March 13 2014 Latest news:
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
The battle over House of Lords reform is heating up before the crucial Commons debate at the start of next week, with Tory grandee Baroness Shephard slamming the government for trying to gag rebel MPs.
Her attack was a response to some innovative ‘procedural manoeuvring’ that the government is rumoured to be making.
As it stood most Tory MPs who found House of Lords reform distasteful appeared to have resigned themselves to backing the proposals – in part through fear of the whips, due to an impending reshuffle and simply because many don’t want to put their careers on the line by rebelling against something they care so little about.
However a number of Tory MPs had suggested they might instead oppose the ‘programme motion’ for Lords reform. Every time the government brings forward a Bill, it is convention for ministers to propose such a motion which sets out when and for how long an issue is debated.
To oppose it would delay the Bill, a sort of mini-act of rebellion that would not kill the legislation completely, allowing MPs to register a level of discontent without being too disloyal.
But having heard that some MPs planned to do this, the government will apparently make a pre-emptive strike – it will not even bother to move a programme motion, thus robbing MPs of any chance to vote against it.
It’s a highly unusual move for the government whips to pull, which has caused waves beyond the Commons chamber. Baroness Shephard, former cabinet minister, branded the move a gagging order and claimed it showed the government was “running scared”.
She told me: “This issue of a programme motion may seem technical to the man on the street, but the government has effectively imposed a gagging order on MPs.
“The fact is that the government is so afraid of an expression of disagreement from MPs on House of Lords reform that it’s not even allowing them an opportunity which is always accorded them in legislation; to dictate how they wish to debate a matter.
“They have cut them off at the legs, silenced them before the debate can even start. To me this is a measure of weakness on the part of the government and it’s an extraordinary demonstration of their attitude towards democracy, which they claim to be enhancing by reforming the House of Lords. A contradiction of terms does not even begin to describe the government’s stance.”