By Matthew Barrett
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One of the ways in which John Bercow annoys Conservatives is his enthusiasm for castigating backbench Tory MPs in front of the House. His critics would concede that he often has valid grounds for intervening in principle, but take issue with the strength of his criticism, and the fact that he so often interrupts the flow of debate in order to make his points.
A particularly severe example of this kind of strong intervention came yesterday when Mr Bercow felt the need to reprimand Anna Soubry, a junior Minister at the Department of Health, not once, not twice, but thrice. Mr Bercow's interventions stretched across more than one debate - he decided to name Soubry during PMQs and during a health debate. It's perhaps worth noting that Soubry was Simon Burns' (with whom Mr Speaker has clashed a number of times) PPS, and still often sits near him during PMQs.
The first intervention, during PMQs, went as follows:
"Ms Harman: The Deputy Prime Minister’s answer has shown that he is completely out of touch, because the reality is that many part-time working parents are having to give up their jobs because of the cuts in tax credit, and having instead to be on benefits. I asked him about the child care element of the tax credit, and he has not answered. Why will he not admit that the cut he voted for has cost families £500, and 44,000 families are losing out? If that was not bad enough, the Government are cutting £1 billion from Sure Start. In his e-mail, he said he would reveal—[ Interruption. ]
Mr Speaker: Order. The junior Minister in the back row—the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry)—thinks her views are relevant, but we are not interested. [ Interruption. ] Order. I do not want heckling. I want the question to be heard, and it will be heard with courtesy. If the session has to be extended for that to happen, so be it."
By Matthew Barrett
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Following on from the last few days' rolling blogs, I have below a final list of the MPs (and Baroness Warsi) appointed as Ministers for each department. I have put new appointments in bold.
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Department for Communities and Local Government
By Matthew Barrett
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The 2010 intake is, by now, known for being one of the most active and resourceful for a number of generations. In choosing ten MPs who could be promoted from the 2010 intake, I have had to overlook a number of extremely good candidates who, in normal, non-Coalition times would undoubtedly be made Ministers, and would do an excellent job. Those MPs include Fiona Bruce, George Freeman, Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel and Charlotte Leslie. There are a number of other MPs who I have excluded from my list, because their past Parliamentary rebellions would probably rule them out of contention. These include Nadhim Zahawi, Jesse Norman, Andrea Leadsom, Rory Stewart, Richard Fuller, and Andrew Griffiths.
By Matthew Barrett
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I recently profiled the 2020 and Free Enterprise groups of Tory MPs. Those two groups are formed by ideology: MPs are attracted to the groups because, in the case of the Free Enterprise Group, members wish to open up markets and make Britain business-friendly enough to compete with other world class economies. The 2020's members want to renew and refresh Project Cameron, while considering how the country should look after a majority Conservative government.
The 40 is rather different as it is a group of MPs brought together solely by necessity - the members are those MPs who were elected in 2010 with the narrowest majorities in the Party.
Origins of the group and key members
The group was founded early last year by Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood), Graham Evans (Weaver Vale), and David Mowat (Warrington South). There is no rigid structure to the group as such, given its non-ideological purpose, but when it meets, the convener is usually David Mowat. Other key "executive" members of the group include Evans and Ollerenshaw, as well as Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye), James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) and Ben Gummer (Ipswich).
By Matthew Barrett
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Redoubtable Labour Member Chris Bryant managed to secure an emergency debate in the Commons yesterday, following Prime Minister's Questions and a statement by the Prime Minister on the situation in Afghanistan, to discuss the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.
Although the debate was abused by some Members (Labour's Clive Efford, for example: "Only if ordinary people make a stand will we stop these rich people—rich people who have invaded the lives of ordinary people in the street—making themselves even richer and even more powerful."), Conservative members took a range of considered and serious positions in reaction to news of the scandal.
Three Conservative Members called for a "pause" in the current News Corporation takeover of BSkyB (as, it appears, has now taken place):
By Jonathan Isaby
In advance of yesterday's debate on votes for prisoners, the man moving the motion, David Davis, made his case on ConHome here.
