Move to cut back power base of 'President' Blair

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair's personal authority is to face an embarrassing challenge today when 11 influential heads of select committees back moves to curb the power of the Government.

A Bill, defining the role of the Prime Minister and reaffirming the importance of Parliament, will be introduced by the former Labour whip Graham Allen.

The Prime Minister (Office, Role and Functions) Bill will be seen as a direct challenge to the increasing power of the executive and claims that Mr Blair is riding roughshod over the views of MPs. Mr Allen and his supporters aim to require legally of Mr Blair "the duty to behave lawfully" and the "duty to account to Parliament".

It is backed by an influential coalition of MPs from all parties worried that the Prime Minister is adopting a presidential-style executive and personal power base.

This includes Gwyneth Dunwoody, chairwoman of the Transport Select Committee, who Labour whips tried to sack, and Donald Anderson, the Labour chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

In a hard-hitting speech today, Mr Allen will warn that in the hands of another personality the "awesome prime ministerial power could overwhelm and threaten our democratic culture".

He will also argue that backbench MPs have been reduced to "spectators, bit-players and cheerleaders" in the current Parliament. "Politics, once a rich feast of interaction, has given way to a dumbed-down, one-dimensional relationship between No 10 and an insatiable media," he will say.

The Bill, which is unlikely to become law without government backing, will however send a powerful signal to Mr Blair that he must pay greater heed to the views of backbench MPs. Tensions between the Government and MPs have been exacerbated this week by attempts to rush through the terrorism and cloning Bills.

Mr Allen, who served as a whip before the last general election, has written to MPs to call for wide-ranging reform of Parliament to increase the accountability of government. In a letter to MPs yesterday, Mr Allen said: "The Bill helpfully pulls together in one statute all the prime ministerial powers which currently exist but are scattered in convention, custom and practice, royal prerogatives, and nods and winks.

"The prime ministership will become official, authorised by Parliament, and a future incumbent would be unable to continue to expand the office without parliamentary approval." The Bill will give Parliament new powers to elect the Prime Minister the day after the general election, before he goes to the Palace.

The Tories and Liberal Democrats are expected to join Labour backbenchers in backing the Bill, which will be introduced in the House of Commons as soon as Tony Blair sits down after answering questions from MPs.

Michael Mates, the former Tory Defence minister and current chairman of the Northern Ireland Select Committee, is planning to back the Bill.

The Bill will also enshrine in law a duty to resign if the House of Commons passes a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister.

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