Lords reform: The first big test as-it-happened

Alex Stevenson By

Review our live blog and rolling analysis after the coalition abandoned tonight's crunch vote on Lords reform. Have the coalition's plans fallen at the first hurdle?

Commons 21:45 - Time to vote

22:19 - The result is in - just seconds away now. And here's the result. Ayes: 462. Noes: 124. A majority of 338. A big cheer, lots of oohs - that's a lot of 'no' votes. Time for the motion. "Not moved!" a whip yells. Massivet triumphant cheer from Labour. Thoroughly unpleasant, but there you go. And that is that: a whopping majority in favour of Lords reform. What a difference to 1969, when the second reading majority was in the 20s or thereabouts.  Does that means Lords reform is guaranteed? If you've just landed from the Planet Ordinary Person and haven't been following all this, just take a read of the developments below and you'll see why the answer is a definite 'no'.

22:00 - Now the vote takes place. Speaker John Bercow gets a lot of "ayes" from both sides of the House, but all the "noes!" come from the Tory benches. The division is now underway - come back in 14 minutes time and we'll be able to see quite how many Tory MPs have actually rebelled on the principle of the bill.

21:59 - Now Harper is pressuring Labour to agree a "sensible" number of days for debating. He threatens sitting over the summer, or late-night sittings. That drives the Labour benches wild. Harper praises Caroline Lucas and hopes there will be "proper negotiations between the usual channels". The "space" for this now to happen has been created, he hopes. He's wrapping up now.

21:58 - Osborne's appearance this evening is significant: it seems ministers have taken note of the constant comments about a lack of frontbench support for the Lib Dems during the course of the debate.

21:57 - The referendum, 100% and a list system rather than STV: those were the main sticking points with Labour, Harper says. He then outlines where the concessions have been made. It's obvious that there are still divides between the parties - a lot of work to be done over the summer. Further concessions will surely be needed if this bill is to stand a chance of getting through the Commons: that doesn't mean it is quite as deep in the long grass as many right-wing journalists have suggested, however.

21:55 - Clegg mutters something to Osborne, but the chancellor doesn't bat an eyelid. So Clegg just keeps muttering to himself behind Harper, who is as suave and professional as ever. Oh my.

21:52 - Wayne David, the shadow constitutional reform minister, is now speaking. His comments are punctuated by sarcastic cheers from Labour MPs as Cabinet frontbencher appear. "Say sorry!" they yell to George Osborne, for example. Mark Harper, who is now wrapping up the debate, praises Osborne as one of the sponsors of the bill. Just a few minutes to go until the 'moment of interruption', as they call it, at 22:00.

21:45 - In the last few hours the biggest development has been the resignation of Conor Burns, the PPS to Owen Paterson. There's been a few question-marks over the technicalities of his departure, and there still are over the fate of another PPS would-be rebel Angie Bray, but this tidies things up rather neatly. Burns can now join the small army of his Conservative colleagues in speaking out against Lords reforms. Not that being a ministerial aide really stopped.

18:00 – Buying time? The search for consensus begins


We might have got very excited in the last week or so about the extent of opposition to Lords reform from among the Conservative backbenches, but – despite the programme motion setback – the coalition has at least succeeded in buying itself a lot of time to make progress.

Coalition business managers are going to have to engage in some backroom channel discussions to work out what William Hague has called a "better consensus". The first secretary of state told the BBC News Channel just now that the government accepted the responsibility of finding a "procedural way forward:

The efforts of the government on this issue will be directed in the coming months at achieving that greater degree of consensus so that a programme motion can be passed in the autumn sitting.

The time has come for horsetrading. Caroline Lucas has led the way on this; her amendment to the programme motion suggested an extra three days of scrutiny on the composition of the elected second chamber, the primacy of the Commons and methods of accountability.

Here's what she has to say:

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to replace our outdated, unelected second chamber, based on patronage and privilege, with an elected body, answerable to the people – history won't forgive us for squandering it.”

