Four major pieces of legislation in jeopardy
http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/0,3605,824504,00.html
Anne Perkins, political correspondent
Saturday November 2, 2002
The Guardian


Peers will oppose four major pieces of legislation up to the wire next week as shifting cross-party coalitions - including some Labour backbenchers - seek to soften Home Office plans to crack down on refugees and torpedo the prime minister's plans to allow unmarried couples to adopt.

With peers insisting on their right to continue their scrutiny until they are satisfied, the end of the long parliamentary session - which began with Labour's historic second landslide in May last year - could even be delayed next Thursday.

In the Commons, as many as 30 Labour MPs could rebel on the asylum legislation.

The asylum bill, together with the adoption bill, the animal health bill and the enterprise bill all have to be debated in both the Lords and the Commons in what is expected to turn into a complex game of ping pong.

MPs and peers are complaining that all the bills except the enterprise legislation have been extensively redrafted in the past few months and that they have not had enough time to assess the implications of the changes.

One leading Labour backbencher, Bob Marshall-Andrews, predicted anger among MPs concerned with the way the government uses its powers. "I anticipate there will be a considerable reaction to the Henry VIII clause, which will not be confined to those backbenchers who are nor mally associated with the issue of refugees and asylum." The clause allows amendments after enactment and its name is a reference to 1539 powers allowing legislation by decree.

A clause in the children and adoption bill could fall altogether with opposition said to be "undiminished".

There is also deeply entrenched opposition to the animal health bill among both Conservative and cross-bench farming peers who strongly object to the new powers given to state vets and slaughtermen to overcome resistance to compulsory slaughter experienced during the foot and mouth crisis. The bill was delayed for months after peers invoked an ancient right to insist the outcomes of the government's foot and mouth inquiries were considered. As a result, the bill was substantially amended.

Tories say the Henry VIII clause "blows up parliamentary democracy". Oliver Let-win, shadow home secretary, said last night: "We have to draw the line somewhere. This is the time and place."

Bills to be debated

Nationality, immigration and asylum bill

Introduces "fast track" asylum process, detention centres for asylum seekers, separate education for refugee children, no in-country appeal for refugees from "safe" countries, higher penalties for people traffickers, no state support for "late" applicants for asylum.

Adoption and children bill

Encourages more people to adopt, including unmarried and same-sex couples.

Animal health bill

Reaction to foot and mouth fiasco. Greatly enhances vets' powers to enter private property. Could lead to mass slaughter of national sheep flock in attempt to eliminate scrapie.