CABINET OFFICE – HOUSE OF LORDS REFORM – 27 June 2011

Dr Julian Lewis: The Deputy Prime Minister is being very courteous in giving way. Does he accept that to elect two Houses by different electoral systems will lead to arguments over relative legitimacy? Will he put this particular voting system to a referendum? Why should we have a referendum on the voting system for this House and not one on the voting system for the other House?

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg): On the first point, we have an array of different electoral systems already in this country, from that used for the European Parliament to that used here in London and those used in the devolved Assemblies. Those systems all co-exist. I do not think that we need perfect consistency of electoral systems, as we do not have it anyway. On the second point, when all three parties have committed to something in their manifestos, such as House of Lords reform, the situation is unlike that with electoral reform to this place, so there is not a similar case for a referendum. ...

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Dr Lewis: Does the right hon. Gentleman (Sadiq Khan) not accept that the single most important function of our second Chamber is the revision and improvement of legislation? If we remove hundreds of people who are experts in their field and substitute them with hundreds of professional party politicians, what will make the latter better qualified to revise legislation in that Chamber than we amateurs are in this Chamber?

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Dr Lewis: Does my hon. Friend (Conor Burns) accept that there would be no more accountability under the current proposals than there is at present, because someone who underperformed in the other place would have been elected democratically for just one term of 14 years and could not be voted out again?

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Dr Lewis: In support of what my hon. Friend (Andrew Griffiths) is saying, let me point out that in response to a Liberal Democrat comment in the Southern Daily Echo in favour of House of Lords reform, I wrote an entire column saying why the House of Lords should remain appointed and not be elected in any way, shape or form. Not only was not a single blog post or letter of dissent directed towards me, but nothing was put in the paper, which only goes to show what a non-issue this is, in either direction, for the electorate.

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Chris Bryant: ...  The current system is also unsustainable simply because of the numbers. There are already more than 800 Members down the other end, and if we do not make reforms towards an elected second Chamber, we will end up with another 269.

Dr Lewis: Reduce the number!

Chris Bryant: I hear the hon. Gentleman say, in a rather Tudor way, "Let's just reduce the number." What? A kind of cull? Beheadings? We should have Acts of Attainder, perhaps, down this end just to get rid of particular named Members down the other. I am not sure that that is right, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), who said that there are too many Members and we need to ensure that there are fewer. The proposals are right in that regard. ...

[NOTE: For Julian's speech in this Debate, click here.]