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Monday, 9 July 2012

Open letter from Tory rebels on Lords reform

A groups of rebel Conservative MPs have signed a open letter opposing House of Lords reform and calling for "full and unrestricted scrutiny" of the bill. The letter, signed by 70 Conservative MPs, comes ahead of a two-day debate on the government's plans. Many backbenchers are unhappy at the coalition government's plan to create a smaller, but mostly elected second chamber in Parliament. 

But the coalition says it is confident Lords reform which is championed by the Liberal Democrats, "will go ahead". The open letter to other Conservative MPs expresses "serious concerns" over the bill which it says will "pile a constitutional crisis on top of the economic crisis". Signatories to the letter include a number of MPs elected in 2010, Cabinet Minister Sir Malcolm Rifkind and select committee chairs Bernard Jenkin and John Whittingdale.

When MPs vote on a timetable for the bill on Tuesday, Labour will oppose it, arguing the debate needs more time. However if the programme motion fails the Labour party have said they'll vote for closure motions for filibustering and wrecking tactics during the passage of the bill. Conservative MPs will subject to a three line whip for the vote on the programme motion and ministerial aides will be sacked if they vote against the government. The government is proposing almost halving the number of peers to 450 and making the House of Lords 80% elected.

Among those to urge MPs to back change are ex-Labour cabinet minister Peter Hain and ex-Conservative cabinet minister Stephen Dorrell. However, many Conservatives oppose the plan, arguing it is flawed and will result in increased conflict between the changed Lords and the Commons. 
Labour and the Liberal Democrats promised to reform the Lords in their 2010 general election manifestos, while the Conservatives pledged to "work to build a consensus" on reform.

Conservative backbench MP Penny Mordaunt (Con Portsmouth North) described the bill as a "dog's breakfast" Peter Hain (Lab Neath) said it was "now or maybe never for Lords reform". Stephen Dorrell (Con Charnwood) said: "The instinctive response which says that Conservatives are against House of Lords Reform, and that current interest in the subject is the result of the coalition, is - in my view - wrong."

If the government is defeated, on the programme motion, the House of Lords Reform Bill's path through Parliament would start to crumble and it might be fatally wounded. On the Andrew Marr show, the Business Secretary Vince Cable urged Conservative MPs to "get on with it" and back the bill. But, on  the same programme, the senior Tory backbencher David Davis said there was little agreement on what form change should take and predicted it would not happen in time for Lords elections to take place in 2015, as is planned.

*letter courtesy of the Guido Fawkes blog.