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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It's the London Marathon tomorrow, and five Conservative MPs have decided to take on the great task of completing it for charity. Last year, Edward Timpson and Stephen Crabb ran the Marathon, and this year, Timpson is competing again - with four other MPs who will join more than 35,000 other runners on the 26-mile course through the capital. The runners - and their charity causes - are listed below:
“Running a marathon is both a physical and mental challenge but it is well worth undertaking when you weigh up the benefits you can bring to people through the funds you raise. This year I am running my eighth marathon for Climb (Children Living with Inherited Metabolic Diseases) with my wife Julia who is also the charity’s patron. Climb does some truly excellent work in helping those living with metabolic diseases and is the only charity to do so nationally. Marathons are a great way for MPs to help raise the profiles of some great causes and I am glad to see so many of my Conservative colleagues taking part this year.”
You can sponsor Edward and his wife here.
Lopresti, who is currently serving as an Army Reservist, and has previously run the Camp Bastion Half Marathon, said:
“I’m not really built for running so have undertaken a fairly gruelling training schedule since before Christmas. But it will all be worth it, I’m really looking forward to taking part in my first full marathon with 35,000 other runners and I want to raise as much money as I can for my chosen charity. I’m running for Action for Children, a charity that works with the most disadvantaged youngsters and provides them with the foundations and support to build their lives and prosper. I don’t really have a target but around 5 hours would be fantastic. Of course I am nervous, but I am also excited. Nerves are a good thing.”
Jack's sponsorship page is here.
By Joseph Willits
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Yesterday, Jessica Lee MP (Erewash) secured a Westminster Hall debate on the issue of adoption. Adoption levels in the UK, she said "should cause alarm bells to ring" after only 60 children out of 3,660 in care were placed in homes. Lee said it was crucial to "seize the opportunity", and described the "momentum in the House and the country to tackle the challenges affecting the adoption process".
Lee drew on both the experiences of Michael Gove (who discussed how adoption "transformed his life" in the Daily Mail), and Cameron's commitment to making the "process of adoption and fostering simpler". Richard Graham (Gloucester) praised the Government for "showing real leadership on the issue of tackling these problems".
In response to Lee's question at PMQs on 2nd November, Cameron said the adoption process had "become too bureaucratic and difficult, and the result is that it is putting people off. I am absolutely determined that we crack this".
Yesterday evening, Edward, together with Henry Bellingham from our front bench, forced the Government to climb down over the courts, families and reporting.
The details are perhaps hard to follow. But the big picture issue is simple to grasp: family courts and reporting restrictions. Camilla Cavendish of the Times and others campaigned to reform court procedures – arguing that they were so restrictive as to be “the secret state that steals our children”.
Last April, the Government allowed the gist – through not the substance – of County Courts and the High Court family proceedings to be reported for the first time.
Ministers proposed a two-part further easing of restrictions in the Children, Schools and Families Bill. First, they’d further loosen the reporting reins if the bill becomes law. Second, they’d allow a further loosening once the Lord Chancellor had carried out a review – after a minimum of a further 18 months.
The proposals weren’t considered in committee. So yesterday, at report stage, Henry and Edward argued in their “new clause 2” that the review should be independent – not undertaken by the Lord Chancellor. And that pilots of anonymised judgements should be completed before the start of the review.
The Minister, Bridget Prentice, began by saying just after 8.30pm that she had “no objection” to the new clause in principle, that there was “much to be said for some of things in it”, but that it was “unnecessary” because Government amendments would meet the same aims.
Just after 8.45pm, Edward pointed out that there was no guarantee in the bill as drafted that the pilots would be completed before the independent review takes place.
A few minutes later, Henry pressed the Minister again. She caved in:
“I am with the honourable gentleman – I accept new clause 2.”
So if the bill - or at least these parts of it – pass through Parliament, there will be an independent review of the loosening of family court reporting restrictions based on the assessment of evidence. And all because of the persistence of two MPs on the floor of the Commons – one of them the backbench winner of a by-election.
Who says that the Chamber doesn’t matter?
Here are the highlights from yesterday's Children, Schools and Families questions.
