As expected, the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill 2013-14 has passed its second reading in the House of Commons by 452 votes to 41. Cheryl Gillan’s amendment calling on the House to decline to give the legislation its second reading failed 451 votes to 50. The breakdown of who voted (and, more interestingly in this vote when some ministers have opted for a disappearing act, who didn’t vote) will take a little while to come through.
What will prevent ministerial resignations will be how the Bill progresses in the Committee stage, which will chug slower than a toy steam train. David Lidington wants further mitigation for his constituents, including the longer Chiltern tunnel that Cheryl Gillan has worked on. If this is adopted at Committee stage, the Minister for Europe may be able to stay in post rather than resign to rebel at report stage and third reading.
But either way, anyone saying that tonight’s vote is a blow for David Cameron’s authority because there was a rebellion is getting a little overexcited. These sorts of issues force MPs to vote on behalf of their constituents, particularly when a general election is approaching. The Prime Minister has still managed to secure cross-party support for the legislation thus far. Perhaps, though, the voters in some constituencies whose ministers vanished into a puff of steam today might feel as though their authority as electors has been dealt a blow.
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