May denies 'power grab' claims over parliamentary committee control move

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Theresa May has denied that a move to hand the Tories a majority on parliamentary committees is an "unprecedented power grab".

The Prime Minister sparked a political firestorm with plans to change parliamentary rules to ensure the Conservatives are given a majority on crucial legislative committees that drive the Commons agenda.

The move was attacked as an attempt to "rig" the Commons by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who insisted that the make-up of committees must reflect the fact voters elected a hung Parliament.

But, asked in Downing Street whether it was "power grab", Mrs May said: "No. What we are doing is ensuring the Government's working majority is available across the business in Parliament."

She added: "We have a working majority in Parliament, you just have to look at the fact we have got various pieces of legislation already, we have already been getting business through.

"We have a working majority in Parliament and I think that it's important that that working majority is covered in all the aspects of work that Parliament does."

But Mr Corbyn told the Press Association: "The Conservatives didn't win the election.

"They are the largest party, they don't have an overall majority in Parliament, they've done a deal with the DUP which involved £1 billion of money being spent in Northern Ireland and not in the rest of the country, and they now think they've got the right to give themselves a majority in the committee in Parliament.

"It's not so. We're a Parliament, a hung Parliament, and the committees should reflect that, and there should be no overall Government majority on the committees.

"They should get what's due to them, which would be the largest number of places, but not a majority."

If MPs back the Government rule change in a vote next Tuesday, public bill committees which scrutinise legislation line by line would no longer mirror the make-up of the Commons but have an in-built Conservative majority instead.

This would allow Mrs May to force legislation through without fear of opposition amendments if Tory committee members remain loyal.

Andrea Leadsom
Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom tabled the rule change motion (Victoria Jones/PA)

Downing Street insisted the Government had a majority in the Commons, even though it needs the backing of 10 DUP MPs on key votes.

Asked if the move was part of the confidence and supply deal with the DUP that props up the Government, the spokeswoman said: "I don't believe so."

The row comes as the Government faces a fierce battle to get its Brexit agenda through Parliament.

Watch David Davis speaking about the Repeal Bill, which will bring certainty, continuity and control as we leave the EU pic.twitter.com/ocnKz9Lt9p

-- Exiting the EU Dept (@DExEUgov) September 8, 2017

Opposition parties, and some Tory MPs, have expressed concern about the sweeping nature of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, which they say gives too much power to ministers.

The rule change motion tabled by Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom states: "Where a committee has an odd number of members the Government shall have a majority, and where a committee has an even number of members the number of Government and Opposition members shall be equal; but this instruction shall not apply to the nomination of any public bill committee."