Government seeks smaller, elected House of Lords

LONDON Tue May 17, 2011 5:39pm BST

Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrat Party Nick Clegg speaks during a news conference in central London May 11, 2011. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrat Party Nick Clegg speaks during a news conference in central London May 11, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

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LONDON (Reuters) - The huge and centuries-old House of Lords will be cut in size and replaced by a wholly or mainly elected second chamber under plans announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on Tuesday.

First elections to the new body could take place as early as 2015, with around 300 members serving 15-year terms, down from around 800 members now, Clegg said.

Clegg said he hoped the proposals would enjoy broad support and avoid the fate of previous failed attempts to reform the unelected House.

"While we know what we want to achieve, we are open-minded about how we get there. Clearly our fixed goal is greater democratic legitimacy for (the House of Lords) but we will be pragmatic in order to achieve it," he said.

Clegg is still smarting from the national rebuff he suffered in a national referendum this month when the public overwhelmingly rejected his plans on voting reform.

Reform of the Lords is a long-standing goal of Clegg's Liberal Democrats, junior partners in the ruling coalition.

Efforts to change the Lords have proceeded at a glacial pace since 1911 when the chamber lost its ability to veto legislation agreed by elected MPs in the House of Commons.

The last major reform came in 1999 when most of the peers who had inherited their places were swept away, leaving a rump of 90 hereditary members.

At present the 790 members of the House of Lords gained their seats because of their aristocratic birth or because they are Church of England bishops, some are nominated by political parties and others are recommended by an appointments committee.

Under the government's proposals, 80 percent of the new chamber's members would be elected, and 20 percent appointed, although it also listed an option for a wholly elected body.

Church of England bishops would continue to be members, but their numbers would be cut to 12 from 26.

Opponents say the House of Lords, as a largely appointed chamber, brings an expertise and diversity that would be lost in an elected and more politicised body.

Some MPs are also concerned that an elected upper chamber would claim more rights to amend and reject legislation from the House of Commons.

(Editing by Steve Addison)

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