Nick Clegg insisted last night he was determined to press ahead with the House of Lords reform in the face of growing opposition across the political spectrum to the Coalition's plans for an elected second chamber.
He said the Government was prepared to impose a three-line whip on its MPs and even use the Parliament Act to drive the measure through in time for the first elections in 2015. In a foretaste of battles to come, the Deputy Prime Minister came under sustained fire at Westminster as critics warned him that an elected Lords would destabilise Parliament by undermining the primacy of MPs.
The former Ulster Unionist leader, Lord Trimble, who is now a Conservative peer, denounced the plans as "very dangerous for our parliamentary democracy". The Government has published a draft Bill proposing a mainly or fully elected second chamber, with members elected for single 15-year terms.
Mr Clegg wants the first contests alongside the general election expected in 2015. But senior Tories, including Cabinet colleagues, are privately insisting that the reform is a low priority for the Coalition, while peers from all three main parties fiercely oppose the moves.
Giving evidence to the joint parliamentary committee considering the Reform Bill, he dismissed suggestions that the Government lacked the political will to drive through the plans.
He argued that the majority of the public backed elections to the Lords, adding it was impossible to "inoculate the Lords from the democratic impulse". Asked if ministers were ready to resort to the Parliament Act, he said: "This is Government business and it will be treated as Government business." He dismissed suggestions that the Coalition lacked the might or unity to force through the reform.