bill, following a ministerial statement on 30 April 2012.

The committee report , published on 23 April, recommended that a reformed House of Lords should be 80% elected and there should be a referendum before any change is made.

The joint committee, chaired by Lord Richard, said there should be 450 peers - down from about 800 - who would serve for 15-year terms.

But the committee was split - nine of the 26 members voted against elected peers and eight opposed a referendum.

Speaking in the debate, Labour peer Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws said the public would have to have a say about what should happen to the House of Lords.

"It isn't acceptable that, in the 21st Century, this House is created through part-patronage. Power has to be given to the people," she said.

Liberal Democrat Lord Steel, who has introduced his own bill on Lords reform, said that "the question of a referendum is a very dangerous one", as voters might well reject "a more expensive, new upper chamber" when the nation's finances were precarious.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he was not persuaded of the need for a referendum but would not rule one out.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats agreed in their coalition deal to set up a committee to examine proposals for a "wholly or mainly elected upper chamber" - but the issue is seen as one that is driven more by the Lib Dems.

The government's proposals unveiled last year had been for a smaller, 300-member upper chamber, with 240 elected peers and 60 appointed peers serving single terms of 15 years.

But the committee said if there were to be elections it should be to a 450-member House of Lords, with 20% of peers appointed "as a means of preserving expertise and placing its mandate on a different footing from that of the Commons".

The 15-year terms would be non-renewable and peers would also receive a salary of about £50,000 a year, rather than the existing attendance allowance.

But some members of the committee released a separate report arguing that the government's draft bill "totally fails" to protect the primacy of the House of Commons and proposing a "constitutional convention" should be set up to consider the issue more widely.

Nearly 80 peers signed up to speak in the debate, which forced the government to allow the debate to run into a second day before Parliament's prorogation on the afternoon of Tuesday 1 May.


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