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Crucial vote on Lords reform could destabilise Coalition

The Coalition Government could face its first defeat in the House of Commons later today as House of Lords reform is put to the vote.

Up to 100 Tory backbenchers are thought to be prepared to vote against the Government’s ten-day timetable motion, which would limit the time for debate on the bill in the Commons. This could delay the plans for reform indefinitely.

A letter opposing the plans has been signed by 74 Conservative rebels and Labour’s shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan confirmed last night that Labour would vote against the programme motion – although the party supports the principles of the reform plans. 

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was repeatedly interrupted during his speech to MPs yesterday.

He said: “No one doubts the commitment and public service of many members of the House of Lords. But dedicated individuals cannot compensate for flawed institutions, and this Bill is about fixing a flawed institution.

“There will be those who are not interested in rational discussion. Those who will oppose Lords reform in whatever form, at whatever time, in whatever century, no matter what commitments their parties have made. This project has always been dogged by those who fear change.”

During the debate, former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind MP told MPs that the Government’s proposals would create “a sham democratic chamber which will consist overwhelmingly of members who would rather be in this chamber”.

He added: “I believe this Bill has to be opposed because essentially what it is seeking to do will damage the fabric of our Government.”

All three parties included reform of the House of Lords in their 2010 general election manifestos.

Labour sought to defend the party’s decision to vote against the programme motion.

Ed Miliband told the BBC: “I have said we want proper scrutiny of these proposals and will ensure they get into the House of Lords to be debated. I am not saying this Bill will die in the House of Commons. I don’t want that to happen.”

Lib Dem figures have hinted that if the Tories fail to support Lords reform, the Lib Dems will not back boundary changes that could make it far easier for the Conservatives to achieve an overall Commons majority in future elections. Both measures appeared in the Coalition agreement.

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