Lords reform debate day one as-it-happened

Alex Stevenson By

Review our live blog and rolling analysis as MPs debate the Lords reform bill ahead of Tuesday evening's crunch vote. Will the coalition's plans fall at the first hurdle?

Commons 21:00 - The final hour of day one

MPs are continuing to debate the Lords reform bill. Here's the highlights from this hour so far:

  • David Heath, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader of the Commons, says there's been "good support" for the bill - a comment which triggers mocking laughter from MPs.

"We can disagree with people but still respect the arguments they put forward," Heath says. That's not really a fair reflection of the comments we've heard today, is it? He says he "still" hopes there can be a "consensus" achieved against the bill.

Bernard Jenkin attacks Heath for previously complaining about programe motions, and then guillotining a constitutional motion now. Huge approval from Tory backbenchers there.

Eleanor Laing, another fireeating rebel, demands to know why the joint committee's report has never been debated in the Commons. "It may have been because we were anticipating 14 days' debate," Heath shouts in reply.

It's getting more and more hectic as the final stages of today's debate continue. Hazel Blears and David Blunkett both clash with Heath. Now he gets some groans, comparing Clegg to Johnny Marray - a "champion doubles partner".

Now Heath attacks the opposition. "They should enable debate, they should not restrict debate," he declares. They're not happy with that at all. How many more days do Labour want, Heath wants to know. He says there are only 88 days available for legislative business in the whole year - so surely 14 days should be enough.

"This is a measure which is now long overdue... those who make our laws should be elected by our people," he finishes. And that's the end of today's debate. 

  • Angela Smith, the shadow deputy leader of the Commons, defends New Labour's record from the despatch box.

She then attacks the Lib Dems by quoting from their manifesto. "We all know how much the deputy prime minister's manifesto promises are worth," she says in a quavering voice. Deputy prime minister Clegg is now back in the chamber as Smith wraps up - she looks forward to tomorrow's debate.

  • Dan Byles, the Tory backbencher for North Warwickshire and a former soldier, says the Lords reform proposal is "fundamental" constitutional change.

The idea that it would be "rammed through" is just "unthinkable", he says. "Quite right," Tory MPs around him mutter.

  • Ian Lucas, Labour's Wrexham MP, says if the programme motion is passed he won't have a chance to get his views known "on the profound inadequacies of this bill".

He says constitutional reform has to be approached in a "holistic" way.

  • Nadhim Zahawi, a Tory Cameroon, talks of his experience of democracy in Britain - he's a big fan of the UK, that's for sure.

He's going to rebel on this, however. He's going to "defend" the constitution and says democracy is not just about holding elections - it's about building institutions, as the Arab Spring has shown. "Will British society be better represented by 360 more career politicians accountable to no-one but their party?"

  • Tom Greatrex, the Labour Co-operative member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, says only two constituents have ever contacted about Lords reform.

He tears into the Lib Dems but says that this is an important issue. "I think it's important that during the passege of this bill we ensure the bill is properly scrutinised, and is put to the test of people in this country in a referendum". Very much following the party line there.

  • Angie Bray, the Conservative MP for Ealing Central and Acton, is deeply unimpressed with the cost of the Lords reforms.

"As one of the first Greater London Assembly members I remember how Londoners were promised the GLA would cost them just a few pence a week." Eventually - "up, up, up went the cost!" A point well made...

Commons 20:00 - A parade of opponents to Lords reform

MPs are continuing to debate the Lords reform bill. Here's the highlights from this hour so far:

  • Anne McGuire, the Labour MP for Stirling, says in Scotland there are regional members of the Scottish parliament.

"The reality is if you show a politician an electorate they will react like a politician," she says. The constituency concern is that elected peers would tread on MPs' toes. "Those of you who think you'll still be here in 15 years, in your dreams," McGuire says. That's reassuring for everyone.

  • David Tredinnick, a Tory loyalist (usually), gets a big cheer for citing a Thatcher letter urging the importance of constantly fighting "the socialists".

He's underlined her wise words, three times, stating that she opposes an elected Lords. This debate is just getting ridiculous.Tredinnick says the upper House will get "Lords creep" - a corruption of 'mission creep'. "They are going to want more power, it's as simple as that."

  • Jim Dowd, who wants the Lords abolished outright, says the Lords reform bill has been "cobbled together" and then presented before MPs "fait accompli".

Th Lewisham West and Penge MP, a Labour backbencher, says parliament and its purposes have to be considered as part of a broader debate. That's why all the previous attempts at Lords reform have "run into the sand".

  • John Stevenson, a pro-reform Tory, says he believes the present arrangements in the Lords are "indefensible".

He's challenged repeatedly by Conservative colleagues but insists on his point. The current Lords is "not reactive or representative of the electorate," he complains.

  • Frank Field, Tony Blair's first welfare minister, points out that "there will be no going back" once these reforms are passed.

He says he can't find a time when a constitutional reform has actually been repealed. He attacks Harriett Baldwin for saying that if she doesn't like it she can strike it down at third reading. "It never works like that," he says.

