By Matthew Barrett
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The Daily Mail this morning reports on the 118 Conservative MPs who have written to constituents indicating their opposition to gay marriage proposals. The Mail says "Their opposition has been expressed in letters and emails sent to constituents who have contacted them with their own concerns", and points out that if these MPs voted against proposals, it would constitute the biggest Tory rebellion in modern times. However, Equalities Minister (and Secretary of State for Culture) Maria Miller pointed out on Twitter that since any vote on the issue would be a free vote, it would not technically be counted as a rebellion.
I have listed the MPs from the Mail's story below.
By Peter Hoskin
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As revealed by ITV's Lucy Manning, the quietly assertive chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, Andrew Tyrie, will lead Parliament's inquiry into the banks. Joining him will be his select committee colleagues Mark Garnier, Pat McFadden, Andy Love and John Thurso. Four men to take on who-knows-how-many rate fixers.
However, as with David Beckham's exclusion from the Olympics football squad, it's the omissions that are more eyecatching. Among them is Andrea Leadsom, another Treasury Select Committee member and former Barclays employee, who was ferociously brilliant in her questioning of Bob Diamond, the other week — and matched it in her observations afterwards. She also, you'll remember, recently suggested that George Osborne apologise for trying to tie Labour (specifically, Ed Balls) to the Libor scandal.
And there's also Labour's John Mann, another select committee member who tried to cut Diamond, so to speak. He's currently raging against his exclusion on Twitter, even saying that "I'm going to run my own inquiry into the banking scandal".
Of course, not all shall sit on parliamentary inquiries — but leaving out Leadsom and Mann does seem to undermine this one from the off. There was already enough froth and divide about whether the inquiry should be conducted by MPs or by a judge. Now that the MPs have finally been chosen, that divide looks likely to remain.
By Matthew Barrett
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7pm update: Labour will support Andrew Tyrie's chairmanship of a joint parliamentary committee holding an inquiry into the banking industry. Ed Balls told the House after losing tonight's vote (below):
"The Government has won its vote. The chair of the Treasury Select Committee will now chair a narrow inquiry... On this side we respect the Right Honourable Member and we will work with him. But we have some very real concerns about the membership and the secretariat of that committee, which we hope that he will address."
The debate in the House regarding "professional standards in banking" has just wound down. At stake was a vote on whether there should be a judicial or a parliamentary inquiry into the culture of the banking industry. Labour favours the former drawn-out, Leveson-style inquiry, whereas the Government favours a swift investigation by Lords and MPs, so that any recommendations can be implemented in the upcoming banking reform Bill, which is set to come before the House in the new year. The Government won the vote to reject a judicial inquiry by 320 votes to 239, a safe majority of 81, and then won a second vote to hold a parliamentary inquiry, by 330 votes to 226 votes, an even safer majority of 104.
That all sounds a bit dry compared to the barney which took place between Ed Balls and George Osborne. Mr Osborne made comments to the Spectator which, Mr Balls argued, implied that Balls was involved in the Libor scandal. Mr Balls was incensed with the allegations. He called them "utterly baseless", urged Mr Osborne to "put up" the evidence of any wrongdoing from Balls, or "shut up", and attacked the...
"cheap and partisan and desperate way in which he and his aides have conducted themselves over recent days does him no good, it demeans the office he holds and most important it makes it harder to achieve the lasting consensus that we need"
Mr Osborne did not feel the need to supply an apology. This annoyed Mr Balls even more. He said: "the sight of a Chancellor who says one thing to the press, but can't defend himself in Parliament, is embarrassing to the office." It was a more rowdy affair than most PMQs - there were frequent interventions from the Deputy Speaker, the Tory MP Nigel Evans, as much of the House felt the need to shout at each other.
By Matthew Barrett
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2.30pm Steve Baker MP has called for Bob Diamond, the Barclays CEO, to resign:
"Yes I do think Bob Diamond should resign, and I think more than that - the various authorities should be looking extremely carefully at whether any offences have been committed."
