Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland peers oppose House of Lords plan

House of Lords
Image caption The Coalition government wants to cut down the number of peers

A number of peers from Northern Ireland have criticised plans to reform the House of Lords.

The Coalition government wants the second chamber, which has a membership of about 800, cut down to 300.

Under the changes the majority of the new members would be elected.

However, critics have said an elected Lords could challenge the Commons authority and say the reforms will not work.

Lord Eames, who sits as a crossbencher, said he feared tensions between the Commons and the Upper House if elections take place.

He is against a totally elected Lords and argued that appointees from a variety of different backgrounds bring much experience to the second chamber.

He is worried that elections would end opportunities to draw "on that expertise".

Baroness Paisley is another local peer who has serious misgivings about elections. She said having two chambers, where members are elected, could be "confusing".

She said it would be wrong to create a "replica of the House of Commons".

Coalition ministers want to cut the Lords to just 300 mostly-elected members as part of a radical reform of parliament.

Out of the 300 members, 240 would be elected with the remainder appointed.

However, there is now a debate over whether the figure of 300 is too low.

Earlier this month, a joint committee of MPs and peers examining the plans concluded that the Lords should have about 450 members.

Some 788 peers are currently able to sit and vote in the House of Lords, but in practice only about 400 are regular attenders.

Campaigners for change have said their argument is simple.

Those in favour of reform say politicians who make laws should be elected.

As many peers are against the moves the introduction of these measures will rest on the government's ability to get the reforms through the House of Commons.

Under the planned changes new members would be elected for a 15-year term of office. That particular proposal has been criticised by Lord Empey.

The former Ulster Unionist leader said that length of time would make them "unaccountable".

He believes an elected second chamber would question the authority of the House of Commons.

However, Lord Tyler, a Lib Dem peer who sits on on the joint committee said that since elections to the new chamber would take place in phases, the electoral mandate of the Commons would not be threatened.

'Not researched'

Some critics also suggest that the reform plan has not been properly researched.

Baroness O'Loan, who sits as an independent and applied to be a member of the Lords, is unhappy about the speed of the debate.

She told the BBC: "I don't think it is going to work."

She added: "When you rush things as big as this - the odds are you will fail."

A committee of MPs and peers is expected to report back in March and campaigners for change hope the moves are included in the Queens Speech this summer.

If the plans are adopted by parliament, historic elections to the second chamber will take place in 2015.

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