Page last updated at 21:17 GMT, Monday, 25 October 2010 22:17 UK

Plan to reduce number of MPs 'is attempted coup d'état'

Father of the House Sir Peter Tapsell has accused the government of attempting a "coup d'état" to secure the power of ministers over backbenchers.

As MPs debated the Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Bill, which reduces the number of MPs from 650 to 600, for the fifth day at committee stage in the Commons on 25 October 2010, Sir Peter backed a call to reduce the number of ministers as well.

"Genuine backbenchers will become a threatened species," he warned, calling on MPs to support an amendment by fellow Conservative Charles Walker to lower the maximum number of MPs filling ministerial roles from 95 to 87.

He also argued that the Commons should throw out the bill when it reaches third reading.

"The wide and constitutional and electoral changes proposed by the coalition government, taken as a whole, and introduced so early in the life of parliament full of new members, constitute an attempt at a peaceful political coup d'état with the sole object of securing the position of ministers," he said.

"They have no mandate for this from the country."

And referring to a line in the coalition agreement which says "the government believes our political system is broken", Sir Peter said: "That was the slogan of Sir Oswald Mosley and the British fascists when I was a boy.

"Mosley spent the war in prison, and the political system he despised and described as broken triumphed at home and abroad.

"Our political system is not broken. We have had some nincompoop frontbenchers and some expense-fiddling backbenchers, and even some who managed to qualify under both categories, but our political system is basically sound."

Advocating his amendment, Mr Walker warned that the legislation in its current form would weaken the ability of opposition and backbench MPs to hold the government to account.

Reducing the relative numerical strength of the government was the "very essence of new politics" and would also save the taxpayer money, he told the Commons.

"Many colleagues urged me to go further, they urged me to have a real assault on the patronage of the executive tonight, but I thought that would be unreasonable and unreasonably ambitious," he said.

Shadow justice minister Chris Bryant echoed the calls, saying: "If you want to limit the numbers of Members of Parliament, and you want to make sure that the proper legislative scrutiny function of this House is performed, then you have to cut the number of ministers."

But MPs rejected the amendment by 293 votes to 241, a government majority of 52.

The government's amendment clarifying the legal position was passed without a vote.

Part one of the debate can be found here.

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