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Lib Dem leader seeks Lords reform after Sewel resigns

Lord Sewel, who has resigned as Lords Deputy Speaker after The Sun on Sunday published a video of him allegedly taking drugs with prostitutes
Andrew Woodcock

LIBERAL Democrat leader Tim Farron has urged other party leaders to throw their weight behind a constitutional convention after the resignation of Lord Sewel sparked fresh calls for reform of the House of Lords.

Mr Farron welcomed Lord Sewel’s decision to quit but said his downfall had wider implications for an undemocratic system that was “rotten to the core” and allowed peers to feel they were above the law.

But David Cameron said there was “no point” reviving the debate on Lords reform after coalition proposals were killed off by Tory backbench opposition in the last Parliament.

Instead, he appeared to confirm he will use the upcoming dissolution honours to appoint new Conservative peers in an attempt to redress the balance, which sees 226 Tories heavily outnumbered in the Second Chamber, saying he wanted to “make sure the House of Lords more accurately reflects the situation in the House of Commons”.

A bill providing for a mainly elected upper house was ditched by the prime minister in 2012 after a rebellion of 91 Tories in a decision that saw Lib Dems withdraw their support for his plan to reduce the size of the Commons.

Campaigners for change have also voiced concern over the size of the Second Chamber, which, with around 790 members, is the largest legislative body outside China.

Some argue that the regions of England should be given formal recognition in a reformed Second Chamber, with peers representing the cities, regions and nations of the UK.

There have been calls for reforms to introduce a retirement age or fixed terms for membership, and to make it easier to remove peers who bring the reputation of the House into disrepute.

Last year’s House of Lords Reform Act addressed concerns about overcrowding on the red benches and the difficulty of removing errant peers, introducing measures to allow Lords to resign or retire, and for those sentenced to more than 12 months in jail to be expelled.

But only 30 peers have so far taken advantage of the opportunity to relinquish their right to a seat that they no longer wish to occupy.

In a letter to other party leaders, Mr Farron called on them to support Lib Dem peer Lord Purvis’s backbench bill, which would create a constitutional convention to consider a Lords overhaul alongside other hot political topics such as 'English votes for English laws' and the relationship between Westminster and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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