- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2007

LONDON — Legislators took an unprecedented step yesterday toward ending an age-old tradition of allowing Britain’s non-elected elite to hold political power, backing proposals for an entirely elected House of Lords.

House of Commons lawmakers voted 337-224 in favor of developing laws to elect all members of Parliament’s upper chamber.

The move, which requires new legislation, is potentially one of the most significant constitutional changes in British history. It would bring the upper house in line with similar institutions, such as the U.S. Senate.

Jack Straw, leader of the Commons, said he would meet with others to discuss how to proceed.

Lawmakers in both the Commons and Lords will hold votes on the proposals when they are introduced, which cannot happen before the next parliamentary session beginning in October.

Prime Minister Tony Blair voted in favor of a 50 percent split between elected and appointed Lords, but he did not take part in the other votes, his Downing Street office said.

Campaigners lobbying for an entirely elected second parliamentary chamber said only Lesotho — a poor African kingdom — has a system similar to Britain’s, allowing a mix of unelected and hereditary appointees to influence laws.

The process of appointing peers has been clouded by a police inquiry into charges that Mr. Blair’s government, and the opposition Conservative Party, appointed Lords in exchange for financial support.

Mr. Blair succeeded in ejecting 600 hereditary members in 1999 — with the remaining 92 to be removed once reforms are made — but he has been unable to muster broad support behind any new formula for selection. In 2003, lawmakers voted down five options for further change.

Measures approved yesterday could be presented to Parliament as a bill before the end of the year but must be debated in both the Commons and the Lords. After amendments are added, it would be put to a final Commons vote.

Some legislators fear an entirely elected Lords would present a rival to the supremacy of the House of Commons.

The House of Lords, which emerged about 700 years ago, does not make laws but has the power to amend legislation, subject to the consent of the House of Commons, or to delay the passage of legislation for a limited period.

A bitter clash between peers and Prime Minister David Lloyd George over his 1911 budget, which the Lords had threatened to veto, led to a limiting of their powers and brought the first modern call for reform.

Britain, unlike most other democracies, appoints peers for life terms rather than fixed periods of office.

Mr. Straw proposed a 540-seat house, a reduction of about 200. Under his plans, all remaining 92 hereditary peers — members who inherit their right to be in the chamber — will be removed.

Some Church of England bishops, known as the Lords Spiritual, will remain, selected by an independent body reporting to Parliament.


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