So below are some of the highlights from the contributions of other Conservatives during the debate.
NB A full breakdown of how all MPs voted is here.
South West Devon MP Gary Streeter said the motion invited people to address the "fundamental issue" of "whether or not we can pass our own laws":
"There comes a time when it is necessary to take a stand. I argue that right now, on this issue, it is right for this House, today, to assert its authority. The judgment of the ECHR in the Hirst case flies in the face of the original wording and purpose of the European convention on human rights, in which it was clearly intended that each signatory should have latitude in making decisions on the electoral franchise in that country.
"We decided in this country centuries ago that convicted criminals should not have the right to vote, and I support that decision. After all, the punitive element of incarceration is the denial for the time being of certain rights and privileges that our citizens enjoy. We decided long ago that in addition to surrendering their liberty, convicted criminals while in prison would also give up their right to vote. That was the case in 1953 when the treaty on human rights was signed, and it remains the case."
Attorney General Dominic Grieve set out the Government's position early in the debate:
"Ministers will abstain. The Government believe that the proper course of action will be to reflect on what has been said and think about what proposals to bring back to the House in the light of the debate. The Government are here to listen to the views of the House, which are central and critical to this debate, as was acknowledged in the Hirst case."
By Jonathan Isaby
Soubry, who has worked a both a journalist and a barrister, explained the reasoning behind the Anonymity (Arrested Persons) Bill thus:
"In the past, the press did not publish the name and address of someone when they were arrested, but waited until they were charged to do so. Over the past few years, that has all changed. The press not only publish the name and address of someone when they have been arrested but they give more details. As we have recently seen with events in Bristol, it has reached the stage where many of us believe it has got to stop. A great wrong is being done, and it is time that it was righted. That is what I seek to do—to stop this sort of reporting."
"I mentioned events in Bristol. Let me make it clear that I do not intend to name anybody, and I am sure that hon. Members will also be keen not to name anybody, save for this: I do not think there is anybody who is not aware of the publicity and media coverage that was given to the first man who was arrested following the murder of Joanna Yeates. It is right and fair to say that everybody with any sense of decency and sensibility has accepted that the coverage of that individual was, if not outrageous, as I believe it was, certainly unacceptable and plain wrong. It is as if we had forgotten that one is innocent in this land until proven guilty. Unfortunately, it is not the first time that that has happened, but it is the most extreme case that we have seen.
"Everyone tends to forget that on being arrested, a person suffers the trauma of the arrest. It is difficult to imagine a worse accusation than to be accused of taking somebody’s life, raping someone or doing something horrible to a child. There is the trauma of the process and the nature of the allegation, and on top of that, the person’s name and address appear in the local paper. If it is a high-profile case, they appear in the national papers.
"What we saw in Bristol was, in effect, a feeding frenzy and vilification. Much of the coverage was not only completely irrelevant, but there was a homophobic tone to it which I found deeply offensive. The slurs on the man were out of order. All good and decent people in this country accept that. I include in that number fellow journalists.
By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday Justice Secretary Ken Clarke presented his Green Paper on Criminal Justice, “Breaking the Cycle: Effective Punishment, Rehabilitation and Sentencing of Offenders”. ConHome has already covered some of the announcements contained therein here and here, but here are some of the highlights of what Mr Clarke said in presenting the Green Paper to the Commons and the reaction he got from Tory backbenchers.
"Of course, criminals must face robust and demanding punishments. This means making them work hard both in prison and in the community. More prisoners will face the tough discipline of regular working hours. This has been lacking in most prison regimes for too long. Community sentences will be more credible, with more demanding work and greater use of tough curfew requirements. There will be greater reparation to victims through increased use of restorative justice and by implementing the Prisoners’ Earnings Act 1996. We will bring forward other changes to make sure that more offenders directly compensate the victims of crime.
