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4 April 2011

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.

By George Eaton

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.

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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.