What has happened to the Immigration Bill? It was supposed to come before the House of Commons for report stage before the close of play in December, but was cleverly bumped to avoid a hoo-ha over Nigel Mills’ amendment calling for transitional controls on Bulgarian and Romanian migrants. The problem is, this clever bit of manoeuvring by those in charge of Commons business didn’t make a great deal of difference to the amendment’s popularity: the latest publication from the Vote Office, released after the Bill was bumped into this year but before the end of the winter term, shows 74 signatures. Now the gossip in the party is that the legislation is going to have a little lie down in some longer grass for a while.
Last week at the Business Statement, Andrew Lansley did not give a date for the bill, either. He told Angela Eagle that it was ‘subject to the progress of further business’. Today at the lobby briefing, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman refused to either confirm or deny that there was something holding the bill up. he said:
‘The answer, the explanation is that a timetable will be set out as and when those decisions will be taken as part of the process that there is for every bill of managing the passage through parliament.’
Now, as with the latest Tory backbench demand, there is a sizeable group of MPs on the list of signatories who simply want to push the Prime Minister further on details of his EU renegotiation strategy, rather than being particularly committed to the specific demand. They were pleased with the commitment to reform freedom of movement, but clearly hope for more. They have good reason to do so: every time Tory MPs gang up on the PM, he gives them something, which is like giving a dog a biscuit every time it growls at the postman: the dog thinks it’s a good idea to keep growling. The whips do try their best to calm things down – I hear that they told possible signatories to the Mills amendment that the Attorney General would be forced to resign if the amendment did pass – but backbenchers know it’s still worth chasing the issue.
On that latest bit of growling – the letter coordinated by Bill Cash and Bernard Jenkin, the whips have enjoyed some success as they prowl the backbenches. Andrew Tyrie, for instance, has said he never wanted to sign the letter and doesn’t understand how his name made it onto the list in the first place (although it’s not clear how his name made it into the public domain, either, given the co-ordinators didn’t publish the list and only shared it with Downing Street). Apparently it was an administrative error that Tyrie was named on the list sent to the Prime Minister, but the rebels are pointing out that given Nadine Dorries has signed up, the numbers are still at 95, and the rough size of the list shows the will of the party in any case. One senior minister has been telling colleagues that he signed it ‘in pectore’. And as for the way ministers have responded, that hasn’t gone down well with backbenchers at all.