Rebellion averted?

An early, if minor, reverse for the new Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell.

Last night, MPs on one of the Commons committees that considers regulations being put into law (known as delegated legislation in Commons jargon) raised such a stink about proposed changes to the rules on criminal injuries compensation that they were pulled at the last minute. It was a rather fraught baptism for newly-minted Justice Minister Helen Grant. She found that members of the committee had been briefed by the communications union, CWU, that their members in the Royal Mail would no longer be eligible for compensation if they were attacked by dogs while delivering letters (the Hansard of the proceedings is here).

Plenty of Labour members - like Robert Flello, Tony Lloyd and Katy Clark - weighed in. But, tellingly, so did Conservatives like John Redwood, Jonathan Evans, Angie Bray and Bob Blackman. Mr Blackman was worried about the position for shop workers who suffered attacks. Mr Redwood said he wouldn't want anyone to think he was going soft on public spending, but he didn't come into Parliament to cut criminal injuries compensation. A mini rebellion was clearly brewing, and there was a good chance that the government could have lost a vote.

And aside from the substance of the issue, there was also concern that a big change to the compensation system was being put before a small committee, in a procedure which is normally little more than a rubber stamping exercise - particularly since the usual briefing material was not available for MPs or anyone else. There were strong suspicions that the government was trying to pull a fast one, and some thought the measure had been rather dumped on an inexperienced minister. As the bombardment continued, the government whip in attendance, David Evenett, who is newly returned to the whips office, clearly saw which way the wind was blowing and nipped out to make a few phone calls. There was a break for a Commons vote, and when the committee re-assembled, the Minister announced that the measure would not be put to a vote. So smart whipping prevented an embarrassment. But the whole incident shows how easily the Government can now run into trouble, even on the most routine-looking business. And that its Conservative backbenchers are in no mood to simply wave things through when a minister asks….

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