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.


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".



  • 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

    Comment number 110.

    From the Tories point of view, they'll probably see this defeat as a victory considering the only ones wanting the reform were the Lib Dems.

  • rate this

    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

    Comment number 108.

    @79. ExpatKS

    A slimmed down Lords made up of 300 business experts, academics, scientists etc would do fine.

    So basically, no-one to represent the common man ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    good old labour

    They could have put cheap point scoring ahead of needed lords reform .

    but no they did what was right for our country and democracy.

    Three cheers for ED and ED .

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Those opposed to hereditary lords should read some debates in Hansard. The lords have a far more sensible, balanced and intelligent grasp of real life than is portrayed in the red-tops, and this even rubs off, sometimes, on the life peers. Deprived of the need to seek election, they can act sensibly. We really should not cast this off lightly. Some reform is probably necessary, though.Bishops out?

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    the record as it stands:
    labour abolished foxhunting and made university education into a debt
    condems abolished lordhunting and made debts of young people even greater
    result: a glut of foxes and lords both greedy and voracious and our future working generation in ever greater debt.
    lets have an election: please vote for any candidate willing to give a proportion of their salary to charity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Is it just me? I’ve just listened to a Tory MP on radio four state that even if something is in the Tory manifesto, it doesn’t mean you have to support it?
    I suggest next time he tells the electors which parts of the manifesto to ignore before they cast their vote?
    This is newspeak at its best.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I used to believe that an elected second house was the best thing. But given the absolute incompetence of politicians of all parties: their immorality over fraudulent expense claims and the lack of any real action, save against a few scapegoats, concerning it; their hypocrisy and apparent corruption, the last thing I want is to vote for a selection of aged politicians to keep the gravy-trains.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    72.Giles Jones
    "I can't see the point of Clegg carrying on with the coalition since you can barely see any influence on Tory policies by the Lib Dems."

    Me - I can't see the point of Clegg....

    Blatant tit for tat slap in the face for the Libdems over Hunt vote! Mind you there really are far more important issues to be dealing with than the Libdems ddesire for changes to the constitution!

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    After the immense failure of anyone except the soi-disant intelligentsia to vote for AV, this is another step in the right direction for the electorate. Perhaps the politicians can get around to sorting out what the people want rather than their own self--seeking agenda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Dear Nick Clegg, Like lots of other Lib Dem voters I am wondering what exactly is the point of you and the coalition. You've connived at tripling university fees, kicking PR into the long grass with a botched poll, and now running scared of Tories on Lords reform. What exactly is the point of being in government - apart, of course, from the personal kudos you feel?

  • rate this

    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..

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Just when you think this government can't make themselves look any more inept/stupid than the day before, they come out with another little gem to prove us all wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    54. What about Jesus Christ Gods greatest gift to man. How many of our imoral MPs put into practice what Jesus stood for. Few - they are too busy helping the Rich and powerful. As for the Lords I recall so called 'christian bishops' supported brutal welfare cuts. I hope God punishes them, because they deserve it along with the rest of the cowardly capitalist thugs wrecking society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    I trust we won't now ever hear again Dennis Skinner and the rest of Labour start going on about the "privileged arristocrats" in the "other house"; When it comes to reforming it and making it more democractic by having elected people in there; they turn out to be the party that stops this happening. The Tories along with the Lib Dems wanted to make the change! Labour did not! Two-faced or what?

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Possibly another argument for making manifestos legally binding. Both Libs and Cons promised HoL reform. But, it seems that a large number of conservative MPs didn't take their manifesto as any form of commitment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Said it before will say it again stop wasting time on this rubbish and all of you (Ed Balls included) sit in a darkened room with the doors locked and sort the economy. We pay our MPs a lot of money and at the moment none of them appear to be earning it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Last of the summer wine for the lib dems, they already have Cleggy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    72. Giles Jones - You are joking right? No matter which Party you historically support the LDs have demonstrated their total incompetence in Government and lack of economic reality. A GE now or in 3 years time will see the LDs without a single seat in the HoC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    How about we allow billionaire party donors with elaborately camouflaged business interests to decide whether convicted perjurers and embezzlers such as Lords Archer Black Hannigfield and Taylor should be allowed to retain their 'honours'?
    Or do they get a free pass like the bankers?


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