SEVERAL Hampshire MPs are gearing up to defy the Government’s bid to transform the House of Lords.

Rebel Tories are prepared to vote against the reforms today in one of the biggest tests of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition since it was formed two years ago.

MPs will vote today on the timetable for the Lords Reform Bill. The Government wants to limit debate to ten days, while rebels, and Labour, are pressing for no limit, which would jeopardise its chances of ever becoming law.

Julian Lewis, Tory MP for New Forest East, launched a furious attack on the Lib Dems, accusing the party of trying to keep hold of power by pushing for an elected House of Lords.

He said: “They will be able to blackmail any government for any concessions they want. This is not about democracy, it’s about cementing a permanent Lib Dem stranglehold on the democratic process.”

Yesterday a letter signed by more than 70 Tory MPs was sent around Parliament, saying the reforms threaten to “pile a constitutional crisis on top of an economic crisis”.

Among them were Dr Lewis, Winchester MP Steve Brine, Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage and Andrew Turner, the Tory MP for Isle of Wight.

If all of the signatories oppose tonight’s crunch vote on the timetable for the Bill, which restricts detailed debate to ten days, it is set to lead to the Government’s first significant defeat.

However, Romsey and Southampton North MP Caroline Nokes said she would be voting in favour of the reforms as they were a manifesto commitment.

But she was concerned about handing elected peers a 15-year mandate.

She said: “I believe to have legitimacy, the 15-year term is too long, especially when you look at the terms of other elected officials.”

Leading Lib Dem Chris Huhne told the Daily Echo that if Conservative MPs quashed the Lords changes, there would be “consequences” for other reforms – including the controversial redrawing of electoral boundaries.

Mr Huhne, the former Cabinet Minister who negotiated the relevant part of the coalition agreement for the Lib Dems, told the Daily Echo that reforming the Lords was “an integral part” of the agreement between the two parties.

He said: “I know that all of it was very carefully put together, and it was a very balanced package.”

The Government had to pass Lords Reform, he said, adding: “If we do not then there are bound to be consequences.

“I would suspect that if Lords reform doesn’t go through, we would have to look again at the whole section on political reform.”