By Matthew Barrett
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The Backbench Business Committee – which allocates time for debates to be held at the request of backbenchers (rather than the government allocating government debating time to a backbench motion) has caused some confusion in the last few days.
Over the weekend, Natascha Engel, the Chairman of the Committee made comments that implied Robert Halfon MP (pictured right)'s successful e-petition to debate petrol prices would not make it to the floor of the House of Commons. Engel said "Unfortunately, not enough time is given to us to schedule debates on all subjects proposed to us."
Then yesterday, appearing on the BBC's Daily Politics show, she touched on the issue of the petition, saying there is a "very, very high chance" of it getting debated in the House:
"What I will say that is tomorrow we meet at one o’clock and tomorrow there is the e-petition on fair fuel, but there are also lots of other debates that have been brought to us. It all depends on what it is that comes before us. I would hate to say as the Chair, that I decide what gets debated. Having said that, this is such an important issue. I represent a rural constituency. As this is one of my number one postbag issues, I would say that it has a very, very high chance of being debated. … The fair fuel campaign came to us in the form of Robert Halfon MP, to ask for time to debate the fair fuel e-petition but they wanted to have a vote. To have a vote we have to have a debate in the chamber, we can’t have a debate in Westminster Hall. We were not allocated any time in the chamber and that was why we could not allocate a debate. We as backbenchers don’t have the time or the power to say, "we want a debate in the chamber". We have to wait for the Government to allocate us that time."
This afternoon, the Backbench Business Committee met to decide future business. A list of more than 70 MPs who support a debate on petrol and fuel prices was submitted to the Committee, and the Committee agreed Robert Halfon's e-petition motion should be debated in the main chamber of the House of Commons – and followed by a vote. The debate would be held for three hours on the afternoon of Tuesday 15th November.
Final approval of the time-slot now rests with the Government and the Leader of the House of Commons, Sir George Young, who will make his Business Statement this Thursday, when we will finally learn if a debate on lower petrol prices will be held.
Mr Halfon has submitted the following motion for the debate (subject to approval):
"I beg to move, That this House welcomes the 1p cut in fuel duty at the 2011 Budget, the abolition of the fuel tax escalator, the establishment of a fair fuel stabiliser, and the Government's understanding that high petrol and diesel prices are a serious problem; notes that in the context of the Government’s efforts to tackle the deficit and put the public finances on a sustainable path, that ensuring stable tax revenues is vital for sustainable growth; believes, however, that high fuel prices are causing immense difficulties for small and medium sized enterprises vital to our economic recovery; notes reports that some low paid workers are paying a tenth of their income just to fill up the family car; adds that high fuel prices are particularly damaging for the road freight industry; asks the Government to comment on whether high rates of fuel duty have actually led to lower tax revenues in recent years, after reports from leading motoring organisations suggested that fuel duty revenues were at least £1 billion pounds lower in the first six months of 2011, compared with 2008; finally calls on the Government to consider the effect that increased taxes on fuel will have on the economy, to examine ways of working with industry to ensure that falls in oil prices are passed on to consumers, to consider issues around market competitiveness, and more widely to consider the feasibility of a price stabilisation mechanism that would work alongside the fair fuel stabiliser, to address fluctuations in the pump price."