Buckingham MP John Bercow advocated a more liberal exclusion policy:
"Of course, schools sometimes mistake disability for disobedience. Children with special educational needs are nine times more likely to be permanently excluded from school, and the Government are rightly committed to reducing the incidents of such exclusions. In the light of that, will the Under-Secretary of State consider the merit of amending the law so that a child with SEN or disability may be permanently excluded from school only if a review has taken place of the sufficiency and effectiveness of the reasonable adjustments that have been made under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to seek to accommodate that pupil?
Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I pay tribute to his expertise in this area of special educational needs, and we certainly share his passion and commitment to promoting improved outcomes for children with SEN and disabilities. I am, of course, aware that he has a private Member’s Bill that is due for its Second Reading on 15 May. I believe that that is one proposal that may be considered in it. We certainly look forward to debating that."
By contrast Shadow Minister for Children Tim Loughton stressed the importance of protecting pupils from violence:
"Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Government figures last year revealed that there was a drop of 13 per cent. in permanent exclusions between 2003 and 2007 despite a 50 per cent. increase in the number of children suspended for five times or more— 867 of them excluded for 10 times or more—at a time that saw 4,370 fixed exclusions for serious racist abuse and more than 207,000 serious offences, such as sexual abuse and violence. Yet, in no fewer than 40 per cent. of appeals against permanent exclusions, reinstatement was upheld so that pupils could return to the scene of their offences with impunity, most of them having nothing to do with SEN. Does the Minister think it right that a pupil who has been excluded for violent crime, racist or sexual abuse should be readmitted to schools under any circumstances against the better judgment of the head or the governors?
Sarah McCarthy-Fry: We are certainly committed to backing head teachers’ authority when pupils’ behaviour warrants exclusion. Last year, the number of successful appeals was just 1.2 per cent. of all permanent exclusions, so we must get this in balance. We obviously recognise, and we have said in response to Alan Steer's report, that repeated suspension should lead to permanent exclusion. We are certainly giving back head teachers authority in that."
The Children, Schools and Families Select Committee has published a report today on the National Curriculum. Three Conservative members of the Committee - Graham Stuart, Edward Timpson and Douglas Carswell - have published a minority report.
They argue that that the National Curriculum has failed, and that "a major rethink is needed". They say that "the curriculum has reduced the ability of teachers to do their jobs as respected professionals or to innovate. Inflexibility and constraint have been the hallmarks of the national curriculum under every administration." The report recommends:
"a) A national curriculum that sets out broad goals to be reached by the age of 16. The curriculum would set out a framework of the core subjects and would include no further instruction as to what aspects of those subjects should be taught or how subjects should be taught.
b) All schools, as well as independent schools and academies, would be free to opt out of the national curriculum where their governing bodies voted to do so and were supported by a majority of parents who would vote in a ballot. This would act as a safety valve against further interference with and overloading of the national curriculum.
c) The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is ineffective and should be scrapped or much reduced in size. In its place, each university would be invited to send a representative to a “National Curriculum Board.”"
Mr Stuart has added this comment:
"The National Curriculum as it currently stands has had its day. Ministers and unelected quangos have used it to meddle and interfere over what is taught in classrooms, instead of trusting the instincts and professionalism of teachers. If we are to have a curriculum at all it should be a significantly scaled down version that sets out a number of broad aspirations and goals and doesn't try to micro-manage every day of a child's life. It's also vital that schools have the option to opt out of the curriculum altogether, if parents and school governors so wish. This will be an essential valve to stop future governments, of whichever colour, imposing more central direction on schools. Overall we need to get out of the current mindset that Ministers know best. This has stifled innovation in schools and damaged the quality of learning that is provided to the nation's children."
I agree with the trio that something has to give. Under normal circumstances I think all kids should learn English, maths, British history and some science, but the current system is far too prescriptive.
There needs to be proper controls on and scrutiny of teachers, but in the final analysis schools will only work if teachers are given their heads and allowed to flourish. That's the way to let pupils flourish too.
There was an Opposition Day Debate on the Royal Mail in the House of Commons yesterday. Shadow Business Secretary Ken Clarke moved:
"That this House welcomes the Hooper review of UK postal services; and urges the Government to implement rapidly the review’s proposals for the partial privatisation of Royal Mail."
