Leaked plans for Lords reform are attacked from all sides

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Indy Politics

Leaked plans for the reform of the House of Lords, including half its members being elected, were criticised from all sides last night for failing to ensure greater democracy for the second chamber.

The furious reaction to the draft proposals put forward by Jack Straw, the Leader of the House, could mean Lords reform may have to be ditched again unless the Government concedes to demands for more peers to be elected.

Mr Straw previously voted for an all-appointed House of Lords but he put forward the proposals to break the impasse that has existed since earlier reforms ran into opposition from all sides in the Commons.

Labour peer Lord Cunningham is to put forward a cross-party plan for reform before a White Paper by Mr Straw in November but hopes of a vote to approve the new chamber after Christmas looked doomed to fail.

The leaked document says the size of the new second chamber should be cut from over 740 to 450 and it could be split 50:50 between elected peers and a new group of about 225 appointed peers. They would be appointed by a nine-person commission to avoid allegations of Prime Ministerial patronage and corruption following the "cash for peerages" scandal. They would have a duty to reflect the religious, racial and gender balance of the UK, including atheists.

The remaining hereditary peers would be swept away. But it would also mean the end for more than 740 life peers who belong to what has been called "the best club in London".

Life peers would be phased out over time to try to persuade them to retire gracefully and avoid claims for compensation. However they are likely to resist being thrown out of their own "club" and are expected to vote against the proposals unless they are radically altered.

The new peers would be limited to three terms, instead of being allowed to remain members for life. Instead of daily expenses, they would be paid a salary.

Tory and Liberal Democrat leaders expressed dismay at the compromise, saying they wanted more elected peers. Senior MPs also attacked the proposals both for going too far, and for not going far enough.

Former cabinet minister Tony Benn - who gave up a hereditary peerage in order to remain in the elected house - said that a half-appointed Second Chamber was not good enough for a modern democracy.

Damien Welfare, Co-ordinator of the Labour MPs campaigning for a democratic Upper House, said: "A majority of the members need to be directly elected to achieve a true democratic reform".

Conservative Leader in the House of Lords, Lord Strathclyde, said: "We are in favour of replacing Labour's cronyism with an elected House of Lords with more powers which will be better able to hold an over-mighty Government to account.."

Liberal Democrat constitutional affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said:"Jack Straw has so far failed to grasp the fundamental point: the replacement House of Lords must be predominantly elected."