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House of Lords Reform

Volume 545: debated on Tuesday 22 May 2012

Members of a wholly or mainly elected reformed second Chamber will serve long non-renewable terms. Non-renewable terms of three electoral cycles have been a feature of cross-party reform proposals since they were agreed over a decade ago by the Wakeham commission in January 2000. This is why the idea was reflected in the draft Bill. It has since been endorsed by the Joint Committee, and we expect to maintain it in the Bill shortly to be brought before Parliament.

It appears that the Deputy Prime Minister has the anti-Midas touch and that great opportunities for lasting constitutional reform have been squandered because of poor political judgment. What is the Deputy Prime Minister’s rationale for believing that those 15-year non-renewable terms for the second Chamber will renew democratic accountability? As a result, will Lords reform simply be another failed Lib-Dem coalition policy?

I know that the hon. Gentleman meticulously wrote his question before he listened to the initial answer, so perhaps he will listen to this one. As I said in my first answer, the idea of three non-renewable terms is not something invented by this coalition Government or the Joint Committee; it was first identified on a cross-party basis over a decade ago. That is why—quite sensibly, in the name of consensus and in pursuit of real reform—we are maintaining that proposal now.

If we are to have real reform of the House of Lords and to restore trust in politics, not only should the House of Lords be largely elected, but is it not now time to send the ermine up the motorway to one of our great northern cities, such as Manchester or Sheffield?

That is an excellent idea. We will include this novel proposal in our thinking. On a more serious note, all three main parties put before the country in May 2010 manifestos that committed us all collectively to House of Lords reform. If we are to honour our manifesto commitments, I think we should proceed quickly and swiftly.

Can the Deputy Prime Minister explain why so few of his own party’s Members in the House of Lords support his proposals? Indeed, Lord Ashdown is almost a lone voice. What is the explanation for that?

The power of a whiff of ermine on people’s opinions on reform of the House of Lords has never failed to amaze me. All I can say is that the manifesto commitments of the hon. Gentleman’s party, my party and the Conservative party were clearly in favour of completing this century-long debate on the reform of the other place. I think we should now get on with it.

When the Bill is published, will it come with a financial assessment of what will happen to the House of Lords if we do not reform it, and of what will happen once we get to, say, 2020, when we will have to equalise every time there is a change of government in this place?

We will, of course, publish the financial implications. The hon. Lady is right to highlight an issue that has not been given sufficient attention—how unsustainable the status quo is. Are people really comfortable with a second Chamber that will soon be composed of 1,000 or more members, in which more than 70% are there through nothing more than political patronage and in which they receive £300 tax-free just for turning up?

Given that the House of Lords is often seen as a lifeboat for ailing political careers, so that there are vested interests in this place that are very much against reform, will the Deputy Prime Minister lead by example and guarantee that, in the event of his attempts at reform being unsuccessful, he will not take up a seat in the Lords?

Thank you, Mr Speaker. We have a very courageous Deputy Prime Minister, and may I urge him to continue with House of Lords reform, because he will be a national hero to the 8% who vote Liberal Democrat? On accountability, will he promise that there will be no programme motion so that this House can fully discuss these major constitutional reforms?

Ample time will be allowed, but we should keep this in proportion. This is not something that the vast majority of people in the country care about a great deal. That does not mean that the Government cannot do more than one thing at once, and I have to say to those, perhaps including the hon. Gentleman, who want to block up all parliamentary business because they object to this simple reform that the burden is on them to explain why they want to protect an unsustainable and indefensible status quo.