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

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Broker / Purchaser

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The possibility of Corbyn winning has excited some Conservatives  

Labour leadership: The choice at the heart of the leadership campaign

Jeremy Corbyn
Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Spain’s anti-austerity party Podemos  

Greece debt crisis: Trouble is, if you help the Greeks, everyone will want the same favours

Charlotte McDonald-Gibson Charlotte McDonald-Gibson
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'