  • Nicholas Soames, Churchill's grandson, is rebelling for only the second time in his 29 years in parliament. 

He moans about the "dismal inability of the government to fix the immigration controls at Heathrow" and says these "ill-conceived proposals" are nothing but an attempt to "conciliate our coalition partners". He thinks these sorts of reforms should only be considered in "peaceful, fertile terms".

  • Helen Goodman, the Labour former whip, calls for a new draft for clause 2 - that's the one on primacy - as soon as possible.

She says the bill reveals a big weakness of Britain's unwritten constitution: parliamentarians need to work out which areas the other House has, like on human rights, for example.

  • Laura Sandys, a Lords reform draft bill committee member, says the "sticking point" comes on whether a second chamber is "elected or selected". 

What about vested interests, she asks? And party interests? She's not keen on any kind of discriminating selection process. Her Tory colleagues around her look very sceptical.

  • Gerald Howarth, the bearded Labour MP for Knowsley, says unicameral systems can work "effectively and efficiently".

He's fed up with the "anachronistic" Lords as it is, but says that the 15-year non-renewable term "makes no sense whatsoever". The regional list system "hardly sets the world on fire". A bit like his speech, really.

Commons 19:00 - One-sided debate sees Clegg's proposals dismissed

MPs are continuing to debate the Lords reform bill. Here's the highlights from this hour so far:

  • Charles Kennedy, the former Liberal Democrat leader, puts aside his reputation as a "coalition sceptic" to speak in favour of Clegg's proposals.

In a third party in the Commons, he says, there's an "overwhelming sense of the forces of conservatism ranged against you". Anything to tackle that, he suggests, is for the best.

  • Chris Bryant, the Labour MP for Rhondda, says the present House of Lords is just "unsustainable".

"At the rate we're going every single member of the Liberal Democrat party will end up in the House of Lords," he says. "Ah!" MPs around him observe.

  • Mark Field, the MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, says he is "staggered by the sheer gutlessness" of MPs in letting through poor-standard legislation in the past.

The Fixed Parliament Act is mentioned in this regard. But he says he's a democrat, and says he will continue to support a 100% elected House of Lords.

  • Gerald Kauman, Labour veteran, says the bill is a "botched mess which seems to have been drafted on the back of an envelope".

He accuses ministers of seeking to "gratify" the desires of the Lib Dems with "this rubbish". The Labour backbenchers are becoming rather deserted now, but there's still enough for them to keep going for a while.

  • Steve Brine, the Conservative MP for Wnchester, says Nick Clegg has begun the "Andy Murray" of parliament.

He was a set and a break up two years ago, but is now in "deep trouble" in the fourth. There are very few people who "agree with Nick", he complains.

  • Tristram Hunt, the Labour MP and historian, says "the tide of time is in favour of democracy".

He says his father, Lord Hunt, is in favour of Lords reform too. He accepts that "legislative wisdom comes in many forms" and says his "perfect" model would be 75% elected, 25% appointed. "There are many problems with this bill but ultimately if you believe in democracy you have to support it."

  • Caroline Dineage speaks out against the "arrogance" of those backing the government's Lords reform proposals.

She hits out against the "half-baked" plans and says the quid pro quo for boundary reform doesn't seem very savoury to her. She finishes by calling it "ill-conceived" and "damaging".

18:15 – Clegg's referendum ploy won't please anyone

Let's not get too excited by Nick Clegg's offer of a referendum on Lords reform once the process has already begun. The deputy prime minister has said he's open to the idea of a vote after the first tranche of elections has taken place – ie, after 2015, but before the further elections in 2020 and 2025. It seems obvious why this would be the case: as in the 1975 referendum, the British would be voting on something that had already been got underway.

The problem, as Peter Facey of Unlock Democracy has just told me, is that Tory opponents of Lords reform are going to see straight through this.

"If you've had the first lot of elections and they haven't been a complete disaster, most people would probably say 'let's continue'," he says.

"To be honest I don't think any of those people who are crying for a referendum would be satisfied because bluntly speaking they want a referendum to stop it."

Facey is pleased that Labour are supporting the principle of Lords reform. But just as he's not particularly impressed with Clegg's referendum ploy, nor is he particularly impressed with Labour's programme motion ploy, either. A few late nights here or there would soon erode the fighting spirit of Tory backbenchers, he suggests.

Labour needs to be careful, too – they're playing a "dangerous game", Facey believes. There's a risk they'll endanger the whole bill if they delay it too far. Then there's the flipside: "The political danger for Labour is they will be seen as not being serious." That's assuming that the public care at all about this issue, of course.

Still, Facey insists: "Ed Miliband has to balance his desire to extract a defeat on the government with his desire to get this through."


Commons 18:00 - Bill-backers in the minority

MPs are continuing to debate the Lords reform bill. Here's the highlights from this hour so far:

  • Ian Austin, a former Labour whip, says he backs reform of the Lords, but believes there are "major problems" with what the government proposes.