2pm David Cameron appeared on the BBC news channel this afternoon. He said the Government will take more action if more action is deemed necessary:
"In terms of what happens next, I would say that the regulators should use all the powers and means at their disposal to pursue this in the ways that they feel are appropriate. I’d also make the point that this happened some years ago under the previous government with the rules in place with the previous government. We are changing those rules and if there’s more we need to do to toughen that up, we’ll take that actions. We’ve already taken a lot of action to make sure we regulate our banks and financial services appropriately, but if there’s more that needs to be done, we’ll do it."
George Osborne made a statement to the House this afternoon. The Chancellor said that the FSA inquiry into Barclays demonstrates "systemic failures" in the financial system:
"It is clear that what happened at Barclays and potentially other banks was completely unacceptable, was symptomatic of a financial system that elevated greed above all other concerns and brought our economy to its knees."
By Matthew Barrett
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Traditionally, after a Budget speech, high-profile MPs speak in the debate that follows, to give their verdict on the Budget. Compiled below are some of the most significant contributions.
"Yesterday’s announcement on the loan guarantee scheme responded to many constituents’ complaints that they simply cannot get the money they need to run or start up small businesses. We all have constituents in that position, and the scheme will offer some welcome relief. How much relief? I think it will offer only a little, and there is a risk of the banks pocketing most of the money. The Treasury Committee, the Public Accounts Committee— I do not know whether its Chair is in her place—and the National Audit Office all need to play a role in ensuring that the banks do not run off with the money, and that value for money is secured."
Tyrie nevertheless commended the scheme:
"I still think the scheme may turn out to be valuable, for several reasons. First, by announcing it the Chancellor has raised the salience of an important issue and put pressure on the banks not to dismiss requests for loans without examining them properly. Furthermore, it seems to me that the Treasury’s own pessimistic briefing yesterday that the money will go only to existing borrowers is almost certainly mistaken. There is very likely to be some more lending, because banks will benefit from the stronger financial position of firms to which they have lent. Those loans, in turn, will be less risky for the banks, so they should have some more headroom for new lending without altering their risk profile."
By Matthew Barrett
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The Forty. The 301. The 2020. These are some of the groups formed by Conservative MPs after the last general election. Most are largely made up of, or driven by, 2010-intake MPs. Over the next few weeks, I'll be profiling some of these groups.
Today, we kick off with the Free Enterprise Group (FEG). The FEG is considered influential by sources at the Treasury, and George Osborne is said to think very highly of it, regarding it as the most important of the new groups to emerge.
Origins of the Group: The group initially formed out of concern at the anti-free market atmosphere that has developed in the last few years. The behaviour of the last government, in cosying up to big business cartels and corporatist interests, often gave people a mistakenly bad impression of the free market that didn't necessarily exist twenty years ago. Polling suggests 21st-century Britons are less receptive towards free enterprise than the Chinese, Americans and Germans. There is also a wider cause - making Britain globally competitive again. The FEG's website highlights startling statistics about our place in the world: the fact that we are now 83rd in the world for regulation, 94th for taxation, and so on. This concern derives not just from the fact that we are being overtaken by emerging markets like Brazil, but also established Western economies, like Germany, have become more free market than Britain.
By Paul Goodman
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Last year, the Prime Minister flew to Brussels amidst rumour of a leadership challenge if he didn't achieve at least a token repatriation of power.
Today, he faced the Commons not only with no such repatriation realised but with his veto - so rapturously greeted at the time by Conservative MPs - arguably valueless, since it's now clear that he won't challenge the principle of the EU institutions being used to enforce the F.U agreement.
Yet there was no mass revolt from his backbenches, and no revival to date of the leadership challenge rumours. What explains this change in the Tory atmosphere? I hope to explore the question in detail soon, but will for the moment rest with an answer I've cited before.
By Matthew Barrett
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We reported on the policy content of the Chancellor's Autumn Statement on Tuesday. As well as the content of the Statement, it's worth noting the contributions from Conservative backbenchers in the Commons session that followed it. The Chancellor answered 96 questions in total, so it allowed a large window of opportunity for backbenchers to raise questions or points sceptical of the government's economic agenda - backbenchers could have urged the Chancellor to pursue fiscal consolidation more vigorously, or pressed for a more pro-growth direction, and so on.
