Finance Bill rushed through Commons

Chancellor Gordon Brown has drawn up plans with House of Commons leader Margaret Beckett to enable the bill to become law before polling day.

The 292-page Bill began its passage through parliament just before Easter, when it was given a second reading and approved by 319 votes to 175.

A similarly large majority approved new procedures imposing a rigid timetable.

Inside two days the government used the guillotine to force 40 clauses and seven schedules through the Commons in the face of outraged Tory and Liberal Democrat protests.

In theory the timetable now permits the Finance Bill Committee to spend up to eight days to 24 May dealing with the remaining clauses and schedules, followed by a further day in the Commons reviewing and making further amendments.

But MPs must leave Westminster by 17 May at the latest if, as expected, the general election takes place on 7 June. It now seems likely prime minister Tony Blair will announce the election on 10 May – giving business managers two or three days at most to stomp through what is left of the Finance Bill.

If the Blair had not opted to delay the election, the plan was to push through only essential clauses fixing tax rates – and follow precedent by introducing a second Finance Bill if the government were returned to power.

Paymaster general Dawn Primarolo made no attempt to justify the timetable which was slammed by Tory spokesman Oliver Letwin as an attack on the fundamental power of the Commons to control taxation established centuries ago.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Edward Davey accused ministers of abusing procedure to stop the Commons debating amendments reducing taxes on sectors hit by the foot and mouth crisis.

And Tory Sir Patrick Cormack accused the government of ‘riding roughshod over the Commons’.


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