POLITICS

Theresa May 'Rigging Parliament' With New Emergency Move To Curb Changes To Budget 2017

New 'power grab' claim as PM tries to protect slim majority

27/11/2017 22:00 GMT | Updated 28/11/2017 08:39 GMT

Theresa May is facing fresh accusations of “rigging Parliament” with an unprecedented move to prevent MPs from changing legislation on the Budget.

Labour attacked May’s latest “power grab” after it emerged that the Government will deploy a little-used procedural device to effectively eliminate any attempts to amend the Finance Bill.

The tactic will severely restrict MPs’ ability to secure alternative tax measures, such as a DUP-backed plan to abolish VAT on all domestic fuel after Brexit.

It also ensures that no backbench rebels can join Labour or other parties in ambushing the Government on particular plans - as they have in recent years on issues like the ‘tampon tax’ or taxes on solar panels.

The move follows heavy criticism from both Tory and Labour MPs of the Prime Minister’s recent attempts to protect her wafer-thin majority by ignoring Opposition Day motions and packing bill committees with Conservatives.

The change emerged on Monday - just as the media’s focus was on the Royal engagement - on the Commons Order Paper.

House of Commons
The Budget resolution

After a Budget, ministers table a number of Commons resolutions which are agreed by MPs several days later, paving the way for a ‘Finance Bill’.

Usually, the first resolution is a general amendment to the law and allows the Opposition to table alternative measures.

But in emergency situations  - straight after or just before a general election – the amendment resolution is dropped in order to fast-track a Finance Bill and ensure minimum opposition.

The tactic has been used only a handful of times in the past 90 years, starting with Winston Churchill’s pre-election Budget in 1929. Denis Healey, Gordon Brown, George Osborne all also deployed it straight after election victories.

Erskine May
Parliamentary 'Bible' Eskine May details the rare procedure.

Shadow Chief Secretary Peter Dowd said: “Once again we have further evidence of the Government’s unprecedented rigging of Parliament because they cannot rely on their backbenchers or the DUP.

“This comes in the wake of the Tories stitch up of standing committees and its undemocratic and arrogant decision to ignore opposition motions.

“This is a Government desperately clinging to power and hiding from scrutiny.”

Among the amendments where ministers were facing a challenge to the current Budget are a pledge to zero-rate VAT on domestic fuel after Brexit in 2019, a key proposal of the Vote Leave campaign, backed by the DUP. 

Moves to end “period poverty”, and agree free sanitary products in schools, were also being lined up by MPs.

In March 2016, a cross-party amendment forced George Osborne to announce the abolition of the five per cent VAT charged on women’s sanitary products.

Labour MPs and Tory Eurosceptics also joined forces to get Osborne to scrap a proposed VAT hike on solar panels and energy efficiency products.

The office of the Leader of the Commons has been approached by HuffPost UK for the logic behind the resolution.

But the Treasury defended the tactic. “This is a practical modernisation of the resolutions.” a spokesperson said.

“It will make no difference to what we expect will be a broad and wide-ranging debate on the Budget and state of the economy over the next few days.”

HuffPost first revealed in September that the Government had ended the Parliamentary convention of contesting Opposition Day motions, following fears that it would be defeated by a combination of the DUP, Tory rebels and Labour.

The change prompted Tory grandee Sir Edward Leigh to warn ministers that refusing to recognise Commons motions veered close to ‘tyranny’.