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Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 19:20 GMT 20:20 UK
MP steps up Parliament 'recall' bid
MPs in the House of Commons
The Commons chamber was unavailable
The Labour MP who is trying to organise an "unofficial" recall of Parliament to debate Iraq has been told he cannot "hire" the House Of Commons.

Graham Allen met the Serjeant at Arms on Tuesday but was told Parliament would have to authorise the use of the Commons chamber.


What we are trying to do as a group of informal backbenchers is a very poor second best

Graham Allen
But the MP for Nottingham North still plans to convene a meeting of MPs at Church House, close to Westminster, on Thursday next week if there is no formal recall.

His proposal was a clear attempt to embarrass the government into recalling Parliament, something senior ministerial sources now say is being "actively considered".

Mr Allen says he has cross party support for the "Heath Robinson" style gathering, although he is still waiting to see if there will be significant interest for it.

MPs are not due to return to the Commons until 15 October and former Speaker Lord Weatherill has said he would be willing to chair an unofficial rendezvous.

'Modest request'

The prime minister has indicated that a proper debate on the prospect of military action against Iraq is of "fundamental importance".

But so far he has remained silent on an early return to Westminster.

Graham Allen
Mr Allen says MPs should be able to debate an issue of 'national importance'
Mr Allen insisted that his bid for an unofficial recall would give MPs a chance to debate an issue of "national importance".

But he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think what we are trying to do as a group of informal backbenchers is a very poor second best.

"The main reason we are getting together is to try and ask the prime minister, yet again, very respectfully, very modestly: 'Can we please meet as members of parliament to discuss an issue of national importance?'"

Unconvinced

Mr Allen stressed that he had "a great deal of respect" for Mr Blair, who he believed had made "the right decisions" on intervention in Bosnia and Afghanistan.

But he warned: "This isn't Afghanistan. There is unease. People are not yet convinced."

Mr Allen has emailed all MPs asking them to attend Church House, which was used as a meeting place during the Second World War.

An unofficial recall of a large number of MPs is certain to embarrass the prime minister as it is certain to attract widespread media attention.

'Shame Blair'

Tam Dalyell, Labour's longest serving MP and Father of the House of Commons, said he understood Mr Allen's "extreme action".

"Mr Allen should shame Tony Blair and Robin Cook (Leader of the Commons) into doing what they ought to have done weeks ago and recall the elected representatives of the people."

Menzies Campbell
Campbell: Worries the 'unofficial' meeting will go off 'half cock'

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy is among MPs who have called for a proper recall of Parliament.

Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat's foreign affairs spokesman, said he would not be attending the unofficial gathering.

He did not believe any military action would take place before the return of Parliament in October.

BBC debate plans

The debate idea was an "ingenious way" of putting pressure on the government, Mr Campbell told Today, but it was no substitute for a recall of Parliament.

Mr Campbell said a proper gathering in the Commons would enable Mr Blair to justify his position and explain what his strategy will be.

Meanwhile, the BBC hopes to televise a parliamentary-style debate on Iraq if there is no formal recall.

All the UK's MPs, as well as peers and ex-ministers, are being invited to attend the debate, which would be held at Church House on 19 September.

Peter Horrocks, head of the BBC's current affairs unit, said: "It's apparent there's an appetite to discuss the Iraqi situation and being the nation¿s broadcaster we feel it's appropriate that we provide this forum."

Tory MP Michael Fabricant, who sits on the Culture, Media and Sport Commons select committee, said the BBC debate was "pointless".

"As there is going to be a recall of Parliament (before any military action) the BBC's offer in my view no longer has the same relevance," said Mr Fabricant.


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10 Sep 02 | Politics
08 Sep 02 | Politics
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03 Sep 02 | Politics
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10 Sep 02 | Americas
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