Labour declares war over 'rushed' tax Bills

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JOHN SMITH last night announced that Labour was breaking off relations with the Government after a row over its decision to whip through the Commons in 24 hours two Bills, including measures to implement Budget tax increases.

Pairing with government members would no longer be permitted and opposition would be mounted against all non-contentious legislation, the Labour leader said, after the row over the decision to guillotine the Social Security (Contributions) Bill, increasing national insurance contributions, and the Statutory Sick Pay Bill.

Labour's action - the first of its kind since the Tories came to office 14 years ago - will force ministers to attend the Commons for divisions. It will also backfire on Labour MPs who will have no more nights off from Commons votes, but Labour MPs were last night saying they relished the fight.

'It's war,' Dennis Skinner, one of the left wingers who urged the guerrilla action, said.

It threatens to disrupt business in the run-up to the Christmas recess, which starts next Friday.

Labour cancelled all leave and ordered back some MPs who were abroad. Members of the Anglo-Irish Parliamentary conference in London next week feared disruption.

There was a mixed reaction from Tories. Many were confident that normal relations will have been restored by 11 January when the House returns after its Christmas recess. A former Tory chief whip said: 'It's the best news we could have had. It's guaranteed to unite us before we go off for Christmas.'

However, if the action is sustained, it could lead to a gruelling session in the New Year, which would threaten to grind down both Government and Opposition.

The decision to guillotine the Bills and drive them through all their Commons stages next week provoked a furious row after it was announced by Tony Newton, the Leader of the House.

He said last night: 'This is too silly for words.' He accused Labour of breaking off relations to cover up for its blunder in failing to force a vote on the Budget proposal to implement VAT on domestic fuel.

Margaret Beckett, Shadow Leader of the House, said: 'It is one of the worst examples of the insolence of this government and total contempt for the democratic process.'

The Finance Bill, implementing the Budget, is to be published on 11 January.