What devolution teaches us, he says, is that constitutional changes can't be completed "piecemeal".

  • Jesse Norman, a Conservative rebel ringleader, warns of a "constitutional crisis" if the government gets its way.

"Pork barrel has been replaced by standoff", he says, describing the deadlock experienced in the US under a system where powers are balanced - rather than weighted in favour of an executive.

  • Graham Stringer, Labour, is unconvinced that the primacy of the Commons is really assured by the legislation. 

He points out that all the little conventions, like the Salisbury election, will be eroded - and that MPs can't use the Parliament Act all the time. "By blocking legislation they can do exactly what the Lib Dems are doing with this debate - blackmailing the government... to get their own way."

  • Conservative backbencher Richard Shepherd says he thinks Nick Clegg doesn't "feel" democracy.

He outlines his "disillusionment" about the bold promises of the Lib Dems and says it's "unconscionable" that someone can stand for election without ever being accountable. "We're reverting to the aristrocracy of the 19th century," he complains. They could do their ruling from the south of France, he suggests - and then, to laughter, follows up by suggesting he should stand himself! But then he doesn't think he's got 15 years left. "You have!" MPs yell excitedly. The most entertaining speech so far, that's for sure.

  • David Blunkett, the former New Labour home secretary, says the debate so far has already established the need for "time to do this properly".

He calls for a constitutional convention, rather than just an extended legislative process.

  • Harriett Baldwin, the Tory backbencher, says she will back the bill at second reading but not at third reading.

The Worcestershire MP is the first Conservative to speak up for the government, on the programme motion at least. She urges Tories to avoid "filibustering", and lists a lot of very detailed issues. She says she needs "a lot of convincing" when it comes to the cost being neutral, for example.

  • Former New Labour Cabinet minister Hazel Blears says she is "deeply conflicted" over the bill.

Is she going to rebel? She thinks parliament could spend its time much more effectively than "politicians talking about politicians". She doesn't know of any "bigger turnoff". Lib Dem John Leech invites her to vote for the programme motion. "The other part of me says this is one of the deepest and most cynical deceptions... for deeply partisan reasons," she declares, pledging to vote with Labour against the programme motion.

  • Oliver Heald, the former shadow leader of the House, says there has to be some means of establishing that the Commons will always prevail.

He warns that "effective government" will be much harder if the Lords reforms actually get passed - before concluding that he thinks the bill needs "looking at again".

17:30 – The first resignation

It looks like Conor Burns has effectively resigned his post as a ministerial aide. He's the parliamentary private secretary to Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland secretary, but has made clear he is going to quit his post over Lords reform. Here's his tweet from earlier:



Commons 17:00 – Tories line up against the bill

Now Nick Clegg and Sadiq Khan have finished the opening exchanges I'm going to drop down to following the actual debate a little more lightly. Light-touch reporting, you might call it. And we all know how well light-touch works out.

  • Peter Hain, the former Cabinet minister, rejects the idea that now is "not the right time" to reform the Lords.

He calls the current Lords an "anachronism" and a "democratic farce" - "a constitutional dinosaur".

  • Graham Brady, the chairman of the Conservatives' backbench 1922 committee, says that legislating on Lords reform was NOT a Conservative manifesto commitment.

"Calculations of party advantage" are being pursued too much on constitutional issues, he says. An obvious attack on Nick Clegg there, but also Labour, too.

  • Graham Allen, chair of the Commons' political and constitutional reform committee, is passionately pro-reform.

"It may be the making of the first chamber - a legislature that will challenge the power of the executive," he says. The Lords is an "open wound" which "must be healed" - and this can only be achieved by introducing democracy, he insists.

  • Eleanor Laing, the Tory battleaxe who has led staunch opposition to the reforms on the grounds of primacy, opposes the bill.

"There will be no stopping them - they will flex their democratic muscles," she says. Look at Australia, she says - "pay heed!" waving her glasses around, speaking incredibly powerfully. "Parliament's very accountability will be very undermined," she warns.

  • Alan Johnson, the former New Labour minister, says MPs have "inched towards a consensus".

That's because all politicians secretly realise the Lords is no good as it stands at present. He calls the Lords "institutionalised snobbery".

  • John Thurso, the former peer who is now a veteran Lib Dem MP, is in favour of the reforms (of course).

He says the Lords as it is at present isn't regarded as legitimate by - well, anyway. Fixing this problem will enhance all of parliament, he argues.

  • Margaret Beckett, the former Labour Cabinet minister, is displeased by the fact the government is not offering a referendum immediately on the change. 

"Trying to force it through without a referendum is the most undemocratic thing about it," she declares.

  • Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Conservative former minister, speaks against the bill - and lashes out against the Lib Dems.

He calls the proposals a "sham democratic chamber" and says they will "damage the fabric of the government". He looks like he's about to explode, he's gone so red.

