Former Labour transport secretary Bill Rodgers - now leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords - told peers: 'Today the deputy prime minister has too much on his plate. I send this message to the Prime Minister: it is time to recreate a transport department under a separate Cabinet minister. There is too much to be done.'
Speaking in the first full day's debate on the Queen's Speech, largely devoted to foreign and defence policy, Lord Rodgers also warned Conservative peers that if they insisted on rejecting the Queen's Speech they would do nothing to educate this government that in a two-chamber parliament governments must accept some defeats - but defeats based on argument and natural coalitions.
He said Liberal Democrats would anything within the conglomerate Transport Bill that would genuinely improve public transport, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer must understand that improvements could not be achieved without additional resources. There was no other way of breaking the circle.
The Liberal Democrat leader - who said he regretted there were no proposals for proportional representation voting for local elections, 'which would do more than anything else to avoid corruption in local government including the institutional corruption of power' - said his group would not support the Conservative amendment critical of the Queen's Speech and of the government's lack of vision.
He said it was not the time for Conservative peers to use their temporary majority in the lords to defeat the government. 'The time will come when the government of the day - and perhaps this government in particular - will need to reconcile themselves to the fact that if we are to have a bicameral system, the government of the day will from time to time be defeated.
'However, when that moment comes for the first time, it should be effected by a natural coalition across the parties of the kind put together by Lord Ashley [on disability benefit] in the closing stages of the last session', said Lord Rodgers.
The Conservative amendment distracted from the important constitutional message which government must understand. Nor would a defeat on the Queen's Speech help the Labour leader of the house, Baroness Jay, 'to educate her cabinet colleagues to accept an occasional defeat in this house', added Lord Rodgers.