Coalition shaken as Cameron ducks out of vote on Lords

Rebels shoot down 'dead duck' Lords reform as 91 Tories vote against Bill

David Cameron and Nick Clegg were forced into a humiliating last-minute retreat last night to head off a defeat over plans for an elected House of Lords. The Prime Minister and his deputy blinked first in a stand-off with more than 100 rebel Conservative MPs who oppose Mr Clegg's flagship reform of the second chamber, cancelling the critical second vote in the Commons.

The Tory rebels believe their symbolic victory means they will be able to prevent the measure making progress. After a dramatic day, the Bill was given a second reading by 462 to 124 last night – a Government majority of 338. In the biggest Tory rebellion since the last election, 91 Tories voted against the measure and an estimated 50 abstained – a sign of the trouble that lies ahead. Some 26 Labour MPs opposed the Bill.

Conor Burns resigned as a parliamentary aide to join the revolt and Angie Bray, another ministerial aide, was sacked for opposing the Bill. She said: "What we have got here is a capitulation. The Government whips have blinked first."

In a final attempt to salvage some reforms of the Lords, Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg will put pressure on Labour to support them in a crunch Commons vote in the autumn. But there is little sign the Opposition will rescue the Coalition from its turmoil over the Bill and Labour may opt to prolong the Government's agony.

An alliance between the Opposition and rebel Tories meant the Coalition faced certain defeat last night on a timetable motion to prevent opponents talking the Bill out by making marathon speeches.

Tory whips predicted the Coalition Government would suffer its first defeat by a margin of between 20 and 30 votes. Mr Cameron decided yesterday morning that delaying this critical vote until the autumn was the lesser of two evils. A reluctant Mr Clegg eventually agreed yesterday afternoon.

The Tory and Liberal Democrat leaders appear divided over the way forward. Mr Cameron intends to water down the Bill by the autumn to try to win over some of the Tory opponents.

That could include scrapping plans for peers to be elected under proportional representation to serve 15-year terms without facing the voters again. Another option would be stronger safeguards to prevent the second chamber challenging the supremacy of the Commons.

But Clegg aides insisted he would fight to preserve the current Bill and declared that it is "still alive" after what they called a "tactical retreat".

Senior Liberal Democrats renewed their threat to block Tory proposals if Mr Cameron fails to force his MPs into line. David Laws, the former Cabinet minister, said there could be "serious consequences", adding: "The important thing in coalition is that when you enter into these promises to each other you've got to keep them." Asked whether Mr Clegg blamed the Tories or Labour, his spokesman replied: "A plague on both their houses."

Although Mr Cameron was outgunned by his own backbenchers, last night's U-turn will be seen as a more severe setback for Mr Clegg, who hoped to win the 100-year battle to reform the Lords as part of his legacy. His prospects of securing historic change are less likely and he may have to settle for a much-diluted Bill.

Tory rebels hope the outcome will be a minimalist Bill which reduces the number of peers, removes the remaining 92 hereditary peers and ends patronage by having members appointed by an independent commission. They want to kill Mr Clegg's plan for 80 per cent of the members to be elected and now sense blood.

While ministers blamed their climbdown on Labour's decision to "play politics" with the issue, triumphant Tory rebels claimed the victory was theirs.

Jesse Norman, a normally loyal Cameron ally who was confronted by Tory whips in angry scenes last night after he led the revolt, said: "The Bill is a dead duck. The question is how long will the Government go on before it recognises that."

Lord Oakeshott, a Liberal Democrat peer, said: "This is now a real test of leadership for all three party leaders. Nick Clegg must hold his nerve. David Cameron must not cringe to the Tory dinosaurs now they have tasted blood. Most important of all, Ed Miliband must show he is a real reformer."

A Labour source said: "We will not be the blockers. We will help the Bill reach the Lords when the time is right."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: HR Benefits Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Ashdown Group: Business Intelligence Analyst - London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL Server Reporting Analyst (Busine...

Ashdown Group: Microsoft Dynamics Consultant - Watford - £65,000 + Bonus.

£50000 - £65000 per annum + bonus and benefits: Ashdown Group: Dynamics Expert...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - London - up to £48,000

£38000 - £48000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Senior ...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower