Nick Clegg will give a statement this afternoon on the House of Lords Reform Bill, and what will happen next. Number 10 was understandably cagey at this morning’s lobby briefing about stealing the Deputy Prime Minister’s thunder before he speaks, but the Prime Minister’s official spokesman gave some answers to questions about the boundary reforms that were still quite telling.
Asked about the threats that Liberal Democrats have been making to scupper the reforms as revenge for the failure of the Lords legislation, the spokesman said:
‘It’s something the Commons has already taken a view on, and the process is that it will come back later this year.’
Asked whether the vote on the boundary reforms would be whipped, he said:
‘Look, we are still waiting for the commission’s proposals to come back, so I do not think we have said anything about the timetable for that vote.’
Pressed on the possible whipping arrangements again, he added: ‘It’s government policy, it’s in the coalition agreement.’
Patrick Wintour tweeted this morning that Clegg is set to say that plans for a reduced Commons under the boundary reforms must be dropped now that there is no strengthened executive check from a reformed House of Lords. If this is true, the DPM will need to sketch out how this will happen practically. Will Liberal Democrat ministers be able to vote against their own government’s policy (which they’ve already supported in one vote) without facing the usual consequences of rebellion? Number 10’s refusal to say, as is usually the case, that a vote on the boundaries will be ‘whipped in the usual way’ leaves the door open for an unconventional arrangement which could involve ministers rebelling and then not being sacked. That might release the pressure over constitutional reform, but it will make discipline a nightmare for both parties going forward.