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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My series profiling the backbench groups of Tory MPs has so far mainly featured groups founded or mostly composed of 2010 intake MPs. Last time, I looked at the Thatcherite No Turning Back group, founded in the 1980s. This week's group is somewhere between the two. The Cornerstone Group is the main group whose defining mission is to represent socially conservative Members of Parliament. The group was formed in 2005, and presented some challenges for David Cameron's leadership. In this profile, I'll see how the group is doing now.
Origins of the group
Cornerstone was founded by Edward Leigh and John Hayes, who still chair the group. Leigh has been the MP for Gainsborough since 1983, and is a former Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry, who was sacked for his opposition to Maastricht, and John Hayes, who has been the MP for South Holland and the Deepings since 1997, and the Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning since 2010.
Cornerstone admired the work done during Iain Duncan Smith's time as leader to promote a more communitarian, Burkean conservatism, and wanted to ensure IDS' work on this front was carried on.
When the group launched formally in July 2005, it released a pamphlet, which criticised Michael Howard's election campaign for being too quiet about tax cuts, public service reform and family values. Strongly condemning the personality politics and liberalism of New Labour, Leigh wrote:
"We believe that these values must be stressed: tradition, nation, family, religious ethics, free enterprise ... Emulating New Labour both lacks authenticity and is unlikely to make us popular. We must seize the centre ground and pull it kicking and screaming towards us. That is the only way to demolish the foundations of the liberal establishment and demonstrate to the electorate the fundamental flaws on which it is based."
The group first exerted its influence during the 2005 leadership contest. A group of about twenty Cornerstone supporters interviewed David Cameron, David Davis and Liam Fox. Fox apparently put in the best performance, while David Davis was, reportedly, not able to take criticism well. This meeting, combined with David Davis' alienating stint as the Minister for Europe under Major, and Davis' reluctance to support Iain Duncan Smith's compassionate conservatism programme wholeheartedly, is thought to be why many Cornerstone supporters first voted for Fox, and then switched to Cameron.
By Matthew Barrett
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In my series profiling groups of Tory MPs, most groups I've looked at have been mostly or wholly composed of 2010 intake MPs. The next group is bit different, as it was founded more than 25 years ago. The No Turning Back group has a proud history of celebrating and promoting Thatcherism. How is the group doing now? In this profile, I'll be examining what No Turning Back, the backbench group for Thatcherites in Parliament, is doing now.
Origins of the group
No Turning Back was founded in 1985 to defend Mrs Thatcher's free-market policies. The 25 founding members included, amongst others, now-Deputy Chairman Michael Fallon, now-Defence Minister Gerald Howarth, and the late, great Eric Forth.
The name of the group comes from Mrs Thatcher's famous conference speech given in October 1980:
"To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the “U” turn, I have only one thing to say. “You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning.” I say that not only to you but to our friends overseas and also to those who are not our friends."
There are about 100 members of the group, which is chaired by John Redwood, including "quite a lot" from the 2010 intake. Members include such big beasts as John Redwood, David Davis, Bernard Jenkin, Peter Lilley, Lord Forsyth, and Liam Fox. Current Conservative officeholders who are members of the group include the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith; David Cameron's PPS, Desmond Swayne; Nick Clegg's Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Mark Harper; the Minister of State for Transport, Theresa Villiers; a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, Jonathan Djanogly; three government whips, Angela Watkinson, Mark Francois and Greg Hands; the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, Greg Knight; and the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, John Whittingdale, who was Mrs Thatcher's Political Secretary in the late 1980s.
By Paul Goodman
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There are conflicting views at present about where Conservative Euro-revolts go next. One is that they peaked on the vote over an EU referendum. Another is that they will climb higher if Britain enters any new treaty negotiations without a repatriation of powers proposal. My view is the latter (were the Government to present a bill based on such a treaty).
But either way, it is worth recording briefly that a Government motion relating to future EU budgets was passed yesterday evening without a Tory backbench amendment. Both a source loyal to the Government and a rebel used the same phrase to me yesterday about potential future rebellions - "guerilla warfare".
In other words, they are united in agreeing that rebellions will be back sooner or later, but for the moment there is no appetite for more among most of the 81 Conservative MPs who voted against the Government on the referendum motion. I think that Tracey Crouch's letter to Mark Pritchard last week rather caught the mood.
