House of Lords debate and rebellion: Q&A

What you need to know about the government's proposals to reform the House of Lords - and why some MPs are opposing the changes.

The House of LordsOli Scarff, PA Wire

Why is Lords reform back in the news?

A two-day debate is taking place in the House of Commons this week to discuss the coalition government's plan to reform the House of Lords. The debate will end on Tuesday evening with a vote on the government's timetable to get the legislation through parliament.

However many MPs disagree with the reforms, and are predicted to use the vote to show their opposition by refusing to support the timetable.

Labour has already said it will oppose the timetable, arguing that more time is needed to debate the plans. It is not known how many members of the government will join them and also vote against the timetable.

What is the government proposing?

To replace the House of Lords with:

  • a smaller chamber, reduced from 826 members to 450
  • 80% of members would be elected
  • 20% would be chosen by an Appointments Commission on a non-party basis
  • members would serve a single 15-year term
  • the number of Church of England bishops would be cut from 26 to 12
  • members would not be known as "Lords" and "Baronesses"; parliament will decide a new name, such as "senators" or "deputies"

Is reform of the House of Lords supported by all the main political parties?

Yes. At the last general election it was included in the manifesto of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.

So why is there a risk of the debate ending in defeat for the government?

Because of the volume of opposition among backbench MPs. While senior Tory and Lib Dem ministers support the reforms, many ordinary Tory MPs do not. Dozens are reportedly planning to rebel against the official Tory position and vote with Labour. There is a chance enough will do so to defeat the government.

Why are Conservative MPs against the proposals?

Some oppose any sort of reform of the House of Lords, arguing that the present chamber should remain in its current form (unelected members, appointed for life). Some are against the plans because they believe they are flawed and represent the wrong kind of reform. Some are opposed because they do not think this is the right time to be debating House of Lords reform, and that legisation should wait until the government has tackled other issues, such as the state of the economy and the eurozone crisis.

How many Conservative MPs may vote against their own party?

A total of 70 rebel Tory MPs have signed a letter opposing the reforms and calling for "full and unrestricted scrutiny" of the proposals. The open letter to other Conservative MPs expresses "serious concerns" over the reforms, which it says will "pile a constitutional crisis on top of the economic crisis". Some of the MPs to have signed the letter include the former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind and John Whittingdale, chair of the culture, media and sport select committee.

Why are Labour saying they will vote against the plans when they actually support Lords reform?

Labour has said that while it supports the principle behind the government's plans, it does not agree with the timetable for getting the legislation through parliament - specifically the proposal to limit the amount of time MPs can spend discussing the issue to 10 days.

What about the Liberal Democrats?

They support the reforms and the timetable. They believe that without a strict timetable for debating and passing the legislation, the reforms might be killed off because they would clog up the government's parliamentary schedule. On Sunday, Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable urged Conservative MPs to "get on with it" and back the bill.

What would happen if the government loses the vote on the timetable?

It wouldn't mean that Lords reform had failed. Instead it would mean that, rather than being pushed through parliament quickly with only 10 days of scrutiny, the legislation would be open to debate and committee hearings that could last up to a year. Lib Dems fear that such a lengthy process would lead to the original proposals being watered down or dropped altogether.

After the timetable vote, another vote will take place on whether the legislation should be given another reading in the Commons. Labour has already said that it will support the government on this particular vote.

What would be the consequences for the coalition if Lords reform failed?

Not good. It would represent a significant defeat for the Liberal Democrats, for whom Lords reform was one of the key things they were hoping to achieve as part of the coalition. There has been speculation, fuelled by some within the Lib Dems, that if the Tories were seen to "block" Lords reform, the Lib Dems would take revenge by blocking plans to redraw parliamentary constituency boundaries: a proposal that the Tories are very keen on, as it would more than likely help them and hurt the Lib Dems (and Labour) at the next general election.

Senior ministers have been doing their best to play down any chance of the coalition splitting up, which usually means they are very worried of just such a thing coming to pass.

Is there any hope that things could be settled in a way that would leave everyone happy?