However, backbench contributions were overwhelmingly positive. There were, generally, two kinds of question from Tory backbenchers. The first would be positive about measures announced in the Autumn Statement. For example:
"Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the welcome opportunity for private pension funds to invest in infrastructure will also give a good return for those pension funds by unlocking the growth that can come from such infrastructure, particularly in rural areas such as East Anglia?"
By Paul Goodman
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Grovelling? Yes, let's face it: it happens. But not yesterday when the Prime Minister was questioned after his statement on Libya. Read Patrick Mercer on Islamism, Andrew Tyrie on torture, Peter Lilley on getting Libya to pay, Baron on intervention, Chisti on Syria. Plenty of pertinent questions
Also follow David Cameron being polite to Mark Pritchard, telling Rory Stewart that he shouldn't have gone to Libya recently, and being thrown for a moment by a very sharp question from Andrew Bridgen. Here are the exchanges in full from Hansard.
"Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): As someone who had reservations about the principle of intervention, may I congratulate the Prime Minister on a successful outcome in Libya? It was largely achieved by two aspects: first, it was legal; and secondly, it had the support of the Libyan people. Further to the previous question, however, will my right hon. Friend now use it as an illustration to persuade permanent members of the Security Council, such as Russia and China, that a well conducted intervention can be successfully used to restrain autocrats in countries such as Syria?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. Everyone should have misgivings about such operations, and one should never have the naive belief that they are easy or that everything is going to go to plan. That very rarely happens, and we should always be hard-headed and careful about such things. We should also respect the fact that this is not done—this is not completed yet.
Also, I think that we should be very cautious about trying to draw up a new doctrine, because it seems to me that as soon as a new doctrine is established, a case comes up that flies completely in its face, but I do hope that other members of the Security Council will see that there has been success in removing a dictator, and in giving that country a chance of peaceful and democratic progress, which will be good for the world.
by Paul Goodman
No great surpise there, of course. But three speeches from the Conservative backbenches yesterday evening give the flavour of the first day's debate. First, Andrew Tyrie (Chichester), the Chairman of the Treasury Select Committtee, choosing at the end of his speech to back the budget to throw his weight behind the Chancellor's approach -
"I know that this is not something on which agreement will be reached across the House and that it is the very stuff of party politics, but I hope that Members sitting on the other side of the House will permit me to end with a personal view. Even if there were no deficit, we should still reduce public spending because at close to 50% of gross domestic product it is too high. It reduces choice and freedom for millions of individuals, and it burdens enterprises with unacceptable levels of taxation. During the 13 years of the previous Government, public spending averaged about 40% of GDP. I support this Government's plans to reduce it to that level again."
Next, John Redwood (Wokingham) supporting the budget but suggesting the kind of pro-growth measures which he regularly floats on his blog -
"The outcome of the Budget will depend on two important considerations: whether we can put enough measures in place along the lines that the Chancellor has laid out for promoting growth; and whether there is a happy and sensible resolution to the banking problems as they affect SMEs and the wider public in Britain. There has been much discussion of the big banks, the investment banks and all those sorts of issues, but we now need to laser in on how the banks serve local communities and the SME sector. We need a more pro-competitive answer. I have some thoughts on how we could do that, but will not detain the House with them because today is not the day for that. However, without such measures the Budget will find it difficult to deliver the very large figures for increased revenue on which the whole plan rests."
Third, Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) illustrating, in an exchange with Rachel Reeves, the degree to which Tory speakers placed the blame for the defict where it belongs.
What choice do we have? Labour's poisonous legacy and debt millstone left us with simply no alternative. In 2010-11, we had to borrow about £140 billion-perhaps around £10 billion less than expected. Only Ireland has a bigger cyclically adjusted deficit. Labour ran a structural deficit some seven years before the banking crisis in 2007-08, and we entered the financial crisis with the largest structural deficit in the G7. The national debt doubled between 1997 and 2010. In May last year, we were at significant risk of a downgrading in our international credit rating, with a catastrophic impact on public services, business and consumer confidence, a long period of stagflation, and a contraction in the economy.
