UK Politics

Clegg unveils plans for elected House of Lords

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Media captionCutting numbers in the House of Lords?

Nick Clegg has set out options for replacing the House of Lords with a mainly elected upper chamber.

The deputy prime minister outlined plans for a legislature with 300 members, 80% of which could be elected.

While it was up to MPs and peers to decide the final balance, he said the first elections should happen in 2015.

The plans would give Parliament "greater democratic legitimacy", he argued, but many MPs said it would threaten the supremacy of the Commons.

Labour said the plans were a "dog's dinner" lacking detail and a number of backbench MPs said any proposals should be put to the people in a referendum.

Open-minded

Alongside Prime Minister David Cameron, Mr Clegg announced the proposed reforms to the Commons but was barracked by many Tory MPs while doing so.

He described reform of the House of Lords as "unfinished business" but said he was "open-minded" about how to get to the government's ultimate goal of a mainly elected chamber to replace the existing appointed one.

A future government draft bill would contain plans for an 80:20 split but there would be a provision for a fully elected chamber if that is "what people want", he told MPs, appealing for a cross-party consensus on the issue.

A joint committee of 13 MPs and 13 peers to be set up in the next few months will consider plans for members of the new legislature to be elected for 15-year terms under the single transferable vote system.

Under the government's plans, members would be elected on a staged basis - a third every five years - with the first elections for the new chamber to take place in 2015 - on the same day as the next general election.

'Evolutionary'

Mr Clegg said Parliament had been discussing reform of the Lords for 100 years and that an elected chamber would be "more accountable" to the public.

"Our proposals are careful and balanced," Mr Clegg said. "They represent evolution not revolution."

Asked whether the government would be prepared to use the Parliament Act to force the proposals through in face of opposition in the Lords, Mr Clegg said ministers were committed to using "all legitimate instruments at our disposal if we cannot make headway by any other means".

The cabinet discussed the proposals at a meeting earlier on Tuesday and a No 10 spokesman said there had been "broad agreement" behind them.

In a statement, Mr Cameron said existing members of the Lords had served "with distinction" but change was needed.

"In a modern democracy it is important that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those to whom those laws apply. The House of Lords performs its work well but lacks sufficient democratic authority," he said.

'Private obsession'

Labour, which supports a 100% elected chamber, said it was vital that the proposed reforms were handled properly.

"The government will have to reach agreement on the relationship between the two Houses and on the powers and privileges of each House," shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said. "They must avoid the rushed and piece-meal approach that has characterised their constitutional reforms so far."

The government promised to bring forward proposals to reform the Lords in its coalition agreement they are expected to face strong opposition from peers and MPs from all parties, many of whom believe constitutional reform is not a priority for the public.

Former Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett said giving peers 15-year terms would not increase accountability and would threaten the "democratic mandate" of the House of Commons while Tory MP Andrew Turner accused Mr Clegg of pursuing a "private obsession" not shared by the public.

"Is this yet another tatty roadshow brought to us by the same people who thought the British people wanted the alternative vote?" Tory MP Bernard Jenkin said. "If he really believes that the British people want this reform, why does he not submit these proposals to a referendum and let the British people decide."

And Labour peer, ex-Commons speaker Baroness Boothroyd, said the House of Lords "worked" in its current form and there was "little appetite" for reform.

"The House of Lords is the house that does scrutiny, that advises the government on its legislation, that examines its legislation and because it is the House of Commons is the primacy house," she told the BBC. "If you get an elected House of Lords, where it the primacy? Where is the supremacy?"

'Medieval chamber'

The Electoral Reform Society welcomed the proposals but said there had to be the political will to see them through.

"All three main parties went into the last general election with manifesto pledges to reform the upper house," its chief executive Katie Ghose said.

"Now all democrats must be prepared to show their resolve. We can break the deadlock, but it will require concerted action from all parties to bring this medieval chamber up to date."

The BBC's Deputy Political Editor James Landale said the plans were less specific than ministers had initially intended in order to try and build a consensus.

He said there was little detail on what should happen to the 800-odd existing peers, with options ranging from the majority being expelled in 2015 to a gradual process in which a large number would remain in place until 2025.

Peers recently warned the government that the House was "full", after 117 were appointed in the last year, and new mechanisms were needed to allow members to resign their peerages.

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