Clegg's plan for Lords reform faces referendum hitch
It will be the centrepiece of the Queen's Speech, but without a public vote the Bill could be stalled
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Monday 09 April 2012
Nick Clegg will reject calls for the public to be given the final say on his plans to reform the House of Lords in a nationwide referendum.
The Deputy Prime Minister will argue that there is no need for the people to approve his blueprint for a largely elected second chamber because the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all proposed a Lords shake-up in their manifestos at the 2010 election.
However, Mr Clegg will be accused by Labour of "double standards" since he advocated last year's referendum on a more proportional voting system – which he lost – and backs a plebiscite on Scottish independence.
The Liberal Democrat leader's hopes of seeing the first elected peers chosen at the 2015 general election will be dealt a severe blow later this month. A joint committee of MPs and peers which he asked to consider his Lords proposals will come out in favour of a referendum before his Bill is implemented – which, if approved, could delay the proposal.
Unlike the Tories and Liberal Democrats, Labour backed a Lords referendum in 2010 and will seize on the joint committee's report. Labour is expected to allow Mr Clegg's Bill, the centrepiece of the Queen's Speech next month, to pass the Commons but could table amendments proposing a referendum when the measure reaches the Lords, where it will run into strong opposition.
Sadiq Khan, the shadow Justice Secretary, said yesterday: "The public should have the final say on major constitutional reform, a position the Tory-led Government followed with the referendum on the alternative vote, and its votes in towns and cities for directly elected mayors."
Mr Clegg will appeal to Labour not to "play party politics" over Lords reform, saying a 100-year quest to modernise the chamber can be completed if the three main parties co-operate. Some Labour figures are in no mood to help the Deputy Prime Minister and, although Ed Miliband backs an elected Lords, many Labour MPs and peers want to keep the status quo.
The joint committee is expected to call for 80 per cent of peers to be elected; the 700-strong second chamber to be replaced by 450 peers rather than the 300 proposed by Mr Clegg; the number of Church of England bishops who sit in the Upper House reduced from 25 to 12; and for a debate on the respective powers of the Commons and Lords, with constitutional experts saying an elected Lords would enjoy more clout.
Mr Clegg is likely to point out that the joint committee was not unanimous in calling for a public vote. He told MPs last month: "There is an open debate to be had about when something is presented to the people via a referendum – or not."
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