Britain looks to an elected House of Lords

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The British government unveiled plans Tuesday to replace the unelected House of Lords with a wholly or partially elected second chamber, but the opposition dismissed the proposals as a "dog's dinner".

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, whose Liberal Democrat party promised to reform the upper house of parliament before entering a coalition with the Conservative party after last year's general election, said the plan would make parliament more accountable.

There are currently 830 active peers sitting in the House of Lords, swamping the 650 members of parliament in the elected lower house, the House of Commons, and Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron want to slash this to 300.

There are currently seats in the Lords for 26 bishops and 92 hereditary peers and the rest are appointed members for life.

The new plans would make it either a 100 percent elected chamber, or 80 percent elected and 20 percent appointed.

Clegg himself is personally committed to a wholly elected chamber but he put forward the second option to the House of Commons on Tuesday because he said it would have more likelihood of being approved.

"I have always supported 100 percent elected, but the key thing is not to make the best the enemy of the good. That approach has stymied Lords reform for too long. After all, 80 percent is a whole lot better than 0 percent," he said.

He stressed the Lords "will continue to be a revising chamber, providing scrutiny and expertise... What will be different is that our second chamber will finally have a democratic mandate".

Clegg recently suffered a major setback when his party's long-hoped plan to change the voting system for parliamentary elections was rejected in a referendum, and he was heckled loudly as he made his announcement Tuesday.

Opposition Labour justice spokesman Sadiq Khan condemned the proposals as badly thought out, even though he said the current situation, where more and more Lords were being appointed each year, was "unsustainable".

"These proposals risk being a dog's dinner with nobody happy at the outcome, not even the Lib Dem activists he (Clegg) is trying to appease," he said.

The proposals outlined Tuesday will be reviewed by a cross-party committee of 13 peers and 13 lawmakers, or MPs, who will report back next year. Clegg expressed hope that the first elections could take place in 2015.

© 2011 AFP

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