POLITICS
13/05/2012 08:10 BST | Updated 13/05/2012 09:54 BST

Lords Reform: Politicians Clash Over Priority Of Elected Second Chamber

Cracks in the coalition have been laid bare today as senior politicians clashed on the importance of reforming the House of Lords.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said that the government should focus on issues that mattered to the public - such as jobs, immigration and crime - rather than the constitutional legislation which is proving divisive.

"Legislation on the House of Lords is in the Queen’s Speech; it will be introduced, and it will proceed" he said on the BBC's Andrew Marr show.

"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"

Meanwhile former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown insisted it must be a priority for the government.

"Take a look at the continent - what you see there is a crisis of economy but also a crisis of democracy. People are on the streets. You can't separate these two. We cannot continue with this cob-webbed anachronism." he told Sky News' Murnaghan programme.

"We are almost the only country in the world which has an appointed second chamber rather than an elected one - by the way the company we keep includes Belarus, Bahrain, Yemen.

"Even Egypt under its new Muslim Brotherhood constitution is going to have an elected second chamber. It's time we had a proper elected second chamber."

Former Foreign secretary Lord Owen criticised the coalition's "cack-handed" management of Lords reform.

"It is childish to use Lords Reform as a bargaining tool between two parties in a coalition. There does need to be reform, but these proposals are cack-handed" he said.

But Hammond told the Sunday Times that the Lords "works rather well", and that voters are "probably largely indifferent" to any reform

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.