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Wednesday, 2 December, 1998, 08:40 GMT
Rebellion over Queen's speech
MPs have backed the Queen's Speech
Liberal Democrat MPs have rebelled against their leader Paddy Ashdown and joined the Tories in voting against the Queen's speech.

The Queen's Speech
The dissenters included Deputy Leader Alan Beith, Rural Affairs spokesman Charles Kennedy and Health spokesman Simon Hughes, as well as Foreign Affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell.

But the government won the backing of the Commons for the speech, which set out its legislative programme for next year.

The Conservatives forced a vote on the speech for the first time last year.

Usually opposition parties propose amendments criticising the proposals but do not force a division.

Paddy Ashdown faces internal criticism
Mr Ashdown is believed to have opposed his MPs joining the Tories, but he was overruled in meetings of the party's 46 MPs last week.

Some 43 of them voted against the speech after a six-day debate. Labour won the vote on the Queen's speech by 317-168. The Tory and Liberal Democrat motions were also crushed by large majorities.

Pressure on parties' pact

The Liberal Democrat leadership said Mr Ashdown was relaxed about the plans to vote against Labour.

A spokesman said MPs wanted to register their disappointment at the failure to deliver bills on freedom of information, the environment, a Food Standards Agency or preparing business for the single currency.

But Lib Dem MPs have criticised their leader over his agreement with Tony Blair for closer co-operation with Labour.

The rebellion by them will place that pact under greater strain.

Earlier, ministers were taunted in the Commons again.

Conservatives seized on moves towards European harmonisation of taxes to accuse the government of "fiddling while Britain's economy slides down".

The government is "fiddling" says Francis Maude
Shadow Chancellor Francis Maude said: "There is a clear commitment in Labour policy documents to taking further a process of tax co-ordination and harmonisation which can only have the effect of increasing Britain's taxes to Continental levels."

Chancellor Gordon Brown has dismissed as "scare stories" suggestions that Britain was to be forced to bring VAT and other taxes into line with the rest of Europe.

Tax 'scaremongering'

On the wider economy, Mr Maude said the government had squandered opportunities to make genuine improvements to health and education services.

Ministers had missed the chance to "mitigate the effects of an economic downturn ... triggered by the government's own blunders," he said.

Barely a day went by without further job losses announced, Mr Maude said.

But, incredibly, he went on, there was not one line in the Queen's speech that would make it easier for a single person to get a job.

But Treasury Chief Secretary Stephen Byers condemned "scaremongering" on EU tax harmonisation.

"This government has made it clear that we will not support any action at European level that will threaten jobs or the competitive position of British business," he said.

"So any tax proposals will need to pass that acid test. Questions of tax require a decision, so there is no question of tax changes that we do not support being imposed on us by Brussels."

Last week, Liberal Democrats leader Paddy Ashdown branded the Queen's speech legislative programme a timid package of measures.

Mr Ashdown has faced internal criticism since announcing closer co-operation with the government two weeks ago.

A party spokesman said: "The decision isn't a big deal as far as we are concerned but it shows we would choose this opportunity to register our dissatisfaction with what's not in the Queen's speech".

See also:

30 Nov 98 | UK Politics
01 Dec 98 | The Economy
01 Dec 98 | UK Politics
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