Senior Government sources said last night that Lord Mackay almost certainly would be forced to resign if his flagship Bill is defeated on its third reading in the Commons next week.
Ministers have made an 11th- hour attempt to stop Labour voting down the Bill with Tory rebels, led by John Patten, the former Education Secretary, by offering to accept a series of Labour amendments tabled by Tony Blair.
Paul Boateng, the Labour spokesman on the Bill will tonight brief the Shadow Cabinet on the deal, which would amend the bill to ensure there was separate representation of children in divorce proceedings.
The Tories were "desperate" a Labour source said.
Labour MPs who are dissatisfied with the Bill in its current form may seek to defeat the Government in the crucial vote on Monday in the hope of inflicting more damage on the Government and take the prize scalp of the Lord Chancellor.
A Labour leadership source last night said the Bill was still "deeply flawed".
The defeat for the Government would be humiliating for the Lord Chancellor, but it is unlikely to lead to a confidence vote.
However, the rejection of a key part of the Queen's Speech would be a substantial setback for John Major as he seeks to revive the fortunes of the party with an economic upturn and the battle against Europe in the beef crisis.
The Lord Chancellor yesterday issued a last-ditch plea to MPs not to scupper the Bill, warning that if it was thrown out on Monday, divorce would remain a simple and easy option, with no requirement to consider the future, for thousands of couples. "One of the effects of that is the very high rate of failure of second marriages," he said.Reuse content