Why I've Abandoned House of Lords Reform

By Nick Clegg

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has announced that plans to make the House of Lords mainly elected are to be dropped. Here's his statement in full:

I support an elected House of Lords because I believe that those who make the laws of the land should be elected by those who have to obey the laws of the land. That is democracy - and it is what people rightly expect from their politics in the 21st Century.

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When the Liberal Democrats came into Government, I knew that creating a democratic Lords would not be straightforward. This cause has long been blocked by an establishment resistant to change and by the vested interests who benefit from maintaining the power of political patronage, while keeping the power of people out.

However, Lords reform was in each party's manifesto. It was written into the Coalition Agreement - without argument or controversy. And I had hoped that, with enough compromise and cross-party involvement we could build a consensus delivering it once and for all.

After the election I convened cross-party talks. The Government then published a draft bill and white paper with a clear commitment from myself and the Prime Minister to hold the first elections to the Lords in 2015.

We then established a joint committee, of both Houses, to scrutinize our proposals. We amended the Bill once the Joint Committee reported - taking on the majority of their changes. And, last month, in a historic vote an overwhelming majority of MPs backed an elected House of Lords during the Bill's second reading.

'Painstaking efforts'

However, despite these painstaking efforts the Labour party and Conservative backbenchers united to block any further progress, preventing government from securing a timetable motion without which the Bill effectively becomes impossible to deliver.

At that point, the Prime Minister said he needed more time, over the summer, to persuade his MPs and I, of course, agreed to that reasonable request. Unfortunately, the PM has confirmed to me, since then, that an insufficient number of his MPs have been persuaded to support the Bill.

In my discussions with the Labour Party leadership, they have made it clear that: while they continue to back Lords reform in principle. They are set on blocking it in practice.

Supporting the ends, but - when push comes to shove - obstructing the means.

I invited Ed Miliband to propose the number of days that Labour believe is necessary for consideration of the Bill. He declined to do so. Instead he confirmed Labour would only support individual closure motions - which could bog down parliament for months.

Regrettably Labour is allowing short-term political opportunism to thwart long-term democratic change.

So, after a long process - almost two and a half years - we do not have the Commons majority needed to ensure this Bill progresses through Parliament. It is obvious that the Bill's opponents would now seek to inflict on it a slow death: ensuring Lords reform consumes an unacceptable amount of parliamentary time.

'Manipulated'

Clearly, it would be wrong for me to allow Parliament to be manipulated in this way not least at a time when there is so much else for us to concentrate on.

So I can confirm today that we do not intend to proceed with the Bill in this parliament. The government will make a full statement on this - to parliament - as soon as it returns in September.

To modernizers and campaigners, let me say this: I am as disappointed as you that we have not delivered an elected Lords this time around. But Lords Reform has always been a case of two steps forward, one step back.

And my hope is that we will return to it, in the next Parliament emboldened by the overwhelming vote in favor of our Bill at second reading.

An unelected House of Lords flies in the face of democratic principles and public opinion. It makes a mockery of our claim to be the mother of all democracies. And - even if you put all of that to one side - the ever increasing size of the Lords makes it an unsustainable chamber. It cannot keep growing; reform cannot be forever ducked.

 

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Nick Clegg is the Deputy Prime Minister and Lord President of the Council in the United Kingdom coalition government.

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