Hammond in warning on Lords reform

The coalition must not become bogged down in a complex war of attrition over House of Lords reform, a Conservative Cabinet minister has warned.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the Government needed to focus on issues that mattered to the public - such as jobs, immigration and crime - rather than controversial constitutional legislation.

He said that gay marriage was also not a priority for the public and ministers needed to consider carefully the results of the current consultation process before acting.

"Clearly it is not the number one priority," he told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show.

"There is no legislation in the Queen's Speech, there is a consultation going on and we should look at and listen to what people are saying in response to that consultation. I think the Government has got to show over the next couple of years that it is focused on the things that matter to people in this country."

Mr Hammond is the most senior member of the Government to publicly voice concerns over gay marriage and Lords reform. His comments, however, echo the response of many Tory MPs who spoke out after the party's mauling in the local elections.

The Liberal Democrats remain determined to press ahead with legislation for a mainly elected House of Lords reform - particularly having lost the battle for electoral reform following their defeat in the AV referendum. But with many Tory MPs and peers threatening to rebel over the issue - with the backing of some in the Labour Party - Mr Hammond insisted that it was not an issue that resonated with the public.

"If you ask them whether we should sacrifice legislation to deal with immigration, crime, to strengthen families, to support growth in the economy, in order to force through very controversial constitutional legislation, I'm pretty sure most people would say 'Focus on the things that really matter to us in our everyday lives'," he said.

"Legislation on the House of Lords is in the Queen's Speech, it will be introduced and it will proceed. The question will be to what extent the Government should be prepared to clear the decks of everything else in order to possibly deal with a lengthy and very complex war of attrition over this particular piece of legislation?

"I think the public would expect us to take a balanced view. If we can get it through easily, fine, but don't throw all the valuable things they would be concerned about out just to try and focus on this one issue."