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2001: Rebel MPs defeat the government
The Labour Government has been defeated in the House of Commons for the first time since it came to power in 1997.

Over 100 Labour MPs - including ex-ministers and senior politicians - voted against the sacking of Gwyneth Dunwoody and Donald Andersen as chairs of select committees on transport and foreign affairs, respectively.

The shock rebellion comes just weeks after Tony Blair secured his second term as prime minister in a landslide victory for Labour.

Backbenchers have been critical of New Labour's "control freakery" and resented the government's attempt to manipulate the make-up of the watchdog committees.

Within an hour of the vote the Chief Whip's office announced that the two dumped MPs would be reinstated as chairs of their independent committees.

Serving the electorate

Ms Dunwoody, Labour MP for Crewe and Nantwich said: "What we do on the select committees matters because the House of Commons must never become a morass of people doing what they are told, not by the electorate, but by the executive."

Mr Anderson, Labour MP for Swansea East, referred to a "peasants' revolt" and emphasised that politicians could not be the government's lapdogs.

Leader of the House Robin Cook tried to defuse the situation by admitting to Parliament that the system of selecting committee members needed to become more transparent and would be reviewed when the modernisation committee meets for the first time next week.

Loud cheers greeted Parliament's rejection of the government's decision. Ms Dunwoody's sacking received 308 against and 221 in favour. The exclusion of Mr Andersen was outvoted 301 to 232.

The result is particularly embarrassing for Labour's new Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong since she put together the proposal, in consultation with Tony Blair.

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Gwyneth Dunwoody MP and Donald Anderson MP
The two MPs have been reinstated

Select Committee facts
Select committees examine government policy and hold the executive to account.
They were established in 1979 and comprise between 10 and 20 backbench MPs.
Each party is represented according to its share of seats in the Commons, so the government always has a majority.
Membership is voted on by all MPs at the start of each parliament. The chairs are elected by committee members.
Usually a selection committee, controlled by party whips, recommends members to parliament. This is the aspect that Robin Cook has attempted to reform.
Committees are an especially important check on the power of government when it has a large majority.
They use evidence from witnesses within parliament and outside, either in writing or public hearings.
After full consideration a report is produced for the rest of the House and the government is expected to respond within two months.
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