If a deal is going to be reached Labour are going to want a lot more than just an extra three days – that's my sense, anyway. Still, if Labour is true to its word it remains possible that a deal can be achieved.

This could get very complicated: what if the opposition withholds its support in these private negotiations unless it achieves its wish of a referendum, for example?

Peter Facey, the director of the pro-reform group Unlock Democracy, hopes that the parties will be able to resolve these differences over the summer. He has suggested that the government might want to rethink the 15-year non-renewable terms proposal, which has generated a lot of resistance, and come up with a third way on the referendum issue – perhaps guaranteeing one if five per cent of the electorate demand one.

It's relief that the programme motion was not actually defeated which is the predominant emotion, though. Here's Facey's point of view:

MPs on both side of the house will now have the summer recess to consider how best to move forward. We call upon supporters of Lords reform to work constructively to ensure this bill does not now get lost in silly parliamentary games.

Commons 1640: Sir George Young leads the govt climbdown

17:36 - The backbench contributions to the debate are now getting underway and will continue for four hours or so. I'm not going to follow them in as much detail as I did yesterday, I'm afraid - they're unlikely to be quite as electric now that there's not going to be the big buildup to the 10pm vote. However, I will be back for the precise result of the second reading vote, and for Mark Harper's speech preceding that. Still got one more interesting post to add to this live blog before then, though - stick around for another 20 minutes or so!

17:35 - Clarifying Bryant's point about the Lords reform bill being in limbo, which was originally raised in a point of order by Peter Bone, Speaker John Bercow says under parliamentary rules it won't be in limbo - not technically, anyway.

17:34 - Next Eagle, who's been going much longer than Sir George Young, turns to broader problems of political disengagement in the UK. The Lords is only a small part of this bigger issue, she says, but isn't able to offer too many answers beyond engaging with verve and energy. Still, that was a thoughtful passage. She wraps up by calling for a referendum again: "Let us reshape this bill, let us reshape the Lords and then let us ask the British people for their endorsement."

17:29 - Jack Straw, the New Labour veteran, says that he regrets his government introduced programme motions. That triggers uproar from Tories, of course. "An extremely good point," Eagle says carefully.

17:26 - Chris Huhne, the ex-climate change secretary, picks up Eagle on the accountability question. He asks whether any MPs who aren't planning on standing again should be barred a vote. Eagle disagrees, of course. 

17:20 - David Miliband intervenes to help Eagle out as she struggles on why there wasn't a referendum on the scrapping of the hereditary peers under New Labour. Looks like we can look forward to a relatively rare speech from the former foreign secretary this evening.

17:12 - This all seems a little stale, to be honest - because the main issue has now, essentially, been resolved. We're all going to have to wait and see what the government comes up with, as they consider their options over the next few days. Bernard Jenkin points out programme motions are very modern inventions. He calls "proper discussion" a form of "check and balance" - and Eagle, significantly, says she has a lot of sympathy with that. Bryant then points out that when a bill gets through to a second reading, it usually gets some kind of timetable motion putting it in either a public bill committee or a committee of the whole House. Without that the bill is going to be "in limbo, which the Pope abolished" a few years ago, Bryant observes.

17:08 - On the programme motion, Eagle calls a Tory MP who asks about how many days Labour wants to be "silly". How rude. "We believe that every part of this bill needs to have proper scrutiny," she declares.

17:04 - Angela Eagle, Sir George Young's shadow, is speaking now. She starts by mocking Mark Harper for claiming Churchill would have voted for the bill. "It's probably better to keep these dubious insights to himself, Mr Speaker," she observers drily.

17:02 - Significantly, Young also wants sufficient time for this House to scrutinse other major issues. "If the House gives the bill a second reading, I hope they [rebels] will accept that decision," he says. Some hope.

17:01 - Shadow minister Waye David asks for a commitment for "meaningful dialogue" with the opposition. The government frontbench erupts in laughter at this - they're extremely miffed at Labour's attitude. Young says David has tested his patience and complains they're a long way from a "consensual interchange of ideas". 

