Parliament: Lords should be a Senate, say Tories

CONSTITUTION
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The Independent Online
THE CONSERVATIVE Party is ready to support radical plans to replace the House of Lords with a second chamber based on an elected US-style Senate.

In an attempt to outflank the Government, the Conservatives are close to backing the idea of a 360-member chamber that would be elected on 15- year terms. The ambitious plans emerged yesterday as the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords announced after its first meeting that it would be holding future meetings in public.

To give "ordinary people" a say in the shape of the second chamber, the Commission will stage its hearings across the country in the form of a consultation roadshow.

However, many leading Tories believe that they can embarrass Tony Blair over his intention to create a "transitional" Lords made up of members or "cronies" appointed by the Government.

The Tory proposal, which has been drawn up by the party's alternative commission on House of Lords reform chaired by Lord Mackay of Clashfern, would introduce regional representatives who would serve to "glue" Britain together after devolution.

Although bishops and law lords would be retained, most members would be elected on 15-year terms. According to party sources, the idea of a wholly elected second chamber is gaining ground among MPs and peers who fear the Government is trying to weaken the chamber's powers by failing to set out stage two of the reform.

"There is a great deal of debate going on within the party at the moment. While most agree on the merits of a wholly elected second chamber, there are still many different views on how to get there," the source said.

The Tory commission is also considering giving the second chamber the power to initiate legislation and greater ability to scrutinise secondary legislation such as European directives. The body, set up by William Hague last year, is expected to report later this spring and give formal evidence to the Royal Commission in the summer.

The Commission, which is chaired by Lord Wakeham, a Conservative peer, announced yesterday that it would seek evidence from a wide range of experts, interested parties and the public. The House of Lords Bill currently before Parliament will abolish most hereditary peers and create a "transitional" chamber made up of 91 hereditaries and life peers.

The Government has yet to decide the shape of its "second stage" reforms and has agreed that the Commission should attempt to define the role, functions and composition of the Lords for the future.

The Commission, which has to report by 31 December, is made up of Gerald Kaufman MP, Lord Hurd, Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, Lord Butler of Brockwell, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev Richard Harries, Sir Michael Wheeler-Booth, Professor Anthony King, Bill Morris, Professor Dawn Oliver, Kenneth Munro and Ann Benyon.

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