Government under fire over ‘jaw dropping’ move to dodge opposition day votes
Opposition MPs have rounded on ministers for dodging two votes they were set to lose - in what has been deemed a "bad week for democracy".
Shadow Leader of the House Valerie Vaz said ministers had made parliament look “ridiculous” after, in an unusual move, no Tories forced a division following Labour-led debates on the public sector pay cap and tuition fees.
The Conservatives failure to vote on the motions calling for NHS workers to receive a pay rise of more than 1%, and the scrapping of plans to increase fees to £9,250, meant they were passed unanimously.
The move comes after the Government was accused of a “power grab” over Henry VIII powers laid out in the EU Withdrawal Bill.
The bill was passed at the second reading on Monday night and could hand ministers the licence to repeal or change aspects of UK law returned from the EU without MPs’ approval.
The Government then faced the same claim on Tuesday evening, when they used DUP votes to tip the balance on powerful standing committees in favour of the Tories, despite not having a majority.
Ms Vaz said last night’s vote added to “a bad week for parliamentary democracy”, while the SNP’s Pete Wishart said ministers were “behaving little better than a dysfunctional tin-pot dictatorship”.
Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom said the motions were “purely political” and non-binding – prompting heckling from MPs.
Speaking in the Commons, Ms Vaz said: “It was jaw dropping yesterday, Mr Speaker, absolutely jaw dropping.”
She added: “It’s also clear, and it’s been said on social media, that that’s what the government is going to do with every opposition day motion, so I would like you, Mr Speaker, to have a meeting with the business managers to work out exactly how we take this forward because it makes parliament look ridiculous."
Students and nurses, Ms Vaz continued, would have a “legitimate expectation” for the Government to take action following the vote.
“What the house voted to do was to lift the cap on nurses’ pay and to revoke the rise in tuition fees,” she said.
“It means that students and nurses have a legitimate expectation that that’s what the intention of parliament is and we’d like to know how that’s going to be enacted.”
Following the exchange, a senior Labour source told the Guardian the party was considering legal action to try to block the tuition fees rise.
VOTES 'PURELY POLITICAL'
Responding to Ms Vaz's criticism in the Chamber, Mrs Leadsom said: “We take the issues underlying, of tuition fees, the pay for public sector workers, incredibly seriously and as members will be aware there have been many statements, briefings, both written and oral and many discussions on these subjects in recent months…
“Yesterday to be very clear there were equal numbers of speakers on both sides of the house, there were some excellent contributions made and there is no doubt that we have engaged at every level.
“However, I would like to point out the actual intention of opposition in these debates yesterday was purely political; they will be very much aware that the vote yesterday, the tuition fee proposal has no statutory effect.
“As the opposition know, a debate was scheduled for 18 April but the general election interrupted this. For the Honourable Lady to suggest that yesterday’s votes would have had statutory effect is simply not correct.
Mr Wishart said: “This has been an absolute stinker of a week for the democratic arrangements of the house.
“First the Repeal Bill, and the grotesque Henry VIII powers; then the manipulation of standing committees in the Government’s favour and now the degrading of opposition day motions to little more than adjournment debates.
“Next Mr Speaker they’ll be coming for your chair!”