Grumblings of discontent were heard along House of Lords corridors today as Labour and Lib Dem peers accused the coalition of rushing through legislation on the controversial police and crime commissioners with a cunning timetabling ploy.
Following the derailing of the bill by Lib Dem peers in May, the government has now provoked fresh displeasure by tabling the parliamentary ping pong – where the bill is batted back and forth between the two houses – for next Wednesday, the same day that the legislation on fixed term parliaments is also due to be debated.
Labour Lords in particular complained that it was extremely unusual for two such major bills to be scheduled so close together, and are accusing the coalition of what they have diagnosed as a “political stitch-up”. The idea, they say, is to get the contentious police reform package through parliament before Nick Clegg has to face any gip on the subject from Lib Dem party members at their conference, which starts the following Saturday.
MPs are currently debating whether charities who carry out abortions should also be allowed to offer patients counseling over whether to proceed with a termination.
Tory MP Nadine Dorries, together with Labour backbencher Frank Field, have tabled an amendment to the health bill saying that the likes of Marie Stopes should not be allowed to give advice on the basis that, as providers of abortions, they cannot be neutral.
It is a charge that has infuriated the pro-choice lobby, which is furious that womens’ health charities such as Marie Stopes have been tarnished as abortion peddlars – particularly since a significant proportion of women who do go for counselling in their clinics do not in the end have an abortion.
On the day after George Osborne admitted that he had recently lowered his short-term growth expectations, and with a row currently waging over the government’s wish to scrap the popular 50p top rate of income tax, Ed Miliband might have been expected to use the first PMQs after the summer to attack David Cameron on the economy.
But instead, we found ourselves in two rather old arguments, about police numbers and NHS waiting lists. While both are undoubtedly important subjects, somehow the debate felt a bit off-topic.
The reason for Miliband avoiding the big issue of the day became apparent later in the session, when the prime minister was asked by a Labour backbencher about the 50p rate and replied:
The person responsible for Labour’s economic policy at the last election said that they had no credibility whatsoever.
He was referring to Alistair Darling, Labour’s former chancellor, whose memoirs published this week describe a 2009 pre-Budget report whose creation was so chaotic and disunified that it resulted in a complete mess of an economic policy.