By Matthew Barrett
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Guido Fawkes has a list of new Conservative members of Select Committees, from Graham Brady's office. Mr Brady explains: "For the following committees I have received the same number of nominations as there are vacancies, the following are therefore elected". The appointments are:
Communities and Local Government
John Stevenson (Carlisle), replacing George Hollingbery (Meon Valley), who became PPS to Theresa May at the reshuffle.
Chris Skidmore (Kingswood), replacing Damian Hinds (East Hampshire), who became PPS to Mark Francois, the Minister of State for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans.
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole), replacing Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich), who was made the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Health Services.
By Matthew Barrett
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After last week's reshuffle of the Secretaries and Ministers of State, and this week's reshuffle of Parliamentary Private Secretaries, it's possible to investigate the state of a dying breed: the backbenchers who've always been loyal. The list below features the Conservative MPs who meet the following criteria:
By Peter Hoskin
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If Enid Blyton were writing the story of British politics this month, it might be called Five Go Hunting For Growth. After all, on 13th September, five plucky, relatively young members of the 2010 intake will be publishing a book stuffed full of prescriptions for our ailing economy and the country that surrounds it. That book is Britannia Unchained. The five MPs are Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss.
We heard from these five over the summer, in a slightly unfortunate preview of the book in the Evening Standard. But they’re strikingly prominent as well today, as MPs return to Westminster for the autumn. Kwasi Kwarteng provides the first entry in a series of Telegraph articles from “leading young Tory MPs”, in which he argues against economic defeatism and for a “new ‘no compromise’ strategy for our economy as a whole”. And elsewhere, Mr Kwarteng is tipped to become “the UK’s first black Prime Minister,” while Dominic Raab and Liz Truss also receive good notices, in a survey of Westminster lobbyists.
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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4pm update: People's Pledge sources tells me that Anne Marie Morris, the MP for Newton Abbot has come out in support of a referendum.
Mike Freer, the MP for Finchley and Golders Green, has also backed a referendum. This is significant because Freer was not one of the 81 rebels, but has now come round to the view that Britain should have an in/out European referendum.
These two new additions to the list of MPs supporting the People's Pledge means 68 MPs - from several parties - back a referendum.
Following on from their successful referendum campaign in Thurrock - turnout was higher than in the recent local elections - The People's Pledge campaign have announced further referendums, to be held in 3 contiguous seats. The campaign has announced a shortlist of 39 seats, grouped in 13 contiguous triples, from different regions, from which one triplet will be chosen in the next few days, with a polling date set for late July.
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 Joseph Willits
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In yesterday's Adjournment debate before the start of the Christmas recess, a mix of topics were raised by MPs.
Chris Skidmore MP (Kingswood), who also wrote on ConservativeHome yesterday about making history a compulsory subject for under-16s, spoke of the study of history reaching a record low. Skidmore said that "in 77 local authorities fewer than one in five pupils is passing history GCSE". Despite these figures already being low enough as it is, there was a need to break them down, he said, "because in places such as Knowsley under 8% of pupils are passing history GCSE".
"Often it is the Daily Mail or academics who discuss what type of history should be studied in schools, whose history should be studied, how history should be studied in the curriculum, whether we should have a narrative form of history or a more interpretive form of history that looks at sources, and whether history should be seen as a framework of facts."
Whilst this debate was important, he warned of history "becoming a subject of two nations" and Britain's isolation in Europe, if people were not united in the view "that history is a crucial subject that binds us as one nation".
By Jonathan Isaby
Last month the Government published its ambitious Welfare Reform Bill and I wrote about it at the time here.
Yesterday the Bill had its Second Reading debate in the Commons and here is a flavour of the warm welcome it got from the Tory backbenches.
Several MPs took the opportunity to expand on the problems of the status quo.
