Lords reform plans divide Northern Ireland MPs, as NIO aide Conor Burns quits
MPs from Northern Ireland were divided over plans to reform the House of Lords, as David Cameron faced his biggest Commons rebellion since becoming prime minister.
Proposals to change the Upper House survived their first Commons test but the government was forced to abandon its planned timetable to avoid a defeat.
The coalition government withdrew a programme motion which would have mapped out a timetable for the planned legislation.
The government will propose a new timetable in the autumn.
The controversial reform plans led to the resignation of Conor Burns as a parliamentary aide to Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland secretary of state.'Great regret'
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.
End Quote Lady Hermon North Down MP
The current bill is not an improvement, instead it is a recipe for constitutional gridlock ”
"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".
The Bournemouth West MP said stepping down was the only option.
"I do it with confidence, that it is the right thing to do," he said.
The coalition government had been facing defeat on the programme motion on the House of Lords reform bill, which would have limited the time for future debate on the proposed changes in the House of Commons to 10 days.
Labour and rebel Conservative MPs said this did not allow enough time to discuss a crucial constitutional change.
However, MPs did vote by 462 to 124 to accept the second reading of the bill.
The DUP voted against the second reading of the bill. The party has always insisted that it backs Lords reform, but says the plans in their current form are not acceptable.
End Quote Naomi Long Alliance MP
There is a large majority in the House of Commons in favour of reform”
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: "The bill is being brought forward for reason of political expediency rather than as the result of a consensus on constitutional change.
"In our view, at a time of economic crisis the emphasis should be on the economy and jobs."
The North Belfast MP added that if constitutional issues were to be dealt with, "let's get on with reforming the House of Commons by getting rid of the special money set aside for the class of MPs who don't take their seats".
The North Down MP Lady Hermon also voted against the reform proposals.
The independent MP told the BBC: "Clearly the House of Lords needs reform, but 'reform' should mean an improvement.
"The current bill is not an improvement, instead it is a recipe for constitutional gridlock between the two Houses of Parliament".
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.
The SDLP's three MPs supported the plans to change the make-up of the second chamber.
South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said the House of Lords was an "anachronistic institution" and needed reformed.
"We look forward to a time when these plans can be debated on the floor of the House of Commons," she said.
During his speech, the Foyle MP Mark Durkan raised the issue of which chamber would have primacy if elections took place in the Lords.
The Alliance MP Naomi Long, a long-time supporter of Lords reform, also endorsed the second reading of the bill.
The East Belfast MP told the BBC the vote showed that "there is a large majority in the House of Commons in favour of reform".
She said those opposed to the timetable motion must "come up with an alternative programme" to show how the legislation can be advanced.
Shadow Secretary of State Vernon Coaker said he was pleased the timetable motion was withdrawn.
The Labour MP said: "We wanted enough time for Parliament to knock into shape what is a substandard set of proposals.
"That includes a debate about what the impact of the changes will be on Northern Ireland's representation in a reformed second chamber."
The Speaker John Bercow has told MPs that the parliamentary rules mean the Bill will not move to the next stage of the parliamentary process until MPs vote for a committal motion that will formally send the bill into committee.
Commons leader Sir George Young told MPs the timetabling vote - seen as essential to the proposals ultimately becoming law - would not now take place and was likely to be rescheduled for the autumn.