Nick Clegg faces 'MP war of attrition' over House of Lords reform


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The Independent Online

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has been warned he faces a parliamentary “war of attrition” over his plans for House of Lords reform, amid continuing Tory anger over Liberal Democrat attacks on Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Conservative backbenchers, furious at the Lib Dems' refusal to support Mr Hunt in last week's Commons vote criticising his handling of News Corp's BSkyB bid, made clear they would now obstruct plans for a mainly elected upper chamber.

Many Tory MPs are already deeply opposed to the proposed Lords reforms championed by Mr Clegg, arguing they would undermine the traditional primacy of the Commons.

Senior Conservative backbencher Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the Commons Public Administration Committee, said that opposition would only be hardened by the events of last week.

"It is an extraordinary thing that what amounted to a vote of confidence in a minister of the Government should have been abandoned by the Liberal Democrats and I think a lot of my colleagues feel that very strongly," he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.

"I think it shows that, bluntly, the Liberal Democrats will do their own thing when it suits them."

The key test comes when MPs vote on the timetable motion which enables ministers to limit the amount of time spent on debating the legislation, he said.

"The real test of the Government's authority is on the timetable motion. If they don't get their timetable, it means we are into a long, long, drawn-out war of attrition in the House of Commons as the Government tries to force this Bill through."

Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes insisted that the row over the vote on Mr Hunt would not "spill over" into the issue of Lords reform and said the Conservatives must honour the terms of the coalition agreement.

"Lords reform is coming forward because it is part of the coalition agreement," he told The World at One. "Coalition deals are things that were are all signed up to. The coalition deal stands as a totality."

He defended the Lib Dems' decision to abstain in the Commons vote, saying Mr Cameron did not gain Mr Clegg's support for his decision not to refer Mr Hunt to the independent adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Alex Allan.

Mr Hughes said: "Last week's debate, brought by Labour, was to try to get a change in a decision made by the Prime Minister on something which the Prime Minister alone has responsibility, which was not an agreed position between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, which is what should happen to Jeremy Hunt.

"That was a matter that the Tory Prime Minister took. He was perfectly entitled to do it. Nick Clegg had sought to persuade a different route. That hadn't been agreed so we weren't able to support that particular decision."