Blueprint drawn up for reform of Lords

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If Tony Blair becomes prime minister, he should appoint 63 new Labour peers to create a "fair" and "democratic" House of Lords, and give a Cabinet minister responsibility for his ambitious programme of constitutional changes, according to an influential think tank.

A group of former civil servants sets out today a detailed blueprint for giving effect to the Labour leader's promise to take away the voting rights of hereditary peers.

A second report examines the changes to Whitehall machinery needed to push through reform of the Lords, devolution of power to a Scottish parliament and English regions, a Freedom of Information Act, new human rights law and referendums on changing the voting system and, possibly, a European single currency.

On the Lords, Mr Blair is urged to convene a "Party Leader's Conference" to seek all-party consensus for long-term reform. But the report warns that simply removing hereditary peers would be unsustainable even as a short-term measure.

Charges a "giant quango" would be created should be met by opening up the appointments system and agreeing a formula for party strengths, which "could be determined in the short term on the basis of the party in government having a majority of one over the nearest opposition party".

This would mean creating 63 Labour peers, as against the 200 required to give Labour a majority over all parties and cross-bench peers. Jack Straw, the shadow Home Secretary, recently ruled out creating large numbers of new peers.

The blueprint, including a draft Parliament Bill, has been drawn up by the Constitution Unit, a research body funded by a number of trusts, including the Joseph Rowntree and Nuffield foundations.

Although the unit is independent, its purpose is to examine proposals to reform the United Kingdom's constitution - most of which come from the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.

Its committee includes MPs from all three main parties, but the chairman, Professor James Cornford, is the former head of the left-leaning policy Institute for Public Policy Research.

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