16:56 – He then touches on the primacy issue, rejecting the idea that power is a zero sum game. The Lords can gain in authority even by doing so not at the expense of the Commons – as has occurred in the last ten years, he claims. I can't help thinking that if Young had spoken yesterday the rebellion might not have been quite as huge as it looked just before the programme motion vote was called off.

16:54 – Now addressing Tory rebels, Young says that the Conservatives have been committed to an elected second chamber since the late 1990s, and says words to that effect have been included in the last three Tory party manifestos.

16:51 – An SNP MP tells Young that this is all a waste of time now – why don't they all just go home? "He knows it's all over. They know it's all over," he declares. Young tells him that he can go home if he likes…

16:48 - Meanwhile, in a statement, shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan has put out the following line:

This is not a wrecking tactic - far from it. We've already given our assurances we'll do all we can to ensure the Bill progresses. Instead, it's about making good an inadequate bill. And that means allowing Parliament the time to revise amend and improve the Bill free from the threat of debate being stifled. The future of a reformed House of Lords should be all the better as a result.

16:47 - Young says: "As far as I'm concerned this bill has strong Conservative antecedents and I would have been happy to introduce it with a majority Conservative government." 

16:45 – Bernard Jenkin, one of the real Tory enemies of Lords reform, wants the bill to have "moral authority". Young says that depends on the second reading result this evening (with Labour support, a government win is guaranteed). Jesse Norman, another rebel ringleader, says it's the Tories who are responsible for this. "That should be perfectly clear and reflected in the record," he declares.

16:44 – Sir Menzies Campbell asks whether Young has "any sense of optimism" – more jeering – that Labour might finally say how many days they want on the bill. Young is despairing in response. Next come David Blunkett, who calls for MPs to reject the "constitutional abomination" on second reading.

16:42 – Labour call the decision a "victory for parliament", and begins pressure against the government in the debates to come. "We have to have time to scrutiny the bill." He says he'll be able to update the House on the position in business questions on Thursday morning.

16:41 – Young gets a sarcastic laugh when he says the government has "listened carefully" to the debate so far. "It is clear the opposition are not prepared to do that so…" he's interrupted – "so we will not move the programme motion tonight". Jeering from Labour MPs. "Bye!" one Labour backbencher yells out. Young is continuing. "We will then consider how best to take this agenda forward," he pledges. "The government will move a timetable motion…"

16:38 – The debate now getting underway in the Commons chamber. Looks like Sir George Young, the leader of the House, is going to lay out the position in a moment.

16:35 – Will the Lib Dems retaliate?

In the buildup to the politicking of the last 24 hours tensions were undoubtedly raised by Nick Clegg's departing adviser Richard Reeves, who threatened the withdrawal of Liberal Democrat support for boundary changes – which will benefit the Tories disproportionately – if, as has now transpired, Conservative MPs wreck Lords reform.

This seems implausible, according to the University of Nottingham's Professor Philip Cowley. He says that Cameron will be able to blame rebel backbenchers, over whom he obviously has only limited control, for the programme motion setback. Clegg does not have that option because the arithmetic doesn't work, he says. There just aren't enough Lib Dem MPs to defeat boundary changes, so if the coalition's junior party were to interfere with this Lib Dem ministers would have to act. "It will have to be a much more formal break of the coalition than this is," Cowley says – "a step change".

That seems unlikely, unless Clegg's simply had enough of all this. But I'm not so sure about Cowley's analysis. For one thing, as Stuart Wilks-Heeg of the University of Liverpool-based Democratic Audit research organisation points out, many Tory MPs will rebel on boundary changes, in any case.

"The risk is that the more the Lib Dems seem to play this game of saying 'if you don't give us Lords reform we won't give you boundary changes' it might make individual Conservative MPs put what they see as the party interest ahead of their own individual interest," he adds.

