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 290.

    And still, the omnishambles rumbles on.............

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 289.

    True to form as all and sundry are barking up the wrong tree.
    What UK needs is a 'constitutional chamber/court' to replace the H o L as now is far too politicised - reformed H of L needs enginers, school teachers, army officers, doctors, police officers, academics, ... serving four year terms (after training) to give a mixture of those representing vocations, professions & prof parliamentarians

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 288.

    At least it shows where the true power is these days.
    The clowns in the Westminster commons spend quality time debating over who wears fluffy wigs and fancy gowns and for how long.
    The apparatchiks in Brussels probably look on in amusement, & press on with their plans regardless..

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 287.

    Echoing the points made by other posters: hasn't the Coalition got more pressing matters to attend to right now? Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic springs to mind.

  • 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
    +6

    Comment number 285.

    It is time for this coalition of dangerous clowns too call time.

    Give me a vote now.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 284.

    All three parties had Lords Reform in their manifesto. As usual Labour opposed the Bill for the sake of opposing it, like they do with everything else. The tories obviously don`t want to give up their safe bolt hole for when they leave the commons. The LibDems are the only party that stuck with their original promise but unfortunately their timing was wrong. People just aren`t interested anymore.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 283.

    Well you don't expect them to want to give up a cushy job for the boys now do you?

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 282.

    My personal opinion is that the Lords should be reformed to be half elected. The elected half would all have to be independents and the unelected half would be made up of professionals from various areas such as doctors, engineers, scientists, bankers, industrialists etc. It would fortify the role of the house as being the house for expertise and checking.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 281.

    Governments will do what they will too keep in power, and if anything gets in the way of that, then it will be ..... 'got rid of it' !

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 280.

    Get all the peers out on to parliamentry green and let them fight it out with swords. The final two hundred that survive get the job. then do the same with the commons. At least then we would have some legislators with guts. (Even if they belonged to someone else and were spread over them).

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 279.

    Several years ago, I was with a group that lobbied parliament. Our group consisted of people who supported different parties (and no party.) The then minister was a member of the Lords and we decided that the Tories in our group would meet the minister. At the end of the meeting they all agreed that the minister was a “half-wit”!
    How do we keep the ‘half-wits’ out of the Lords?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 278.

    Lords reform is not a priority at this time.
    Dealing with the deficit and restoring economic growth and reducing unemployment must be the clear focus now.
    Lords reform is finished for this parliament as to continue with it could split the coalition apart.
    I feel Labour's refusal to support a time constricted bill is tactical. The coalition looks weak and farcical over this. Just want Labour want.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 277.

    *sniggers*

    think of the amount of greenhouse gas saved, two elected houses, jeesss

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 276.

    This really sums up Parliament, all talk, talk, talk, no walk,walk, walk, its why we are in a mess,mess,mess.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 275.

    Instead of arguing the issue and taking the result, the government retreats in the face of dissension in the ranks. Either way, the government would have been embarrassed.

    The reforms of Parliament need to involve both houses, the crown and a large piece of paper with words on, and just so happens to be legally binding.

    Not that any government would take the risk. They like 'unlimited power'...

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 274.

    There is only one way to ensure that the revising chamber of our bicameral parliament is truly representative of the whole population, subordinate to the Commons and free from the stain of party time-servers.

    Membership of the House of Lords must be chosen by lottery.

    (More explanation to follow ...)

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 273.

    Didn't we vote against PR already. Why are the LibDems so out of touch.

    Maybe now the economy, tax simplification, old age provision and a host of other more important reforms can be moved to the forefront of the to do list.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 272.

    There's a surprise! Spinless and supine in the face of their own backbenchers who want somewhere to park their backsides when their constituents get bored with them.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 271.

    235.BillHaverchuck
    The God of Money is already over represented in parliament

 

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