Nick Clegg's hopes of securing an elected House of Lords before the next general election are facing a setback amid fears that the sweeping change could take up to 10 years to complete.
The Deputy Prime Minister, who is in charge of constitutional reform, has forced an elected second chamber up the Coalition Government's list of priorities. But Conservative ministers are increasingly doubtful that the first peers could be elected on the same day as the next general election in 2015, as the Liberal Democrats hope.
Senior Tories believe Mr Clegg's timetable is too ambitious and would force the Coalition to allow complex legislation on the Lords to dominate its parliamentary programme in the two years before the election, sidelining "bread and butter" issues such as public services, and making the Government look out of touch.
The Lords reform plans are already running late. Under the coalition agreement struck between the Tories and Liberal Democrats in May, a blueprint for change is due to be published in December. That will not now happen until the new year, because all-party talks were delayed by Labour's leadership contest.
Although the Tories support a mainly elected second chamber, it is less of a priority for them than for the Liberal Democrats – not least because many Tory peers oppose the idea. If the Tories had won an overall majority in May, Lords reform would have been regarded as a "third-term issue".
Mr Clegg may still appeal to David Cameron to allow Lords legislation to take up a big slice of the parliamentary timetable in the run-up to the next election. Some Liberal Democrats regard it as a possible consolation prize if next year's referendum on changing the voting system at general elections is lost.
There was better news for Mr Clegg on electoral reform yesterday when some Tory opponents of the proposed alternative vote (AV) system ended their opposition to the referendum being held next May. They are also unlikely to vote for a threshold requiring a specific turnout in the referendum when the Bill calling it begins its detailed scrutiny in the Commons tomorrow.
Instead, they will concentrate their fire on changing the proposed question for the referendum. They want to replace the word "adopt" with "introduce" after research suggested that "adopt" is a "positive" word that could encourage people to vote "yes".