Clegg backs down on House of Lords reform

Deputy PM fails to secure a fully elected upper house and agrees that the bishops will remain.

Nick Clegg has been outmanoeuvred again, this time on House of Lords reform. The Deputy Prime Minister had hoped to establish a fully elected second chamber, but has settled for (£) one that is 80 per cent elected and 20 per cent appointed. He has also agreed to reserve some places for the Anglican bishops, 26 of whom sit in the house. We will remain the only semi-theocracy in the western world.

The coalition agreement held open the possibility of a fully elected upper house. It said: "We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation."

In response, we can expect Labour, which failed to deliver even a partially elected Lords, to attack Clegg's compromise. Ed Miliband offered a preview of this strategy in his recent speech at the launch of the Labour Yes Campaign.

He said: "We need a reformed, democratic House of Lords. Labour and the Lib Dems called for a fully elected second chamber in our manifesto. I want to keep that promise." Clegg has also agreed to abandon a proposed ban on former ministers and MPs sitting in the Lords.

The Times reports that a "committee of both Houses will be set up before the summer recess to consider the plans and will report next year". Should the Yes camp lose the AV referendum, David Cameron will almost certainly offer Lords reform to Clegg as a consolation prize. But he will have to contend with a Tory party that, with honourable exceptions, remains hostile to reform and, of course, the Lords itself.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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