"My fundamental view is a depressing way of going about constitutional reform and constitutional change. We shouldn't be engaged in a horse-trading process."

16:04 – Confirmed: Govt drops programme motion

Downing Street has confirmed the government's intention to abandon the programme motion. The vote on second reading will of course go ahead, but the one on which Tory MPs have sought to rebel is now off. The prime minister's spokesperson is emphasising the importance of proceeding on the basis of consensus, it seems.

16:00 – Avoiding the humiliation doesn't change the result

Over the last three hours or so rumours have spread throughout Westminster that the coalition whips intend to shout out 'not moved' when the programme motion is moved later on. What was once a wild surmise now seems to be grim reality for reformers. Perhaps the government will confirm its intention at the start of day two of the second reading debate, which will get underway within the next half-hour. We'll have to wait and see.

What does it mean? Firstly, that if Lords reform is to succeed it will have to dominate the coalition's legislative agenda in a way that would be unacceptable to many Tories. David Cameron may turn to Nick Clegg and says it's just not achievable. But how will the Lib Dems react? How important is Lords reform to the coalition's junior party? There's a growing sense in parliament that the ball is about to be very much in the Liberal Democrats' court.

15:40 - Another resignation (effectively)

Angie Bray is talking to the BBC's News Channel about her decision to rebel. "The issue is whether this is going to provide greater accountability," she complains. "If ever there was an appointee system by another name, it's a party list. I don't call that especially accountable."

Like all parliamentary private secretaries who rebel - Conor Burns is another - she is effectively resigning. But she is not actually quitting - instead she is going to make the whips sack her. "I shall await the call, yes."

This is an interesting decision. It suggests that the rebel PPS' believe they are staying loyal to Tory values, and don't feel theris is a 'full-scale' revolt. It'll be interesting to find out how their dismissal does actually take place.

(UPDATE - after the programme motion vote was scrapped) - Of course their thinking is now clear. Will they be sacked, now they haven't actually not technically yet voted against the government? At the very least their cards will be marked, but Burns and Bray might just get away with this one)


Downing Street 14:30 – Cameron press conference

14:55 - Now Cameron has been asked a second question about Lords reform. "This government's main mission is a rescue mission for the British economy," he says, talking about the main purpose of the coalition. This "very strong sense of mission" makes it a "radical government, but it also has commitments in terms of constiutional reform". He continues: "What has eluded this country for many years is a reform of the House of Commons." Again he underlines the second reading majority in the Commons, before attacking Labour once more. "If Labour, for partisan, political, opportunistic reasons want to oppose the programme motion they're going to have to answer some tough questions about that." Cameron, of course, hasn't addressed the question of the rebels in his own party at all.

14:48 - Cameron's appeal had a very desperate ring to it, there's no denying it. It doesn't look like it's going to work. As Alastair Campbell's tweet in response to ours shows, Labour's reaction is going to be one of utter scorn.



14:43 - Cameron gets the question about the programme motion. Here's what he has to say:

"There will be a very big majority for the government's bill to reform the House of Lords. But what I've always said about Lords reform for it to happen all of those who support reform of the House of Lords need to act together, work together, vote together." He blames Labour for this. "Don't play politics with this issue - vote for what you say you want, which is a reform of the House of Lords."

14:36 - After some introductory remarks from Cameron, Hollande is now speaking. It'll be in the questions from journalists where any opportunity for Lords reform will come.

14:34 - At the same time David Cameron is giving a joint press conference in No 10 with the French president Francois Hollande. Let's see whether he says anything interesting about what's going on in parliament today.

Commons 14:30 – Deputy PMQs as-it-happens

15:10 - Afraid a technical glitch means I've lost the last bits from these exchanges. The biggest point came at the end of the session, when Clegg followed Cameron's lead in attacking Labour's stance. They are "synthetic, skin-deep and cynical", he claimed.

