Prime Minister Cameron watches the Olympic flame pass in Woodstock, England, on Monday. (AP)
London, July 9 (Reuters): British Prime Minister David Cameron faces one of the biggest rebellions of his premiership after more than a fifth of his own party threatened today to vote against plans to reform parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords.
The Conservative Party revolt also threatens to take a sledgehammer to Cameron’s coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, whose push to make the Lords an elected rather than an appointed chamber is a key condition of the coalition deal.
At least 70 Conservatives signed a letter made public today expressing “serious concern” over the proposals, which they say threaten to pile a “constitutional crisis on top of an economic crisis” as Britain tries to revive its ailing economy.
“I’m voting against the programme motion. I’m completely opposed to Lords reform. This bill is simply a means for the Liberal Democrats to blackmail the Conservative Party,” Conservative lawmaker Nadine Dorries told Reuters, adding that more than 100 other Conservatives shared her view.
The Lib Dems argue that an appointed upper chamber is undemocratic and that its aristocratic and privileged membership, resplendent in their scarlet robes fringed with ermine fur, is an anachronism.
“Right now we are one of only two countries in the world, the other being Lesotho, with an upper parliamentary chamber which is totally unelected and instead selects its members by birthright and patronage,” Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said.
The Lords consists of more than 800 members, who review laws and scrutinise the work of the government. The queen appoints members on advice from the Prime Minister, although some inherit the role and some seats are reserved for members of the clergy.
While many seats used to be passed down with land rights, that was overhauled in a Lords reform in 1999, under a Centre-Left Labour government, leaving just short of 100 seats held by such hereditary peers elected by their colleagues.
The government wants to cut membership of Lords to 450 by 2025, and make 80 per cent of the chamber’s seats elected for non-renewable 15-year terms, with the rest appointed by an independent committee on the basis of particular expertise.
Conservative rebels argue that elected Lords would be more partisan and undermine the primacy of parliament's lower chamber, creating legislative gridlock. They also fear an elected chamber would lack diversity and specialist expertise.
Parliament is due to debate the plan tomorrow and then vote on the scheduling of the bill’s passage through parliament.