Cameron coalition under strain over Lords reform

Over 90 Conservative MPs forced Britain`s coalition government to drop a motion related to a bill to reform House of Lords.

Updated: Jul 11, 2012, 15:36 PM IST

London: Britain`s coalition government has suffered its biggest rebellion as 91 Conservative MPs forced it to drop a motion related to a bill to reform the 700-year-old House of Lords.

The promise to reform the upper house to ensure an 80 percent elected membership is seen as mainly being driven by the Liberal Democrats led by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

The promise is included in the 2010 agreement when the David Cameron government was formed.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrats government won the vote on the principle of its proposed reforms, but a related motion to set a time limit for the debate on the bill was dropped after 91 rebels made known their opposition to reforming the House of Lords.

Clegg claimed "huge triumph" when the government won the vote on the bill with a majority of 338, which now goes into its second reading, but critics say that since no time limit has been set for the debate since the motion was dropped, rebels could `talk the bill out` by lengthy speeches.

As many as 26 Labour MPs opposed to the reform bill also voted against it.

Opening the debate, Clegg had called the House of Lords a `flawed institution` that exercised power without legitimacy, which made it necessary to reform it.

However, Conservative members opposing the reforms called for "full and unrestricted scrutiny" of the bill, and expressed "serious concerns" over the bill which it says will "pile a constitutional crisis on top of the economic crisis".

Refusing to back down in the face of Conservative rebellion, Clegg claimed that the vote last night was "clear mandate to deliver much needed reforms to the House of Lords".

He wrote in an e-mail to Liberal Democrats party members: "We have been reasonable and looked at acceptable compromises at every stage. That is why we agreed to withdraw today`s timetabling motion, to allow the Conservative team in government take more time over the summer to talk to their backbench colleagues."

Clegg added: "When we return in the autumn to vote on this again, we fully expect the Conservatives to deliver this crucial part of the coalition deal - as we have delivered other coalition policies."

The plans likely to drastically reduce the membership of the chamber to 450 from the current 800.