SLOWLY,very slowly, progress is being made on the reform of Britain's upper chamber, the House of Lords. There are still two difficult issues to be settled. One is what proportion of the House should be elected and the other concerns what should be done about the rump of 92 hereditary peers who remained as part of the reforms of 1999. Jack Straw, who now has the responsibility for overseeing this important reform, recently indicated that he favours a 50 per cent elected House, and last week a leaked memorandum (Thames Water's leaks are nothing compared to the govenrment's!) suggested two possible approaches to the problem of the “hereditaries”. It showed that if they were just allowed to fade away it would probably be around 2050 before the last one had gone. The simplest solution would be to use legislation to turn them all into Life Peers. In a rather remarkable way the lifetime of the present Labour government has demonstrated the importance of a second chamber when a prime minsiter has a large majority and a rather arbitrary way with him over legislation. Obviously a partly-elected upper house should have only limited delaying powers but they should be there when they are needed. A remaining problem for Mr Straw is to devise an electoral system for the second chamber that does not simply replicate that of the Commons. Proportional representation, of one kind or another, might have a role to play here.


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