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Friday 4th March 2011 | 14:36
A pretty radical Private Members' Bill on the Minimum Wage was due to be debated in the Commons today.
Chris Chope's bill, aimed at cutting the minimum wage in certain parts of the country, was supported by several of his colleagues.
Chope, a long-time opponent of the national minimum wage, believes that cutting the legal wage would help small businesses.
Friends call him brave, critics call him "extremist".
Either way, this legislation was due to receive its second reading today. After two Government 'hand-out' private members bills (on Sports Safety and Estates Forfeiture), the Chope Bill was third on the agenda and as such would have expected to be discussed within 45 minutes of the start of proceedings. A debate of a couple of hours was expected by MPs on the Chope proposals.
But, all of a sudden, this morning the bill mysteriously vanished* from the Order Paper.
A strange business. Yet maybe the explanation lies in the vigorous attack on the Chope Bill by Shadow Commons Leader Hilary Benn yesterday.
At Business Questions, Benn said that the Chope Bill reminds the public "what the Conservatives really stand for".
Benn told Sir George Young: "They will not repeat the bankers bonus tax on people getting millions, but some of their Members seem determined to cut the wages of people who earn £5.93 an hour. Will the Rt Hon Gentleman join me in condemning this outrageous proposal?"
Sir George, for his part, said that Benn "will be pleased to hear that the Government will be opposing it".
They haven't just opposed it, it looks like the Whips have killed it dead. Chope, famously independent, looks like he's been nobbled.
*FOOTNOTE: The future business has been wiped from the electronic record of the Parliament site, but I have a pic of a hard copy of yesterday's Order Paper to prove the point.
YESTERDAY - Now you see it (item 3)
TODAY - Now you don't (new Item 3)
UPDATE: Hilary Benn is quick off the mark:
“Confusion reigns on the Government benches. Yesterday they tried to hide the Sky announcement by putting it at the end of the day. And today they’ve had to apply all the weight of the whips to Christopher Chope to make sure he doesn’t reveal the nasty side of the Tory Party.”
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