UK Politics

Nick Clegg heckled by MPs over Lords reform plans

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has insisted the House of Lords is "past the point of no reform".

But he was heckled by Conservative backbenchers as he tried to win support for his plans to create a wholly or largely elected second chamber.

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan told the Commons Labour believed in a fully elected House of Lords.

But former minister David Miliband said he feared MPs and peers would block the plans purely to damage Mr Clegg.

Mr Clegg is leading efforts to reduce the size of the Lords to just over 300 people and make 80% of its members elected, starting from 2015.

But last week, peers from all parties attacked the proposals during a two-day debate in the Lords.

'Yes we do!'

In the Commons on Monday, Mr Clegg said the second chamber could not "afford another hundred years in limbo".

He told MPs: "Very few people seriously believe the status quo - an unelected second chamber - makes sense in a modern democracy."

A handful of Conservatives then interrupted him, shouting: "Yes we do!"

Mr Clegg then replied: "Most people anyway. There is a fundamental principle at stake here - a basic choice. Do we believe people should choose their representatives in Parliament or do we not?"

Conservative MP Julian Lewis said he was concerned about the potential loss of expertise if figures from the worlds of medicine, academia, science, business and the arts refused to stand for election.

"The single most important function of our second chamber is the revision of legislation and its improvement," he said.

"If you take out hundreds of people who are experts in their field and substitute for them hundreds of people who are professional party politicians, what will make them better qualified to revise legislation in that chamber than we amateurs are in this chamber?"

Labour MP Barry Sheerman said he believed an elected second chamber would be too powerful.

"Every bicameral I know ends up deeply conservative where the elected mandated government in the lower house is frustrated from implementing its manifesto by a second chamber, increasingly powerful over the years," he said.

'Bigger gain'

For Labour, Mr Khan said an elected upper house was "the right and proper outcome and one which will deliver the democratic system the people of this country deserve".

But he noted that it was a difficult time to try to generate momentum on the issue when much of country was preoccupied with concerns about jobs, pensions and the cost of living.

Mr Miliband said some MPs were inclined to oppose the bill purely because Mr Clegg was its biggest champion.

But he urged them to see the potential "bigger gain" of backing the reforms and to resist the temptation to "kick a man when he is down".

A number of other MPs also expressed support for Mr Clegg's plans.

Lib Dem Mark Williams said they were "a huge step in the right direction", but also wanted the Commons to retain primacy.

Conservative John Stevenson said that if peers were excluded from the chamber, they could still use their expertise by forming committees and producing reports for the government.

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