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House of Lords

Volume 542: debated on Tuesday 20 March 2012

The Government have received more than 250 representations since the publication of the White Paper and the draft House of Lords Reform Bill in May last year.

Many of us are of the view that many Members of an elected upper House, elected by proportional representation, will be tempted to claim a mandate equal to that of hon. Members in this place. Why does the Deputy Prime Minister think that his rather squalid Bill will not undermine the primacy of this Chamber?

I do not think that anything in our plans would change the primacy of this Chamber or that there is an automatic link between changing the composition of the other place and changing the balance of power between the two Chambers. There are many bicameral systems around the world where both Chambers are either wholly or fully elected but there is a clear division of labour between them. The hon. Gentleman calls this a squalid proposal; it is a proposal to introduce a smidgen of democracy in the other place, which has been around for about 100 years, and I think that we should now get on with it.

On 21 April 2010 the Deputy Prime Minister described the House of Lords as being

“stuffed full of people who have basically done favours to other politicians.”

Is that how he would describe those Lib Dems who have been sent to the Lords since the general election?

For anyone who wants to defend the status quo, and it is unclear whether the hon. Lady does—the Labour party used to campaign proudly for reform of the bastion of privilege and inherited power but seems to have lost its historical vocation as a progressive force for political reform—I ask them to reflect on the fact that over 70% of all the people in the other place are there because of an act of political patronage. Is that really sustainable in the 21st century? I do not think so.

14. Has the Deputy Prime Minister received many representations from those who appear to believe that the way to uphold the supremacy of the elected House is to defy the supremacy of the elected House, which has already said that it wants to introduce some democracy to the other Chamber? (100635)

I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend. There is an odd sort of circularity in the argument that, notwithstanding the fact that this House has voted clearly in favour of either a wholly or largely elected Chamber, somehow to preserve the primacy of this House we should not allow any legitimacy into the other place. That seems to me to be a somewhat self-serving argument.

Major constitutional change that is successful is best done by parties trying to work together and then putting the case to the country via a referendum. We have seen devolution to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and London done in that way, and on 3 May we will see cities across the country choosing via referendums whether they should have elected mayors. Will the Deputy Prime Minister work with those of us who want to see the second Chamber reformed and then trust the British public on this major constitutional change via a referendum?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, because he himself joined in the discussions, we had months and months of painstaking cross-party discussions about the content of the draft Bill, precisely because, as he quite rightly says, it is best to proceed with these important matters on a cross-party basis. All three parties, again as he knows, had in various shapes or sizes a commitment to a reformed House of Lords. It is something we have been discussing for a very long time as a country—close to a century.

There is an open debate to be had about when something is presented to the people via a referendum—or not. The Lords Committee that recently looked at the issue very clearly said that there should be a referendum if there is a proposal to abolish the House of Lords. That of course is not what we are proposing, because we are proposing to reform the composition of the House of Lords, so I do not share the right hon. Gentleman’s view that a referendum is justified in the way he describes, although I acknowledge that it was in his party’s manifesto at the last general election.