Lords reform bill ‘by end of year’

By Alex Stevenson

A cross-party committee will publish a draft bill on Lords reform by the end of the year, Nick Clegg has announced.

The deputy prime minister used his debut at the despatch box to reveal his plans for the bill to be scrutinised by a rarely-used joint committee of both the Lords and Commons.

Its contents will have input from committee members including shadow justice secretary Jack Straw, shadow leader of the Lords Baroness Royall and the leader of the Commons, Sir George young.

Mr Clegg will chair the cross-party committee but justice secretary Ken Clarke is not included.

“I will not hide my impatience for reforms that are more than 100 years overdue,” Mr Clegg said.

“Subject to the legitimate scrutiny this bill will deserve, this government is determined to push through the necessary reforms to the other place. People have been talking about Lords reform for over a century. The time for talk is over.

“People must be allowed to elect those who make the laws of the land. Change must begin now.”

Mr Straw responded by telling the Commons: “We will work constructively with him and his colleagues.”

Their work will be the first time legislation for an elected second chamber is published and comes 99 years after the temporary measures contained in the Parliament Act 1911.

Lords reform committee membership in full

Nick Clegg – deputy prime minister (LD)
Mark Harper – political and constitutional reform minister (Con)
Lord Strathclyde – leader of the House of Lords (Con)
Lord McNally – deputy leader of the Lords (LD)
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon – shadow leader of the Lords (Lab)
Sir George Young – leader of the House of Commons (Con)
David Heath – deputy leader of the House of Commons (LD)
Rosie Winterton – shadow leader of the Commons (Lab)
Jack Straw – shadow justice secretary (Lab)

Earlier in his first speech at the despatch box Mr Clegg struggled to allay concerns by backbenchers about the proposals to introduce a fixed-term parliament, in which a dissolution would require a 55% majority in the Commons.

Criticism that a successful no confidence motion, which requires an absolute majority, would not immediately lead to a general election was rebuffed by the deputy prime minister.

“We are already conducting detailed work on the steps that are necessary to remove any theoretical possibility of a limbo in which a government that could not command the confidence of the House, would refuse to dissolve parliament and give people their say,” Mr Clegg said.

“That would clearly be intolerable. Any new arrangements will need to build on existing conventions so a distinction is maintained between no confidence and early dissolution.”

Mr Straw said Britain would be forced into “limbo” if a no confidence motion did not immediately lead to a general election.

“We need to fill in the details of the legislation to prevent what I think he is rightly concerned about,” Mr Clegg conceded.

“I’ve said as much as I can and would like to.”

Another major announcement came on proposals to give voters a right of recall, by petition, in constituencies where MPs have been found to have committed serious wrongdoing.

Mr Clegg said he wanted to see a body consisting not just of MPs decide on the issue of culpability.

“That is why we are looking into exactly what the fairest, most appropriate, and most robust, trigger would be,” he said. “I will outline those plans very soon.”