Dunwoody given ten minutes notice to quit

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Indy Politics

Gwyneth Dunwoody, whose sacking as chairman of a powerful committee sparked the largest Commons revolt since Tony Blair came to power, has told how she was given ten minutes notice of her removal.

Writing for The Independent, she revealed the brutal way in which she was removed by the Chief Whip, Hilary Armstrong.

Ms Dunwoody attacked as "pernicious" the attempts to pack committees with Labour loyalists as a consolation prize for MPs who failed to secure Government jobs. Monday's revolt by Labour MPs had prevented the continuing "abuse" of committees as a system of patronage, she added.

Her attack came as MPs said the revolt by more than 100 Labour backbenchers would hasten wholesale reform of the way select committees are appointed. Pressure is growing for the appointments to be taken out of Government control.

MPs will vote on the membership of the transport and foreign affairs committees tomorrow after Mr Armstrong pledged to reinstate Ms Dunwoody and her fellow sacked chairman, Donald Anderson.

Downing Street attempted to play down the implications of the revolt, but the former social security minister Frank Field, who was also passed over for a committee seat, said Tony Blair's "fingerprints were all over this decision."

Ms Dunwoody said: "Until the Commons revolted against the Government's plans on Monday evening, and restored me to my post, it looked very much as though they were going to continue to use and abuse the select committees as an extension of the system of patronage that dominates government itself.

"I hope that ministers have got the message.

"Although the Government's attempts to unseat me and Donald Anderson dominated the headlines and the coverage, just as pernicious was their attempt to pack committees such as mine with Labour MPs with little or no practical experience of transport issues, simply because the whips need some repositories for those Labour backbenchers who have not been found jobs in government, but who need to be given something to keep them content and "on-message".

"A self-confident government should not be afraid of criticism, and should know that it is sometimes in its own interests to see policy scrutinised, refined and improved," she warned.

Downing Street stressed that Monday's revolt was based on a "genuinely free vote" and insisted that proposals to set up the committees had been brought forward in record time.

Mr Blair's spokesman said: "There are only a limited number of positions. The Government thought it was time for change. Parliament has taken a different view."

What they said

Joyce Quin: Former agriculture minister, voted against the sacking of Gwyneth Dunwoody as transport committee chairman. She said: "I don't go along the road of singling out this Government as acting uniquely. There were also difficulties when the Conservatives were in power... I think it will be important to have an overall review of the system, of how members of select committees are chosen."

Austin Mitchell: Labour MP for Great Grimsby, voted against the Government over both select committees on Monday. "This is a warning that the Government is now just another government. It has not got the benefit of the doubt any more and tough times are on their way. They will not have easy times and they need to have a safety valve giving people the opportunities to discuss the issues which most Labour MPs have not had. They had the Hansard Society report and the creation of a Parliament First group to strengthen Parliament and three days later they slap people across the face. It doesn't look good. After all the problems with Rhodri Morgan and Ken Livingstone, Tony Blair said he would learn. I hope he is good at learning now."

Derek Foster: Former Labour chief whip and chairman of the employment select committee. "We now have a chance to take a major and indeed a historic step forward in enhancing the power of select committees. It has got worse and worse during the 22 years I have been here. It was getting to the point that if I had known it was going to be like this I would not have bothered joining. Parliament was so insignificant that it was hardly worth bothering. Now there is going to be a big fight back, but the Labour government has nothing to fear. They have a big majority and they are not risking anything by strengthening the select committees."