Monday, March 15, 2010

Government plans elected House of Lords

LONDON — The government is set to unveil plans to replace parliament's upper House of Lords with a wholly elected chamber in order to make it "legitimate," a minister said Sunday.

Transport Secretary Lord Andrew Adonis said there would be "firm proposals" for an elected House of Lords in the governing Labour Party's manifesto for the general election, which is expected on May 6.

"The time has now come to make it legitimate in the only way that a legislative assembly can be legitimate in the modern world, which is to be elected," Adonis told BBC television.

"We can do it in this country as most democracies do it: we'd have two chambers, both of which are elected but with the government accountable to the first chamber," he added.

The Lords scrutinises and revises government legislation but is often seen by the public as an undemocratic "retirement home" for former members of the elected lower House of Commons, or a place for the privileged titled classes or political appointees.

The make-up of the 700-year-old chamber has been a bone of contention in politics for decades, with near-constant cross-party rows about whether it should be elected or appointed.

Adonis did not go into details about the reform proposals. But the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, citing leaked documents, said the present set-up would be replaced with a 300-strong fully elected upper house.

The chamber currently has around 740 members. They include a retained 92 who hold hereditary seats, and 26 Church of England clergy. The rest are appointed for life.

"(Lord Chancellor) Jack Straw will be setting out full proposals very shortly," said the transport minister.

"There will be firm proposals in our manifesto for an elected House of Lords."

Former prime minister Tony Blair started the reform process with the 1999 House of Lords act, which expelled all the hereditary peers from the upper house, apart from 92, elected by their peers to remain.

Adonis said the new proposals would "build on the big changes we've already made to the House of Lords."

Three years ago the lower house voted in favour of reforming the upper house to an all-elected chamber -- but the House of Lords itself slapped down the idea by voting for a fully appointed assembly.

According to The Sunday Telegraph, a proportional representation system would be used to select members under the new system.

Voting would take place at the same time as general elections and one third of the new chamber would be elected on each occasion, with members serving three terms -- up to 15 years.

The system would be similar to the one used to choose the US Senate, said the paper, and members may also be subject to an American-style "recall ballot" which would disqualify them for incompetence.

The favourite new name for the chamber would also likely be The Senate, according to the weekly broadsheet.

The legislators would be paid a salary, which has yet to be fixed.

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