By Ray Fleming

THERE are signs that once again proposals for reform of Britain's House of Lords are running into difficulties. The coalition government wants to reduce the size of the second parliamentary chamber from a nominal 790 to 300 and to elect all or most of its members for a term of 15 years instead of being appointed for life as are the majority now -- there are fewer than 100 hereditary peers left.

The principal task of the House of Lords is scrutiny of legislation prepared by the Commons -- an important role given the confusion that can arise if poorly-drafted laws are left to the judiciary to interpret. A House of Lords Committee currently considering the government's proposals thinks that this job cannot be done satisfactorily with fewer than 450 members of a reformed House. There are also concerns that a House of Lords elected on political affiliations would too closely resemble the House of Commons to provide a desirable parliamentary second opinion. Although a partly appointed House of Lords would not satisfy those who see it as undemocratic there are also arguments in favour of bringing an expert non-political dimension to the parliamentary process.

Any delay might prevent the government from concluding this business before the next election -- and would thus add to the 100 or so years it has defied reform since it was first attempted.

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