By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday morning saw Caroline Spelman and her team of ministers getting their four-weekly hour-long questioning by MPs.
Here's a small selection of the issues raised by Conservative MPs.
Peter Bone: The Prime Minister is keen on smaller and more efficient government. If the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills were to take back responsibility for energy, would the Secretary of State think it appropriate for her Department to take back the rest of the climate change responsibilities, because then we could get rid of a whole Department?
Caroline Spelman: If we are talking about efficiency, I can tell my hon. Friend that in my experience, reorganisation—including the attempted reorganisation of local government by the last Administration—is not always the most efficient thing to do.
The MP for the distinctly unrural Fulham and Chelsea, Greg Hands, asked about the extermination of urban foxes, to which the minister, James Paice, replied that "While the extermination of urban foxes, or indeed rural ones, is neither desirable nor possible, problem foxes do need to be controlled. In urban areas, that is the responsibility of the owner or occupier of the property, who can use legal methods to cull or remove foxes."
Their supplementary exchange went as follows:
Greg Hands: Last summer, a number of my constituents were attacked in their own homes by urban foxes, including Annie Bradwell, who lost part of her ear, and Natasha David, who was bitten twice as she slept in her bed. Will the Minister liaise with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to see whether we can change the law so that urban foxes can be treated as vermin in the same way that rats and mice are?
James Paice: I am very happy to talk to the Communities Secretary about that, but I do not think that a change in the law is necessary to enable local authorities to take action. They are not required to do so, but it is perfectly within their remit to take action if they have the kind of problem with the fox population to which my hon. Friend refers.
Claire Perry: Does he agree that if we are to do what we say as a Government and help British farmers, we should put our money where our mouth is and encourage the public sector to buy British?
James Paice: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, which is why the Government will publish Government buying standards very shortly. They will require all of central Government to purchase food produced to British standards wherever that can be done without extra cost, which should not really come into it.
By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday at questions to Eric Pickles and his team of ministers from the Department of Communities and Local Government, a number of Tory MPs took the opportunity to highlight how their local Conservative-run councils are coping with the financial squeeze. Doubtless their local papers will be encouraged to cite the praise heaped upon them by the ministers.
Here's a sample:
Peter Bone (Wellingborough): Northamptonshire county council, East Northamptonshire district council and Wellingborough borough council have all frozen their council tax this year and they are all Conservative controlled. Is it not the case that Conservative councils cost you less and deliver more?
Eric Pickles: What a wonderful slogan. I wonder who first thought of it. [Interruption.] It is indeed mine and what it says has proved to be the case. There is a really strange thing about this whole process. If we match up councils authority by authority, we see that Liberal Democrat and Conservative authorities are protecting the front line, but under Labour authorities the front line is the first one to go, the voluntary sector is the first one to go and the most swingeing cuts are the first thing to happen. It is time that the right hon. Member for Don Valley [Caroline Flint] accepted some responsibility for that.
Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham): Will the Minister join me in congratulating Hammersmith and Fulham council, which, in four years of Conservative control, has reduced its staff by a third, from 4,087 to 2,787, with almost no redundancies? It has cut the communications staff by half and reduced the human resources headcount from 100 to 47, all at a time when its services are rated among the highest in the country.
Bob Neill: Hammersmith and Fulham is an exemplar of how councils with imagination and political courage can deal with the matter. My hon. Friend is right to point out that it has done so-without any significant redundancy-by deleting needless posts.
Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan): Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating and recognising the Vale of Glamorgan council, which is one of two authorities in Wales that have chosen to publish all invoices in excess of £500? The other authority is another Conservative-led council, Newport city council. What influence can my right hon. Friend bring to bear on the Welsh Local Government Minister to force Labour-run and independent-run authorities across Wales to follow their lead and do the same?
Eric Pickles: I am sure my hon. Friend has done more than enough to demonstrate to the people of Wales the desirability of transparency. It is gratifying that every local authority, with the exception of Labour-controlled Nottingham, now trusts the local population with that vital information.
Mel Stride (Central Devon): Conservative-controlled Devon county council has reduced chief executive pay and slimmed down middle and senior management, and it will reduce back-office expenditure by £14 million in 2011-12. Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending its efficiency savings? Does he agree that responsible councils should take such actions in order to protect front-line services?
