Tories humiliate Labour in the Commons over anti-sewage debate

PMQs: Oliver Heald shares sewage overflow concern

The Labour Party was left humiliated by the Government in the House of Commons this afternoon after Conservative strategists devised a plan to force Labour MPs to abstain on their own anti-sewage motion. The result was that Labour MPs ended up refusing to vote in favour of reducing sewage discharge.

This morning the Labour Party trumpeted a great ruse to humiliate the Tories. Every so often an afternoon in the Commons is handed over to opposition parties, allowing them to select topics for debate.

While opposition day debates don’t create law, they are often used to force the Tories to vote against a motion that seemingly looks desirable but would see Tory MPs criticising their own Government. 

Today Labour honed in on sewage overflows into rivers and seas – a topic causing fury up and down the country. 

The Labour motion called on the Government to:

  • Set a target for the reduction of sewage discharges
  • Provide for financial penalties in relation to sewage discharges and breaches of monitoring requirements
  • To carry out an impact assessment of sewage discharges

The Government didn’t object to these arguments, however, the Labour motion included a fourth part that would have given the opposition the ability to take control of the Commons order paper in future and introduce legislation of their own. 

In turn, the Government submitted their own amendment backing Labour’s first three points but dropping the fourth that would have given their opposition freedom to change the law. 

Labour failed to realise that the Government’s amendment would end up being voted on first, because it merely deleted text rather than added to it. 

The Government’s amendment passed by 290 votes to 188. 

The Government then forced a division on the opposition day motion as it now stood. 

Labour MPs ended up farcically being told to abstain on their own opposition day motion because the Government had successfully amended it in their favour. 

In the end, Labour’s opposition day amendment passed with 286 votes by Tory MPs. 

In a final moment of humiliation for Sir Keir’s party, Tory MPs will now be able to claim Labour MPs refused to back plans to reduce sewage discharge, as their own motion originally called for. 

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The Express understands the procedural trickery was the work of the Tory whips office, and Chief Whip Simon Hart. 

A senior Government source said: “The Whips totally outplayed Labour. Full credit to them for a very impressive operation.”

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