Civil servants admit helping Tory wrecking tactics

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The Independent Online
CIVIL servants helped Conservative MPs draft more than 150 wrecking amendments to a Private Member's Bill designed to combat pollution, the Government has admitted to the Independent on Sunday.

The admission, which follows furious parliamentary rows last week on the use of similar tactics to defeat backbench Bills to protect the disabled and ban tobacco advertising, will fuel growing concern that ministers are using underhand tactics to defeat legislation that commands parliamentary support. Officials said that the manoeuvre had had 'the approval of the minister'.

Alan Beith, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman who sponsored the anti-pollution Bill, has written to Sir Peter Emery, chairman of the House of Commons Procedure Committee, to ask him to investigate the Government's 'new tactics on Private Members' Bills'. He says: 'This is a deliberate destruction of the rights of MPs to bring in legislation.'

Last week, the Social Security Minister, Nicholas Scott, narrowly survived calls for his resignation after he admitted having misled the House of Commons by saying that his department had taken 'no part whatever' in drafting 80 amendments tabled by Tory MPs to kill a Private Member's Bill to outlaw discrimination against the disabled.

Yesterday, Kevin Barron, Labour MP for Rother Valley, condemned 'the procedural mugging by contemptible tactics' of his Bill to ban tobacco advertising, after Tory MPs killed it by tabling 108 amendments.

Mr Beith's measure, the Energy Conservation Bill, was designed to encourage energy- saving in houses. It would have forced local authorities to identify houses most needing conservation improvements and to draw up conservation plans. It was backed by 400 MPs - more than half the Commons - and more than 180 councils. But ministers said it would be too expensive, although it would cost only 53p-pounds 1 a home to implement.

The Bill was virtually unopposed through most of its parliamentary passage and the Government put down amendments at the committee stage only when it was too late for their consideration. But 206 amendments and seven new clauses were tabled for the five-clause Bill when it returned to the floor of the Commons last month, leaving no time to debate them.

Fifty-three of the amendments were tabled by the Secretary of State for the Environment, John Gummer, the rest by six Tory MPs, four of them parliamentary private secretaries on the first step of the ministerial ladder.

Mr Beith says that all of the amendments were on the same headed paper, and they had clearly all been typed on the same machine. Many proposed superficial changes such as changing 'accommodation' to 'premises'.

The Department of the Environment admitted assisting in producing all the amendments. A spokesman said: 'These amendments were drafted in the light of government policy and with the approval of the minister and were designed to prompt debate on a range of issues relevant to the Bill.'