Eric Pickles: I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating that council. He lays out a valuable lesson. One thing we are discovering in those authorities that are cutting libraries, Sure Start and all front-line services is that none of them has attempted any of the things that his local council has so excellently done.
Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye): Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Conservative-run East Sussex county council, which, after a disappointing grant from the Department for Education, has stepped in with £12 million of capital that it had not planned to give to ensure that the St Leonards academy is rebuilt to provide better education in Hastings?
Eric Pickles: I am always glad to congratulate my hon. Friend's council and have no hesitation in doing so today.
Later, in reply to a complaint from Labour MP Mary Glindon about cuts to the voluntary sector in her local council, the minister Greg Clark delivered a roll call of Tory councils that are dealing with the situation without such cuts:
"I am grateful for the hon. Lady's question. I hope that she recognises that different councils are doing things in different ways. With a maximum cut of 8.8%, there is no reason for any council disproportionately to cut the voluntary sector. I hope that she will look at the examples of positive councils such as Reading, Thurrock, Lancaster, Ipswich, Watford, Stafford, Rugby, Redditch, Crawley and Wolverhampton - 10 councils that are either maintaining or increasing their support to the voluntary sector at this time. She should look at them, and go back to her constituency and talk to her councillors."
By Jonathan Isaby
East Yorkshire MP and Procedure Committee chairman Greg Knight was keen to know what progress there was to report on the electronic petitioning of Parliament:
"Is he aware that as long ago as 2008, this House was promised a debate in Government time on the electronic petitioning of Parliament? It is now nearly 2011 and we are still waiting. When, oh when, can we debate e-petitions?"
Sir George Young indicated that the Government was keen on making this happen:
"He will know that there is a commitment in the coalition agreement to take the issue forward. I hope that my office will be in touch with his Select Committee shortly to indicate how we plan to bridge the gap between House and country by taking forward the agenda of petitions. The commitment is that when a petition reaches 100,000, it will become eligible for a debate in this House. I am anxious to make progress on that agenda."
So before too long, all you'll need is 99,999 friends to agree on an issue and you'll be able to get it debated in Parliament.
Other issues raised at Business Questions by Tory MPs today included:
Lib Dem Collective Responsibility
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a clear statement to be made on ministerial collective responsibility? I appreciate that established conventions might need to be varied to accommodate a coalition Government, with the coalition partners voting differently in certain circumstances, but it surely cannot be right for Ministers, including the Chief Secretary to the Treasury today, to agonise publicly in newspapers about whether they are going to support the Government in the Division Lobby.
Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. It is within his memory and mine that when we had a single-party Government in the 1970s collective responsibility was suspended during the referendum on whether we should stay in the European Community, so there are precedents within single-party Governments for suspending collective responsibility. We have a coalition Government, so some of the normal conventions are not strictly applicable. I draw his attention to section 21 of the coalition agreement, which says in respect of the incident to which I think he is referring, that “arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote.”
Protesters camping out in central London
David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Further to questions about the situation in Parliament square, is my right hon. Friend aware that there are now tents on the pavement outside at least one Government Department? Does he not think that that reflects very badly on the Government, the Greater London authority and the Metropolitan police? Why is this part of Westminster the only area in the whole United Kingdom where people can pitch a tent and not be moved on by the police immediately?
Sir George Young: The short answer is that that is because of a somewhat surprising decision—which, of course, one cannot criticise—made by a magistrate, who decided that that pavement was not a pavement because very few people used it. The good news for my hon. Friend is that we have now published the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which deals specifically with encampments on Parliament square. The measures include a power to allow local authorities to attach a power of seizure to byelaws, to allow them to deal promptly and effectively with the nuisances to which my hon. Friend has just referred.
Labour MP supporting student occupations
Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con): Staying on the subject of higher education, may we also have a debate about Members of the House who are supporting direct action by students? Earlier, I notified the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) that I would be raising this matter. His Twitter feed this morning said: “Support Support The Occupations!....To all the student occupations I send a message of my support and solidarity.” Will my right hon. Friend join me in agreeing that we should be democratically debating the measures rather than taking part in the disruption of our higher education institutions?
Sir George Young: I entirely agree. All hon. Members should act responsibly and should not do anything that encourages unlawful action. I think I read that the hon. Member to whom my hon. Friend refers was going to have a conversation with the Opposition Chief Whip; his future can be safely dealt with by those authoritative hands.
