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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
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

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Recruitment Genius: Estimator

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a major supplier of buil...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£28000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Application Support Engineer with SQL skills

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas