By Jonathan Isaby
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I think it's fair to conclude that the scepticism about meddling with the composition of the second chamber exhibited yesterday from the Tory backbenches is representative of widespread opposition within the parliamentary party.
Here's a selection of the exchanges:
Mel Stride: Given the country’s firm rejection of AV in the recent referendum and the fact that the Government’s proposals include the possibility of some form of proportional representation for election of Members of this Parliament, will my right hon. Friend at least consider giving the people of this country a referendum on this important constitutional change?
The Deputy Prime Minister: The first point of which to remind my hon. Friend is that this was a manifesto commitment of all three parties. It is something that we as a country have been discussing for around 100 years or so, and we have introduced changed electoral systems to a number of Assemblies and Parliaments in the UK without referendums in the past.
By Tim Montgomerie
Over the last 48 hours - on LeftWatch - I've been documenting the zero to 100mph rhetorical overkill of Labour MPs and left-wing commentators. The infection spread to Labour's frontbench yesterday when the always partisan Chris Bryant put this question to Nick Clegg at Deputy PM's Question Time:
"It is estimated that 200,000 people will be forced out of major metropolitan areas as a result of the Government's niggardly proposals on welfare reform, which will turn London into Paris, with the poor consigned to the outer ring. That is the equivalent of three parliamentary constituencies, according to the Deputy Prime Minister's desiccated calculating machine of a Bill. Would it not be iniquitous if, on top of being socially engineered and sociologically cleansed out of London, the poor were also disfranchised by his Bill? How does he propose to make electoral provision for those displaced people?"
"We all indulge in a bit of hyperbole, but I have to say to the hon. Gentleman quite seriously that to refer to "cleansing" will be deeply offensive to people who have witnessed ethnic cleansing in other parts of the world."
He then went on to calmly explain why Coalition changes to housing benefits policy were justifiable:
"We are saying that it is perfectly reasonable for the Government to say that they will not hand out more in housing benefit than those who go out to work, pay their taxes and play by the rules would pay when looking for housing themselves. We are simply suggesting that there should be a cap for family homes with four bedrooms of £400 a week. That is £21,000 a year. Does the hon. Gentleman really think it is wrong that the state should not subsidise people to the tune of more than £21,000, when people cannot afford to live privately in those areas? I do not think so."
During DPMQs Mr Clegg also confirmed the Coalition's intention to deliver equally-sized seats:
Tory MP Gareth Johnson asked: "Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that it is vital to have constituencies in which all votes carry equal weight, in order to restore public trust in our democratic process?"
Nick Clegg replied, taunting Labour with the history of the Chartists: "I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. It is one of the founding principles of any democracy that votes should be valued in the same way, wherever they are cast. Over the years, all sorts of anomalies have developed, such that different people's votes are simply not worth the same in elections to this place. That surely cannot be right, and it is worth reminding those Opposition Members who object to the rationale that it was one of the founding tenets of the Chartists-one of the predecessor movements to the Labour party-that all votes should be of equal value."
Mr Clegg also defended his party's u-turn on tuition fees from a Glasgow Labour MP:
Anas Sarwar: "During the election campaign, the Deputy Prime Minister said: "We will resist, vote against, campaign against, any lifting of that cap" on tuition fees. Will he take this opportunity to apologise to the hundreds of thousands of students and families whom he has betrayed since becoming a Tory?"
The Deputy Prime Minister: "Of course I regret - who would not regret? - making a promise and signing a pledge, as happened in this case, that we have now found that we are unable to keep. Of course I wish that the proposal for a graduate tax put forward now by the hon. Gentleman's leader, which comes from a party that introduced tuition fees having previously said that it would not do so, would work and that it was an alternative that we could implement. We looked at it very carefully-it has also been proposed by the National Union of Students-but it is not workable and it is not fair. What we will be doing shortly, when we come forward with our response to the Browne report, is install new measures that will ensure that the way in which students go to university is fairer and less punitive on those who are disadvantaged than the system that we inherited from the Labour party."
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