14:50 - Next Clegg goes on the offensive - he accuses Sadiq Khan of "procedural obfuscation" and says the history books aren't going to judge him especially kindly.

14:49 - Tory backbencher Julian Lewis tells Clegg that the reason he's turning down a referendum on Lords reform is because he fears the British people will "utterly reject it". Clegg accuses Lewis of bringing "a healthy degree of suspicion" to proceedings.

14:45 - Clegg says "the rest of the country" thinks there's a "simple choice" between "more democracy and less". He's got a very strong line on that - but Tory MPs aren't looking very impressed with him.

14:40 - Labour backbencher Valerie Vaz asks about the British bill of rights. Tory minister Mark Harper can hide behind the fact a commission is currently working eagerly away on the matter.

14:39 – The first question in parliament is from Willie Bain – it's about electoral registration. This gives shadow constitutional reform minister Wayne David to attack him on the issue, which is currently being legislated on (not quite as glamorous as Lords reform, admittedly). Clegg says all voters are being reminded about the switch to individual voter registration by the time of the next general election.

14:25 – Fresh from his very tough appearance opening up the Lords reform second reading debate (which will resume at about 16:15 this afternoon), deputy prime minister Nick Clegg faces his monthly hour answering questions at the despatch box this afternoon. It's set to be dominated by Lords reform, of course, so I'll be bringing you the latest.

14:00 – Clegg's nuclear option

I've been speaking with Philip Cowley, professor of parliamentary government at the University of Nottingham, to get his take on the current situation.

Intriguingly, he offers a third option for the coalition if the programme motion is either defeated or abandoned. As well as giving up or struggling on, this third way might be to put the programme motion to the Commons again– but make it a vote of confidence.

This is what John Major did in 1993 over the social chapter of Maastricht. He was struggling and lost the vote. So the next day the motion was put to the Commons once again, with the added spice that it was now also a vote on confidence in the government. Any prime minister who loses the confidence of the Commons can't continue in power, meaning he would have had to resign and a general election would have been triggered. On that occasion all but one Tory rebel fell into line, and the PM got his way.

There are two problems with applying this approach in 2012.Firstly, the Fixed Term Parliament Act means that the fall of a government doesn't necessarily lead to a general election. Secondly, in a coalition many Tory MPs wouldn't mind going to the country. Several I've spoken to would be more than happy by washing their hands of the Lib Dems altogether, and switching to a minority government sooner rather than later. But this might risk angry Lib Dems propping up a Labour government. Not a desirable outcome.

Still, emotion might get in the way of logic. "I've always been a 2015 person. Whenever people talk about early elections I thought it was nonsense," Cowley says. "But watching the debate last night I began to think - if you're Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems, why are we taking this?

"It was the mockery and hostility of people who were technically supposed to be your partners that I thought was really striking about the debate."

Clegg was left fairly battered and bruised by the treatment of his coalition partners. And in half an hour's time he'll be at the despatch box once again. What will he be thinking as the barbs and jibes start raining down on him once more?

If he really feels like he's got nothing to lose, Clegg might just be in the mood for a bit of nuclear brinkmanship.

13:10 – Is the coalition about to admit defeat?

At the lobby briefing this morning the prime minister's spokesperson was clear that there would be two votes, as we've been expecting: one on the second reading and one on the programme motion. Now a new possibility is emerging: that the government, accepting they can't win this one, will withdraw the motion altogether.



13:00 –The coalition's questionable programme motion

A closer look at the motion itself, available on the parliament website, reveals that the plan is to offer MPs ten days of debate on the detail of the bill. There would then be a further two days general 'wrapping-up' debate at third reading, before it passes its Commons stages. Added to yesterday and today's second reading debate, that's 14 out of the 88 days available to the government for its legislative agenda in this parliamentary year.

Close analysis of the proposals reveals some eyebrow-raising suggestions. The primacy of the Commons getting just two days of debate, compared to one whole day on the expenses regime alone, seems especially controversial.

