UK Politics

Clegg urges 'less political heat' over Lords debate

The chamber of the House of Lords
Image caption The government wants the first elections to the new chamber to take place in 2015

Nick Clegg has said he wants to "take the political heat" out of the debate over Lords reform after admitting his proposals for a mainly elected chamber had caused "angst and objections".

The deputy prime minister told peers he wanted a "consensual, collective and dispassionate" discussion of proposed elections planned to begin in 2015.

But he denied reports he would take a backseat as the plans go forward.

The plans have been criticised by Tory and Labour MPs and cross-bench peers.

The deputy prime minister set out proposals on Tuesday to reduce the size of the chamber from 800 to 300 members - with at least 80% of those elected, in an effort to give it "greater democratic legitimacy".

Questioned on the plans by the Lords Constitution Committee, Mr Clegg said he was conscious the issue risked being seen through the prism of what it meant for the coalition and the Liberal Democrats' role in it.

"I am very keen, in whatever way I can, to try and take some of the heat out of the immediate politics of this so we can, in deliberate fashion, over the next year look at this as dispassionately, consensually and collectively as possible," he said.

The deputy prime minister dismissed media reports he would cede overall control of the plans to Conservative Lords leader Lord Strathclyde and said he was not "abdicating responsibility" for them.

But he added he was focused on the "bigger picture" and wanted to allow a wider debate "uncluttered by the kind of day-to-day yah-boo of the politics of today".

'Powers and conventions'

All three parties included Lords reform in their 2010 election manifestos but the majority of Conservative and Labour MPs reacting to the plans on Tuesday were hostile.

Among their concerns were that a mainly elected chamber was bound to lead to greater "conflict" with the Commons, that electing members for 15 years would damage accountability and that using a form of proportional representation to elect them would be unpalatable to the public.

Labour peer Lady Jay said she was "surprised" greater thought had not been given to how electing the Lords would alter its relationship with the Commons.

"This is the first time an exercise of this kind has been conducted without looking first at the roles, powers and conventions which attach to both Houses, specifically to the House of Lords, in the context of then deciding what perhaps should be a change in the membership," she said.

But the deputy prime minister said the reforms started from the "premise" the Lords would remain as a revising chamber and its powers in relation to the Commons, would not change.

"We are not seeking to re-invent the wheel. This is not new stuff. It has been knocking around for about 100 years."

The Financial Times reported on Wednesday that three leading Conservatives - Chancellor George Osborne, Home Secretary Theresa May and Defence Secretary Liam Fox - all spoke up in favour of the plans at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

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