"But we will take a new approach to the reform of offenders. I regard prison first and foremost as a place of punishment where people lose their liberty as reparation for what they have done, but on top of that, prison cannot continue to be simply an expensive way of giving communities a break. We must give higher priority to ensuring that more prisoners go straight on release.
"Offenders will face a tough and co-ordinated response from the police, probation and other services. It will mean that they must either address the problems that fuel their criminal activity or be caught and punished again."
"The sentencing framework must provide courts with a range of options to punish and rehabilitate criminals and keep the public safe. The sentencing framework has developed in an ad hoc fashion recently, with over 20 Acts of Parliament changing sentencing in the past 10 years. This has left it overly complex, difficult to interpret and administer, and hard for the public to understand. We need to make better use of prison and community sentences to punish offenders and improve public safety, while ensuring that sentencing supports our aims of improved rehabilitation and increased reparation to victims and society. We will therefore simplify the sentencing framework in order to make it more comprehensible to the public and to enhance judicial independence. We will reform community orders to give providers more discretion, and we will encourage greater use of financial penalties and improve their collection."
"Let me assure the House that public safety remains our first priority. We will continue to ensure that serious and dangerous offenders are managed effectively and their risk is reduced through appropriate use of prison and then through the multi-agency public protection arrangements... Any adult who commits a crime using a knife can expect to be sent to prison, and serious offenders can expect a long sentence. For juveniles, imprisonment is always available and will also be appropriate for serious offenders."
There were some voices of considerable scepticism from some Tory MPs sitting behind him:
Yesterday in the Commons saw a debate covering the Coalition Government's proposals to "extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants".
There were many well-informed contributions and a number of the new Conservative intake contributed to voice their concern about the proposal and to make alternative suggestions as to a way forward.
"I have no doubt from my practice and from talking to other members of the Bar and to members of the judiciary that when a name is put into the public domain other complainants come forward. There are many instances of it. I know from my practice that when the name of a priest who was arrested went into the local newspaper, other women came forward who had been to him and to whom he had been their minister. When they knew that others had made a complaint, they came forward. That tendency should not be underestimated."
She has a proposal of her own which she is putting forward via a Private Member's Bill:
"I ask the Minister to consider allowing anybody who is arrested to enjoy the privilege, almost, of not having his or her name published in the press. I believe that we can do that effectively and efficiently while still allowing the prosecution to apply to a judge, depending on the particular circumstances of an offence, for the name to be published. We must allow our judges to exercise their discretion, which they usually do, when they are allowed to do their jobs, particularly well."
Lousie Bagshwe (Corby) agreed with this idea:
Thirteen Conservative MPs - including nine of the new intake - were successful in the Private Member's Bill ballot earlier in the month.
Today sees them formally presenting their Bills for the first time (there won't be any debate at this stage), which are summarised as follows on the parliamentary website:
PUBLIC SERVICES (SOCIAL ENTERPRISE AND SOCIAL VALUE) BILL - Chris White MP (Warwick and Leamington)
"Bill to require the Secretary of State and local authorities to publish strategies in connection with promoting social enterprise; to enable communities to participate in the formulation and implementation of those strategies; to require that public sector contracts include provisions relating to social outcomes and social value."
DAYLIGHT SAVING BILL - Rebecca Harris MP (Castle Point)
"Bill to require the Secretary of State to conduct a cross-departmental analysis of the potential costs and benefits of advancing time by one hour for all, or part of, the year; to require the Secretary of State to take certain action in the light of that analysis."
ESTATES OF DECEASED PERSONS (FORFEITURE RULE AND LAW OF SUCCESSION) BILL - Greg Knight MP (Yorkshire East)
"Bill to amend the law relating to the distribution of the estates of deceased persons."
ANONYMITY (ARRESTED PERSONS) BILL - Anna Soubry MP (Broxtowe)
"Bill to prohibit the publication of certain information regarding persons who have been arrested until they have been charged with an offence; to set out the circumstances where such information can be published without committing an offence."
