Belfast Telegraph

Clegg and Lib Dems need to win Lords reform battle

By Tom Moseley

Anyone who doubts the need to change the House of Lords should look up its current leader. Lord Strathclyde is a man whose full title - Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, 2nd Baron Strathclyde - makes the case for reform all by itself.

Yet if evidence were needed of the difficulties facing Nick Clegg as he looks to go about the task, it came yesterday.

A report from a government-appointed committee published its verdict - but members were hopelessly divided, with an alternative version being released shortly afterwards.

The headline announcement was that 80% of members should be elected for a 15-year term, and that a referendum should be held before the changes are made.

Putting aside the potentially record low turnout if people are asked to vote on whether they want to vote for members of the House of Lords, these proposals are creating some serious opposition at Westminster.

There is concern from Tory heavyweights, including Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson. Conor Burns, Mr Paterson's aide, says he would be prepared to resign if denied a free vote on the issue. Others are talking of the Bill being sabotaged, which would cause a crisis in the coalition.

Many MPs don't like the idea of someone being elected to serve their area, for 15 years, without being responsible for day-to-day constituency issues.

This is what is proposed under the proportional system, which would leave Northern Ireland with somewhere between eight and 10 peers, based on its allocation of parliamentary seats.

There is also the constitutional concern that the Lords would end up with too much power, threatening the primacy of the House of Commons. This was voiced yesterday in the rival report, whose supporters included Lord Trimble.

Given such political obstacles, one might well expect the coalition to withdraw.

But after his thrashing in the Alternative Vote referendum and a battering over the NHS reforms and student fees, this is a must-win for Clegg and the Lib Dems.

Mr Clegg has come out against a referendum, knowing that it would make his chances of getting legislation passed before the next election even more remote.

Ed Miliband has weighed in, urging David Cameron to hold a poll, sensing the chance to divide the Government and humiliate Mr Clegg.

All in all, it would be optimistic to say we're much closer to a resolution after yesterday's rival announcements. And it's easy to see why this has been unfinished business for the past 101 years.

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