PM looks ahead with electoral reform plan

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown will today promise an elected House of Lords and open the door to electoral reform as part of a sweeping package to "clean up politics" after the MPs' expenses scandal.

In a Commons statement, the Prime Minister will announce that a separate Bill to bring in independent regulation of MPs will be fast-tracked through the Commons by the autumn. The measure, which will set up a new watchdog to oversee MPs' expenses, was originally going to be part of a wider Constitutional Renewal Bill but this will take longer to become law.

He will promise a detailed blueprint to reform the second chamber, reflecting last year's vote by MPs for 80 or 100 per cent of the House of Lords to be elected. A Bill could be published to allow a public and political debate. It is unlikely to become law before a general election – as it would face strong opposition from peers – but would be included in the Labour manifesto.

The move is aimed partly at outflanking the Tories, who support a largely elected Lords but would not make it a priority if they win power – not least because many Tory peers oppose the idea.

Mr Brown will make clear he has an open mind about voting reform for general elections. He has appointed several ministers who support change to a new National Democratic Renewal Council, whose first meeting he chaired yesterday.

There is a growing consensus in the Cabinet for a switch to an Australian-style alternative vote (AV) system, under which people mark the candidates in order of preference. The bottom one drops out until one enjoys majority support.

But the Cabinet is unlikely to endorse the Home Secretary Alan Johnson's call for an "AV-plus" system of proportional representation, under which between 100 and 200 MPs would be elected in line with the votes cast on top of those chosen in constituencies by AV.

The Prime Minister will call for a public debate on electoral reform. He will accept that any change would have to be approved in a referendum.

Mr Brown is keen to push ahead with a wide range of changes to the way Britain is governed as he tries to rebuild his authority after seeing off a backbench Labour plot to oust him. The two other planks of his policy-based fightback will be ensuring a rapid economic recovery and further public services reforms.

Yesterday, some Labour rebels said he was still "on probation" until the Labour conference in September, when there could be fresh moves to force a party leadership contest. They hope some cabinet ministers will withdraw their support then if Labour's perilous position in the opinion polls has not improved. Tessa Jowell, the Cabinet Office minister, will today call on Labour to embrace a new "open, pluralist politics" and learn from its recent mistakes. She will tell the Demos think-tank that "registered supporters" – not just Labour members – should select the party's parliamentary candidates through US-style "open primaries".