Opposition parties have called the move a 'power grab'. They're right.
It has been slammed as an ‘unprecedented power grab’ – and it’s not the first by the Conservatives. But if it goes through, Parliamentary opposition to Brexit will be dealt a fatal blow.
The motion, which has not been published yet, is being tabled by Commons leader Andrea Leadsom for a vote next Tuesday.
What it does is abolish the long-standing convention that standing committees are meant to reflect the composition of the House – and the Conservatives did not win a majority, if you remember.
Left Foot Forward and HuffPost‘s Paul Waugh have seen an extract (confirmed by the Lib Dems’ Alistair Carmichael MP), which states Commons rules will be changed so that “where a committee has an odd number of members, the Government shall have a majority.”
And: “Where a committee has an even number of members, the number of Government and Opposition members shall be equal.”
It’s listed innocuously under ‘motions relating to House business’. Yet this change could have far-reaching effects on legislation and Parliamentary scrutiny for years to come.
In fact, the motion, which is now online (and tucked away), has three full references to giving a government-without-a-majority a majority on scrutiny committees.
The Lib Dems were the first to attack the move, with Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael saying:
“With every day that passes this government gets further from the basic principles of democracy.
“In the EU withdrawal Bill they want to grab power and to marginalise Parliament.
“Next they want to pretend that the election never happened in order to try and ram through a destructive hard Brexit. It is an affront to democracy.”
Jeremy Corbyn condemned the motion in fierce terms on Twitter:
An unprecedented attempt to rig parliament and grab power by a Conservative government with no majority & no mandate https://t.co/mcqLjHYTzR
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) September 7, 2017
And now campaign group Unlock Democracy have come out against the measures. Alexandra Runswick, Director of Unlock Democracy, told Left Foot Forward:
“The Conservative Party did not win a majority, and is therefore not entitled to a majority on influential standing committees. In seeking to make these changes the government is attempting to sidestep the general election result and undermine parliamentary convention.”
“This move, on top of attempting to limit the time for MPs to make changes to the EU Withdrawal Bill to just eight days, sends a clear signal that they want to use backroom powers to act like a majority government, ignoring the will of the people expressed in the election.”
The Conservatives have form when it comes to undermining democracy. But despite being dressed up as a minor procedural change, Tuesday’s vote could have far-reaching implications.
If it goes through, the chance of real scrutiny of Brexit will be woefully undermined. Let’s hope the opposition – and voters – do everything they can to stop it.
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Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.