LONDON — Can Britain’s government ditch the dukes, eject the earls and kick out the cronies?
Prime Minister David Cameron last week set out ambitious plans to replace Britain’s 700-year-old House of Lords, the country’s unelected upper chamber, with a smaller, mostly elected body - taking on a task that has frustrated political leaders for decades.
“We have been discussing this issue for 100 years and it really is time to make progress,” Mr. Cameron told legislators, hoping his government can succeed in stripping the country’s non-elected elites of a legislative role that has its roots in the 11th century.
Like the United States, Germany and dozens of other nations, Britain sees a vital role for a second legislative chamber that carefully scrutinizes planned laws.
But Mr. Cameron insists that those who carry out the task should be mainly elected - not appointed or born into their role.
If passed by Parliament - which is not guaranteed - Britain would gradually introduce elected members at the next three national elections, completing the transformation to a new 462-seat chamber by 2025.
What is the House of Lords?
While it can amend planned laws, the Lords has no role in creating legislation.
The Commons can vote to overturn revisions made by peers, and - though it is rarely used - deploy a veto to allow legislation to be passed without the consent of the Lords. One famous case saw the Commons override the objections of the Lords to pass a 2005 ban on fox hunting.
The upper chamber currently has about 775 working members, a mix of 660 political appointees, 89 hereditary peers - who inherited a place in the chamber from their nobleman forebears - and 26 people who hold ecclesiastical offices, like Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
Supporters insist its membership - which includes retired military commanders, surgeons, academics and spy chiefs - brings wide expertise to its role in scrutinizing suggested policy, a range of skills they claim won’t be matched in an elected chamber.
Critics, however, point out that only Lesotho, the tiny African kingdom, has a political system similar to Britain‘s, where a mixture of unelected and hereditary appointees can influence laws.
Mr. Cameron’s plans would see the current House of Lords replaced by 360 directly elected members, 90 members with no affiliation to political parties who would be appointed by an independent committee, and 12 Church of England bishops.