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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Farron calls for reform of the Lords 'once and for all'

Politicians from across the political spectrum should seize the opportunity to overhaul the House of Lords once and for all, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has said. It comes amid the fallout of Lord Sewel’s resignation from the House of Lords, which has sparked calls for a shake-up of the second chamber. Tim Farron has written to party leaders in the Commons and Lords - as well as crossbench peers - urging them to back the case for reform.

Commenting Mr Farron said: "Lord Sewel’s resignation is welcome, albeit 24 hours too late. But this is not just about one bad apple, it’s about a system which is rotten to the core and allows unelected, unaccountable people to think they are above the law. It is yet another sorry reflection of an undemocratic system, and more than ever highlights the Liberal Democrat case for reform. Even the best politicians must be accountable to the public, and the current system of lifetime appointments means that doesn’t happen."

Lib Dem peer Jeremy Purvis last month set out plans for a new UK constitutional convention, as part of a bill which included plans to overhaul the House of Lords. And with Mr Farron writing to leaders of all parties in both chambers, including all four of the Labour leadership candidates, by doing so calling for them to back the convention and take seriously the case for reform.

Tim Farron said: "It is hugely disappointing, but not that surprising, that David Cameron and the Tories are still stubbornly refusing to budge on a shake-up in the House of Lords. Calls for a moratorium, or a retirement age just paper over the cracks. Nothing will be achieved until Parliamentarians vote in favour of abolition and reform, something Lib Dems are committed to doing. So, it is left to the Liberal Democrats to lead the overwhelming case to ensure our second chamber is elected and properly accountable to the British people."

In 2012 the Coalition government tried to legislate for an elected second chamber, replacing the House of Lords. The Deputy Prime Minister, at the time, Nick Clegg carried the chamber comfortably winning the second reading vote but the Labour party refused to back the programme motion. David Cameron and the leader of the Tory rebels, Jesse Norman, clashed in the Division Lobby over the programme motion. Labour leader Ed Miliband later quipping that it was 'fisticuffs in the lobby'.

A programme motion puts an arbitrary time table in place for when a stage of a bill finishes. The stage in question was for the Committee Stage. This is the stage where amendments can be tabled, debated and voted upon. During the second reading debate, now London Mayoral hopeful, Sadiq Khan who was leading for Labour refused on numerous occasions, including requests from his own side, to say how long he thought the Committee Stage should be. 

Nick Clegg had tabled ten days for Committee Stage, but with Labour siding with the Tory rebels the Coalition just didn't have the numbers to get it through. No programme motion would have held up the rest of the Coalitions legislation indefinitely so the motion was withdrawn and Labour and the Tory rebels killed Lords reform and ensured the status quo could continue.