Nick Clegg: Chamber is affront to democracy

Share
Related Topics

As you read this I am with statesmen and dignitaries from more than 100 countries at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. There are leaders from countries with a wide range of different democratic systems and almost overwhelmingly they are united by one belief: that the people who make the laws should be elected.

It seems bizarre to think that, in Britain in the 21st century, that should still be a controversial statement, and yet the majority of politicians in our own Parliament are not elected. They sit in the House of Lords, a body of appointed politicians that is growing at a startling rate and has no democratic mandate.

The Independent's revelations this week have shone an important light on the sometimes murky world of our second chamber and raised very serious questions. It should be stressed that the vast majority of peers obey the rules and that MPs, still tainted by the expenses scandal, need to be careful judging the behaviour of those in the Lords. But it does provide us with another opportunity to question why we think this is the best way to govern our country.

Lloyd George once described the House of Lords as being "a body of 500 men chosen at random from amongst the unemployed". In the years since he made that remark all that has really changed is the number – we are now pushing nearly 1,000 peers who get £300 tax-free a day just for turning up, more than half from the ranks of retired or failed politicians. For those retired MPs in the Lords, this amounts to a £1m top-up to their pensions.

Of course among our peers there are those with valuable experience and expertise who have made a vital contribution. But we can protect that expertise and still end the existence of an institution whose current composition is an affront to the principles of openness which underpin a modern democracy.

Fortunately, we are now in a position to create a democratic second chamber. The Government is shortly to publish its proposals for Lords reform and all three major political parties put a democratic House of Lords in their manifestos at the last election. We just need politicians to do what they are always promising to do and put party differences to one side.

When Ed Miliband gave his first speech as party leader to the Labour conference he promised a "new politics" and to "change the way government works". The Coalition Government is giving him the opportunity to do just that, to put old-fashioned tribalism aside and help deliver something that his party has long campaigned for.

And any Conservatives who are uneasy about the reforms should see this as delivering on the promise they made in their 2010 manifesto to deliver "a total overhaul of our system of government, so that power is passed from the politicians at Westminster back to the people of Britain".

It has been said by some that there are more important things for the government to be focusing on. I agree. Our No 1 priority will always be protecting people in this country from the global economic crisis. But getting three political parties to deliver on their promise of more democracy shouldn't be time-consuming if everybody keeps their word.

We have a second chamber in desperate need of change, we have the political agreement, and we have the opportunity. To all those who say now is not the time for reform the question has to be, "If not now, when?"

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

LSA (afterschool club) vacancy in Newport

£40 per day + Travel Scheme : Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job: Our client ...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: There's a crackle in the Brum air

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Obama has admitted that his administration underestimated the threat posed by Isis  

Syrian air-strikes: Does the US have the foggiest idea who their enemy is?

Kim Sengupta
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style