Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK Politics
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Talking Politics 
Mayor News 
Government Guide 
Diary 
People in Parliament 
A-Z of Parliament 
Political Links 
Despatch Box 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Sport 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 


The BBC 's Michael Fairbairn
"Tories and Ulster Unionists wiped out Wednesdays business as an act of defiance"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 26 January, 2000, 21:12 GMT
Leaders scrap over PM's questions

Prime minister's questions was cancelled


Tony Blair and William Hague have traded verbal blows over Wednesday's highly unusual loss of prime minister's question time.

In a letter to the prime minister Tory leader William Hague accused him of being to blame for the loss of the weekly session after not stopping Tory MPs from filibustering a controversial bill.

In return Mr Blair turned down the Tory leader's invitation to attend a televised debate instead, saying it was not up to him to discipline Mr Hague's party.



I am disappointed that on your 1,000th day in office you have chosen not to preserve today's Question Time
William Hague
The result of the 29-hour marathon debate on the bill - which will enable members of the Irish parliament to sit in the Commons - was the loss of Wednesday's entire parliamentary business.

Mr Hague, a good Commons performer, was obviously upset at losing an opportunity to attack the government on Labour's 1,000th day in power.

In his handwritten note to the prime minister, Mr Hague said: "I am disappointed that on your 1,000th day in office you have chosen not to preserve today's Question Time.

"As you know, you could have used your huge Commons majority to rearrange the business.

"We now both have a free half-hour. Will you join me live on TV for a debate?"

Mr Blair replied to what he called an ill-judged letter saying: "The idea that we should use our Commons majority to discipline your backbenchers, because you are unable to discipline them yourself, is extraordinary.

"The problem has come about as a result of the filibustering of your backbenchers. It is high time you took a grip of your party and led it properly."



The idea that we should use our Commons majority to discipline your backbenchers, because you are unable to discipline them yourself, is extraordinary
Tony Blair
Speaking later the prime minister said: "The Conservative Party have made a complete spectacle of themselves.

"The truth is he is not in charge of his party. He should lead it properly," Mr Blair said.

Bill clears the House

At 1951 GMT on Wednesday the Disqualifications Bill was passed by 326 votes to 141, a government majority of 185. The debate took 29 hours and 21 minutes.

It was the first time a day's business had been lost in the Commons since 1988 when objectors to the Housing Bill kept MPs sitting from 1430 GMT on a Tuesday until 2000 GMT the following day.

The longest filibuster was in 1881 when the House sat for 41 hours.

But it is the first time in recent memory that such a tactic has destroyed a prime minister's question time.

'Conflicts of loyalty'

The government has faced criticism from all sides over the bill, with senior Tories warning it would bring about "conflicts of loyalty", and unionists denouncing it as a sop to Sinn Fein.

Senior Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody also expressed reservations about the bill being rushed through quickly.

She warned on Tuesday: "If you carry through constitutional change without examining it in considerable detail you frequently find that once the legislation is on the statute book you end up with wording which may not exactly be what you foresaw."

Ministers have defended the bill, claiming it is designed to end an anomaly at a time of closer links between Britain and the Irish Republic.

As the debate got under way, Tory Northern Ireland spokesman David Mackay said only urgent measures or emergency legislation should be rushed through all their Commons stages in two days.

"With the greatest will in the world, this legislation is neither urgent nor even the slightest bit important. It is a deeply irrelevant bill," he said.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE

See also:
25 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Blair's 1,000 days

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Links to other UK Politics stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK Politics stories