Philip Hammond says MPs cannot amend the Budget in usual way amid 'rigging Parliament' accusations

Labour condemns an attempt to ‘avoid debate on some of the key issues facing our communities’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 28 November 2017 12:10
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Philip Hammond says MPs cannot amend the Budget in usual way amid 'rigging Parliament' accusations

Philip Hammond has confirmed that MPs will be prevented from making significant amendments to the Budget, after the Government was accused of “rigging Parliament”.

The Chancellor came under fire in the Commons after The Independent revealed a highly obscure parliamentary device will be used to strike out most attempts to change the Finance Bill.

Mr Hammond was accused of a brazen attempt to “avoid debate on some of the key issues facing our communities”, by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

“This is almost unprecedented and a tactic only used when there is an urgent issue to be dealt with,” Mr McDonnell protested.

“It will restrict the ability of honourable members on all sides of the House to be able to move amendments.”

An amendment was expected to try to change the Budget to scrap VAT on domestic fuel – a key pledge made by Leave campaigners during the Brexit referendum.

With the Democratic Unionist Party likely to oppose the Government on such a vote, it left Theresa May facing a potentially embarrassing defeat, Labour argued.

Another possible challenge was over the issue of “period poverty”, with ministers under pressure to agree to put in free sanitary products in schools.

During Treasury Questions, Mr Hammond acknowledged the use of the tactic – and that it would restrict amendments to the Budget.

But he told MPs: “It’s a small but worthwhile modernisation measure which focuses the debate on the measures we are putting through Parliament in the Finance Bill.”

The Chancellor suggested MPs should not be allowed to bring forward wide-ranging amendments, adding: “The debate on the Finance Bill is a debate about the measures being put forward

“That is what Parliament is here to debate – and that is what we will have time to debate under this arrangement.”

The Independent reported how the Government had failed to table the normal “amendment to the law resolution” – preventing amendments outside the narrow scope of measures in the Budget itself.

Labour said this had happened only five times since 1929 – but each time immediately before, or after, a general election, when a Budget needed to be rushed through.

Increasingly, MPs have seized on the Finance Bill as a mechanism to force the Government to change course on tax measures – including over the so-called tampon tax and over solar panels.

In March last year, George Osborne was forced to announce the abolition of the 5 per cent VAT charged on women’s sanitary products, after a cross-party revolt.

Labour campaigners joined forces with Eurosceptic Tories keen to assert Britain’s power to set its own tax rates, forcing the then-Chancellor into the climbdown.

A similar alliance also forced Mr Osborne to scrap a proposed VAT hike on solar panels, wind turbines, hydropower equipment and energy efficiency products, from 5 per cent to 20 per cent.

However, revolts are now expected to be impossible if amendments not “in the founding resolutions” of the Budget are disallowed.

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