THE reform of the House of Lords may not seem to be the most urgent piece of political business facing Britain at the moment but the prospect of new security legislation being waved through the House of Commons is a reminder of the important of the Lords as a revising chamber. Despite its current hybrid character, part hereditary and part appointed life peers, it has done sterling work over the past two years in restraining some of the more headstrong legislative intentions of David Blunkett and his successor Charles Clarke. Still, the argument for reform remains strong on several grounds, not least that and the government has just produced the latest of its ideas for making the second chamber a more representative and efficient institution.
The first proposal is that the second chamber should be called, yes, the Second Chamber. So far so good. Next, its present inflated size of some 730 lords, ladies and bishops should be reduced to between 300 and 400 members serving six-year terms. Ultimately the Second Chamber would consist of 80 per cent elected individuals and 20 per cent nominated by representative groups in society such as the CBI, TUC, professional bodies and charitable and voluntary societies. However this balance would not be achieved until the remaining 92 hereditary peers had either retired or died and the number of life peers had similarly been reduced. Little is said about the method of election to be used and there are ominous warnings about introducing review points to check that the phasing in of elected members does not produce unintended consequences, whatever they may be.
Since Labour promised this reform in its 1997manifesto it has ducked and weaved to avoid any real action. However, with the balance betwen appointed and elected members now settled, the new Second Chamber might just take shape in time to mark the centenary of the interim reform of the Lords adopted in 1911.