Lords reform: Government abandons crucial vote amid likely defeat

 

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

Dozens of Conservatives were expected to defy the government and oppose the plan to limit the time available for debating plans for proposed changes.

But the government later won a separate vote on the principle behind a mainly elected chamber with a majority of 338.

But 91 Conservative MPs voted against the bill as a whole.

One of the rebels, Angie Bray, has been sacked from her role as a ministerial aide.

The vote means that proposals for an 80% elected House of Lords that is half its current size will proceed to their next stage of parliamentary scrutiny in the autumn.

Analysis

Nick Clegg's dream of reform of the House of Lords has slipped away.

Not forever, not yet anyway, but it's suffered a very significant setback.

The reason: David Cameron couldn't deliver the numbers.

And it is, ultimately, a numbers game.

The prime minister was facing a massive rebellion, so he decided to step back, apparently telling his deputy he needed more time to garner support from the Tory side.

So the government has opted for another go in the autumn, when it says it will try, again, to get support for a programme motion.

On the face of it it weakens both men. One couldn't persuade a sizeable chunk of his own MPs to back a key part of the coalition's policy programme.

The other has failed the first test in delivering what he hoped would be a key legacy of his time in office.

The more Machiavellian view is of a prime minister who sanctioned a soft whipping operation and who wanted to see the prospect of an insurrection in the 100+ category.

And also of a man who is content to present his coalition partner with the harsh reality of another delay on the road to reforming the Lords.

But critics said the whole future of the bill has been thrown into doubt by the government's decision not to put a so-called programme motion to a vote. This would have limited the time for future debate on the proposed changes in the House of Commons to 10 days.

The government had been facing defeat on the vote and Lib Dem sources say Prime Minister David Cameron told his deputy Nick Clegg that the timetabling motion should be pulled to gather support for it among Conservatives over the next two months.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said a spokesman for Mr Clegg had declared "a plague on both their houses" when asked whether he blamed the Conservatives or Labour for the setback.

Labour and rebel Conservative MPs said this did not allow enough time to discuss a crucial constitutional change.

Commons leader Sir George Young told MPs the timetabling vote would be postponed until after the summer recess.

He blamed Labour for the climbdown, saying the opposition was not prepared to support the government in Tuesday's vote despite supporting the idea of changes to the Lords. "It needs those that support reform to vote for reform," he said.

The government "remain committed to making progress" on changing the composition of the Lords, he stressed.

Responding to the setback, Foreign Secretary William Hague said all parties must "try to establish a better consensus", while former Lib Dem minister David Laws said it was "frustrating" but the government would return to the issue in two months and "expect to win".

But Tory MP Conor Burns resigned from his position as a ministerial aide in the Northern Ireland Office in protest at the plans.

And Tory backbencher Jesse Norman said the government had backed down because of the scale of the likely rebellion on the Conservative benches and the proposals were now a "dead duck".

'Inadequate'

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.

And Bernard Jenkin, one of the leading Conservative opponents of the plans, questioned the future of the entire legislation.

"Whatever moral authority the bill had, it has now lost," he said.

Labour described the decision not to press ahead with a vote on the issue of the time allocated for debate as a "victory for Parliament".

"This is not a wrecking tactic - far from it," said shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan. "We've already given our assurances we'll do all we can to ensure the bill progresses. Instead, it's about making good an inadequate bill.

"And that means allowing Parliament the time to revise, amend and improve the bill free from the threat of debate being stifled."

Commons Speaker John Bercow has told MPs that the parliamentary rules mean that even if - as expected - the bill is given a second reading it will not move on to the next stage of the parliamentary process.

Before it can be considered again, MPs will first need to vote for a committal motion that will formally send the bill into committee.

 

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  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 286.

    time to do a complete U-turn and restore the house of lords to it's former glory ,get rid of the party peers and bring back all the hereditary peers asap.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 261.

    Get rid of the Lords altogether or leave it alone.

    I see no point in reform unless they can do more than delay or suggest modifications to a bill.

    Experts are already called at various stages of a bill and the Commons either listens to them or not. It would be no different with a whole House of them.

    And I don't want another House of career politicians, particularly not elected for 15 years!

  • rate this
    +19

    Comment number 255.

    On balance I'm relieved that the flawed HoL we have is not to be replaced with an arguably-perhaps-bit-less-flawed one, with which we'd be stuck for generations.

    The door remains open for sensible change, to a proper basis, a non-political Appointments Commission, for appointing peers on good reason.

  • rate this
    +65

    Comment number 109.

    Thank the Lord(s)!

    The last thing we need is more elected politicians and the continued tearing up of the intricate patchwork of traditional frameworks which make this country work. I don't dispute the the patronage of Lords appointments needs to end, but elected members elected from a party list is not the answer! We need genuine, independent expertise in the Lords, not party cronies.

  • rate this
    +98

    Comment number 99.

    Wouldn't it be better to replace the House of Lords with a cross section of society rather than more politicians? (teachers, police officers, academics, trade union representatives, doctors, representatives of local business groups, etc)

    Candidates shouldn't be allowed to be members of political parties or have held political office.

    That'd be a much better check-and-balance for our democracy..

 

Comments 5 of 6

 

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