Chris Skidmore (Kingswood)
"I welcome the Bill, which marks a point at which we can send out this message: we cannot continue to spend on welfare as we have previously. Instead, we need to understand that there is no such thing as Government money, free to be given out; there is only hard-earned taxpayers' money, which in these difficult times needs to be spent with caution and care. Over the past 13 years, we saw no evidence of that caution, as the total annual expenditure on benefits mushroomed to £152 billion. Every year, £5.2 billion was lost in overpayments, of which £1.5 billion was lost to fraud. Some £3.5 billion was spent annually on administration costs and paperwork alone. As we have heard from the Minister, other benefits rose, with the cost of housing benefit having increased from £11 billion to £20 billion since 1997. That is simply unsustainable and we must act."
George Hollingbery (Meon Valley)
"There are more than 30 different benefits out there that can be claimed. There are 14 manuals in the Department for Work and Pensions, with 8,690 pages of instructions for officials. There is a separate set of four volumes for local government, with 1,200 pages covering housing and council tax benefits alone. That is an astonishingly byzantine system. One of my constituents, Nigel Oakland, wrote to me: "Nobody at the Jobcentre Plus can explain if it is beneficial if I continue to sign on. The last advice I was given is that I should Google the question." In such a situation, where even the experts at Jobcentre Plus cannot answer the questions that arise, we are clearly in difficulty.
"It is confusing for clients. There is a 30-page form for housing and council tax benefit, including three pages of declarations. Employment and support allowance requires a 52-page form; jobseeker's allowance, 12 online sections, each of five to 10 pages long; and disability living allowance, a 60-page form. Is it any wonder that people become confused and fill in the forms incorrectly and make mistakes? The system is extraordinarily expensive to administer. The DWP spent £2 billion last year administering working-age benefits, and local authorities a further £l billion administering housing benefit and council tax benefit. Even the tiny citizens advice bureau in Bishop's Waltham, a town of 5,000 people in a rural and relatively affluent part of Hampshire, processed 2,176 queries about benefits in 2009-10, advising people how to claim them."
Julian Sturdy (York Outer)
"Over the past 10 years the welfare budget has grown disproportionately, by more than £56 billion. Despite that huge increase, almost 1.5 million people have been on out-of-work benefit for nine of those 10 years. Despite years of economic growth, job creation and increases in the welfare budget, a whole group of people have never worked at all. It is therefore time to review this broken system. After all, the simple truth is that Britain's welfare arteries are clogged up. Too little support is reaching those truly in need and too much is being lost in bureaucratic incompetence-even more worryingly, it is being lost on people who should not be in receipt of such support at all. In essence, the whole culture of our welfare system is wrong; the cost of maintaining it is out of control and the decision-making processes within it are woefully inefficient. The Bill is therefore right to focus on incentivising pathways back to work by ensuring that employment always pays more than benefits. That is fundamental to the Bill and, as a simple Yorkshire man, I feel that it is basic common sense."
"It is a sad but well-known fact that the current system discourages those in low-paid jobs from increasing their hours, as rates of tax and benefit reductions often leave them worse off. This ridiculous situation helps only to dampen aspiration while increasing dependency in the benefits system as a whole. In addition, hard-working, taxpaying families, who are feeling the squeeze in these difficult economic times, should not subsidise the small but still significant number of people in our society who see the welfare system as a career choice. That must stop. By annually capping benefits, withdrawing support from those who refuse to work and increasing the financial incentives for those who do work, the Bill includes specific measures that will make work pay."
By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday the Commons used the time allocated by the Backbench Business Committee to debate the issue of immigration. Here is a selection of excerpts from the contributions of Conservative backbenchers...
"People have been afraid to discuss this crucial issue, which, happily, we are now beginning to address. Why is that? It is because people have been concerned about being viewed as intolerant-as bigots, even-if they raise the issue of immigration publicly. We all know that Britain is not a bigoted nation. The British people are not and have never been bigots.
