Lords gearing up for reforms

LONDON OCT. 31. British Parliament is gearing up for a radical shake-up, intended to bring it in tune with the demands of modern democracy.

In a move that might have been denounced as subversive once upon a time, the House of Lords is to be transformed from a nominated chamber into a largely elected House to give it a more representative character. Proposals, being debated by a committee on reforms of the Lords, include a fully-elected Upper Chamber but such a complete overhaul is being opposed by "anti-reformers'' who insist that a majority of peers should continue to be nominated.

Other suggestions range from a 20 per cent elective component to 80 per cent but efforts are being made to arrive at a compromise that could see half the House elected either directly or indirectly.

There is a difference of opinion over how peers should be elected, and whether the existing powers of the Upper House should also be reviewed in view of its more democratic character.

Experts have warned against turning the Lords into a "carbon copy'' of the Commons saying this would create a "legislative gridlock'' with the two Houses trying to have a final say on a piece of legislation. But they acknowledge that when the Upper House is largely elected it would assert itself more than the existing nominated Lords does.

The changes are part of the reforms promised by the Labour Party in its 1997 election manifesto, and the number of hereditary peers has already been reduced.

Besides, a new category of "people's peers'' drawn from among non-politicians has been introduced and the first lot is already in.

In the Commons, the proposed changes are of a more procedural nature but the resistance from "status quoists'' is as vehement. The proposed reforms coincide with an opinion poll which shows that most people believe Parliament is "stuck in a time warp''.

It also reflects widespread disillusionment with MPs who are seen to be ineffective in calling the Government to account or representing their constituents' interests.

A majority said the Commons had "no relevance'' for most people, and a whopping 61 per cent described it as "old-fashioned and out- of-date''.

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