Monday, June 26, 2006

Labour Whips: Can it get any worse?

Welsh Conservative MP David Jones has highlighted fresh internal discipline at the Labour Party which has brought further embarrassment to the UK Government.

Beleaguered Constitutional Affairs Minister Vera Baird was obliged to resort to a 30 minute filibuster to save the Government from yet another defeat in a Westminster committee considering the Company Law Reform Bill.

Only seven Labour members turned up for the start of the meeting and were outnumbered by seven Conservatives and two Liberal Democrats.

It meant that the Government was in danger of losing a vote on an opposition amendment concerning the use of sensitive words in company names.

Ms Baird’s filibuster ranged from a consideration of the words “international”, “British” and “European” to a discussion of Welsh cakes, Eccles cakes and Pontefract cakes.

The Government’s bacon was saved by harassed whip Steve McCabe, who hustled a late and flustered Kitty Usher into the committee room, and by committee chairman Eric Illsley, who rescued the Government with his casting vote after a 9-9 tie.

During the debate, normally somnolent Labour Members attempted to assist the Minister by making more interventions than they had throughout the previous eight hours the Committee has sat.

The episode was the second time Labour whips have been found wanting since the Standing Committee began its consideration of the mammoth Bill.

Last week, the Government lost the vote on the programme motion – again, because Labour members didn’t turn up - the first time it has ever happened in Parliamentary history.

Clwyd West Conservative MP David Jones, who is serving on the committee, said: “This might have been amusing but for the serious issue of the Government not giving us enough time to review the Bill.

"Now we have even less, simply because their own back-benchers can’t be bothered to turn up.”

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