‘Total chaos’ as second peer quits government

David Cameron faces mockery from the opposition in prime minister's questions this lunchtime, after being hit by a second ministerial resignation in the Lords this week.

Downing Street confirmed last night that trade minister Jonathan Marland was resigning to "focus on his role in trade promotion", following the leader of the Lords Thomas Strathclyde's decision to quit to pursue business interests.

Sources close to the minister have suggested he was frustrated by the detailed policy work at the business department, after having been moved from energy work in last autumn's reshuffle.

The departures are a setback for the prime minister, whose Conservative party is trailing Labour in the polls in double-digits and seems unlikely to be able to gain an overall majority at the next general election.

Cameron can expect the resignations to be raised in this lunchtime's PMQs, in the first clash across the despatch boxes between the party leaders in 2013.

"To lose two ministers in two days shows David Cameron's government is in total chaos," Labour's deputy vice-chair Michael Dugher said.

"Just one day after their botched relaunch, even people at the very heart of Cameron's government are losing faith and abandoning ship."

Marland will remain the prime minister's trade envoy, giving him an opportunity to repeat controversial comments about the onerous nature of his foreign duties. Last year he raised eyebrows by joking he was travelling to Mozambique to "keep his suntan up".

The prime minister's spokesperson said he would be replaced by Viscount Younger of Leckie, with Lord Popat of Harrow replacing him as a "lord in waiting" – otherwise known as a government whip.

Marland's exit is overshadowed by that of Strathclyde's, who had served as a Conservative frontbencher in the upper House for 25 years.

Shadow leader of the Lords Jan Royall paid tribute to her long-time adversary yesterday, but could not help raising the fact he had resigned after reportedly saying he "despaired that the coalition had broken down in the House of Lords".

In a passage of her speech laden with sarcasm, she told peers: "Tom Strathclyde is of course a natural Lords reformer.  He has shown nothing but utter loyalty to the government's now-abandoned proposals for an all- or mainly-elected House of Lords.  We on these benches of course completely believed him, and saw no signs at all of one of the biggest political winks in Parliamentary history.

"All I would report, my Lords, is the view of one member of this House this morning, from the noble Lord's own benches, who said about the noble Lord and Lords reform: 'There were times when Tom's tongue was so far in his cheek that it was almost coming out of his ear.'"