The Tories are being blackmailed by the Liberal Democrats to support Lords reform, a Conservative backbencher said today as she claimed as many as 110 of her colleagues could rebel against the Government.
Nadine Dorries accused the coalition partners of threatening to withdraw their support for boundary changes if legislation to create an elected Upper House failed to make it through Parliament.
The House of Lords Reform Bill, which is supported by Labour, should receive its second reading on Tuesday, even if a number of Tory MPs rebel against the changes.
Nadine Dorries asked Charlie Kennedy: Why are you blackmailing us on Lords reform?
But a programme motion - which states there will only be 10 days of debate - is opposed by Labour.
If it is opposed by enough Tory MPs too, it would be defeated. This would mean the debate could effectively be talked out, with MPs filibustering with speeches that last for hours over the remainder of this parliamentary session.
It is unlikely the Government would countenance this prospect and would drop the Bill.
Speaking to Dermot Murnaghan on Sky News, Ms Dorries said the rebels numbered more than the 81 who rebelled against the Government last year when they called for an EU referendum.
She said: "It's going to be a very, very interesting week. I am one of the MPs who will not be voting for this, I am afraid.
"But I can assure you it's not just me and the usual - the 81 who voted in the EU referendum vote. There are quite a lot of MPs who won't be voting for this, as many as 110.
"The whips are putting pressure on that number and it will possibly come down but I think that it will be still enough to bring about a defeat."
She added: "The interesting thing is that the Government didn't actually need to bring forward the programme motion that they are doing and if it is voted out, then this Lords reform debate could go on ad infinitum.
"For the next year we could be discussing Lords reform because that means there could be no limit on the amount of time that could be spent discussing it.
"It will be talked out and we will we see the return of filibustering when MPs talk for 10 to 12 hours at a time."
In a heated exchange with Liberal Democrat former leader Charles Kennedy, she then accused the Liberal Democrats of blackmailing the Conservatives.
Turning to Mr Kennedy, she said: "You know your party said, 'let us have a referendum on AV and we will give you the Boundary Commission vote'.
"Now what you're saying is 'actually, you know we lost AV so that doesn't matter. Actually what we want is Lords reform'. This is about the Liberal Democrats knowing that at the next General Election they face wipeout.
"What they want to do is to have an elected House of Lords, via an AV/PR (proportional representation) system, which means they can go to their activists and say, 'we lost it in the Commons, we have no MPs left, we're only coming back with 10 MPs after having 60 or whatever, but we have got this in the Lords and we have supremacy in the Lords'."
Mr Kennedy replied: "I just wish that there was that degree of sophisticated forward planning in the Liberal Democrats. It's an interesting conspiracy but I don't think it's anything more than that at the moment."
Ms Dorries interrupted: "So why are you blackmailing us then? They are saying 'if you don't give us the vote on Lords reform, we won't give you boundary control."
Mr Kennedy replied: "Nick Clegg has made absolutely clear that he is not approaching it in that way and he speaks as leader after all.
"The point I would make is we take a pretty relaxed view about this. It's part of the coalition agreement, all three parties in fact were committed to House of Lords reform at the last election.
"There is as much David Cameron's handprint on this as Nick Clegg's remember, so I am sorry that if some Conservatives are not willing to give it support but that is a decision for them."
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