19 May 2010

Nick Clegg pledges biggest political reforms since 1832

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is to pledge the "biggest shake-up of our democracy" in 178 years as he expands on plans for political reform.

The Tory-Lib Dem coalition backs plans for fixed-term parliaments, more elected peers and a referendum on changing the voting system.

Mr Clegg will pledge to restore faith in politics in a speech on Wednesday.

The Lib Dem leader is also expected to call on the public to nominate laws they think should be repealed.

But in an interview with the Times newspaper, Mr Clegg defended the Human Rights Act - which the Conservatives have previously pledged to replace - saying "any government would tamper with it at its peril".

DNA storage

The government has said a commission will be formed to review the act, having previously promised to replace it with a "British Bill of Rights".

The workings of the act have again been called into question after two terrorist suspects successfully appealed against being deported to Pakistan, after arguing they faced torture or death in their home country.

Mr Clegg, who was made deputy PM in the coalition government and is overseeing political reform plans, will give a speech from 1100 BST.
According to pre-released extracts, he will say the government aims 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 and ensuring CCTV was "properly regulated" and restricting the storage of innocent people's DNA.

Mr Clegg will say: "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."

[1832 REFORM ACT: 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]
He added: "Incremental change will not do. It is time for a wholesale, big bang approach to political reform."

He will also accuse the previous government of "obsessive lawmaking" and pledge to "get rid of the unnecessary laws" and "introduce a mechanism to block pointless new criminal offences".

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

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

In the House of Commons, the newly elected MPs will begin the swearing-in process which is expected to last into Thursday. The most senior MP goes first - MPs can take a religious oath or a secular affirmation of loyalty to the Crown.

They returned to the Commons briefly on Tuesday to elect the Speaker - John Bercow was reappointed to the role without a vote, despite a handful of objections.

The serious business of the Parliament gets under way next week, with the Queen's Speech - outlining the coalition's legislative agenda for the year - taking place on Tuesday.

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