Here's a detailed breakdown of the government's proposals:

  • Two days on the composition of the Lords

The coalition proposes 360 elected members, 90 appointed members and up to 12 bishops. Plus government-appointed ministers who'll be allowed to vote, of course. The first and second days would cover the relative merits of an 80% elected chamber.

  • Two days on the primacy of the Commons

It's one of the biggest obstacles to Tory support for the reforms: the fear that the legislation will create a second chamber determined to challenge the power of the Commons. Is two days really enough to address this?

  • Two days on elected members of the reformed Lords

All the detailed rules of the game, including the voting system, the timing of elections, the constituency sizes and how by-elections are dealt with are included in this two-day section of the debate. Absent from the legislation are plans for a referendum, but this would be the time for this to be debated, too.

  • One day on appointed members of the reformed Lords – and membership rules

Some more rules of the game, detailing the appointment process for the unelected members of the mainly elected second chamber, would be covered in one single day. Also included day are more general membership rules – disqualification, etc. Not much time at all for all this, basically.

  • One day on bishops and appointed ministers

The role of the Church of England would be lumped in with the other 'extras' – appointed ministers – in a double-header cramming two issues into one day of debate.

  • One day on Lords' expenses

One full day – that's half the time being devoted to the primacy of the Commons - is proposed to be spent solely dealing with the rules surrounding the expenses regime for Britain's new elected politicians.

  • One day on the small print

Centuries of the Lords' role in the constitution are being adjusted or kept as a result of these changes. The coalition would whistle through these in a single day of debate – but, to be fair, a lot of it does seem rather technical. More significant may be the 'remaining new schedules' – that is, government concessions – also allocated for debate on this day.

12:20 – A warning from history

History tells us a programme motion defeat tonight means Lords reform is doomed.

If the programme motion is defeated then ministers are unlikely to give up immediately. Commons business managers point out that there are lots of options available in the coalition's toolkit. Forcing MPs to stay up for some late night voting or cancelling the summer holidays might sound extreme, but they are genuine options. The programme motion can be repeated again and again, in the wee small hours, in a bid to force this through. "MPs ought to be careful what they wish for, really," warns Liberal Democrat John Leech. It becomes a battle of stamina and resolve. A real parliamentary fight. Who can say who would win?

"Yes, it means there is potential for endless debate," Conservative pro-reform MP John Stevenson tells me. He's talking about the programme motion being defeated. "But you've got to remember this is how things used to be done in the past."

That's very true – parliamentary business managers didn't used to have the programme motion as a card to play. But then legislation used to fail as a result.

One thing we do know is that the heads-down, push-the-bill-through tactic doesn't always work. In 1969, for example, came one of the most serious attempts to reform parliament's second chamber. Parliament's website describes it in detail, along with all the other major 20th century failed attempts to reform the Lords.

In the early spring of 1969 the bill made it through second reading but got desperately bogged down when it went through committee. There were over 80 hours of debates, spread over 11 days, and a lot of divisions as late (or early) as 4am and 5am. It just wasn't working. After all that time, more than the entire time the coalition proposes spending for the bill's committee stages this time around, the Commons had made its way through barely a quarter of the legislation. The bill was abandoned.

That's why tonight's programme motion vote matters so much. If Tory backbenchers succeed in defeating the government, the way is opened to a repeat of 1969. However much some Lords reformers might shrug their shoulders at the prospect of carrying on without a programme motion, being so blase isn't especially smart.

All this just underlines the key point: tonight's vote is absolutely critical to the prospects of Lords reform in this parliament.


11:40 – A Lib Dem view

'Frustrated' is a word politicos associate most with Nadine Dorries, now, after David Cameron cruelly labelled her in prime minister's questions. But today it applies most to Liberal Democrats, who must now sit and wait patiently to see if Cameron can persuade his backbenchers to back Lords reform.

