Labour MPs want half-elected Upper House

Lords reform
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More than half of the reformed House of Lords should be elected, according to a survey of Labour backbenchers sent to ministers.

A straw poll of 238 Labour MPs found backing for 58 per cent of the Lords to be elected.

The figure, based on an average of MPs' favoured options for reform, sharply differs from Tony Blair's proposal for just one in five members of the House of Lords to be elected. Only a handful of Labour MPs are thought to have backed the Government's plans. Results of the survey, run by a group of Labour MPs, were passed to Robin Cook, Leader of the House of Commons. Mr Cook admitted that proposals for reform, published in a White Paper last year, had not won favour during a consultation exercise, which closes at the end of this month.

But Mr Cook told the Commons Public Administration Committee: "I fully accept that the broad tenor of responses, both within the Houses of Parliament and outside, is that the answer in most people's minds is that [the split between elected and non-elected members] is not the correct proportion."

He added that he was "attracted" to the idea of indirectly elected members, chosen by members of the devolved assemblies, serving in the new House of Lords.

Mr Cook warned that a substantial "period of reflection" would be required after the consultation closes.

Graham Allen, Labour MP for Nottingham North, who helped to do the survey, said his straw poll clearly showed the "centre of gravity" about the way forward for reform. He said: "We are providing a reality check for the Government on this issue. The White Paper was out of touch with the mood of the Parliamentary Labour Party."

In a separate concession to backbench pressure for reform of parliamentary procedure, Mr Cook confirmed that government whips would be stripped of their powers of patronage over appointments to select committees. The posts will in future be allocated by a group of senior MPs elected by the Parliamentary Labour Party. The choice of chairmen will then be left to the select committee members.

Mr Cook acted after a backbench rebellion last summer overturned government attempts to oust Gwyneth Dunwoody and Donald Anderson as committee chairmen.