Rifkind hits out at the Lib Dems. "If Christopher Columbus had been a Liberal Democrat, he would probably be content at discovering the mid-Atlantic." He says he last voted against his party on a three-line whip in the 1970s - and when he did so, two years later Margaret Thatcher appointed him to her government. Big cheers from the Tory benches.


Commons 16:20 – No 'blank cheques' on offer from Labour

16:57 - Here's Eleanor Laing once again. This bill changes "parl-yer-ment", she says, and so it's just not the done thing to impose a programme motion. Khan agrees, of course. He's wrapping up now. "We can all agree that no one except the deputy prime minister think this is a perfect bill."

16:56 - Finally Khan confirms Labour will vote against the programme motion.

16:55 - Next Sir George Young, the leader of the House, backs Heath up. It hasn't been possible to have a decent dialogue with Labour, he complains. Khan isn't having any of it: it seems like talks between the parties have completely broken down over this.

16:53 - Graham Allen, the chair of the constitutional reform select committee, pressures Khan to pledge to enter into talks with the government through the usual channels if the programme motion is defeated tomorrow night. Khan says the government haven't been interested in talking. This has really angered Lib Dem David Heath, who tells MPs: "The opposition don't want to tell us how long they want to vote for the bill. They just want to vote against it!"

16:51 - After a grumpy intervention from Sir Menzies Campbell, Khan then quotes Heath once again moaning about programme motions. This is just politicking, it's not about the issue at hand at all. Margaret Beckett, at least, makes a legitimate point: Labour's Lords reform were given nine days on the floor of the House, without a programme motion.

16:48 - Now Khan is getting on to explain Labour's position in more detail on the programme motion. "It's crucial it's given sufficient time to be debated in detail," he explains. "Attempts by the government to shorten or stifle debate would be unhelpful." He's actually getting cheered here. "When there are really important matters before the House... they're unable to do so because of some ridiculous programme motion..." Lots of laughter from the government benches, until Khan shuts them up by saying he was quoting David Heath.

16:44 - Khan is now attacking on the referendum issue. He thinks this is a marvellous idea, because the manifesto commitments were so different. Now Khan is refusing to accept more interventions - he's worried that he's going to run out of time. "Don't vote against the programme motion," someone shouts out. A good point..

16:40 - Constitutional reform minister continues the frontbench offensive over the voting system. He says the government offered concessions here, but they were rejected. Khan brushes past it all. Gavin Barwell, a pro-reform Tory, continues the voting system argument. He says the report did look at the issue.

16:36 - Tim Farron, Lib Dem president, sarcastically praises Khan for offering a "statesmanlike" address. He calls Khan a "pygmy" when compared with other "giants of constitutional reform". This is descending somewhat into a bit of a scrap.

16:35 - Peter Bone praises Khan for delivering a "powerful speech" - a very unusual step for a government backbencher, talking about an opposition spokesperson. Bone says the balance of ministers on the government frontbench - six Lib Dem, two Tory - shows where the real interest here lies. "It's not for me to get involved in private family grief," Khan responds.

16:33 - A little exchange between Khan and David Heath. After Khan moaned about the voting system to be used, Heath reveals Khan was in favour of a semi-open list during negotiations. Khan says the talks took place ages ago, at the end of 2010, and is then left embarrassed after Heath attempts to come back at him - but is waved down. 

16:29 - Here's Eleanor Laing, once again, repeating the findings of the committee. "How could ten days be long enough for this House?" she asks. Khan says Labour's support at second reading "should not be taken as a blank cheque". Well, duh.

16:28 - Yet another question about how long is actually necessary to scrutinise the bill. Seems to me that a phrase like 'any MPs who want to question how long Labour actually wants would be helpful' might have appeared on MPs' Blackberrys this morning...

16:27 - George Osborne is now sitting next to Danny Alexander and Mark Harper. Fresh from his bruising battle with Ed Balls last Thursday, he's once again being very animated across the despatch box.

16:26 - Khan is now being rather lofty himself, explaining how Labour has always been ahead of the game when it comes to reforming the Lords. He's avoiding questions being put to him in interventions about what Labour will do in tomorrow night's programme motion. Andrew Bridgen, a Tory, says the House of Lords is a "fine institution" which doesn't need scrapping. Another rebel registered.

16:23 – The shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, is responding for the opposition. He confirms Labour will back the second reading. But then he complains that Clegg has adopted a "lofty and petulant stance... I'm afraid his piety has done great damage". Labour is pressing on by backing the reform, anyway, he says.


Commons 15:30 – Clegg battered in opening exchanges

16:19 - Now Clegg is starting to wrap up - an announcement which prompts more sarcastic cheers. Just as well really, as he's been battered and bruised through this speech. "There will be those who are not interested in rational discussion," he says, before choosing to ignore them wholeheartedly. He finishes: "This has been a 100-year project. Let us now get it done."

16:17 - Caroline Lucas offers her three-day amendment to the programme motion (see below). Clegg says he wants to know what the opposition have to say on this.