Rachel Reeves: I want to enlighten the hon. Gentleman with two facts. First, in 1996, just before the Labour Government came into power, there was a structural budget deficit of 4%, whereas it was 2.5% in 2007. Secondly, he compares the UK economy to that of Greece, but does he recognise the figures that show that although bond yields in Greece increased from 7% to 12% between January and May 2010, in the UK, before the Conservatives came to power, they were falling?
Mr Jackson: The hon. Lady will know that the markets have recognised that the fiscal consolidation that the Government had to put in place as part of a policy of growth in the private sector and consolidation in the public sector has resulted in a lessening of the pressures in the gilt markets, with gilt yields down to 3.53% since May last year, and every 1% is £1 billion of interest payment. Of course, that is change in the pocket to Labour Members; we are spending £120 million on debt every day.
By Jonathan Isaby
There were a variety of last minute requests from MPs, all of which were met with variations on "wait and see".
But during topical questions, Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, chose to ask a very topical question:
"Will the Chancellor make every effort to keep the House informed about the cost of our operations in Libya by providing an estimate at the earliest opportunity? Will he also tell us whether those costs will be funded from the Ministry of Defence budget or drawn from the Treasury reserve?"
George Osborne indicatd that he had been given notice by Tyrie of his intention to try and catch the Speaker's eye to ask that question, enabling him to prepare the following answer:
"The House will understand that it is too early to give a robust estimate of the costs of the operations in Libya, but I can say that they should be modest compared with some other operations, such as Afghanistan. The MOD's initial view is that they will be in the order of tens of millions of pounds, not hundreds of millions. I can tell the House today that whatever they turn out to be, the additional costs of operations in Libya will be fully met from the reserve."
By Jonathan Isaby
"The House will agree that the BBC World Service performs an invaluable role, reflecting British democratic values overseas and supporting British influence in the world, and that the services it provides are a beacon to many in some of the poorest and most insecure countries in the world. We announced in October that from 2014 responsibility for the BBC World Service will be transferred to the BBC itself and funded from the licence fee, a move that has been welcomed by the World Service and the BBC Trust as providing new opportunities for the World Service to develop in the future. In the meantime, the World Service, like any other taxpayer-funded body, must ensure that it is working on the right priorities and as efficiently as possible. I announced in October that its expenditure limits would be reduced by 16% in real terms over the next three years.
"As I set out in a written statement earlier today, we are providing £13 million per annum to help with the deficit in BBC pension funds and £10 million per annum for new services in markets that we and the World Service have identified as priorities. Those include TV programming in Urdu, in sub-Saharan Africa and in Hindi to be provided to local partners. We have also guaranteed the capital for the move of the World Service to its new offices in W1. That is proper provision for the future of the World Service and will make up for inherited deficits.
"The other services provided by the World Service cannot stand still, and those that have become less well used because of the rise of local broadcasters or falling shortwave audiences sometimes have to close. It is the World Service's responsibility to be as efficient as possible while maintaining as many services as possible, something the previous Government recognised when in 2006 they closed 10 separate language services of the World Service. The World Service initially suggested to the Foreign Office the closure of up to 13 language services, but I refused to give permission for that. I have agreed to the closure of five language services, accounting for 3.5 million listeners out of the total audience of 180 million. Withdrawal from shortwave and other services will have a bigger effect, but they will rightly allow for concentration on online and mobile services for the future.
"The BBC World Service has a viable and promising future, but it is not immune from public spending constraints or the reassessment of its priorities. While any closures might be regretted, they would not be necessary at all were it not for the inherited BBC pension deficit and the vast public deficit inherited from the previous Government."
"There is very deep concern in the House about this decision, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will reconsider it with Cabinet colleagues. In particular, I hope that he will take a look at the overseas aid budget, which is increasing by 37% in real terms at a time when he intends to implement 16% cuts to the World Service. I hope that he will hear the message from the House that if there is a choice between the two, we want to put the World Service first."
The Foreign Secretary replied:
"I stress to my hon. Friend that a good deal of the World Service's budget already counts as ODA-able expenditure, so he should not think that turning to DFID for the money is an easy answer. I reiterate my view that all parts of the public sector must join in in becoming more efficient, and the BBC World Service will be part of the public sector for the next three years."