"It is not bigoted to be genuinely concerned about how our local schools might cope with increasing school rolls or about how teachers can keep discipline with several different languages being spoken in the classroom. It is not bigoted to be genuinely concerned about the pressures being placed on the NHS by population expansion and how local hospital services will cope with the increased demands placed on them. Nor is it bigoted to be genuinely concerned about how all our local services-our infrastructure-might be able to cope with an increased population."
"The lesson that all three parties learned from the general election was that the issue needed to be debated. Happily, it was debated at the end of the general election, although it should have been brought forward sooner. It is clear to me that it is only right and responsible for us to act now to protect our public services and local infrastructure. It is clear that we can no longer go on as we were, with a policy of uncontrolled immigration and net migration reaching almost 200,000."
Many of the new intake gave their maiden speeches during Thursday's debate on poverty.
"Over the past few days, I have sat through many speeches, many of which have been excellent. That is testimony to the talent that many hon. Members bring to the House. However, I have been struck by how many hon. Members opposite have felt the need to blame the present problems facing our nation on the events of the 1980s. What we need is not a history lesson, however inaccurate. The past, whatever our respective views upon it, will not provide us with an answer. We need to look forward and to understand that now, in this the second decade of the 21st century, we still do not have all the answers and solutions needed to tackle the desperate poverty still afflicting many areas of our nation.
"We will only begin to find these answers if we begin to seek to answer the right questions: how is it that, despite billions of pounds spent, in the past 13 years, the gap between the richest and the poorest has widened? How is it that, despite the state taking an ever interfering role in the lives of local neighbourhoods and communities, local people feel increasingly powerless over the decisions that matter in their own lives? And how is it that those men and women who once believed proudly in the value of work and the life-affirming capacity that it brings are being forced to stay at home and claim benefits for fear of losing the welfare on which they have become dependent?
"It is clear that the state and its money are not always the best solution. Poverty cannot simply be measured in pounds and pence. Those in desperate need cannot be measured by a line on a graph. Each has their own problems and concerns that cannot be met unless we, in the tradition of Whitefield and Wesley, reach out beyond our confines and not just listen, but hear, what they have to say. I do not have an answer to the complex problems that I know the right hon. Member for Birkenhead [Frank Field] will attempt to tackle. I merely know that the direction of the previous Government has not worked."
"We have a magnificent heritage of industry and manufacture, but the loss of that industry has been a source of rising unemployment and, indeed, poverty. Warwick and Leamington has many pockets of deprivation, and that is why I would rather make my maiden speech in this debate than in any other.
"In 2005 the jobseeker’s allowance claimant count was 884; it is now 2,166. The story of one of my constituents sums up the unfairness that many see in the current system. Having been made unemployed, she claimed jobseeker’s allowance, council tax benefit and housing benefit. As someone who wanted to work, she did the responsible thing and sought new employment, and after much searching she found a job in a nearby constituency, just over 10 miles away. She earned about £120 for a 20-hour week, and with rent of £30 a week and council tax of £12 a week to pay, she was left £11 a week better off. Unfortunately, travelling to work cost her £18 a week, which meant that, unbelievably, she was made worse off by trying to do the right thing.
"At a time when people speak of the need for higher pay and bonuses to attract people in top jobs, surely it cannot be right for people at the bottom to be given no encouragement to move into employment when they see that they will receive no financial benefit from their labours. We need to create new jobs locally. That is easier said than done, but there are reasons for great optimism. Warwick and Leamington has massive potential to attract new and diverse industry and create new jobs, not least in the thriving video games industry and the green economy, which are our particular strengths. Once we assembled parts for the automotive sector. What is to prevent us from using the same skills to assemble solar panels? The seeds of future growth are here, and we must create the environment in which they can flourish.
"The example of my constituent shows that it is not a question of people being unwilling to work; those who refuse to work can be penalised for not doing so. It is a question of making it financially beneficial to people who understand the benefits of working in terms of self-confidence, self-belief and social standing. Last Friday, I visited both the jobcentre and the citizens advice bureau. We must do all we can to reduce their work load and to reduce the anxieties that have been brought on by spiralling debt and crushing welfare dependency."