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Reform the UK House of Lords? For now, the nobles keep their seats

UK Prime Minister David Cameron called off a vote on fast-tracking reform of the unelected House of Lords after a group of Conservatives balked.

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This May 9 file photo shows Britain's Queen Elizabeth II seated beside Prince Philip in the House of Lords as she waits to read the Queen's Speech to lawmakers in London. Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday called off a vote on fast-tracking reform of the Lords, Parliament’s second house, after a group of Conservatives balked.

Alastair Grant/AP

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It may seem a surprising matter for politicians to be focusing their energy on internal reform amid a severe economic crisis and a high-profile banking scandal, but the future of the British House of Lords has sparked a row that weakened the prime minister, David Cameron, and threatened the unity of the coalition government.

Tuesday, Mr. Cameron called off a vote on fast-tracking reform of the Lords, Parliament’s second house, after a group of around 90 conservative rebel Members of Parliament said they would defy a three-line whip – a party command – to vote in favor of speeding up reform.

Currently, the 14th-century House of Lords is made up of 800 appointed – not elected – members, who are nobles and bishops.  A reform bill would see the house reduced to 450 members, 80 percent of whom would be elected.

The Liberal Democrats have long supported such a reform, first campaigned for by their liberal predecessors a century ago. A discussion of reform of the Lords was part of the Liberal Democrats' coalition agreement with the Conservatives in 2010.

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