They are not sitting back and doing nothing, though. Sources close to Clegg have been warning all weekend that this is a "test of Cameron's leadership". Yet they're finding arguments that legislating on Lords reform was in the Tory manifesto, or even the coalition agreement, are being undermined by the awkward fact they're not entirely true. The struggle continues.

Speculation about what this conflict will actually do to the coalition is rife. From the Lib Dem point of view, though, the real barriers to reform on this particular issue are about Labour and the Tories united together. "There's a bit of an unholy alliance between Labour and the Tories, just to try and scupper it," Liberal Democrat MP John Leech complains.

He accuses Labour's shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan of being secretly opposed to Lords reform, claiming Khan "hides behind the argument that there's not enough time to debate it". In reality, Leech says, the opposition's stance is "just designed to cause as much damage as they possibly can to the government". He adds: "I just hope that people who are in favour of reform will see through this very thin veneer from Labour."

What about the Tories? Leech is surprisingly relaxed. "I expect the Tories to be awkward on stuff like this, in the same way they should expect us to be awkward on some of the reforms we're unhappy with.

"I wouldn't describe myself as a serial rebel but I have rebelled on pieces of legislation. And I think that's just the nature of coalition politics. I would argue Lords reform was within the coalition agreement, Tories would argue tuition fees was as well."

In the wake of the electoral reform referendum defeat Lib Dems were faced with the bitter reality of a complete failure to achieve one of their biggest constitutional reform goals. Will they react the same way over Lords reform? Or will this form part of a broader narrative of deepening divisions between the coalition partners?

11:15 – Positions hardening on Twitter

Here's a quick taster of MPs tweeting on Lords reform this morning. Far from softening, positions seem to be hardening ahead of the debate. But the real waverers will be keeping very quiet, of course.

Liberal Democrats are getting extremely excited about the Guardian's editorial in favour of Lords reform. Tories are paying attention to Sir Malcolm Rifkind's very animated speech yesterday opposing the reforms. Labour are just sitting back and watching the mayhem unfold.



11:00 – Cameron's first defeat?

In a little over 11 hours' time the voting will be completed and the result will be in. Lords reform could be the issue on which David Cameron suffers his first whipped defeat as prime minister.

The Conservative rebellion, which could number anywhere between 50 and 100 MPs, will mark a critical moment for the coalition government regardless of the final result.

But if they succeed in beating the government – as seems more than likely, given the current arithmetic – then we're into "uncharted territory", as Liberal Democrats have put it.

Coalition tensions will be stretched to new levels. Ministers will have to decide how aggressively they're going to play this one, in terms of ensuring the government gets its way regardless. Without a consensus, we could be in for a parliamentary battle royale over the summer.

Already the battle lines have been drawn. Yesterday afternoon and evening 36 backbenchers followed Nick Clegg and Sadiq Khan in day one of the Lords reform bill's second reading debate. I followed their speeches in detail – you can find a summary of all of them in my coverage from yesterday, which I'm continuing today. Before the debate I talked to a number of the key politicians, most of whom spoke or are going to speak in the Commons, to get their views on the wider implications of the clashes. Go on, have a read!

From 15:30 this afternoon, assuming there aren't any more statements, the many MPs who missed out will get a chance to have their say. But I'll be following the Commons before then, as from 14:30 Clegg will be taking deputy prime minister's questions. Another chance for Tories to stick the knife in.

It's the vote at 22:00 which matters most, of course. Let's be clear – there are actually two of these.

The first will be on the second reading. This is on the 'general principles of the bill' which MPs have been debating today and yesterday. Labour and Liberal Democrats will vote in favour. Many Conservatives will rebel, but doing so will not affect the outcome.

The second will be on the programme motion. This is the government's proposal to allocate 14 days of debate to the bill. That's quite a lot, by any standards, but this is a major constitutional change and many believe parliament should have unlimited time to work its way through the proposals. This is the vote where the government could be defeated. Labour will oppose the programme motion, meaning it's up to Conservative MPs to decide its fate. If the government loses – well, that's when Lords reform will really hit the parliamentary fan.

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