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Lords reform in chaos after retreat
Plans for reform of the House of Lords have been thrown into disarray after the Government ditched plans for a timetable motion to limit detailed scrutiny of the legislation to 10 days.
The retreat saved David Cameron from suffering the coalition's first Commons defeat in a whipped vote, but opened up the prospect of opponents of change blocking the legislation by dragging out debate until time runs out.
And it threatens to place immense strain on the coalition, as Lords reform is the a key priority of the Liberal Democrats following their defeat on AV voting for Westminster elections last year. One senior Tory backbencher predicted that the decision could lead to the collapse of the coalition and bring forward the date of the next election.
Announcing the decision to drop the "programme motion" scheduled for this evening, Leader of the Commons Sir George Young blamed Labour for siding with Tory rebels and said that a new timetable will now be put forward in the autumn.
The announcement came just hours after Prime Minister David Cameron issued a last-ditch appeal to Labour leader Ed Miliband to rethink his plans to vote with the rebels.
Mr Cameron said that he still expected to achieve "a very large majority" in the Commons this evening on the principle of the Bill, which would create a 450-member Upper House of 80% elected members serving single 15-year terms.
"The prediction I would make is that there will be a very big majority for the Government's Bill to reform the House of Lords. I think that's absolutely vital and that will be a big step forward," he said.
He added: "I think it is time that we reformed the House of Lords. It has got up to 900 people, there are still people there who are there because their ancestors were given a peerage decades ago. It is ripe for reform. It does need to take place."
Bernard Jenkin, the chairman of the Commons Public Administration Committee and one of the most senior Tory signatories of yesterday's letter, told the BBC: "Withdrawal of this motion amounts to a defeat and it means this Bill is in very grave difficulty", adding that the loss of the timetable motion could spark the collapse of the coalition and lead to a general election.
A poll by ComRes for ITV news found almost three in five voters (59%) support reform of the House of Lords to ensure a majority of its members are elected by the public. But less than a quarter (24%) of those questioned by pollsters ComRes for ITV News at Ten said reform should be a priority for the Government at the present time, compared to 50% who said it should not. Just 18% of those questioned for the poll opposed a majority-elected House of Lords, while 23% said they were not sure.