Tories retreat in guerrilla war over curtailed debate: Plan to oust Labour MP from select committee chairmanship is dropped. Patricia Wynn Davies reports

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Indy Politics
THE OPPOSITION claimed another victory in its parliamentary non co-operation campaign yesterday as Tories on the Commons trade and industry select committee drew back from ousting their Labour chairman, Richard Caborn.

In place of a planned no confidence motion, a far milder resolution instructs Mr Caborn to take 'appropriate steps' to resolve with 'those responsible' what it termed unacceptable interference with the committee's freedom of action. The row broke out after Mr Caborn went along with a Labour whips' instruction forbidding him to lead a delegation to South Africa next week.

The Tory retreat is the latest episode in the guerrilla war launched in protest at the Government's decision to curtail severely debate on two Bills implementing Budget measures. The campaign suspends 'usual channels'. 'Pairing' of Labour and Tory MPs is outlawed - ruling out absences from votes - and opposition is being mounted against non-contentious legislation.

Frustrated Tories on the committee felt that the gentleman's agreement that allowed a Labour chairman could equally be torn up. But the tit-for-tat has rebounded on them. The committee's business was adjourned yesterday for at least a fortnight, perhaps longer, so all work ceases.

Last night's weekly meeting of the Shadow Cabinet pledged to continue the campaign 'until the Government recognises the rights of the Opposition to decent treatment and a proper opportunity for debate'.

Labour MPs on the Finance Bill standing committee renewed complaints over strict government timetabling designed to ensure an Opposition amendment on VAT on fuel cannot be debated at Report Stage. Alistair Darling, a front bench Treasury spokesman, said Tory MPs were struggling to fill the time allotted to a series of technical clauses.

According to one argument, select committees ought to be exempt from the warfare because they scrutinise government rather than the legislative process. But it is hard to deny a political dimension, otherwise Conservative party managers would not have worked so hard in 1992 to ensure that Nicholas Winterton, the maverick Tory, was removed as chairman of the health committee.

Other losers include David Jamieson, Labour MP for Plymouth Devonport, and Gary Streeter, the Tory member for neighbouring Plymouth Sutton, who have had to abandon a marines exercise in Norway and the Arctic under the Parliamentary Armed Forces Scheme. 'I am very angry,' Mr Streeter said.

Kim Howells, a member of Labour's overseas development team, has turned down an invitation to monitor the South African elections.

A high level of co-operation seems evident, however, on the standing committee examining the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, which Labour wants amended but not obstructed. 'It is up to us when we co-operate and when we don't,' a Labour source said.