Page last updated at 18:38 GMT, Monday, 30 April 2012 19:38 UK

Ashdown: Peers are 'creatures of patronage'


Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown has made an impassioned call for a democratically elected second chamber of Parliament, and described the current House of Lords as made up of "placemen" and "creatures of patronage".

Speaking during a debate on a report into Lords reform, Lord Ashdown said that "at a time when people are dying for democracy", the House of Lords "infringes the fundamental principle of a democratic state, which is that the people's laws are made by the people's representatives".

Peers held the first part of a general debate on the report from the Joint Committee on the draft House of Lords Reform Bill on 30 April 2012.

The committee report, published on 23 April, recommended that a reformed House of Lords should be 80% elected and there should be a referendum before any change is made.

In contrast to Lord Ashdown, the Bishop of Leicester said that the House would continue to need people with "an independent view" and argued that "it is clear that an elected House will become a creature of the party system".

Labour's Baroness Symons said that "independence within parties" would be compromised and "the whip would be cracked a bit more effectively over all of us than it is at the moment".

Opening the debate, committee chair Lord Richard said that the members had voted that "a reformed second chamber should have an electoral mandate" with 13 in favour and nine against.

The joint committee said there should be 450 peers - down from about 800 - who would serve for 15-year terms.

Lord Richard said that his committee had "discussed and discussed and discussed the primacy of the House of Commons" over the Lords and, while it was thought that "the balance of power would shift", he believed that the primacy of the Lower House would continue.

He described the Commons as "the place where governments are made and destroyed".

For the government, Lord Strathclyde said that what was being considered was the second phase of a "process begun in 1997" when the then Prime Minister Tony Blair described the Lords as "an affront to democracy".

The Leader of the Lords said the coalition had allowed pre-legislative scrutiny with the publication of its draft bill on Lords reform, and that the debate would help in "informing the government's deliberations".

Shadow leader of the Lords Baroness Royall said it was "risible" to suggest that the issue was a pressing one, at a time when "people across the country are deeply worried" about the economy, jobs and rising prices.

"This government's response to their worries? House of Lords reform," she mocked.

She added that Labour's position was that "a constitutional change of this level of importance does require a referendum".

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he is not persuaded of the need for a referendum but would not rule one out.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats agreed in their coalition deal to set up a committee to examine proposals for a "wholly or mainly elected upper chamber" - but the issue is seen as one that is driven more by the Lib Dems.

But some members of the committee released a separate report arguing that the government's draft bill "totally fails" to protect the primacy of the House of Commons and proposing a "constitutional convention" should be set up to consider the issue more widely.

As many as 80 peers signed up to speak in the debate, forcing the government to allow the debate to run into a second day before the prorogation of Parliament on Tuesday afternoon.


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