Incidentally, I imagine many readers will share my sadness that one of the victims of these cuts will be the excellent weekly programme, Politics UK, which has always given the world an insightful take on British politics.
By Paul Goodman
Peter Hoskins has posted a brief account on the Spectator's Coffee House site about this morning's Treasury Select Committee appearance by George Osborne. The Chancellor promised to allow the committee to approve his proposed new appointments to the Office of Budget Responsibility - thereby giving them the power to veto his suggestions if they wish.
I left the Commons largely because I believed it was changing for the worse. So it's right to acknowledge that in some ways the place is getting better. The cross-party election of Select Committee Chairman has been a democratic revolution. MPs from previous Parliaments especially told me that they've found canvassing support from political opponents a liberating experience - as they line up with them as legislators to hold the Executive to account.
I wondered earlier this week here whether Labour MPs would use the Select Committee elections to make life difficult for David Cameron.
They didn't. Instead, they lined up behind the Conservative establishment candidates. Andrew Tyrie took the Treasury Select Committee; Richard Ottaway, Foreign Affairs (a big, big consolation prize, after his defeat in the 1922 Committee Chairmanship election); James Arbuthnot, Defence; Stephen Dorrell, Health; Tim Yeo, Climate Change. Anne McIntosh, who won the Environment Committee, leans towards the left of the Party.
I didn't, of course, see anyone cast a ballot paper. But unless Conservative MPs turned out en masse to vote against the Party's right - an unlikely course of action, given the '22 Executive results - Liberal and Labour support for less spiky candidates provides the only comprehensible explanation of the results.
It would be unfair to view the victors as patsies. Tyrie, in particular, has a track record of independent-mindedness. But ask yourself whether Cameron Towers would prefer the winners to, say, Patrick Mercer at Defence or Peter Bone at Health (let alone Nadine) or Philip Hollobone at Climate Change, and there's only one answer.
Bernard Jenkin and Chris Chope are both seen as men of the right. But Chope's used the Chamber to launch independent-minded assaults on establishment causes, and it's noticeable that he lost out in the tussle for the Public Administration Committee Chairmanship.
John Whittingdale at Culture and Greg Knight at Procedure, both No Turning Back Group stalwarts, are in unopposed. Graham Stuart won what should have been, even if it wasn't, a close-fought battle for the Education Committee.
As most readers know, the Select Committee Chairmanships have been carved out among the parties, and tomorrow's elections for the posts will be cross-party. So Conservative MPs, for example, can vote for Labour candidates, and vice-versa. Jonathan has a list of those standing here.
A question follows: on what basis will Labour MPs vote for the Conservative candidates? Answer: it depends. Some will support the best candidate. Others will vote for the Conservative candidate seen to be the more left-wing of the two.
Such is the attachment on the Labour benches to climate change orthodoxy, for example, that large number of the Party's MPs are likely to line up behind Tim Yeo, the establishment candidate for the Energy and Climate Change committee.
In other cases, however, Labour MPs will surely ask: who's the candidate more likely to cause David Cameron trouble? Or, if they've a more elevated turn of mind: who's the candidate more likely to stand up for the legislature against the executive?
In some cases, it's hard to tell. For example, both candidates for the Treasury Select Committee Chairmanship, Michael Fallon and Andrew Tyrie, are independent-minded. But in others, it's easier to see who'd be more likely to give Downing Street a fit of the heebie-jeebies.
Step forward, then, Peter Bone - standing for the Chairmanship of the Health Select Committee - John Baron, contesting Foreign Affairs (Baron pursued Ministers energetically about Iraq during the last Parliament) and, in the Defence Select Committee poll, no fewer than three of the candidates: Julian Lewis, Patrick Mercer and, above all, Douglas Carswell (one half of the Carswell-Hannan "Cannon" dynamic duo).
If Carswell in particular wins (an unlikely event, but you never know), expect senior officials in the Ministry of Defence to start screaming and screaming, and be unable to stop...
So if any of the above are elected, take a long, hard look at the Labour benches for those responsible.
Official disclaimer: nothing in this article is to be read as an endorsement of any candidate, in any election, at any time, anywhere...