Tory MPs opposed to gay marriage are holding a meeting in the next hour to discuss next Tuesday’s second reading of the Bill, I understand. The meeting is being co-ordinated by, among others, David Burrowes, who has been a vocal opponent of the reforms.
One of the things that is particularly upsetting the MPs is that there will be a three-line whip on the programme motion for the vote. The legislation itself will be a free vote, but the vote on how it is scrutinised will be whipped, which is leading some MPs to argue that this isn’t a really free vote. Those opposed to the legislation want it debated by a committee of the whole house, not a public bill committee staffed with loyal MPs. Peter Bone tells me:
‘To whip a vote for the programme motion, that’s clearly undemocratic, it’s deceitful, it’s just the sort of thing that we do not want to see.’
One problem for MPs who do not want to rebel against a whip but for various reasons want to use the free vote to reject the legislation is that supporting the programme motion will be read by their constituency parties as tacit support for the legislation itself. Another MP tells me:
‘I would like it if my car broke down that day and I didn’t have to deal with this.’
Paul Goodman outlined the likelihood of the programme motion causing real problems in a blog recently, and the chances of Labour trying to humiliate the government by siding with the anti-gay marriage Tories is pretty low on this issue. But a three-line whip could still cause damage to delicate relations in the Conservative party when the free vote itself was so important.