Blair to offer MPs vote on reforming the House of Lords

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Tony Blair is set to give MPs another vote on reforming the House of Lords, which could result in 80 per cent of its members being directly elected by the public.

Tony Blair is set to give MPs another vote on reforming the House of Lords, which could result in 80 per cent of its members being directly elected by the public.

Labour's election manifesto is also expected to promise to reduce the powers of the second chamber in a move that will provoke accusations that the Government is taking its revenge on peers for blocking its proposed anti-terrorism laws.

Mr Blair has infuriated supporters of reforming the Lords by stalling their demands for action if Labour wins a third term. The Independent disclosed last month that he is under mounting pressure to endorse reform from several cabinet ministers including the Chancellor Gordon Brown, the Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer of Thoroton and the Commons Leader Peter Hain.

Yesterday Labour sources said Mr Blair had accepted that a definitive policy statement should be included in the party's manifesto so that Labour would have a mandate for reform. This would make it harder for peers to scupper the changes when the legislation is put before the Lords.

The Cabinet is split and has been unable to agree on a specific reform proposal. Under a compromise now finding favour, Labour would promise the Commons a free vote on the issue after the election. A plan for 80 per cent of peers to be elected was defeated by three votes in 2003 and supporters are convinced they could win a new vote by marshalling their forces more effectively.

One minister who supports change said: "There has been some movement in recent weeks and it is in the right direction."

The move towards an elected second chamber would be accompanied by a clipping of its wings so that it did not challenge the supremacy of the Commons. The options include reducing the power of the Lords to delay legislation and imposing a strict time limit on their debates by setting a date by which Bills must be sent to the Commons.

The 92 hereditary peers who survived when the others were expelled in 1999 would lose their right to sit and vote and an independent commission would choose any appointed members. This would answer the long-standing criticism that Mr Blair has packed the Lords with "Tony's cronies".

Labour has no majority in the Upper House and the Government has suffered more than 200 defeats on issues including constitutional change, trial by jury, incitement to religious hatred, fox hunting and gay rights.

Ministers say the stand-off between the two Houses over the Prevention of Terrorism Bill is not the reason for the new push on reform, which was already under discussion. But the row has strengthened the hand of supporters of reducing the Lords' powers.

Supporters of reform accept they are unlikely to win a fully elected second chamber. Mr Blair insists some experts in the professions would not stand for election and it would be wrong to lose their expertise.

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