Labour will support Bill to reform Lords, says Ed Miliband
Opposition leader's pledge boosts Nick Clegg while dealing a blow to Conservative rebels
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 27 June 2012
Ed Miliband threw a lifeline to Nick Clegg's sweeping plans for a mainly elected House of Lords yesterday by promising to force them through the Commons.
The Labour leader announced that the Opposition would support the Bill to reform the second chamber next month, on its second reading. Although Labour will vote against the Government's immediate attempt to cut short debate on the measure, it will back ministers when they call Commons votes to prevent rebel Conservative MPs "talking out" the Bill by making marathon speeches.
Mr Miliband's decision is a setback for Tory rebels, who had hoped to join forces with Labour to "kill the Bill" in the Commons. After an internal Labour debate, the Opposition leader, below, decided to put support for Lords reform ahead of the chance to scupper Mr Clegg's flagship proposal.
The Cabinet yesterday approved the plans, despite reservations among some Conservative ministers, including Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary. Between 50 and 100 Tory backbenchers oppose the shake-up and several parliamentary aides to ministers are threatening to resign.
Today, Mr Clegg will publish his Bill to replace the 800-strong, all-appointed Lords with a 450-member, 80 per cent elected House, with the first peers elected at the 2015 General Election and the final tranche in 2025. They would serve 15-year terms and,like MEPs, represent regions so they did not rival MPs in constituencies. The supremacy of the Commons would be enshrined in the Bill.
Mr Miliband's intervention improves Mr Clegg's chances of progress. But the Bill will still face a huge hurdle in the Lords, where many peers – including Labour representatives – will refuse to vote themselves out of a job.
Downing Street said that the Government would, if necessary, invoke the Parliament Act, which allows the Commons to override the Lords. But it remains to be seen whether David Cameron will want Lords reform to clog up Parliament for two years when it hardly tops the public's list of priorities.
Last night, Liberal Democrats accused Mr Miliband of trying to "have it both ways". They said that if Labour was a "serious, principled, progressive party" it would support the Government in the vote on the Bill's timetable. Liberal Democrat sources warned that Labour's failure to do so would make the Bill's passage "extremely difficult".
However, Mr Miliband faces a rebellion in his own ranks over his decision to ensure the measure passes the Commons. At a heated meeting of Labour MPs and peers, senior figures who criticised his stance included former ministers David Blunkett, who said he would vote against Labour for the first time in 25 years as an MP, Sir Gerald Kaufman and Paul Murphy. Others who want to oppose the Bill include Margaret Beckett and Nick Brown.
Mr Miliband said: "We face a clear choice: to vote down reform, or to back it. We will support reform." A Labour source added: "We give this guarantee: when the crunch comes, we will not be the party which delays this Bill going through the Commons."
Labour will demand about 20 days of debate on the Bill in the Commons and a referendum. Ministers may allow more debate but Mr Cameron will not grant a referendum, as it would put him under immense pressure to allow one on Europe too.
Tory rebels vowed to press ahead with plans to defeat the timetable motion. Tory whips have privately threatened to keep the Commons sitting through August in an attempt to limit the revolt.
- 1 Tidal launch: The most pretentious lines from Alicia Keys' valedictory speech
- 3 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 4 Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival streaming service criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
- 5 Brixton squat flats now costing up to £3k per month show how out of control rent is in London
Britain First 'acting like Ukip henchmen' by invading meeting of activists in revenge for pub protest against Nigel Farage
Costa Concordia: Shipment of Mob drugs was hidden aboard cruise liner when it hit rocks off Italian coast, investigators say
Brixton squat flats now costing up to £3k per month show how out of control rent is in London
A new (old) cure for MRSA? Revolting recipe from the Dark Ages may be key to defeat infection
Turkey power cut: Prime Minister says nationwide blackout could be caused by terrorists
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...
£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...
£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...