Parliament and Politics: Harman attacks Finance Bill 'gag'

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Indy Politics
WARFARE over an unpopular Budget broke out again yesterday with Labour accusations that the timing of Finance Bill committee debates had been rigged to stifle dissent over contentious measures.

Harriet Harman, shadow chief secretary, said of the decision to break with the convention of debating the Bill in chronological order: 'This is a gagged committee in a strait-jacket.'

The order in which clauses will be taken leaves debates on the new insurance premium tax and the transfer of tax credits to rail franchise operators after privatisation at the end of sessions. Because each session is guillotined, preventing Labour prolonging discussions into the night, later clauses will be pressed through 'on the nod'.

A number of the earlier clauses, which will get more time, involve complex issues on which the Treasury has already consulted widely.

Labour is also furious because the Government has fixed committee sessions up to 29 March, which means that an amendment to postpone VAT on domestic fuel for 12 months planned for the Report Stage has no chance of being passed before the Budget passes into law at the beginning of April.

Michael Portillo, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, defended the timetable, claiming it would give outside interests more time to make representations on clauses that had not been consulted on earlier.

Ms Harman said: 'The Government is willing to use every procedural nook and cranny. I am afraid it will not be business as usual.'