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Free Votes

Volume 534: debated on Thursday 3 November 2011

1. What progress has been made in implementing the Prime Minister's policy to hold more free votes in Parliament. (78161)

The Government are committed to strengthening the opportunities for hon. Members to hold the Executive to account. We have introduced a number of measures to increase Back Benchers’ power, including establishing the Backbench Business Committee, helping to facilitate the election of Select Committee Chairs and members, extending Select Committee powers over public sector appointments and relinquishing the Executive’s power to call general elections.

I obviously did not make my question clear enough; I was talking about free votes. Quite rightly, the Government have reformed a lot in Parliament and have done a very good job, but as a reformer, here is just a suggestion: between now and the end of the Session, could we have free votes in Committees to test out what the Prime Minister promised us in May 2009 and see how it works?

For my hon. Friend, every vote is a free vote. The speech that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made referred to Public Bill Committees and suggested not total free votes but more free votes; and we have had more free votes in the House on certain issues which, in the previous Parliament, were whipped. Having said that, I hope my hon. Friend will understand that most of us got here wearing a party label, and that it is wholly legitimate for the party to expect some loyalty to the manifesto on which the Member stood.

Since gaining the keys to No. 10, the Prime Minister has alienated at least 81 of his colleagues over the vote for the EU referendum and is yet to deliver free votes on other issues. Is it not the case that here we have a Government led by a cavalier Prime Minister, who is abandoning his cheap promises more quickly than he is distancing himself from his unhappy Tory Back Benchers?

The hon. Lady would be speaking from a position of strength had her party not divided on precisely the same issue as the Government. It is an issue on which all parties were divided last week, and my right hon. Friend has not alienated 81 Back Benchers.