Lords reform to start next week, says Clegg

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Nick Clegg has declared that "time for talk" about reforming the House of Lords is over, and said detailed work will start next week on creating an elected second chamber.

To speed up the process, senior Labour figures will join Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition partners in drawing up the proposals.

Mr Clegg, speaking in a Commons debate on constitutional reform, also moved to defuse backbench anger over plans to make it more difficult for MPs to force a general election.

Making his first speech at the despatch box as Deputy Prime Minister, he promised the coalition would succeed where other governments had failed and bring democracy to the House of Lords. He said: "I will not hide my impatience for reforms that are more than 100 years overdue."

Mr Clegg disclosed that a cross-party committee to consider reform will begin meeting next week. It will comprise three Tory, Liberal Democrat and Labour members each, including the former justice secretary Jack Straw.

It will produce a draft Bill by December setting out plans for a wholly or mainly elected second chamber for detailed scrutiny next year.

Mr Clegg told MPs: "People have been talking about Lords reform for over a century. The time for talk is over."

Although he did not announce when he hoped the change would be implemented, aides later said he regarded the issue as a "matter of urgency".

The Deputy Prime Minister sought to soothe anger over moves to require a vote of 55 per cent – rather than a simple majority – of MPs before Parliament is dissolved.

Critics from all parties have protested that the change could mean a government being forced out of office after losing a confidence vote in the Commons without an election being automatically triggered.

Mr Clegg said plans were being discussed to prevent an impasse developing. "Let me assure this House that we are already conducting detailed work on steps to remove any theoretical possibility of a limbo in which a government can't command the confidence of the House but refuses to dissolve Parliament and give people their say. That would clearly be intolerable."

He said ministers were examining a plan to impose a time limit if MPs passed a no-confidence vote but failed to achieve the 55 per cent threshold for dissolving Parliament. Under the plan an election would be called if efforts failed to assemble a new government within a set period.

Following a similar signal last week from David Cameron, Mr Clegg confirmed the Government was reconsidering plans to give anonymity to defendants in rape cases. "The Government will not press ahead with any measures without listening to the full range of views, and, if necessary, adapting and changing our approach to make sure we get it right," he said.

Mr Clegg refused, however, to be drawn on when a referendum would be held on scrapping the first-past-the-post voting system for Westminster elections. The coalition partners are still wrangling over the issue.