Ministers have been accused of “desperate tactics” to avoid defeat on plans to take 3,000 children from refugee camps in Europe.
Ahead of a crunch Commons vote on accepting the unaccompanied youngsters, it emerged that the Government will deploy a little-used Parliamentary device to quash the plans.
Ministers are set to cite ‘financial privilege’ to force Parliament to dump an amendment to the Immigration Bill that would have forced the Home Office to take in child refugees from Europe.
Labour and the Lib Dems are hoping Tory rebels will back the amendment by Lord Dubs, who was himself rescued from the Nazis by the Kindertransport scheme in the Second World War.
Charities such as Save the Children have given the plan their strong backing as one way to help children currently in severe danger of exploitation and abuse.
But the Government aims to avoid further defeat in the House of Lords, where the amendment won a majority of 102 in March, by citing ‘financial privilege’.
Under Parliamentary convention, if an amendment is formally deemed to have cost implications for the taxpayer - and if the Commons votes against it - then privilege is ‘invoked’ and the Lords has no choice but to back down.
Commons clerks engaged ‘financial privilege’ on the refugee amendment earlier today, but ministers normally waive such rights on the vast majority of bills.
A Downing Street spokeswoman told HuffPost UK: "We are not intending to waive financial privilege".
Labour sources told HuffPost UK that using the Parliamentary device would be “a desperate tactic that proves they’ve lost the argument”.
“It would also show they know the cost of everything and the value of nothing,” one source said.
Even if “financial privilege” is invoked, the Lords can draft a differently-worded amendment to continue to defy a Government.
Labour is currently working with Lord Dubs to devise just such a new amendment to keep the issue alive, should the Commons overturn it today.
Despite having a working majority of just 18, Government whips hope to squeeze a Tory backbench rebellion over the refugees issue.
However, there is an anti-Tory majority in the Lords and a freshly worded amendment could be voted on as early as tomorrow.
A large number of crossbenchers have allied with Labour and Lib Dem peers to back the Dubs amendment and a further Government defeat would mean that it comes back to the Commons next week– and keep the issue alive over the May bank holiday.
Ministers tried to buy off a rebellion last week by unveiling plans to take 3,000 refugee children from camps in and around Syria.
But Lord Dubs wrote to MPs to say this was not the same as helping those unaccompanied youngsters currently in camps in Europe itself.
In an eve-of-vote letter, he said: “The Government has tried to muddy the water with a concession that will not help a single child who is alone and vulnerable in Europe.
“I am making a plea to MPs from all parties to stand up…ignore their party whips and find a voice.”