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Wednesday, 15 May, 2002, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Row over Cook 'stitch-up'
Robin Cook
Robin Cook's reform plan was scuppered
Robin Cook should demand the resignation of Labour's chief whip because she helped thwart part of his Commons reform package, a leading Liberal Democrat has said.

Lib Dem chief whip Paul Tyler said plans to change the way MPs are chosen for Commons committees were scuppered by a "nasty little conspiracy" of Labour and Conservative whips.

If I was Robin Cook I would be demanding an explanation or indeed a resignation from the government chief whip

Paul Tyler

Such claims have been rejected by Labour Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong, who herself voted for the plan and who insisted MPs had been given a free vote in the debate.

The reform plans were proposed after Labour MPs rebelled last year when the whips tried to oust two long-serving select committee chairmen.

'Almighty row' brewing

Mr Tyler told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the defeat was a "revenge attack" on Mr Cook.

Labour's whips had not thought the minister had done enough to defend them over last summer's select committee debacle, said Mr Tyler.

Mr Tyler suggested Labour whips had asked MPs who had not listened to the debate to vote against it in the free vote.

Gordon Prentice, Labour MP
Gordon Prentice complained about whips' pressure
Those MPs did not realise they were undermining both Mr Cook and the modernisation committee, he claimed.

"There is going to be an almighty row about it today and quite rightly so," said Mr Tyler.

"If I was Robin Cook I would be demanding an explanation or indeed a resignation from the government chief whip this morning."

Mr Tyler's comments follow those of Labour MP Gordon Prentice who on Tuesday complained his party's whips had been urging Labour MPs to vote against the reform.

Conspiracy theories

Mr Prentice believes Jean Corston, chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, will take up the issue at a PLP meeting on Thursday.

A Labour source told BBC News: "Some MPs believe Mr Cook may have been the victim of a conspiracy by government and Tory whips to retain power over committee selection."

Another MP added: "There are dark forces out there who are against what Robin Cook is trying to achieve."

MPs voted through a series of changes on Tuesday evening, as part of a package of measures aimed at beefing up the role of select committees.

That includes a salary boost for MPs chairing Commons committees.

The supposed shake-up of select committees was thrown out by MPs in a free vote.

They voted out a move to create a new Committee of Nomination by 209 votes to 195.

Valid contribution

Some backbenchers feared the Committee of Nomination would overlook MPs chosen by the parties, in favour of long-serving members.

Labour's Julia Drown was among the MPs to speak out against the proposal, saying it discriminated against newer MPs.

Younger members should be represented in the selection process, she argued.

Labour Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong insisted that "there was no official whipping operation to affect the vote. It was a free vote.

"I myself voted in favour of the modernisation proposals."

Mr Cook's reforms were drawn up after a backbench rebellion over plans to remove influential foreign affairs select committee chairman Donald Anderson and transport select committee chairman Gwyneth Dunwoody.

See also:

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MPs call for stronger Commons
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12 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Cook turns up the heat
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