But despite this support from the Conservatives a Government amendment was drafted, stating that the House:
"“notes the threats to the future of the Royal Mail and welcomes the conclusion of the Hooper Report that, as part of a plan to place the Royal Mail on a sustainable path for the future, the current six days a week universal service obligation (USO) must be protected, that the primary duty of a new regulator should be to maintain the USO, and that the Government should address the growing pensions deficit; notes that modernisation in the Royal Mail is essential and that investment must be found for it; endorses the call for a new relationship between management and postal unions; urges engagement with relevant stakeholders to secure the Government’s commitment to a thriving and prosperous Royal Mail, secure in public ownership, that is able to compete and lead internationally and that preserves the universal postal service; further notes the Conservatives’ failure to invest in Royal Mail when they were in power in contrast with Labour’s support for both Royal Mail and the Post Office; and notes that legislation on these issues will be subject to normal parliamentary procedures.”
Two Conservative MPs - Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury & Atcham) and Edward Timpson (Crewe & Nantwich) - voted against the Conservative motion - and then abstained on the Government amendment.
Last October Mr Timpson slammed the Royal Mail for its proposals to transfer around 460 jobs from Crewe to Warrington. Mr Kawczynski recently gave staff from the Shrewsbury Royal Mail sorting office a tour of the Palace of Westminster before holding a surgery with them.
Update: Mr Kawczynski told ConservativeHome:
"After four years in Parliament and never having voted against my party, I felt I had to in this case. I am in favour of the Post Office remaining in state hands and will not vote for any measure which would wholly or partly privatise it. I have a regular meetings with staff at the huge sorting office in Shrewsbury, which covers Shropshire and a large part of Wales. I have a special strong bond with the workers at the sorting office and I will do everything I can to protect their jobs. I think that privatisation could lead to job losses there, and that's one of the reasons I voted the way I did."
Further update: Mr Timpson has given ConservativeHome the following statement:
"Crewe sorting office has been earmarked for closure, with little consultation from Royal Mail. This will result in a loss of up to 600 local jobs, with the majority of staff unable to relocate. The impact on both them and their families at a time of recession would be devastating. They do not oppose modernisation of their industry. Like them, I have found Royal Mail managers and the Minister for Postal Affairs to be disinterested and dismissive rather than concerned with the plight of workers at this time of recession. They have used the Hooper Report as an excuse to retrospectively justify their behaviour. I cannot therefore welcome a report that is being used as a stick with which to beat the third largest workforce in my constituency. They deserve better than the atrocious treatment they have received."
Edward Timpson, newly-elected MP for Crewe & Nantwich (you may have heard about the by-election!), made his maiden speech yesterday:
"Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make what is my maiden speech.
I wish to speak briefly on the Bill before the House, but before doing so, I want to pay tribute to my predecessor. For 34 years, Gwyneth Dunwoody served Crewe, from 1974 until 1983, and thereafter Crewe and Nantwich, with unwavering dedication and distinction. The longest-serving female Member of Parliament, Gwyneth Dunwoody was not only a truly great parliamentarian, but a uniquely formidable fighter. She stood up and fought for all her constituents and was steadfast in her belief in, and defence of, the independence of this House.
Gwyneth Dunwoody had a clear sense of what an MP is for and never wavered from her core beliefs. I am sure that hon. Members from all parties will agree that her enduring spirit, acerbic wit and unstinting passion for the Parliament and the people she served will for ever remain within the fabric of this House. We all owe her a great debt. As it is a privilege and honour to follow in her footsteps, so it is a privilege and honour to represent the good people of Crewe and Nantwich. I make known my gratitude to them for sending me here and I hope that I can repay their trust.
In the normal course of events, I would now seize the opportunity to take the House on a journey across my constituency. However, the events of my election were anything but normal. Many, if not all, hon. Members have already had the great pleasure of having visited Crewe and Nantwich in the last six weeks—most, I trust, of their own volition. Some Members had the undoubted advantage of moving into my constituency for the duration of the by-election, a worthy experience that I am sure will remain with them. Nevertheless, I ask the House to allow me a few moments to remind them of its many and varied qualities. What I hope they found was a place blessed with a strong and proud community and a deep and diverse heritage, together with people of frank honesty and open decency, for certainly that is true."