Conor Burns quits Northern Ireland Office over Lords reform plan

Conor Burns said he regretted he would not be able to continue his work on Northern Ireland issues

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Conservative MP Conor Burns has resigned as a ministerial aide to Northern Ireland Secretary of State Owen Paterson.

He stood down on Tuesday in protest at the government's plans to reform the House of Lords.

The Belfast-born MP for Bournemouth West had been an aide since last autumn.

It is the second time in less than a year that an aide to Mr Paterson has resigned.

HOUSE OF LORDS REFORM PLANS

  • A smaller chamber - reduced from 826 members to 450.
  • The majority, 80%, of members would be elected - at the moment nearly all peers are appointed either by political parties or by the independent House of Lords Commission.
  • But 90 members, 20%, would still be appointed, by an Appointments Commission, on a non-party basis.
  • Time-limited membership - Once elected, peers would serve a non-renewable 15-year term instead of being members for life.
  • A reduced number of bishops - The number of Church of England bishops would be cut from 26 to 12.
  • No more Lords and Baronesses - The chamber would still be called the House of Lords but members would not have the title "Lord". Parliament to choose a new name for members.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Burns told MPs he "genuinely regretted" that he would no longer be able to contribute to the government's work in Northern Ireland.

"As someone who was born in north Belfast and spent the early part of my years there, as someone who is a Catholic and a unionist and recognises and understands and indeed feels both traditions in Northern Ireland, I think that is a matter of great regret.

"But I do it with confidence that it is the right thing to do."

'Mainstream'

The coalition dropped its plans for a crucial vote on its proposals to reform the House of Lords after it faced likely defeat over the issue.

Up to 100 Conservatives were expected to defy the government and oppose the plan to limit the time available for debating plans for a mainly elected second chamber of Parliament.

In his resignation speech, Mr Burns said his support for retaining a fully-appointed Lords was a "mainstream" Tory position.

Mr Burns warned MPs they were "setting off on the conveyor belt to conflict" between the Commons and Lords.

"It is an unsightly and unseemly act for the government," he said.

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