MP attacks whips for 'gagging' him over top-up fees

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Indy Politics

Government whips faced fury yesterday for "gagging" a Labour backbencher by denying him a place on the committee debating the proposals on university top-up fees.

Stephen Hesford, Labour MP for Wirral West, attacked party managers for refusing him a seat on the standing committee responsible for the detail of the Higher Education Bill.

Mr Hesford decided to back the Bill 15 minutes before last month's crucial commons vote after face-to-face talks with Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.

He said he was promised a place on the 25-strong committee after the knife-edge vote last month that reduced the Government's majority to five, but the offer was withdrawn a week later when he refused to give a "cast-iron guarantee" that he would back the Government in every vote. Mr Hesford said: "I am stunned. My support for the Higher Education Bill was conditional on me being able to further scrutinise the Bill in committee."

Tim Yeo, the shadow Education Secretary, said: "That is a denial of a free debate in Parliament. If someone is required to give an undertaking they will vote with the Government at all times before they can become a member of a standing committee that is pretty difficult."

Opponents of fees have criticised government whips for packing the committee with loyalists. Only two Labour members rebelled over the Bill, the rebel ringleader George Mudie who voted against the Bill and Ann Campbell, who abstained.