At the end of last week Christopher Chope shouted “object” in the Houses of Parliament. By doing so he has more or less ensured that the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill will not pass before Parliament is dissolved and an election is called. This was a Bill with cross party support which was intended to be passed before Brown must call an election.
This Bill was introduced as a consequence of Liberia being brought before the courts in the UK. Greg Palast reported for Newsnight:
Liberia received debt relief worth $4bn from the international community in 2007 under the heavily indebted poor countries initiative, including $2bn from private-sector bondholders. Insiders to negotiations allege that two US financiers, Eric Hermann and Michael Straus, allowed other creditors to accept a low payout from Liberia, then quietly transferred their holdings to two other firms, which then sued in Britain for the debt in full.
The Bill would have protected the 40 countries helped by the heavily indebted poor countries initiative. It was also drafted to include measures to prevent assets being seized which are intended to help Liberia.
Three Tory members were in the house when the Bill was being discussed.As The Guardian makes clear, for some time no one knew which of Christopher Chope, Andrew Robathan or Simon Burns had raised this objection. This point should be reiterated, when challenged in Parliament the member who shouted, who we now know to be Christopher Chope, childishly refused to speak up.
I e-mailed the MPs involved in an attempt to find who had killed the BIll and received a single response. This was from Simon Burns making it abundantly clear that he whole heartedly backed the Bill. I am sure Christopher Chope has had a lot of explaining to do this weekend but he has still failed to even acknowledge my question.
He may have ignored me but he spoke to the Independent saying “If you are concerned about this Bill making progress, you should be asking why the Government hasn’t given it extra time. As far as today’s proceedings are concerned, there’s a big Government spin operation to shift the blame to other people.”
Christopher Chope had concerns about the Bill, his objection was entirely within the rules of parliamentary protocol and he was also entitled to refuse to identify himself when challenged, but that does not mean what he did should not pass without condemnation.
This was a Bill introduced by a Labour MP, Andrew Gwynne, and supported by David Cameron and the Conservative front bench. Douglas Alexander has sent a letter to Cameron demanding an explanation for Christopher Chope’s actions but I suspect that this is an example of an MP going rogue. Mr Chope spoke at inordinate length in previous debates hoping to stall the legislation.
As an “honourable” member objected to this Bill’s consideration a further vote must now be arranged for this to be passed into law. Since we are so close to an election, there does not appear to be time remaining in this parliamentary session to do so. The Bill is dead in the water and Christopher Chope killed it. Sadly, the consequences for him are likely to be minor compared to the damage which may now be visited on countries in the Developing world in this Bill’s absence.
Are the Tories still nasty?
Chope almost certainly is and now has a Facebook group criticising him to prove it. Cameron on the other hand has an opportunity to prove he might not be. He can be a canny operator at times and he should be aware that this is only going to reinforce the dominant narrative of the last 20 years that the Tories are nasty. The only way to counter this is to promise that the Tories would reintroduce this legislation if they win the election. If David Cameron cares about his parties image and really is a compassionate conservative he will promise to reintroduce this Bill and help some of the world’s poorest people.