Labour set to throw beleaguered Clegg a Lords reform lifeline
Miliband's change of heart will save Liberal Democrat leader from humiliating defeat
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Wednesday 29 February 2012
Labour will throw Nick Clegg a lifeline over his trouble-hit plans for an elected House of Lords, which have run into opposition from all three main parties.
Until now, Ed Miliband has refused to endorse the Deputy Prime Minister's blueprint for 80 per cent of the second chamber to be elected on the grounds that Labour supported a wholly-elected Lords at the 2010 election and a referendum on the issue. Labour's hostility led to growing fears among the Liberal Democrats that Mr Clegg's historic shake-up would fall at its first hurdle by being defeated in the Commons by a rebellion by Tory backbenchers and Labour's refusal to support his Bill.
In an important change of heart, Labour will now whip its MPs to ensure that the measure is passed by the Commons, where it will start its passage in the new Parliamentary session starting this spring before being debated by the House of Lords. "We will show some flexibility to make sure the Bill gets to the Lords," one Labour source said yesterday. "We will not die in the ditch for a 100 per cent elected House or a referendum."
Labour's switch will bring some relief to Mr Clegg, as it should lift the threat of him suffering a humiliating defeat in the Commons. However, Labour's decision is not as generous as it looks. Mr Miliband is making no commitment to help Mr Clegg force his controversial Bill through the Lords, where many Labour peers are already queuing up to oppose it. If the Labour leader does not come to the aid of Mr Clegg there, he may be accused of opportunism in allowing the Bill to pass the Commons so that it becomes bogged down in the Lords, as many peers refuse to vote themselves out of a job – including some Liberal Democrats.
Although Lords reform is in the Coalition Agreement struck in 2010, there are doubts over whether David Cameron will "go to the wire" and allow an issue of little interest to most voters to dominate Parliament for up to two years.
Mr Clegg told a committee of MPs and peers on Monday that the shake-up is a "clear ambition" for the Government. He indicated that MPs would be whipped to support the legislation like "any other Government business", and cited the Prime Minister's support for using the Parliament Act to override the opposition in the Lords.
However, some senior Tories doubt that Mr Clegg's full plan will become law before the next election in 2015. There is growing speculation that the Bill will be blocked or the Government will settle for a small proportion of peers to be elected, with agreement to revisit the issue in a future parliament.
One Tory source said: "Nick Clegg is determined to push ahead with this. He sees it as his legacy after 100 years of failed attempts to reform the Lords. We have tried to talk him out of it. He knows it won't impress the man in the pub but he believes it is a scandal that the second chamber is appointed."
Yesterday Lord Dobbs, a former Conservative Party deputy chairman, warned: "Some of my fellow peers have threatened to become unwavering rebels and wreck the government's legislative programme if the threatened miserable mess of potage is served up in the Queen's Speech."
The Tory peer insisted the Coalition Agreement committed the Government only to bring forward proposals on Lords reform: "Nowhere does it talk about a strict timetable for legislation or using the muscle of the whips to force proposals through."
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...
£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...
£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...
£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...