Ministers reacted with undisguised fury last night when the Opposition took the unprecedented step of adjourning debate on the final day of the committee stage of the House of Lords Bill.
The Government was defeated by 145 votes to 136, a majority of nine votes, on a Tory motion to adjourn the debate and will now have to find an extra day of parliamentary time to complete the line-by-line committee stage.
To cries of "Shame!" from Labour peers, the Lords backed an Opposition motion to adjourn the debate by as it was "too late at night".
The tactic so infuriated Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor, and Baroness Jay, the Leader of the House of Lords, that they claimed a carefully- worked compromise to save some hereditaries was now under threat. The so-called Weatherill amendment, which was understood to have the agreement of all the main parties, allows 92 hereditaries to remain in a transitional House.
Afterwards, the Chief Whip, Lord Carter, accused the Tories of "unprecedented" action and "seeking to use their overwhelming in-built majority to disrupt government business".
The House of Lords Bill has only five clauses and government whips claim that six days of committee stage debate is more than ample. They were set to debate the final day well into the early hours of today, but the Opposition objected to the plans to allow an all-night sitting on such an "important debate".
A spokeswoman for Baroness Jay said: "Hereditary peers are filibustering. The result is that progress on other major Bills will be impeded. They are testing the patience of the country and the Government to destruction."
Lord Strathclyde, the Tory leader, defended his party's tactics and dismissed the Government's threat to ditch the Weatherill deal. "It arises from a macho mentality that wants too often to cut short discussion of its Bills in Parliament."Reuse content