Azara Blog: Jack Straw outlines House of Lords reform

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Date published: 2007/02/07

The BBC says:

Jack Straw has told MPs his plans are the "best opportunity" to reform the House of Lords for "many decades".

The Commons leader outlined details of the White Paper which proposes a house where some peers are elected and some still appointed, as they all are now.

Mr Straw, who wants 50% of peers to be elected, said MPs would be given the final say on what proportion of peers should be elected in a reformed Lords.

He said reform would increase Lords' legitimacy and "strengthen democracy".

The plans, an attempt to end long-term deadlock, also propose cutting the number of peers from 746 to 540.

The White Paper - a document which puts government ideas to MPs for consultation before a final bill is drafted - does not propose removing Church of England bishops and archbishops from the Lords.

While there appears to be backing for the idea that there should be elected element in the future, there is no agreement on what proportion of peers should be elected and what proportion appointed.
All parties are giving their MPs a free vote on the issue.

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.

MPs will vote first on whether they want any kind of second chamber at all and then whether the current House of Lords should be reformed.

If they back that, they will then vote on seven options for reform: all elected; 80% elected and 20% appointed; 60% elected and 40% appointed; half and half; 40% elected and 60% appointed; 20% elected and 80% appointed; or all appointed.

But, in a controversial move, instead of going through the division lobbies, MPs will indicate their preferences in order on a ballot paper.

The least popular option will be knocked out and its second preferences redistributed until one option achieves a majority, in a process which would break from standard Parliamentary practice.

Mr Straw said he personally preferred 50% of peers being elected, 30% being appointed from part political choices and 20% from among non-party candidates.

The White Paper does not detail how peers might be elected.

But Mr Straw said elections were likely to take place at the same time as the European elections and be based on an "open" list.

Peers would be able to resign from the Lords, be able to vote in general elections, and would serve 15 years before facing re-election.

New Labour has left the House of Lords as a bodge, so it's time to sort this out. The most sensible option would be to make the second chamber 100% elected (in particular, bishops should not be given automatic seats), but it seems that many MPs are so mediocre that they feel that a democratic second chamber would somehow be a threat to their power. Whatever, hopefully they will vote for something not too crazy.

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