Blair bows to pressure for free vote on elected House of Lords

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Tony Blair has bowed to pressure from cabinet ministers, who are demanding an elected House of Lords, by paving the way for reform of the second chamber if he wins a third term.

Tony Blair has bowed to pressure from cabinet ministers, who are demanding an elected House of Lords, by paving the way for reform of the second chamber if he wins a third term.

The Prime Minister found himself in a minority in the Cabinet on the issue of Lords reform when it discussed the Labour election manifesto. He agreed that the Commons would have a free vote on the composition of the Lords in the next Parliament - a pledge that will appear in the manifesto.

Ministers who support reform believe the Commons, with a generation of newly elected MPs, will vote for between 50 per cent and 80 per cent of peers to be directly elected by the public. A call for an 80 per cent elected second chamber was defeated by a handful of votes two years ago.

Mr Blair has privately agreed to throw his weight behind Lords reform if he wins the election. He ducked the issue during his second term but accepts he must grasp the nettle if he is to leave a convincing legacy of constitutional reform when he stands down. Aides hope the move will appeal to progressive voters tempted to switch to the Liberal Democrats.

The Labour manifesto will also leave the door open to electoral reform for the House of Commons by pledging a review of the first-past-the-post system. Mr Blair rejected calls by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, for the promise to be dropped.

Labour's document will address the sensitive issue of the powers of the second chamber to prevent a partially elected Lords challenging the supremacy of the fully elected Commons. The move would dilute the ability of the Lords to delay legislation and limit the time for debates by setting a date by which Bills must be sent to the Commons. It will be seen as Labour taking revenge for a series of defeats and delays in the Lords, most recently on its anti-terrorism law.

The manifesto will also promise to strip the remaining 92 hereditary peers of their right to sit and vote in the chamber.

A House of Lords Reform Bill has been included in a draft Queen's Speech for the new Parliament submitted to Downing Street by Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons, a keen advocate of change.

Supporters believe Labour would have to act swiftly after the election to prevent the issue being shelved again.

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