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House of Lords Reform

Volume 521: debated on Tuesday 18 January 2011

1. What process he plans to follow to develop and implement proposals for a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber. (33928)

I am chairing a cross-party Committee to look at all aspects of House of Lords reform. We plan to publish a draft Bill in the coming period for pre-legislative scrutiny by—we hope—a Joint Committee of both Houses. Then it will be for the Government to decide on the introduction of the Bill.

Given that an all-elected upper House would, in effect, double the number of MPs while resulting in hundreds of highly skilled and eminent men and women being thrown out, what effects does the Deputy Prime Minister think will be applied to the legislative process as a result of this brilliant idea? Will it lead to greater effectiveness, greater prestige or just more machine politics?

My own view, as someone who has always supported greater democracy in the other place and greater accountability to the British people, is that the legitimacy of the other place would be enhanced. There are plenty of other bicameral democracies around the world that have two elected Chambers of different size with different mandates, elected even by different systems, which work extremely well in striking the right balance between effectiveness and legitimacy.

Of course, it was the previous Labour Government who made sure that the large majority of hereditary peers were removed—nearly 700—from the House of Lords. Has the Deputy Prime Minister any words of congratulations for Members of the current House of Lords on the way in which they are defending democracy against gerrymandering?

If we needed any confirmation, this week of all weeks, that the Labour party’s commitment to cleaning up politics and political reform is a complete and utter farce—the leader of the Labour party who, sadly, is not in his place, was going around the television studios last weekend saying that he believed in new politics and that he wanted to reach out to Liberal Democrat voters—it is the dinosaurs in the Labour party in the House of Lords who are blocking people’s ability to have a say on the electoral system that they want. There cannot be meaningful political reform with such weak political leadership.

One hundred years after the temporary provisions of the Parliament Act 1911 were introduced, some of us are impatient for my right hon. Friend to succeed in achieving an elected second Chamber. Can he reassure me that the grandfathering of voting rights will not be offered to newly appointed peers under the present Government?

The specific reference to grandfathering in the coalition agreement applies to the staged way in which we want reform of the House of Lords implemented over time. We want to be clear about the end point, which is a fully reformed House of Lords, but the stages by which we get there should be subject to proper scrutiny and proper debate, and will be, not least in the Joint Committee, when we publish the draft Bill, which we will do fairly shortly.

The Deputy Prime Minister has got himself a reputation as an habitual breaker of promises. May I ask him a simple and straightforward question, to which I hope he will give a simple and straightforward answer? In his draft Bill on the House of Lords to be published shortly, will he keep his promise of a 100% elected second Chamber?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows—he is a member of the very Committee that I have been chairing—that issue is still under discussion. We will make our views clear, as he well knows, when we publish the draft Bill. He talks about promises. Is that the equivalent of the promise to hold a referendum on the alternative vote—a manifesto commitment made by his party, which is now being blocked by the Labour party in the other place?