MPs hand Conservatives power over Commons committees

Written by Kevin Schofield and Tom Freeman on 13 September 2017 in News

Brexit legislation set to pass unchecked after Conservatives seize control of committees

House of Commons - Fotolia

Plans to guarantee the Conservatives a majority on powerful Commons committees despite the general election delivering a hung parliament have been backed by MPs.

Following a fiery two-hour debate in which the Tories were accused of mounting a "power grab", a government motion implementing the shake-up was passed by 320 votes to 301.

It means Tory MPs will take extra seats on standing committees where the allocation of MPs would usually reflect the proportion of the parties elected to the House of Commons.


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Under rules introduced in 1995, the governing party may only be guaranteed a majority on committees as long as it has a parliamentary majority.

But under the proposals tabled by Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, “where a committee has an odd number of members, the Government shall have a majority”.

The changes will make it far easier for the Government to get Brexit legislation passed without any amendments.

Defending the move, Ms Leadsom told MPs: "The motion before the House is simply to ensure that the Government's working majority on the floor of the House is reflected in committees. This will allow legislation to be dealt with in an orderly fashion."

The former Tory leadership contender also pointed out that the Labour minority government in 1976 had introduced similar measures.

Conservative MP Jacob Rees Mogg backed the changes. He said: "There is tradition for this, there is precedent for this, and it is the right thing for the party, the House, the Government and the nation."

But Shadow Leader of the House Valerie Vaz: "This is not about the smooth running of business, it's about a power grab. It's not about allowing proper scrutiny, it's about a power grab, it's not about wanting to abide by the democratic result of the election, it's a power grab."

Labour MP Angela Eagle accused the Government of trying to "gerrymander the standing committees in order to make life easier".

Lib Dem Alistair Carmichael said: "It is an obnoxious measure of which I know no precedent in my time in this House."

The Conservatives had to rely on the 10 DUP MPs - with whom they have entered into a confidence and supply agreement - to make sure the motion was passed.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "The Conservatives didn't win the election. They are the largest party, they don't have an overall majority in Parliament.

"They've done a deal with the DUP which involved £1bn of money being spent in Northern Ireland and not in the rest of the country and now they think they've got the right to give themselves a majority in the committee in Parliament.

"It's not so - we're a Parliament, a hung Parliament and the committees should reflect that, and there should be no overall government majority on the committees.

"They should get what's due to them, which would be the largest number of places, but not a majority."

SNP Shadow Leader of the House Pete Wishart said the move was "an affront to democracy".

“It is really very worrying that the Tories are now demonstrating total contempt for democracy and are prepared to blatantly ignore and circumvent the democratic verdict of this country," he said.
 
“This is a government that has failed to respect its position as a minority administration and is increasingly behaving like some tin pot Parliamentary dictatorship.”

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