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The debate on the Second Reading of the Government's FIscal Responsibility Bill – the one which would put a duty on the Government to halve the budget deficit into legislation – was far shorter than it normally would have been due to a series of statements at the beginning of business.
It was not until 6.26pm that Shadow Chancellor George Osborne got to his feet to speak in opposition to the Bill:
"Although this piece of legislation consists of only six short clauses, it must be the biggest load of nonsense that this Government have had the audacity to present to Parliament in this Session. Quite frankly, I do not think the Bill is the idea of the Chancellor of the Exchequer or any of his Treasury Ministers, or indeed of any official in the Treasury. It was dreamt up by the Schools Secretary and the Prime Minister when they were trying to think of something to say on the “Andrew Marr Show” on the eve of the Labour conference, so now we all have to go through the rigmarole of debating it in Parliament. The Bill was a completely feeble stunt."
Yet over the following three hours, not one Labour backbencher was moved to deliver a speech in favour of the BIll, as shadow Treasury spokesman David Gauke noted in his summing up:
"This has been a somewhat curious debate. I do not know whether there has been a precedent for such a Bill. The Bill was at the heart of the Prime Minister’s party conference speech in 2009; it was the flagship economic Bill in the Queen’s Speech; and it is the centrepiece of the Government’s economic strategy to reduce the deficit. However, I wonder whether we have ever had such a Bill, because it has attracted not a single voice of support from Back Benchers on Second Reading.
"I suppose that the Government might have hoped that in a time of crisis the country would unite around them as they set out to address the problem, but as it happens the Bill has managed to unite the House in opposition. The fact is that we have had only two contributions from Labour Back Benchers in the debate. I do not know where the rest of the parliamentary Labour party are tonight—they may be plotting, once again, if the rumours that have been reported this evening are true—but not one Labour Back Bencher could be prevailed upon to speak in support of the Bill."
All in all, yet more evidence of Labour MPs having already given up the ghost. Indeed, the only backbench Labour MPs to give speeches were Frank Field and Katy Clark, who explained why they were not supporting their Government's Bill.