Labour and the Liberal Democrats have accused ministers of seeking to subvert democracy by proposing a rule change which would guarantee the government a majority on crucial committees which scrutinise legislation.
Jeremy Corbyn said the proposal, published on Friday and to be voted on next week, amounted to an “unprecedented power grab” by the government.
The plan, detailed in a motion by Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, seeks to change the rules on membership of public bill committees, often referred to by their former name, standing committees.
As part of the progress of a bill through the Commons, a committee is set up to scrutinise it in detail. This is often the period when the most amendments are made and potential problems addressed.
The party makeup of such committees is based on the composition of the Commons, meaning that since the election in June, when Theresa May lost her majority, newly formed ones would seek a political balance.
However, Leadsom’s motion, to be considered on Tuesday, says that while parity should be sought on other types of committee, this would not happen on public bill ones.
The rules should be interpreted, it reads, such that “where a committee has an odd number of members the government shall have a majority, and where a committee has an even number of members the number of government and opposition members shall be equal; but this instruction shall not apply to the nomination of any public bill committee”.
Corbyn tweeted: “An unprecedented attempt to rig parliament and grab power by a Conservative government with no majority and no mandate.”
The Liberal Democrats said the plan would skewer attempts to change Brexit plans as the government would have a majority on the committee scrutinising the EU withdrawal bill.
The party’s chief whip, Alistair Carmichael, said it was “an affront to democracy”. He said: “We will fight tooth and nail to ensure parliamentary committees reflect the will of the electorate and do not simply rubber-stamp government decisions.”
But Downing Street said the plan was intended to reduce “disruption”. A spokesman said: “These proposals create the fairest balance between the opposition and government, and will ensure technical, procedural rules do not cause unwarranted delays to the business of parliament.
“The adjustments provide for maximum scrutiny with minimum disruption and delay, both to parliamentary proceedings and to the governance of the country.”
The motion was published on the Commons order paper on Friday, but was seen on Thursday by the Huffington Post.
The shadow leader of the Commons, Valerie Vaz, told the website ministers were “rigging the committee system so that they are guaranteed a majority they didn’t secure at the ballot box”.
She said: “The British people will not understand how, having voted to deny the Conservatives a majority, the Tories can alter the rules of parliament to ensure they have one.”