UK Politics

Nick Clegg sceptical on Lords reform referendum

Nick Clegg
Image caption The government wants 80% of a new, smaller House of Lords to be elected

A referendum on whether to elect members of the House of Lords would be unnecessary and expensive, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said.

A parliamentary committee is expected to call for a referendum before the changes can be introduced, when it reports on the subject next week.

Mr Clegg said it would "have to work hard" to convince him one was needed.

He noted that the three biggest parties in Westminster had all had Lords reform plans in their latest manifestos.

Testifying at a separate Commons committee on Thursday, he said a referendum would cost "millions of pounds".

'Complete consensus'

He told the political and constitutional reform committee: "I think the onus should be on people who want to tie up the public in terms of expense and time in a referendum on something where all the political parties agree - say they agree - and where the public basically thinks a smidgen of democracy is a fairly good idea."

Mr Clegg contrasted the calls for a referendum on Lords reform with his own decision to push for a referendum on changing the voting system used to elect MPs to the Commons.

The Liberal Democrats had wanted to move from first past the post to the alternative vote (AV), but the policy was resoundingly rejected in a public poll in May 2011.

Electing peers was different, he argued: "Unlike the referendum last year, [it] is the subject of complete consensus between the parties; we all had manifesto commitments to deliver House of Lords reform."

A number of Conservative backbenchers have objected to the Lords reform plans, threatening to block their passage through the Commons - despite the commitment of their party leadership to the proposals.

But Mr Clegg said: "When the public is asked, the public, it seems to me, just shrugs its shoulders and says, 'well of course the people who make the laws of the land should be elected by the people who have to obey the laws of the land'."

'Unhealthy for our politics'

For these reasons, he said, the draft House of Lords Reform Bill committee "would have to work hard to make the case that the public should be asked to spend millions of pounds on a referendum".

But he agreed to consider next week's report by the committee of MPs and peers carefully.

In a separate development, former Labour minister Lord Adonis has renewed calls for the House of Lords to be moved out of the capital city.

"London is New York, Washington and LA rolled into one, which is unhealthy for our national politics" he argued in a letter to the Spectator.

"If the House of Lords is going to be reformed next year, part of the reform should be to move it out of London to a city in the Midlands or the north, perhaps next to the relocated BBC in MediaCity in Salford Quays," the peer continued.

He first mooted such a move in 2007, when he was a junior education minister under Tony Blair - although he stressed at the time the idea was not official government policy.

More on this story