Clegg in battle over House of Lords reform

Plans by Nick Clegg to reform the Lords were dealt a blow when he had a private meeting with peers to discuss sweeping changes to the way they are elected.

Plans by Nick Clegg to reform the House of Lords were dealt a blow yesterday when he had a private meeting with peers to discuss sweeping changes to the way they are elected. In what have been described as “acrimonious” clashes with peers, the deputy prime minister was told that his proposals would be fought every step of the way in what is known to be one of his key policy proposals.

The proposals would create a House of Lords where 80 per cent of the peers are elected under the proportional STV (Single Transferable Vote), which would help the Liberal Democrats and other smaller parties due to its proportional nature.

Clegg had previously called for a completely elected chamber, however under coalition negotiations has had to compromise, while David Cameron once described House of Lords reform as a “third-term issue'”.

However, in a speech in May, Mr Clegg showed that reform of the chamber would be a key issue in a coalition government, describing it as:

“The biggest shake-up of our democracy since 1832, when the Great Reform Act redrew the boundaries of British democracy, for the first time extending the franchise beyond the landed classes.”

Although deep divisions remain within the Conservative party over the issue the Lib Dem slump in the polls may have forced the prime minister into giving concessions to Clegg on what is often seen as a traditionally Liberal issue – though the reform effort has come under fire from parliamentarians on all sides.

Labour Peer Lord Bilimoria argued that, in what would be an elected ‘senate’, there was no need for the Lords to challenge the supremacy of the Commons. This was an issue echoed by Tory MP for Harwich and North Essex Bernard Jenkins, who argued the moves could “paralyse” the coalition as his party were fundamentally against the move.

The idea of an elected House of Lords will help Mr Clegg gain plaudits from some of his more progressive supporters whom he may have lost over tuition fees and the VAT rise. Furthermore, if Clegg is to win the referendum on the alternative vote in May and usher in a key Liberal Democrat policy goal then he may be able to campaign at the next general election under the banner of a reformer.

But if he wants to win this battle to create a more accountable House of Lords he may be come up from stiff opposition not just from the chamber he wishes to reform, but from inside his own too.

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