16:15 - A few sarcastic cheers for Stephen Gilbert, the Lib Dem backbencher, who attacks both Labour and the Tories. "It's been 101 years... let's get on with it!" A Labour MP is scornful of proportional representation, when that's been rejected by voters. The opposition love that, but Clegg says the whole point of the proposal is to ensure that the Lords is not a "carbon copy" of the Commons. He offers a significant concession, though: a potential referendum on the reforms, but only after the first tranche of peers has been secured. This might make the 2020 and 2025 elections completing the transition to an elected chamber subject to a public vote. An interesting play - I'll be looking more at that later.

16:12 - Now Clegg is being laughed down by the opposition, when he suggests that the reformed Lords will be the home for "a new kind of politician". They are rolling in the aisles. I'm not sure I can ever remember the deputy PM being so openly mocked when he's trying to be so serious. 

16:10 - Tom Clarke, a Scottish Labour MP, is still fed up about the lack of costings for the changes during the joint committee report. They've subsequently published them, of course. Clegg then says that the Lords will become full of "career politicians" if non-renewable terms are abandoned.

16:08 - Next Clegg has moved on to the "fears" which he thinks rebels feel. He's starting by addressing concerns about the ongoing primacy of the Commons. Clegg says the changes which occurred following the demise of the hereditaries in 1999 didn't lead to disaster. The current reforms won't turn the Lords "into some kind of monster", he says. So the Parliament Acts are going to remain. 

16:06 - Eleanor Laing, a real Tory rebel, stands up to agree with Clegg that reform is needed. But she then calls for a referendum on Lords reform, which Clegg isn't so keen on. 

16:04 - Next, the deputy PM rebuts the claim that Lords reform is a "Liberal Democrat crusade", and then that the Commons shouldn't concern itself with Lords reform. "Let's get on with it," Clegg says. "Proper scrutiny yes, years of foot-dragging no," he declares in a non-chant.

16:02 - Clegg gets another laugh (the bad kind) when he says that not everyone in the House agrees with every aspect of the legislation. "That's an understatement," Clegg concedes. The deputy PM says the objections fall into two categories: the "myths" and the "fears". We'll get to those in a moment, but first Chris Bryant, Labour, laments the programme motion. Exactly how many days does Labour want, Clegg responds? The deputy PM attacks Peter Hain's logic in opposing the Commons motion, which he explained to me earlier. You can read about them by scrolling down to 12:55 - Is Labour having it both ways?

15:56 - Labour's Toby Perkins raises the accountability question - it seems there is cross-party consensus against the reforms as much as there is for them. Churchill's grandson, Nicholas Soames, corrects Clegg on the Lords - he says his grandfather changed his mind in the 1920s. Big cheer from the Tories - but Clegg gets back at him by pointing out Churchill switched from being a Tory to a Liberal.

15:54 - Anne Main, the Tory MP, is rather stroppy over boundary changes. Lib Dems have threatened to scrap the boundary changes, of course, but Clegg ignores this. He hopes all MPs would celebrate anything that helps parliament hold the executive to account more effectively. He quotes Winston Churchill backing a reformed Lords. "'The time for words is past. The time for action has arrived'," he says, quoting the war leader. Clegg adds: "I couldn't agree more."

15:52 - The "urgent and practical need for reform" was the third reason for reform, by the way. Clegg says the reforms build on the work of his predecessors - and that they are "respectful" of the views of the past. "The coalition parties cannot claim full credit for the reforms presented here," he says - Jack Straw, Robin Cook, Lord Wakeham's royal commission, etc - "it's clear the reforms have a long bloodline that include all of our parties and political traditions".

15:50 - Clegg now being mocked for dodging a question about whether he'd like to rule out ever sitting in the Lords. Of course he won't. Then John Redwood asks for a referendum - and again Clegg rejects one. "All three main parties are committed by way of their own manifestos to... House of Lords reform," he says. 

15:48 - David Heath, the Lib Dem deputy leader of the Commons, looks comically fed up right now. Arms crossed, beard bristling, brow furrowed as he listens to Clegg. Bercow complains of a "permanent cacophony" in the chamber.

15:47 - Richard Shepherd, the doddery Tory backbencher, complains about a lack of accountability under the reforms. Clegg attacks the status quo, saying it neither has accountability nor responsibility. Then comes Jesse Norman, a real rebel ringleader. Clegg says "the executive should be kept under their toes". They're just not interested in that, it seems.

15:45 - Frank Field, Labour, suggests that the job of peers is to amend and scrutinise - not introduce legislation themselves. When they do the latter it never works out. "All legislation requires the government of the day," Clegg says dismissively. He says his second reason is not about who legislations but "how we legislate... governments, quite simply, can be too powerful".

15:43 - There are eight times as many people over 90 as there are under 40, Clegg says, as he slags off the current Lords. He's under a lot of pressure to give way, and finally does so. Interesting to see Oliver Letwin and Danny Alexander sitting on the government frontbench, there - demonstrating this really is a critical issue for the healthiness of the coalition.

