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 730.

    ..I never used the term 'old people' in regard of how old they are.
    Then I suggest that you don't use the term 'old people' because in English it refers to how old those people are. If you check the OP that you were referring to, the poster uses the term 'old people' referring to the age they are. My point is the OP makes a valid point about age, which you attempt to discredit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 729.

    As I see it we already have the model we need for the optimal House of Lords, provided by the Bishops. If the CoE is automatically allocated places for high-ranking officials, surely the sensible thing would be to promote other "cultural institutions", such as academia or military or medicine, to the same status, and provide a direct and clear-cut meritocratic promotion path that ends in the HoL.

  • rate this

    Comment number 728.

    717 @Wonko-the-Sane

    I'm not against House of Lord reform, my comment didn't say I don't want reform.
    Our MP's should not, however, make huge constitutional changes without allowing the public to decide what reforms should be enacted and how the new parliament should work. There are numerous alternatives to be considered, here the government wants to enact only one without the publics permission.

  • rate this

    Comment number 727.

    @ 605. Adrian Swall
    Yes, I meant Bollinger not Boulanger . Easy mistake to make.

  • rate this

    Comment number 726.

    The government has no moral authority to persue this bill. They hold office with less than 20% of the possible vote; and, Parliament will be violating the British constitution if it proceedes to dismantle the House of Lords and the work of many centuries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 725.

    @699.Frank Lund
    Answer to your question. The electoral turn out. The expenses scandal. The general dissatisfaction/disrespect that the average member of the British public has for MP's. Given all this, are you really happy to allow them to continue to select who goes into the HoL on our behalf? Or do you think we should make that choice? Are you in the tiny minority that believes MP's know best?

  • rate this

    Comment number 724.

    @721 Wonk-the-sane
    Can you please check your facts and maybe even my post that you highlight. When I said 'old people' it was amalgamous with hereditary peers. Not the average age. And I never used the term 'old people' in regard of how old they are. I don't see a problem with an experienced person sitting in the Lords, especially with a speciality they bring. So what is your point?

  • rate this

    Comment number 723.

    Should this debate be purely about the Lords? In a way the inability of the commons to actually agree the form of the revisionary chamber is in itself symptomatic of the need to modernise and streamline the whole creaking edifice of the government. Something being 'historic' is not in itself a justification for its continued existence. Lets face it Syphilis and Plague are historic too...

  • rate this

    Comment number 722.

    The name House of Lords is archaic and the exclusion of commoners
    declares it to be feudal. I agree that a second chamber is necessary but
    its "non" elected members should be more representative of the population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 721.

    But they are not all 'old people'....
    Not 'all', no. But you are looking at the HoL right? Because their average age 12 years ago was 67 vs 52 for MP's. 58% are older than 65, vs 8% for the HoC. And it was getting older - increased to 69 by 2012. Doesn't sound like a representative establishment. Please can you check your facts before spreading disinformation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 720.

    It is refreshing to see posts on here suggesting non-political appointments for the upper house. The MP's cannot be trusted to do this. Party political wrangling will not get us proper scrutiny of the Gov't and Commons. Previous political office should bar you from the upper house.

  • rate this

    Comment number 719.

    Why not hold Big Brother in the House of Lords?

    There's plenty of whacky characters to keep viewers entertained

  • rate this

    Comment number 718.

    We really need PR before the next elections...

  • rate this

    Comment number 717.


    Your comments seem to suggest that you're against HoL reform? And yet you seem to claim that this is a mockery of democracy, that the govt haven't asked the public if they want reform. Just as an FYI - both libdem and cons had HoL reform in their manifesto, and don't you think that siding with a completely unelected HoL is slightly more undemocratic? I don't think you think....

  • rate this

    Comment number 716.

    Fact is British political leaders don't want to reform the upper house (typing HoL in the 21st century makes me cringe). Otherwise there would have been real reform by now. What is it about the democratic process - messy & awkward but legitimate and quite wonderful - that they don't like? And, further, why do the British put up such illegitimacy? Still doffing their caps to t'squire?

  • rate this

    Comment number 715.

    @712 AdrianoLondon
    Cameron will not dump Clegg and the Libs at this time. If an Election was held tomorrow Labour would win by a landslide. All Labour would have to do is mention the NHS and the 5% tax cut for the rich. Don't underestimate the damage this government has done to our society and how it has split. Cameron needs Clegg and vice versa, because this is the last job in politics for both.

  • rate this

    Comment number 714.

    @ 99. Jon
    Perhaps a jury-duty like arrangement, where members of the public can debate new bill proposals?

  • rate this

    Comment number 713.

    Everything Nick "U-turn" Clegg touches turns to dust. I wouldnt trust the man to mind my houseplants (they are plants that dont need much water)

    Mr Clegg (aka "he-who-must-not-be-paid-any-actual-attention-at-all-as-he-will-change-his-mind-very-soon-or-will-bend-over-quietly-with-implied-consent") must realise his legacy will be a shameful account of the man who destroyed the liberals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 712.

    To introduce an AV system for the House of Lords, which the country has rejected in a referendum for the Commons, just to satisfy the Lib Dems, is proof, if proof is needed, of how tawdry coalition government is. Cameron is left looking weak and foolish because he seeks to please his junior partner. It is time he dumped Clegg and his cronies. Would they force an election? Hardly!

  • rate this

    Comment number 711.

    The whole point of reforming the HofL is to introduce a more democratic and electorate represented chamber. A chamber made up of elected politicians will do nothing more to our democracy than the current house does. We need public sector representatives eg. Teachers, nurses and police officers who have a realistic understanding of what needs to be done!!


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