In Britain, reform, despite the giggles

November 03, 1999

Here is an edited excerpt of an editorial from the Los Angeles Times, which was published Friday.

A ROYAL commission has been touring Britain for several months now, measuring the public's appetite for parliamentary reform and particularly the right of titled heirs to automatically inherit a seat in the House of Lords. The commission's conclusions were not announced, but the message was made clear by the result.

Recently, the Lords accepted a compromise plan that would allow only 92 of the almost 750 hereditary peers to remain in the House of Lords. The next step in reform is a vote in the House of Commons, where approval is considered a done deal. The issue will then return to Lords for a second approval.

Of the 1,200 or so peers in the House of Lords, 450 are life peers, generally men and women awarded lifetime seats for outstanding public contributions, from composer Andrew Lloyd-Weber to scientists and politicians.

The rest are there because of their titled parentage, and they and their heirs could remain in Lords indefinitely without the current reform.

This touchy transition in Parliament has been handled gracefully, with some exceptions. The Earl of Burford, for instance, claiming support from God, the queen and Shakespeare, shoved, pushed and jumped his way onto the Woolsack, the wool-stuffed seat from which peers chair debates, to dramatize his rejection of the reform.

While many Britons enjoy the goofiness of performances like this, such antics should not diminish the importance of the enterprise being undertaken by Prime Minister Tony Blair's government. Parliamentary reform is a serious issue.

The object is an end, once and for all, to archaic elements of a fully democratic system.

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