Andrew Lansley denies Immigration Bill delaying tactics
The government has denied delaying the Immigration Bill to thwart efforts to extend restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK.
Transitional rules cease on 1 January, with some commentators saying this could lead to an influx of immigrants.
More than 60 MPs have signed a Tory rebel amendment to the Immigration Bill to extend the controls until 2018.
But Commons Leader Andrew Lansley said the bill would not be debated until next year - after the controls expire.
Mr Lansley said the government had to make headway on other bills and insisted there would be no impact on the overall progress of the government's immigration reforms.
He said the Immigration Bill would return to the Commons for report stage in the New Year.
By that time Romanian and Bulgarian workers would have full rights to work in the UK and so the proposals by MPs could not apply.
Mr Lansley was announcing the Commons business for the remaining days of the parliamentary term before MPs go on their Christmas break on 19 December.
Although the Immigration Bill - which is awaiting report stage - would not have become law before restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers are being lifted, the government has avoided a potentially embarrassing rebellion.
Conservative MP Nigel Mills had secured support from a large number of party colleagues for his amendment demanding that transition controls on the two countries be extended for an additional four years until 2018.
Tory MP Mark Reckless challenged the minister over the timetable: "Why are remaining stages of the Immigration Bill being delayed when it would surely make sense for the House to vote on whether to extend immigration restrictions for Bulgaria and Romania in advance of them being lifted on 1 January?"
Mr Lansley replied: "I think I can assure you that it is not being delayed. It is simply that I have announced in the future business before Christmas, progress on five government bills. We have a lot of legislation before the House.
"Let me just explain to you, the fact of a debate on the Immigration Bill in this House before Christmas doesn't necessarily have an impact on the time of royal assent of the Immigration Bill."
Mr Mills said that by delaying the bill the government was denying Parliament a say on an issue of great concern to many people.
He said he believed it showed how worried the government was about a rebellion on the issue. The MP is hoping to get a debate on the issue in backbench time.
Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, accused the government of trying to "bury the news" on a busy news day dominated by the Autumn Statement.
"The coalition are urgently seeking to avoid any embarrassment by not allowing MPs to debate the amendment from Nigel Mills which would delay the doors opening to Romania and Bulgaria until 2018.
"It is clear this is a government that is more interested in preserving its image by blocking democratic debate and has been proven once again to be entirely disingenuous on the issue of immigration control."
Last week the government set out a package of measures intended to tackle fears over the change in rules on 1 January.
They mean immigrants from the EU will not be able to claim out-of-work benefits for the first three months, after which they will only be able to claim for a maximum of six months unless they can prove they have a genuine prospect of employment.