7 September 2011

UK: Dorries amendment fails spectacularly

Nadine Dorries MP has lost her amendment on abortion counselling by 118 votes to 368, in a vote in the House of Commons today.

The vote followed an intensely emotional debate in which she accused Lib Dems of blackmailing the prime minister, reports Ian Dunt for Politics.co.uk.

Using nearly an hour of the allotted 90 minutes given to her amendment to the health and social care bill, Ms Dorries issued a spectacular attack on her detractors and the Liberal Democrats.

The MP for Mid Bedfordshire endured a bruising experience just before the debate started when she told the prime minister to show Nick Clegg “who’s the boss”. David Cameron replied by saying: “I know the honourable lady is extremely frustrated…”

The phrase, interpreted by some as innuendo, prompted huge laughter in the Commons.

Ms Dorries called the prime minister “gutless” over the weekend, following reports he had backed down on supporting her proposals following a meeting a livid Mr Clegg, Dunt reports. She reiterated that attack today, telling the Commons that Mr Clegg only acted after meeting with former Lib Dem MP Dr Evan Harris.

“A former MP who lost his seat in this place is blackmailing our prime minister,” she told the Commons.

The statement prompted Lib Dem MP Martin Horwood to raise a point of order, asking Speaker John Bercow if it was in order to accuse a former MP of a criminal offence. “My understanding at present is that there has been no breach of order,” Mr Bercow replied. “However, my message to the honourable member and to the House… is that temperate language, moderation and good humour [should]… inform our debates.”

Ms Dorries told MPs: “It is time to make a decision, not informed by the Lib Dems, not blackmailed by the Lib Dems, not held to ransom by the Lib Dems. Be prepared to stand by your view today since it will be on everyone’s parliamentary record.”

By the end of the debate even Mr Field, who co-signed the amendment, called on Ms Dorries not press ahead with the amendment, given that health minister Anne Milton had already suggested that the Department of Health (DoH) would investigate the issue.

The government is intending to offer all women having an abortion the offer of independent counselling but not to strip providers of their duty to do so as well – a key aspect of Ms Dorries’ proposal.

For Labour, shadow public health minister Diane Abbott branded the amendment “shoddy and ill-conceived”. She added: “This amendment is the opposite of evidence-based policy making. The proposer of this amendment assumes that thousands of women don’t know what they’re doing.”

BPAS chief executive Ann Furedi said: “Bpas is pleased to see Nadine Dorries’ amendment so overwhelmingly rejected. We look forward to being able to focus our efforts on the issues which pose a genuine problem for women considering ending a pregnancy.”

The Guardian reports that ‘Dorries won the support of three cabinet ministers – Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, Liam Fox, the defence secretary, and Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland secretary. George Osborne, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband voted against the amendment. Downing Street said Cameron would have voted against but had to attend a meeting in No 10 with Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council.’

The Guardian further reports: ‘MPs voted by a majority of 250 to reject the amendment after Dorries lost the support of her co-sponsor, the former Labour minister Frank Field. He called on Dorries not to force a vote after Milton said the government intended to bring forward new proposals on counselling ... Dorries hailed the announcement from Milton as a sign of victory. She told the BBC: “We lost the battle but we have won the war.”

‘A senior source at the Department of Health said that any changes would have to be approved by MPs in a free vote. The source said the changes would not change the abortion act.’

The Health and Social Care Bill as a whole cleared its Commons stages on 7 September, despite criticism from some Lib Dems as well as Labour, BBC News Online reports. It was approved by MPs by 65 votes, and will now go to the House of Lords where it is expected to face further opposition.

Dorries loses abortion vote after fractious debate. By Ian Dunt, Politics.co.uk, 7 September 2011

David Cameron’s NHS ‘support’ claim disputed by staff. BBC News Online, 7 September 2011

Dorries abortion amendment defeated in House of Commons Guardian, 7 September 2011

Also read:

Abortion Review topic archive: Abortion counselling