LEGISLATION (TERRITORIAL EXTENT) BILL - Harriett Baldwin MP (Worcestershire West)
"Bill to require the Secretary of State, when preparing draft legislation for publication, to do so in such a way that the effect of that legislation on England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is separately and clearly identified; to require the Secretary of State to issue a statement to the effect that in his or her view the provisions of the draft legislation are in accordance with certain principles relating to territorial extent."
PLANNING (OPENCAST MINING SEPARATION ZONES) BILL - Andrew Bridgen MP (Leicestershire North West)
"Bill to require planning authorities to impose a minimum distance between opencast mining developments and residential properties."
COINAGE (MEASUREMENT) BILL - Mark Lancaster MP (Milton Keynes North)
"Bill to make provision about the arrangements for measuring the standard weight of coins."
SPORTS GROUNDS SAFETY AUTHORITY BILL - Jonathan Lord MP (Woking)
"Bill to confer further powers on the Football Licensing Authority and to amend its name."
WRECK REMOVAL CONVENTION BILL - Thérèse Coffey MP (Suffolk Coastal)
"Bill to implement the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks 2007."
FACE COVERINGS (REGULATION) BILL - Philip Hollobone MP (Kettering)
"Bill to regulate the wearing of certain face coverings."
PROTECTION OF LOCAL SERVICES (PLANNING) BILL - Nigel Adams MP (Selby and Ainsty)
"Bill to enable local planning authorities to require planning permission prior to the demolition or change of use of premises or land used or formerly used to provide a local service."
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, CRIME AND VICTIMS (AMENDMENT) BILL - Sir Paul Beresford MP (Mole Valley)
"Bill to amend section 5 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 to include serious harm to a child or vulnerable adult; to make consequential amendments to the Act."
SECURED LENDING REFORM BILL - George Eustice MP (Camborne and Redruth)
"Bill to make provision regarding the rights of secured debtors; to reform the rights of certain creditors to enforce their security; to make other provision regarding secured lending."
I have invited them all to write for ConHome explaining why the have chosen to introduce their particular Bill, so I hope to be able to publish some pieces from them in the not too distant future.
"Teesside as a whole needs to re-establish its true identity. Half of my constituency has been in Yorkshire, half in Durham, all was once in Cleveland, and all was also once in Teesside, and now, confusingly, we are told that we are in the Tees valley, although I have yet to find the Tees valley on any standard highways map. In Stockton South we have Durham university and Teesside retail park, but we are served by Cleveland police and Tees Valley Unlimited, and we celebrate Yorkshire day. Should any hon. Members find that perplexing, I invite them to visit that wonderful part of the world, especially over the summer recess—I can assure Members on both sides of the House that even in the north-east, we do indeed have a summer. Of course, they could fly direct into Durham Tees Valley airport—or at least they could have done when we had a direct service, which is another issue I hope to address and be involved with over the coming years. Those of us who were born and raised in Stockton can occasionally be heard to joke that we do not have a county. That joke has worn thin over the years and I hope the new Government recognise the anomaly and work with myself and others to address the current confusion."
"I know that the clock is against me, but I am no stranger to that. For many years, I worked in television so I am used to the ticking arm and the fierce direction of a floor manager and director who told me, in no uncertain terms, to shut up. I also worked as a criminal barrister for 16 years, so I am also used to someone firm in the chair telling me in even firmer terms to shut up, and on those occasions I never argued."
She did nonetheless find time to summarise what she hopes to achieve at Westminster:
"During my time here, it will be an honour and privilege to represent the people of Broxtowe, as others have said about their constituencies. There are many new Members and we bring diverse experiences to the House, but we all hope to play a real part here. We will challenge and hold the Government to account, and we will ask questions whenever we can, but most of all we will represent our constituents. Many of us were selected many years ago and getting here has been a long journey, so we are well aware of the responsibilities that we all bear. We will take great joy and pleasure in representing our constituents and do our very best for them by bringing forward the causes that they all hold dear."