Plans to reform House of Lords in the pipeline

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Indy Politics

After almost a century of promises from politicians of differing hues, the Government is finally poised to publish firm plans to make the House of Lords wholly elected, it has emerged.

Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, will promise voters that a future Labour government would introduce radical reforms on the second chamber. Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary, said the "firm proposals" would appear in Labour's election manifesto.

"I think the time has now come to make it legitimate in the only way that a legislative assembly can be legitimate in the modern world, which is to be elected," he said. "Jack Straw will be setting out full proposals very shortly."

The remaining 92 hereditary peers would be thrown out of the Lords as a result of the reforms. Lord Adonis appeared to confirm apparently leaked versions of Mr Straw's proposals, which would see 300 elected peers sitting in the second chamber for terms of up to 15 years. Voting would take place at the same time as a general election, but would operate under a proportional representation system.

Peers could also face being thrown out under the new system, as they could be subjected to a "recall ballot" to disqualify them for incompetence. The reforms would create a legislative chamber very similar to the US Senate. Non-dom taxpayers may also be banned from sitting in the Lords.

"Of course you couldn't introduce that reform until after an election, but there will be firm proposals and they build on the big changes we have already made to the House of Lords," Lord Adonis said. "The removal of the hereditary peers... has transformed it from being essentially a one-party Tory assembly with very little connection to modern life to being a proper working assembly."

The reforms are bound to encounter opposition from some currently sitting in the Lords. Attempts by the Government to introduce some elected peers were voted down by the second chamber in 2007. Critics will also argue that a fully elected Lords will undermine the authority of the Commons. However, Lord Adonis rejected the warning. "We can do it in this country as most democracies do it," he said. "We'd have two chambers, both of which are elected, but with the Government accountable to the first chamber."

It is thought that members of the new chamber will be paid a salary. A consultation looks set to begin in order to settle on a new name, signaling an end for the "House of Lords" tag that has been used since the 14th-century.

It will also be the end to Gordon Brown's "government of all the talents" experiment, which has seen him place people from outside politics in the Lords in order to make them ministers. However, reformers are bound to treat the plan with scepticism, as Labour has failed repeatedly to push through even a small elected element to the Lords since 1997.