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Lords reform plans provide opportunity for “a real clean-up” says constitutional thinktank

Publication date: Feb 8, 2007 4:53:58 PM

Proposals in today’s Lords reform White Paper could ensure that ‘cash for peerages’ controversies are a thing of the past, says the thinktank, the UCL Constitution Unit.

The proposals are expected to end the Prime Minister’s monopoly over political appointments, giving a bigger role to the Appointments Commission. The Commission will be required to share seats out on the basis of general election votes, choosing from lists provided by the parties, with an explicit ability to block members.

Dr Meg Russell, of the UCL Constitution Unit and a leading authority on the House of Lords, said: "Although the upcoming votes in parliament will focus on the percentage of the Lords to be elected, in the current climate the proposals for appointment also represent a radical and important departure. And if agreement on election again fails to be reached, we should at least ensure that these proposals stick."

Many other important changes are expected in the White Paper, each of which could strengthen the Lords, they include:

* Breaking the link with the peerage so it is clear that membership of the House is a job, not an honour.

* Allowing members to retire, so that the membership of the House is renewed.

* Barring members from standing for the Commons for five years after departing, so the House doesn’t become a training ground for future MPs.

* Terms of office 15 years long, with the chamber renewed in thirds, so that continuity of membership and an independent ethos is maintained.

On the central question of election versus appointment, MPs are expected to break with tradition next month by voting in a paper ballot in order of preference on seven options, ranging from a wholly elected to a wholly appointed Chamber, with a range of elected/appointed proportions in between.

"The focus in the Commons will be on the proportion that should be elected, but this will prove difficult to agree, even with the new voting system, " said Dr Russell. "Jack Straw favours the half-elected, half appointed option but in a free vote the results are unpredictable, and members of the cabinet take differing views. Last time the Commons voted the 50:50 option found no support, and it could again be squeezed by more radical choices."

Professor Robert Hazell, the UCL Constitution Unit’s Director, said: "Critics may carp at some of the details but this is the best Lords package we have seen from the government yet. It would be a tragedy if reform founders over percentages."

Dr Russell added: "Splits in the Cabinet and between MPs mean agreement on the elected element remains unlikely. But it is vital that we don’t lose the other important proposals in this package, which could help strengthen parliament and boost public confidence in the Lords."

Notes to editors

(1) Dr Meg Russell and Professor Robert Hazell are available for interview on the White Paper.

(2) Dr Meg Russell is author of ‘Reforming the House of Lords: Lessons from Overseas’ (Oxford University Press, 2000) and numerous reports and papers on the Lords. She was also special adviser to Robin Cook 2001–03.

(3) The UCL Constitution Unit is an independent and non-partisan thinktank based at University College London, specialising in constitutional reform.

(4) The Commons last voted on Lords reform in February 2003. At that time the 50:50 option was defeated without a vote, and all other proposals were also defeated.

(5) For further information, please contact:

Dr Meg Russell, UCL Constitution Unit, Email: meg.russell@ucl.ac.uk , Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 4998, Mobile: + 44 (0)7759534160

Professor Robert Hazell, UCL Constitution Unit, Email: r.hazell@ucl.ac.uk , Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 4971

Judith H Moore, UCL Media Relations Manager, Tel: +44 (0) 20 7679 7678, Mobile: +44 (0)77333 075 96, Out-of-hours: +44 (0)7917 271 364, Email: judith.moore@ucl.ac.uk