Lords reform: five days to the first (last?) vote

So, the bill has been published! Changes from the draft bill include that the new House will explicitly be subject to the Parliament Acts (the suspensory veto of the Lords will be maintained), the voting system will be a D’Hondt open list system in Great Britain and Single Transferrable Vote in Northern Ireland with an average constituency having ten members (h/t to Matthew S. Shurgart), ministerial members will be limited to eight at any one time – but ex-ministerial members may still sit and vote, allowing a loophole for swamping of the upper house.

The second reading and programme motion will be next Tuesday, and Tory rebels claim they have as many as 104 Tory MPs on side – more than enough to defeat the motion – but the question remains whether the 64 rebels of the 2010 cohort stand firm before the power of the whips, especially given the impending reshuffle. Tory rebels are now being phoned by the PM to vote against second reading (supported by Labour and so pretty much undefeatable) rather than the programme motion (opposed by Labour and hence defeatable) to avoid defeat. If the defeat is big enough, the government will apparently back down (h/t Gary Gibbon), but if it’s close or not a defeat then it will push forward and put up with any 3am sittings that they may have to endure.

Of course, there are some rumours swirling around that the Lib Dems don’t actually want Lords reform at all – they just want a reason to provoke Tories into defeating it so they have a reason to defeat the boundary reforms (h/t Dan Knowles). True or otherwise, the programme motion is *very* restrictive, giving only ten days in committee – Paul Waugh speculates that it’s almost a provocation, or perhaps a bargaining chip. Mark D’Arcy raises the prospect of the government not moving the programme motion and instead waiting for the rebels to see what the loneliness and drudgery of all-night sittings is really like before trying the motion.

Certainly, if the Tories were serious about this, as Isabel Hardman notes, the Tory whipping operation surely would be at least as harsh as it was on the non-binding vote over Europe last year? Worryingly for proponents of Lords reform, it’s really not. Chris Hope tells of a whip saying merely ‘Thank you’ after a potential rebel told them of their stance on the bill, while Nicholas Watt tells how the Foreign Secretary has been having a talk with potential rebels by ‘approaching them with a twinkle in his eye and saying he needs to speak to them about Lords reform. He pauses and then adds: “There we are. I have spoken to you about Lords reform.”‘.

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