Backbenchers claim early victory

By staff

MPs’ first ever opportunity to control the Commons’ business has won a swift victory even before their debut debate in charge of the agenda.

The newly-established backbench business committee won a concession from the government before next week’s debate on the way the government makes major policy announcements to the media.

Leader of the House Sir George Young told MPs the government was prepared to take steps to improve the existing rules governing the way information is released.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs repeatedly criticised Labour government ministers for leaking major policy announcements to the media before statements were officially made to the Commons.

A chorus of frustration from Labour MPs who have found the coalition government continuing the practice has led to consensus from backbenchers that the issue needs to be addressed.

The government’s indication it is prepared to move on the issue will be counted an early victory by supporters of the backbench business committee.

MPs have been given control of 35 days of Commons business in the coming year, during which their committee tasked with deciding how to allocate this time will attempt to enhance parliament’s reputation by following an agenda separate to that pursued by the government.

“This is a historic occasion,” committee chair Natascha Engel said.

“For the first time backbenchers have decided what we want to debate in backbench time.

“Over the coming year we will debate a wide variety of topics all chosen by backbenchers and trying out new procedures to see what works best. This is about us as backbenchers holding the executive to account better.”

The motion to be debated from around 19:00 BST next Tuesday calls on the procedure committee to review existing rules to ensure “compliance” with the principle that “the most important announcements of government policy should be made in the first instance to parliament”.