Nick Clegg had no chance of getting the House of Lords to support his plans to sack them and create a new Senate with 300 elected members, two senior members of his own party warned yesterday.
The two Liberal Democrat peers – one who backs the Clegg reforms, the other who opposes them – separately predicted that the Deputy Prime Minister faced inevitable defeat in the upper house.
Mr Clegg will defend his plans later today in front of a parliamentary committee, alongside the Cabinet Office minister, Mark Harper. He wants to abolish the House of Lords in 2015, replacing it with a chamber of 330 senators who would be elected by proportional representation for 15-year terms.
But the plan faces growing opposition even within his own party, with the possibility of 20 out of 91 Lib Dem peers opposing it. In the Commons, it is thought 50 or more backbench Conservatives are also ready to vote against, defying a threat yesterday from the Lib Dem peer Matthew Oakeshott that it could tear apart the Coalition.
Alex Carlile, one of the most experienced Lib Dem peers, accused Mr Clegg of having "perilously little" understanding of how the House of Lords worked. He warned that 15-year terms would create "some risk of corruptibility" because senators would "see themselves as invulnerable" while being elected would make them think they had the same legitimacy as the Commons.
The Tory MP Philip Davies has also said he will vote against the Clegg Bill when it goes before the Commons. "The point of the House of Lords is that it works," he told the BBC's Sunday Politics programme. Another Tory MP, Penny Mordaunt, said: "It's hard to see what the good is with these particular reforms that are on the table."
Lord Oakeshott, who backs Mr Clegg, warned that if Tory MPs blocked Lords reform, the Lib Dems would retaliate by sinking David Cameron's plan to redraw constituency boundaries and cut MP numbers from 650 to 600. "We'll not be wanting to put that through if they welsh on the other half of the deal," he said.
But he agreed that the Clegg reforms had no real chance of getting through the House of Lords, where about two thirds of peers would lose their privileges if it went through.
"There's no way the turkeys in the House of Lords are going to vote for Christmas – it's all down to the Commons," he said.
On Thursday, the Lords will vote on a counter-proposal put forward by the former Liberal leader, David Steel, which would bring in two minor changes to the upper house that can be agreed without controversy.
One would introduce a system under which peers could retire, instead of holding on to their membership until they die. The other would give the Lords the power to expel members who break the law.
There are four former Tory peers and one former Labour member who have received prison sentences but cannot be deprived of their peerages.
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