15:41 - OK, here's Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister and the leader of the Liberal Democrats, setting out "why our upper chamber is in need of these reforms". He has three reasons - for three is the magic number, of course. His first reason is 'democracy'. He's already being heckled. The Commons is in a very odd mood today. Party lines are scrapped.

15:40 - Lots of laughter in the chamber as Nick Clegg works his way through some rather odd constitutional stuff about the Queen submitting her royal prerogative to the will of the House. She can be fairly relaxed, I guess. Speaker John Bercow pleads with MPs not to bother him by coming to the chair to ask him if they're going to get to speak. "Hope for the best," he says. He imposes a six-minute limit on backbench contributions. Thank goodness for that!

15:36 - Jacob Rees-Mogg delays proceedings previously with a point of order suggesting that the Lords reform bill might be a hybrid bill. He cites clause 19 of the bill, which treats bishops very specifically, to suggest that this might be a mixed hybrid bill. There's a lot of laughter in the Commons at that. No-one's taking it seriously. "A hybrid bill is a public bill which affects a particular private bill different from the..." Ok, I've lost interest. It's not happening. A rather ambitious ploy from Rees-Mogg, there...

15:31 – Right, my attention is now solely focused on the Commons chamber as the Lords reform debate gets underway in earnest. We're just a few moments away from beginning, and the chamber is already very, very full.

15:27 – How to measure the Lords reform rebellion

We're just about to get underway in the Commons chamber for the opening exchanges. But before we do, it's worth recommending the excellent Commons rebellion 'benchmarks' article from the University of Nottingham's top political brains. It really is worth a read. The most notable numbers are:

  • The biggest post-war rebellion on Lords reform was 47, when Labour backbenches revolted against a white paper in November 1968
  • The biggest rebellion suffered by the coalition government so far against the whip was 82 (81 Tory, one Liberal Democrat) in October 2011's EU referendum vote
  • The coalition's smallest margin of victory on a whipped vote is 21 (the tuition fees vote of December 2010). Anything lower than that will be a new low for David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

15:07 - Caroline Lucas enters the fray

I've just spoken to Green party leader Caroline Lucas' office. They've confirmed that she has tabled an amendment to the programme motion allowing for an extra three days of debate. That would offer something of a compromise to both sides, but is probably not going to be sufficient to placate Tory rebels. Their goal is strategic, whereas Lucas' is tactical.


15:00 – How rebel divisions could cost them the Lords reform vote

I've managed to find a rebel who's actually going to vote for the programme motion tomorrow night.

That's right. Worcester MP Robin Walker is one of the signatories to the letter that's got everyone so excited this morning. He's a longstanding opponent of an elected second chamber. He doubts whether a mainly elected Lords could do the amending and revising job it does now if reformed, because he thinks its focus would sooner or later shift towards power-grabbing. So he will rebel by voting against the Lords reform bill at second reading.

When it comes to the programme motion allocating a limited amount of time for debate of the legislation – well, he's all for that. He doesn't want the coalition's other bills to be held up by Lords reform.

This approach is going to undermine the politicking strategies of other opponents of Lords reform, who see defeating the programme motion as the only realistic way of forcing the government to back down. Walker insists he's doing the right, however. He says: "I feel it's a more honest thing to do to express my opposition to the actual motion but not to vote down the programme motion."

Tomorrow night we're going to be looking after a single figure for the number of rebels on the programme motion. But Walker's attitude means it's not quite as straightforward as that.

There's a chance he might not be alone in adopting this approach. Could that make a critical difference to the final result? We'll have to wait another 31 hours to find out.


14:30 – A very relaxed pro-reform Tory MP

While many Conservatives are feeling distinctly jittery today, Carlisle's Tory MP John Stevenson is feeling relatively relaxed. He predicts the second reading debate is going to be "extremely interesting" but doesn't seem too bothered by all the fuss about the programme motion.

"Yes, it means there is potential for endless debate, but you've got to remember this is how things used to be done in the past," he says. Programme motions used to be a relatively novel phenomena. "Speaking to old hands, they've been through this in the past."

Stevenson has been completely satisfied by the changes to the bill provided by the coalition when the legislation was published last month.

  • On primacy, he believes the rewritten clause two ensures that the Parliament Acts apply. "At any point in the future, the House of Commons can always override the House of Lords."
  • On the size of constituencies – and the question of whether peers would tread on the toes of MPs – he's also not bothered, saying that members of the Lords will become "parliamentarians" first and foremost.
  • On the accountability issue – the problem caused by non-renewable terms – Stevenson isn't convinced. "I'm elected as an MP for five years. The day after I'm elected I could announce I'm not going to seek re-election," he says. Accountability through colleagues, journalists and the parties is more than enough.


Despite all this, even someone as pro-reform as Stevenson has his concerns. He's opposed to retaining bishops in the upper chamber, and not happy about ministers appointed by the prime minister allowed to vote. The latter could prove very controversial: under the terms of the bill both bishops and ministers will be added to the 450 main members, 80% of which will be elected. Stevenson comments: "It retains the power of patronage to a reduced extent, but nevertheless it still gives the prime minister power to influence the voting."


