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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Nick Clegg pledges biggest political reforms since 1832

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has promised the "biggest shake-up of our democracy" in 178 years as he sets out plans for political reform.

The Tory-Lib Dem coalition is proposing fixed-term parliaments, an elected House of Lords and a referendum on changing the voting system.

Mr Clegg said the government was "not insecure about relinquishing control".

The Lib Dem leader also called on the public to nominate laws to be repealed, as part of a "power revolution".

Mr Clegg, who is overseeing the government's political reform plans, said he wanted to "transform our politics so the state has far less control over you, and you have far more control over the state".


This would include scrapping the ID card scheme and accompanying National Identity Register, all future biometric passports and the children's Contact Point Database. It would also ensure CCTV was "properly regulated" in future and the storage of innocent people's DNA restricted.

Mr Clegg said: "Britain was once the cradle of modern democracy. We are now, on some measures, the most centralised country in Europe, bar Malta."

Ben Wright
Political reform and the civil liberties agenda will be very much Mr Clegg's project. It is an area where the coalition should find much agreement
The BBC's Ben Wright

The deputy prime minister promised to give voters powers to "recall" corrupt MPs and for an elected House of Lords, based on a "proportional" voting system.

He said: "I'm talking about the most significant programme of empowerment by a British government since the great enfranchisement of the 19th Century.

"The biggest shake up of our democracy since 1832, when the Great Reform Act redrew the boundaries of British democracy, for the first time extending the franchise beyond the landed classes."

He added: "Incremental change will not do. It is time for a wholesale, big bang approach to political reform."

He accused the previous government of "obsessive lawmaking" and pledged to "get rid of the unnecessary laws" and "introduce a mechanism to block pointless new criminal offences".

Elected House of Lords
Scrapping the ID card scheme and the national identity register
Libel to be reviewed to protect freedom of speech
Limits on the rights to peaceful protest to be removed
Scrapping the ContactPoint database of 11 million under-18s

He promised to ask the public "which laws you think should go" as they "tear through the statute book".

Mr Clegg added: "This government is going to persuade you to put your faith in politics once again."

He said differences between the Lib Dems and Conservatives were "almost impossible to spot" when it came to wanting to decentralise power.

He added: "We don't, unlike Labour, believe that change in our society must be forced from the centre. Unlike the previous Labour government, we're not insecure about relinquishing control."

Mr Clegg, who was heckled by protesters as he arrived at City and Islington College to give his speech, did not give a date for the referendum on electoral reform which the government is promising or its "precise wording".

He also acknowledged that the Lib Dems and Conservatives would not be "united" on the issue and would campaign for different outcomes.

'Right balance'

The deputy prime minister defended the government's decision to set a threshold of 55% of MPs having to back a dissolution of Parliament for it to happen.

Critics argue that the change, which accompanies the move to five-year fixed-term parliaments, is unconstitutional and gives the incumbent administration an unfair advantage.

Widened franchise to include one in seven adult males
Abolished many "rotten boroughs", with some large towns getting MPs for the first time
But only men with properties with rental value of more than £10 a year could vote, disappointing many reformers and leading to the Chartist movement, calling for universal manhood suffrage

But Mr Clegg said: "That is a much lower threshold than the two-thirds required in Scottish Parliament but it strikes the right balance for our Parliament, maintaining stability, stopping parties from forcing a dissolution to serve their own interest.

"This last week, former Labour ministers who were once perfectly happy to ride roughshod over the rights of Parliament are now declaring that this is somehow an innovation which is a constitutional outrage. They are completely missing the point.

"This is a new right for Parliament, additional to the existing powers of no confidence. We are not taking away Parliament's right to throw out government. We are taking away government's right to throw out Parliament."

For Labour, former Home Secretary Alan Johnson accused Mr Clegg of using "rampant hyperbole" when talking about surveillance and added that the previous government's law and order reforms had public backing.

He said: "If he [Mr Clegg] wants to ask the public which laws to get rid of, he should also ask which laws they would like to keep."