Northern Ireland

Lords reform: Where do Northern Ireland's MPs stand ?

House of Lords
Image caption It is planned to make the House of Lords a mainly-elected chamber

To the average voter the reform of the House of Lords might not be seen as a political priority.

In many ways that is perfectly understandable.

Paying the mortgage, trying to get a job or finding money for university fees are more likely to command greater attention amongst many people.

However, at Westminster the reform of the Upper Chamber has taken on great political significance in recent days.

Next Tuesday that issue will test the strength of the two-year-old coalition government.

Tensions over reform have intensified over the past month with the Liberal Democrats now threatening to retaliate if Conservative MPs succeed in derailing the reform proposals.

The plan is to make the Lords a mostly elected chamber with the number of members likely to be halved to around 450 and the first elections taking place in 2015.

Dozens of Conservative MPs could revolt and they have criticised Liberal Democrat attempts to link the issue to boundary changes.

Backing proposals

Conor Burns, the Belfast-born parliamentary aide to the Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson, has said he will vote against Lords reform even if it costs him his job in the government.

The Conservative MP told the BBC recently that if he lost his job then "so be it ".

His boss, Owen Paterson, is backing the proposals.

The cabinet minister is on record as a supporter of elections to the Upper House.

If Conor Burns resigns or is sacked it will be the second time the secretary of state has lost a trusted advisor in the past year.

Last October Stewart Jackson resigned in a row over a referendum about Europe.

As well as considering the Lords reform proposals in general, MPs must also decide whether to approve a "timetable motion".

This would set out the time for debate on the Reform Bill and the terms of its passage through parliament.

Nine elected

It means Northern Ireland would see representation in the second chamber heavily reduced.

There are currently around 25 peers from Northern Ireland in the Lords and under the new proposals nine would be elected.

The issue divides local politicians.

The DUP's eight MPs look set to vote against the reform proposals.

Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said his party has "never been convinced of the merit of a second elected chamber".

He said he and his parliamentary colleagues are not persuaded that the reform plans are "right for the country ".

The DUP has not made a decision on the "timetable motion" but on the issue of changing the make-up of the Upper House, Jeffrey Donaldson said his party position is straightforward.

He told the BBC "if it ain't broke, don't fix it ".

East Belfast MP Naomi Long said she supports the government's plans and added: "It is important the Lords is a majority elected chamber".

Political appointments

The Alliance MP said it is not acceptable that members of the Upper House are there because of their birthright or because they are political appointments.

The North Down MP Lady Hermon confirmed to the BBC that she will vote against the reform proposals and the "timetable motion". She said that at a time of economic uncertainty devoting parliamentary time to this issue was "a luxury we cannot afford".

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said his party will back the plans to change the Lords.

He said: "The House of Lords as it stands is an anachronism, at odds with almost all modern democracies.

"As it still retains significant powers, which have an impact on politics in Northern Ireland, I hope that party political squabbling can be put aside to deliver an upper chamber that is fit for purpose and fit for the 21st century."

However, the South Belfast MP has concerns about the lack of time being given to debating the reform proposals.

Those worries are shared by the Shadow Secretary of State Vernon Coaker.

The Labour MP wants the reform plans to be put to a referendum.

He said Labour also objects to the time scale being offered for debate.

"The government should not be ramming this legislation through parliament without proper debate. That is why we are voting against the programme motion," he said.

A spokesman for Downing Street said the prime minister was determined to press ahead with an overhaul of the Lords.

Aware that some MPs might be tempted to rebel, he added that the "usual rules" would apply to any members of the government defying the party whip.

You can follow Stephen Walker on Twitter @ StepWalkTV