14:00 – How the coalition's weakness could cost it the Lords reform vote

Ask any government minister their view on Lords reform and (provided they're not a secret opponent) they will point out that all three parties included a commitment to Lords reform in their manifestos.

That's true – just about. The Conservative manifesto commitment in fact reads: "We will work to build a consensus on a mainly elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords." So it's easy for Tory rebels to reject the suggestion that their voting plans don't reflect the manifesto they stood for election on.

What about the coalition agreement? This was even more vague. The only promise there was to "establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation". This was duly achieved, although rather late. Worse still, it's not something that Conservative MPs feel especially bound to. They didn't get to vote on the deal, after all, unlike Liberal Democrat backbenchers.

I've written before about the coalition midgame being critical to deciding how the endgame – the final two years or so of this parliament – end up playing out. Coalition mechanics are critical, but the lack of midterm renewal means any tenuous loyalty to the coalition agreement is just disappearing all the faster. The coalition is weaker as a result – and it's on crunch votes like this where it could make a difference.

Many Tory MPs who are fairly fed up with the coalition couldn't care less, really. They don't think the Lib Dems, polling at eight per cent according to YouGov, are in any kind of position to cause trouble. Here's Charles Walker, the Tory MP for Broxbourne and a dead cert MP, when I ask him about this:

"If the two primary parties can't make it work, then we'll have to draw stumps and start all over again. I don't think it will come to that on Lords reform. The question is – where are the Liberal Democrats going to go?"


13:30 – An unusual suspect

Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill and a Conservative MP since 1983 (the year I was born! Crikey), is about as unlikely a rebel as you'd find. But even he has resolved to spurn the whips when the vote is called on Tuesday evening. He's written a piece in the Telegraph newspaper explaining his reasoning in detail – it's really very good. Here's his conclusion:

This Bill must be defeated at all costs. In a parliamentary career of 29 years, I have only voted once against my party, over the Options for Change defence programme. It is with the deepest reluctance that I have concluded that I must do so again. 


12:55 – Is Labour having it both ways?

I've previously written about Labour's approach to the Lords reform bill in rather gobsmacked tones. The opposition will whip its MPs through the 'aye' lobby when it comes to the general second reading vote, but vote against the programme motion which seeks to restrict the amount of time the bill will be debated for. Call my cynical, but this seems rather hypocritical: it allows Labour to preserve principle while reaping all the benefits of coalition discord we're seeing so much of today.

Not so, according to the former Cabinet and shadow Cabinet minister Peter Hain. The New Labour veteran makes the best defence yet I've heard of the opposition's position. "You've got to look at it in terms of the rest of the government's programme," he told me. "We are strongly opposed to many of the government's right-wing bills." So it makes sense for Labour to spend parliament's time up on the bill it does support – Lords reform – at the expense of the coalition's own legislative agenda. No skin off Labour's nose, in short.

Hain is unconvinced that the whole programme motion row is that big a deal, anyway. "I was leader of the Commons at a time when we introduced programme motions. The Conservatives opposed every one of our programme motions, as did the Liberal Democrats, as a matter of ritual," he continues. If the coalition really wants to get this legislation through it can do so. "There's no way that Labour resisting a programme motion is going to stop this bill. This is a complete fallacy. It's a bit of spin."

He is deeply concerned about the current state of play, however, for as a longstanding supporter of Lords reform Hain believes "this is now or maybe never". Hain has written a brief foreword to a report from pro-reform MPs who sat on the joint parliamentary committee which scrutinised the draft legislation. "We've really got to resolve this in favour of reform," Hain urges. But that won't stop him raising concerns about the primacy of the Commons in the debate. We'll see what he has to say in his speech, which we'll cover later on.


12:25 – Why the rebel letter matters

There's now 34-ish hours to go until voting time in the Commons – and it's going to be a fraught time for those MPs who haven't yet made up their mind. To counteract the persuasive powers of the government whips, the rebels have managed to unite together via the letter we've got in full below. This letter really matters – and one of its signatories, the Basildon MP John Baron, knows why.

Last month he masterminded a letter of his own on the EU referendum, getting nearly 100 Tories to sign up to his proposal for the coalition to legislation on giving the British public a vote at some time in the next parliament. It got good results: Cameron was forced to quickly pen an article for a Sunday newspaper setting out his position.

"The letter helps to show the strength of feeling – and believe me, feelings are running high on this one, as they are on the EU referendum," Baron says.

He says 70 is a "good number" and isn't to be ignored. What the letter does is to say to the waverers 'you're not alone': they can rest assured that they will be merely adding to their names to an already very long list if they do choose to rebel.

"I think it helps to show others there is deep concern about House of Lords reform," Baron adds. "It would compete with the House of Commons, it would be a step closer to a written constitution. Then there's the issue of cost. And is another layer of politicians really the answer?"


