House of Lords reform: Tories expected to oppose proposals ahead of reform vote

THE coalition is facing its biggest today as MPs begin discussing the controversial issue of House of Lords reform with Tory rebels confident of inflicting the Government’s first major Commons defeat.

• Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg calls for unity as proposals for House of Lords reform are discussed today

• Tories are expected to oppose the reform plans that were promised by all three major parties in the last general election

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Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will appeal for unity around plans for an 80 per cent-elected upper chamber as he opens what promises to be a fiery two-day debate on the major constitutional change.

It will culminate tomorrow in a vote that a senior Liberal Democrat source warned would be a “highly significant moment” for the two-year-old power-sharing administration.

While the reforms themselves are expected to clear their first parliamentary hurdle with Labour support, up to 100 Tories are said to be ready to join with the Opposition to throw out the timetable for further stages.

Losing the programme motion would leave the legislation vulnerable to being “talked out” by opponents and leave the Government in what the Lib Dem source said would be “uncharted territory”.

“That’s going to be a very serious situation for the coalition”, they warned - pointing out that the reform had been promised in all three main parties’ manifestos and was part of the coalition agreement.

Liberal Democrat Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne said Tories “need to remember they didn’t win the general election either” and that each side had an “obligation” to stick to the deal.

Senior Tory David Davis said most of his colleagues saw Lords reform however as “a sop to the liberals to give them something to be elected to when they get wiped out at the next election”.

Mark Harper, the Tory minister in charge of steering the legislation through the Commons, said the timetable was “very sensible” and expressed confidence that defeat would be avoided.

Former Commons Speaker Baroness Boothroyd has expressed concern about the proposed changes.

“I have been in Parliament nearly 40 years,” she said.

“I have never witnessed such a reckless attempt to change the British constitution, and to do it on such spurious grounds, quite frankly.

“What they are seeking to do is limit debate on this major constitutional issue.”

Constitutional Reform Minister Mark Harper defended the Government’s attempt to limit the time for debate.

“I don’t think we should talk about it forever,” he said. “There are other important issues that Parliament should determine.”