Parliament - House of Lords: `Lords does not represent UK'

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MEMBERS OF the Royal Commission on House of Lords reform yesterday began hearing evidence on the future shape of the second chamber, and were told that its current form "fails to come to terms with our new British identity".

During their first public session, the commission, chaired by the former Tory minister Lord Wakeham, invited Helen Seaford, head of planning at the Children's Society, to present her proposals, so impressed were they by her submission.

Ms Seaford, 41, was cheered by 300 delegates when she argued for greater representation of women, ethnic minorities and people under 25.

She added: "Is it right that only the Anglican Church has reserved places and the average age for life peers is rising 70?

"I think that reflects a deep failure to come to terms with our new British identity and that is why only half of the young people voted in the last general election.

"It is vital to take this opportunity to tackle this malaise and set up arrangements which connect with the people's concerns and loyalties," she said.

The commission, which also includes Lord Hurd of Westwell, the Tory former foreign secretary, Lord Butler, Professor Anthony King, Bill Morris, the Transport and General Workers Union leader, and Baroness Dean, is expected to report on its recommendations by the end of the year.

The House of Lords Bill, which abolishes hereditaries' right to vote, is passing through Parliament. Earlier this week peers backed overwhelmingly the so-called Weatherill amendment under which 92 hereditaries will be retained during the interim period of reform .

However, Lord Wakeham has indicated that the commission is unlikely to propose a fully elected second chamber and that it favours some appointed members, despite significant support among MPs for such an elected body.