Sunday 23 May 2010

Clegg happy to hedge on partially elected Lords

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will not oppose plans to keep a proportion of appointed peers in a mostly elected upper chamber.

The LibDem leader gave a very strong public steer about that in his interview with Andrew Marr this morning, when asked about the possibility that the new Upper House will not be 100% elected:

"I don't want to make the best the enemy of the good. I think it should be a wholly elected House. I think any chamber that decides on the laws of the land should be wholly elected. But I am not going to die in the trenches over that if that is a way of actually getting this going. Because the one thing that I want to avoid is that this government ends up like every government over the last century which has talked about House of Lords reform and not delivered it", said Clegg.

The Coalition Agreement states that "We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010".

Clegg's comments gave a strong steer that there is already an agreement between the Conservative and LibDem frontbenches that they will go for the "mainly elected" option. It is probable that this partly reflects a Conservative concern to keep the Church of England Bishops as appointees in a second chamber.

And Clegg's language about not dying in the trenches perhaps contain an interesting, if unintentional, echo of the 1911 debate in which the ferocious battle between Liberals and Conservatives brought about the most serious constitutional crisis in British history.

So Clegg today placed himself at the head of the LibDem "hedgers" - having now pretty much publicly conceded that he is willing to pragmatically compromise on the principle of a wholly elected House.

It remains to be seen if many in his party will want to push to reopen that and keep the possibility of a 100% elected upper house on the table: a "last ditch" camp, on the democratic side of the argument this time. Clegg's public statement on the case for compromise has probably significantly reduced the chances for those who would push for a fully elected chamber.

1 comment:

John Ruddy said...

If the only unelected peers were the church of england bishops, I wouldnt be unhappy with that, although I think their number should be reduced if they are to remain. After all, 26 (or fewer) appointees is a chamber of 500 elected members.

However, I suspect the tory position will be for much more unelected members.