British Lords revolt against electoral reform (FWD)

Fri Nov 13 22:34:06 PST 1998

Will the House of Lords survive this crisis ?

British Lords revolt against electoral reform

By Rosemary Bennett

LONDON, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Tension between Britain's Labour government and the
House of Lords increased on Thursday when the unelected upper chamber threw
out the government's planned voting system for next year's European elections.

This was the third time the Lords have rejected a key clause in the bill
outlining how voters will choose British members of the European parliament
next June. 

Because the current session of parliament ends in less than two weeks, the
government now risks losing the bill altogether unless a compromise is found,
throwing preparations for the June poll into chaos. 

Peers made clear their strong opposition was more an act of defiance against
government plans to reform the upper chamber itself than an argument over the
merits of different types of proportional representation. 

Prime Minister Tony Blair's government has promised that lords who inherited
their seats from ancestors will be stripped of their right to sit and vote in
the chamber. 

This would leave only government-appointed life peers with the right to vote
before eventually there is even wider reform of the second chamber. 

The opposition Conservative Party says it will use blocking tactics in the
Lords to try to force the government into spelling out its reform plans in
more detail. 

The party fears that once the 623 hereditary peers are removed, the second
chamber will be left indefinitely with only the 477 government-appointed life
peers with the right to vote. 

``Labour can still avert an unnecessary and protracted Parliamentary battle
over the House of Lords if they are willing to be reasonable,'' said
Conservative constitutional affairs spokesman Liam Fox. 

``If the government abandons its plan and asks us to join a full scale review
of the role, function and composition of the House of Lords, we will co-
operate constructively.'' 

The government is reluctant to give way on the clause in its European
elections bill introducing a ``closed list'' system of proportional
representation, under which voters choose parties rather than candidates, for
next year's European voting. 

It has offered to review the system for the following European parliament
election but this has failed to mollify critics of the closed list, who say it
gives too much power to party managers. 

18:36 11-12-98 

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