Theresa May has been accused of “rigging” Parliament to defy the result of the general election and give Tory MPs majority control over all legislation.
In what Labour called “an unprecedented power grab” ahead of Brexit and beyond, the Government is trying to give itself the power to dominate every bill committee from now until 2022.
A controversial new motion tabled by Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom seeks to ensure that Conservatives have a majority on all standing committees that are the powerhouses of all prospective laws.
The Tories lost their majority in the election after Labour’s ‘Corbyn surge’, but the attempted reform would give unprecedented power to a minority government for the first time.
The motion, which has been seen by HuffPost UK but is not formally published until Friday, would mean the PM could control her legislative agenda even without the aid of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
With May already under fire over plans to use the EU (Withdrawal) Bill to give ministers sweeping powers beyond the scrutiny of MPs and peers, the latest move has sparked a furious backlash from Labour.
Jeremy Corbyn said it was ”an unprecedented attempt to rig Parliament and grab power by a Conservative government with no majority and no mandate”.
The Government hit back that the plan would avoid “unwarranted delays” to legislation and claimed it would create “the fairest balance between the Opposition and Government”.
The motion, tabled by Leadsom on Thursday for a vote next Tuesday, states that 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, but this instruction shall not apply to the nomination of any public bill committee [which hammers out the guts of legislation]”.
The move effectively creates a back-door way around the Committee of Selection, the body that is the traditional way of choosing MPs for each standing and select committee.
It also ensures that the Tories will have a majority to rule on Statutory Instruments included in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, and avoid attempts to amend their Brexit plans.
May is being propped up in power by a deal with the DUP that guarantees £1bn for Northern Ireland. She has a working majority of just 13.
If passed, the new move would tear up a long-standing convention that Commons committee strictly reflect the proportion of the parties in a general election result.
Yet with the support of the DUP, the plan could succeed when put to a knife-edge vote late on Tuesday night.
The DUP has just eight MPs and has no presence on the vast majority of standing committees, where the guts of Government legislation is decided and voted on.
Without a majority, ministers fear that all of their Commons business risks grinding to a halt or being gridlocked by Labour amendments.
In 1995, then Commons Leader Tony Newton passed a motion guaranteeing a majority on committees only as long as a Government had a majority of the whole House.
Shadow Leader of the House, Valerie Vaz told HuffPost UK: “This is an unprecedented power grab by a minority government that lost its moral authority as well as its majority at the General Election.
“On Monday the Government are seeking the power to change the law by ministerial edict and on Tuesday they will try to sideline opposition in Parliament by rigging the committee system so that they are guaranteed a majority they didn’t secure at the ballot box.
“The British people will not understand how having voted to deny the Conservatives a majority, the Tories can alter the rules of Parliament to ensure they have one.
“The very people who told us Brexit was about restoring Parliamentary sovereignty are now voting through measures that will sideline Parliament and grant Ministers unprecedented powers.”
The powerful but little known Committee of Selection chooses which MPs go on select committees that scrutinise policy and ministers, and standing committees that govern legislation.
The Leadsom motion sets the Committee up with nine members, but specifies that there will be five Tory members.
This is despite Commons officials allocating four members each for Labour and Conservatives and one SNP member - in line with the June election result.
Leadsom alluded to the controversial move in Business Questions in the Commons on Thursday, but failed to specify what she was planning for standing committees, other than telling MPs that there would on Tuesday be “motions relating to House business”.
A spokeswoman for the Commons Leader told HuffPost UK: “These proposals create the fairest balance between the Opposition and Government, and will ensure technical, procedural rules do not cause unwarranted delays to the business of Parliament.
“The adjustments provide for maximum scrutiny with minimum disruption and delay, both to parliamentary proceedings and to the governance of the country.”
The Government has already irritated both its own and Opposition MPs with delays in appointing members of select committees.
The Conservatives failed to hold their internal elections for committees before the summer recess, and have only this week carried out the process.
As a result, Government departments and ministers have avoided select committee scrutiny for months, and the latest plan could cause further delay if it is opposed next week.