UK Politics

Nick Clegg's Lords reform plans 'could mean Lib Dem humiliation'

House of Lords
Image caption The government proposes almost halving the number of people in the House of Lords

Plans to reform the House of Lords will lead to "humiliation" for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, one of the party's hereditary peers has warned.

Many Conservative MPs and peers across the parties are said to oppose the scheme, which involves electing most members of the Lords for 15-year-terms.

The Earl of Glasgow told the BBC his party risked looking "foolish" and Lib Dem election hopes could be damaged.

But former party chief executive Lord Rennard said people backed the plans.

Liberal Democrats within the coalition government are pushing for Lords reform, including electing 80% of peers and almost halving the total number of members to 450.

But many Conservatives oppose the plans, with 93 MPs rebelling against the government in a vote earlier this month - the largest such act of defiance since the government was formed in 2010.

'Foolish'

In the face of a likely defeat on plans to impose a "timetable" on the debate, ministers decided to withdraw the motion which would have limited the maximum amount of debating time to be put aside for the issue.

This means it could be "talked out", with opponents making long speeches to limit the prospects of the House of Lords Reform Bill becoming law.

The government is expected to try to overturn this result in the autumn.

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Media captionPlans to reform the House of Lords will be "another constitutional humiliation", a Lib Dem peer warns

But the Earl of Glasgow, a hereditary peer, told BBC Radio 4's World at One he had written to Mr Clegg to warn him it was "not a good time" to promote reform.

He added: "It's probably going to get bogged down [in Parliament] and I don't think it's going to get through. It's going to be another constitutional humiliation for Nick Clegg and, therefore, the party."

He was referring to the referendum last year on whether to replace the first-past-the-post system for electing MPs with the alternative vote method. The referendum was a condition of the coalition agreement but the Lib Dems, who supported the change, lost.

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Media captionThe bid to reform the House of Lords dates back to 50 years before Nick Clegg was born, says Lord Rennard

Another defeat over Lords reform would "make us look rather foolish", Lord Glasgow said, arguing that it would damage the party's prospects at the next general election.

He added: "I don't really think it's the time now to be having internal fights within the parties, when we should be dealing with much more important things, like the economy.... it could be very damaging."

But Lord Rennard, the Lib Dems' former chief executive, said it had been "Liberal policy to reform the House of Lords for 100 years".

He acknowledged it was "not the most important issue to people", but added: "Most people support the idea of people electing members of the House of Lords, rather than [party] leaders selecting them."

Former Liberal leader Lord Steel has proposed a separate bill, including forcing retirement for those who fail to attend or are convicted of crimes. This was backed by peers earlier this month.

However, he has emphasised that this represented a "small start" and was not an alternative to Mr Clegg's reform programme.

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