Clegg makes “impressive” debut at despatch box as DPM, sets out radical political reform plans

by Stephen Tall on June 7, 2010

Nick Clegg debuted in front of the House of Commons today in his new role (yes, it is still new: it’s only a month since the election) as deputy prime minister. And he used the occasion to set out how the new coalition government will make good the political reforms radical political reform plans that languished neglected during Labour’s 13 years in government. The government’s plans include:

    * A referendum on the Alternative Vote
    * The right to recall MPs who break the rules
    * Fewer, more equal-sized constituencies
    * Making the House of Lords wholly or largely elected
    * Fixed five-year parliaments
    * Devolving greater powers to the Scottish Parliament by implementing the recommendations of the Calman Commission
    * A referendum on devolving more powers to the Welsh Assembly

Nick Clegg’s website excerpts parts of his speech, reproduced below. But if that’s not enough for you then you can read the full debate exchange courtesy of Hansard here.

Political website ePolitix.com is full of praise for Nick’s performance – while noting, fairly enough, that these honeymoon months will be the easy ones for the Lib Dems and the rest of the government:

Plans for a referendum on electoral reform, legislation to create an elected Upper House, and the government’s controversial plans to secure fixed term Parliaments, all met with howls of Labour anguish and an early call for the deputy prime minister to “get off his high horse”. Clegg, whose debut performance appeared to be nerve-free, gave as good as he got. … when pressed on the need for urgency over plans to cut the number of MPs, Clegg repeated what we can expect to be a frequently used come-back: “You had 13 years. We’ve only had three weeks.”

It’s an argument that stacks up well for now, and the glum expressions on the Labour benches – led by an out of sorts Jack Straw, whose mammoth speech soon lost all sides of the House – suggest that it’s one that isn’t easy to answer. … He’ll have enjoyed this, and, given the negative reception which welcomed him, Clegg might think that there’ll be easy days to come.

However, at the start of this coalition government’s life, and with the open goal hit of New Labour’s latter years of constitutional foot-dragging, Clegg is having it easy. New Politics has Clegg bounding for now, but he will know that without visible progress it – and he – will soon begin to look as tired as the old lot.

Here’s the excerpts of the first speech by a Lib Dem deputy prime minister:

We all share a single ambition: to restore people’s faith in their politics and their politicians. This government’s plans will do just that. Because our programme turns a page: On governments that hoard power. On parliaments that look inwards rather than outwards. On widespread disengagement amongst people who feel locked out of the decisions that affect their everyday lives. So this is a moment when we have a real opportunity to change our politics for good…

…This government is determined that no government should be able to play politics with the dates of a General Election. Parliamentary terms should be fixed for five years. So we need a new right for parliament to request a dissolution, taking away the Prime Minister’s traditional right to call an election when he or she wishes…

…We plan to strengthen the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly too, implementing recommendations from the Calman Commission’s Final Report.

And, equally, Wales will get a referendum on further devolution. A decision that will be taken by the Welsh people…

…It’s time to finish what was started three years ago in the cross party talks on party funding. Every party has had its own problems, but we all now have an opportunity to draw a line under them. So we’ll seize that opportunity – we will pursue a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to remove big money from politics for good…

…We will bring forward legislation to ensure that, where it has been proven that an MP has been engaged in serious wrongdoing…Their constituents will have the right to organise a petition to force a by-election. When people have been let down by their MP in that way, they must not be made to wait until the next election to cast their judgement…

…The power of recall is just one of a range of reforms intended to shift power directly to the British people. We also want people to be able to initiate debates here in the Commons through public petitions. We want a new public reading stage for bills. We want people to be able to instigate local referenda on issues that matter to their neighbourhoods. And, we want people to decide directly if they want to change the system by which they elect their MPs, which is why there will be a referendum on AV, and I will be announcing the date of that referendum in due course…

…It should be up to the British people to elect their second chamber. To that end, I want to announce the following: One: I have now set up a committee, which I will chair, to take forward this reform, composed of members from all three major political parties, as well as from both Houses. Two: it will be explicitly charged with producing a draft bill by no later than the end of this year. The first time legislation for an elected second chamber will have ever been published… I will not hide my impatience for reforms that are more than a hundred years overdue.