LONDON — Can Britain’s government ditch the dukes, eject the earls, and kick out the cronies?
Prime Minister David Cameron set out ambitious plans Wednesday to replace Britain’s 700-year-old House of Lords, the country’s unelected upper chamber, with a smaller, mostly elected body — taking on a task that has frustrated political leaders for decades.
‘‘We have been discussing this issue for 100 years, and it really is time to make progress,’’ Cameron told legislators, hoping his government can succeed in stripping the country’s nonelected elites of a legislative role that has its roots in the 11th century.
Like the United States, Germany, and dozens of other nations, Britain sees a vital role for a second legislative chamber that carefully scrutinizes planned laws. But Cameron insists that those who carry out the task should be mainly elected — not appointed or born into their role.
If passed by Parliament — which is not guaranteed — Britain would gradually introduce elected members at the next three national elections, completing the transformation to a new 462-seat chamber by 2025.
The House of Lords is the upper chamber of Britain’s two-tiered Parliament — but wields far less power than the smaller and entirely elected House of Commons.
While it can amend planned laws, the Lords has no role in creating legislation.
The Commons can vote to overturn revisions made by peers, and — though it is rarely used — deploy a veto to allow legislation to be passed without the consent of the Lords. In one case, the Commons overode the objections of the Lords to pass a ban on fox hunting.
The upper chamber currently has about 775 working members, a mix of 660 political appointees, 89 hereditary peers — who inherited a place in the chamber from their nobleman forebears — and 26 people who hold ecclesiastical offices, like the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
Supporters insist its membership — which includes retired military commanders, surgeons, academics, and spy chiefs — brings wide expertise to its role in scrutinizing suggested policy, a range of skills they claim will not be matched in an elected chamber.
Critics, however, point out that only Lesotho — the tiny African kingdom — has a political system similar to Britain, where a mixture of unelected and hereditary appointees can influence laws.
Cameron’s plans would see the current House of Lords replaced by 360 directly elected members, 90 members with no affiliation to political parties who would be appointed by an independent committee, and 12 Church of England bishops. All remaining hereditary peers will be removed.
A strict 15-year term limit will be imposed on those elected, unlike the current system when members are appointed for life.
Voters would elect the first 120 members of the new House of Lords in May 2015, when Britain is scheduled to hold a national election.
Another 120 would be elected at a planned 2020 national vote, and the final group five years later.
Lords can currently claim an allowance of up to $467 a day, and will probably receive a fixed payment of about $70,000 in a reformed chamber.
Under Cameron’s plans, members of the House of Lords convicted of criminal offenses could be kicked out.