12:05 – No 10 standing firm

Here are a couple of key points from this morning's lobby briefing with the prime minister's spokesperson (thanks to @nigelpmorris).

  • Parliamentary private secretaries can expect to face the boot if they vote against the government
  • There won't be a referendum on Lords referendum, come what may (Labour are doing their utmost to get one)

11:35 – That rebel letter in full

Here's what the 70 Tory would-be rebels have put their name to…

Dear Colleagues. We come from all sides of the Conservative Party, and are writing as reformers to express our serious concern at the current proposals to create an elected House of Lords.

The Lords Bill is a measure of profound constitutional significance. Over time it will fundamentally changes the institutions by which we as a nation are governed. It threatens to pile a constitutional crisis on top of an economic crisis.

Specifically: What is now proposed will undermine the primacy of the Commons, with competing chambers which will lead to legislative gridlock. It will create hundreds of unaccountable new elected politicians at a time when we as a party are committed to reducing the cost of politics; and it will produce a chamber which is less expert, less diverse and significantly more expensive than the present one.

The commitments in our 2010 election manifesto and in the Programme for government - to seek consensus and to bring forward proposals - have been fulfilled. We hope you will support us in giving this Bill the full and unrestricted scrutiny it deserves.

11:26 – The public just don't care...

Here's a little bit of context for the politicking which is engulfing Westminster: what the public think. Not much, according to Peter Kellner, the president of YouGov. According to his latest commentary only 20% of voters think that Lords reform is vital and should be a priority. That compares to 50% thinking it's not a priority at all, and 18% who believe the Lords works well and should be left alone. Here's Kellner's verdict:

Those figures show where voters stand, not whether they are right. Good, confident governments regard polling numbers as a guide, not an instruction. However, times are tough. Britain has huge economic problems. Some of the key actors in our public life, including politicians, bankers and journalists, are regarded as crooks and cheats. In these circumstances, MPs should be wary of deciding that their priority is a constitutional form that leaves much of the public cold, and which does nothing to remove the failings that offend so many voters.


11:00 – The coalition at stake over Lords reform

Good morning, one and all, and welcome to politics.co.uk's live blog of the Lords reform bill's second reading debate. Usually second readings are a little bit dry. But this one is different. Ministers are attempting to complete the reform of parliament's second chamber begun over 100 years ago. But they face huge opposition from within the Conservative party, whose MPs could potentially scupper the reform completely tomorrow night. By doing so they are endangering Liberal Democrat relations with the Tories and, ultimately, the stability of the coalition.

The stakes are high. Which is why, over the next 35 hours, we've got the prospect of an all-out political fight to the finish for the fate of Lords reform – and the coalition.

Over recent months I've been following the Lords reform debate closely. I've interviewed proponents of the reforms, like Unlock Democracy's Peter Facey. "Lords reform is a long game," he told me. Even in long games there are moments of crisis, though, and this is definitely one of them.

I've also interviewed Mark Harper, the constitutional reform minister, about the nature of the challenge he faces in persuading his fellow MPs to back this. "For those Conservative colleagues who are not in favour of Lords reform at all - it was in our manifesto," he says flatly. "We can argue about the detail, but the principle has been accepted by our party as well."

Harper's problem is his own colleagues' MPs are just not listening. Around 100 could rebel tomorrow evening. How does he combat that? By realising, first of all, that the internal dynamics of the Conservative backbenchers are not at all simple. Some are against Lords reform because they don't think the timing is right. With the economy in recession they just don't think this should be the priority right now. Then there are a whole spectrum of views on the nature of the reforms: how much meddling with the constitution is safe? Is this the right kind of change? Etc, etc. I've written about the anatomy of the Tories' Lords reform divide here.

Conservative rebels wouldn't be a problem for Nick Clegg and Mark Harper if it wasn't for Labour's decision to vote against the government tomorrow night. The opposition laid out their politically brilliant strategy last month: backing the principle of reform, but insisting that it requires extensive debate on the floor of parliament. They can have their cake and eat it, too. Labour MPs can sit back and watch the carnage on the government side of the House, while fulfilling their manifesto commitment of voting for the general principle of Lords reform. It's audacious and, I think, really rather clever.

The result, then, is the standoff we've got to look forward to late on Tuesday evening. If the programme motion is defeated it means the chances of Lords reform will be "vanishingly small", according to Nick Clegg's departing adviser Richard Reeves. But that might just be an exaggeration – we can expect a lot of exaggeration in the coming hours – to exert maximum pressure on government whips to do their job. In fact the Commons rulebook is much more complex, as I've already written about.

It's only Monday morning, but already the developments are starting to come in thick and fast. The BBC is reporting that 70 Conservative MPs have sent a letter to David Cameron calling for "full and unrestricted scrutiny of the bill" – ie, they want permission to clog up the parliamentary schedule, ruining the rest of the coalition's legislative agenda. It is time for me to hit the phones. So it begins…

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