Last night I highlighted the excellent demolition of the Government's handling of the economy by Philip Hammond during yesterday's belated Commons debate on the Pre-Budget Report.
Summing up for the Opposition was his colleague in the Treasury team, Greg Hands, who also put in a robust performance at the Despatch Box.
And this how he concluded the speech, comparing Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and Ed Balls' attitudes to spending to those of drinkers in the pub at chucking-out time:
"When it comes to spending and the deficit, the Government are behaving like a set of habitual drinkers, gathered around a table in a dingy pub as chucking-out time approaches. Everyone else in town, even those in the pub, can see that it is time for them to be slung out, but they are discussing going for one last binge. The way to avoid the hangover, they say, is to carry on drinking to the end.
"The worst offender is the boss himself, sat there with his two mates. Suddenly, the slightly more responsible Chancellor, who is actually the designated driver, weakly suggests that it might be time to stop. Heated discussion ensues: the Chancellor suggests that it is time for the boss to give up entirely, but suddenly, the boss’s best mate of all returns from the bar clutching two bottles of whisky.
"Last orders are approaching for these people. The binge needs to end, the Government need to sober up and the whole country can see that it is time urgently to change course."
Click here to read the whole speech.
"Incredibly, to the best of anyone’s knowledge—this seems to be confirmed in parliamentary questions—our Prime Minister has never met Vladimir Putin since the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister two and a half years ago. The last time that we can be sure that the two men met was in 2006, at a meeting of the G8 Economic Ministers in St. Petersburg. We cannot be entirely sure on this, because 10 Downing street seems to have had a policy in recent times, under the current incumbent, of not answering parliamentary questions about visits or meetings."
In an intervention Labour MP Tom Watson protested that "the President of Russia is actually President Medvedev". Mr Hands insisted that Putin remains the real power in the nation:
"Of course it is important also to engage with the current President, but no one should be under any illusion as to who is really in charge in Russia. I was going to say that our Prime Minister has met President Medvedev at perhaps three different international summits in the past two years, but to the best of my knowledge, there have not been proper bilateral meetings at any of those summits."
The Equitable Life scandal was rightly prioritised by Conservative members, who leapt on Economic Secretary to the Treasury Ian Pearson, who had this to say:
"I am very disappointed that the Public Administration Committee should choose to obscure the real help that it accepts the Government’s payments scheme will deliver under extreme headlines, seemingly driven by an uncritical acceptance of the findings of the ombudsman’s report and by its unjustifiable and irresponsible characterisation of the manner of the Government’s response. [ Interruption. ] As a Government, we do not depart lightly from any of the ombudsman’s findings, but— [ Interruption. ]
Ian Pearson: The Government do not depart lightly from any of the ombudsman’s findings, but in such an important and complex case we have a clear duty to the taxpayer to ensure that our response is informed by a proper and comprehensive consideration of her report. That is what we have done and, as I have indicated previously, we want to move forward with an ex gratia payment scheme just as quickly as possible. We are talking to Sir John Chadwick about the advice that he is providing."
South Staffordshire's Sir Patrick Cormack (above right) was appalled:
"Is the Minister aware that he has just made one of the most shameful statements to have been made from that Dispatch Box in many years? He has rubbished a Committee presided over by one of his own greatly respected colleagues, and discounted the unprecedented second letter from the ombudsman that we all received this week. He has had no support from the Benches behind him, as not a single Labour Member has risen to echo his words. He should be deeply ashamed of himself, because he is bringing the Government and the whole system into disrepute.
Ian Pearson: I have a lot of respect for the hon. Gentleman, who has a very long track record of upholding standards in this House, but we have departed from the ombudsman’s findings only where we have clear and cogent reasons for doing so. We have applied scrupulously the terms of the Parliamentary Commissioners Act 1967, as interpreted by the Court of Appeal in the Bradley judgment. For no other reasons have we departed from those findings. I have to say that I remain very disappointed indeed that the PAC does not appear to have understood some of the arguments that we have made to it."
(The Public Administration Committee is chaired by Dr Tony Wright.)
I have been remiss in not reporting on Shadow Scottish Secretary David Mundell's Scottish Banknotes (Acceptability in United Kingdom) Bill, which had its second reading on Friday.
Mr Mundell told the House of Commons:
"My constituents were instrumental in the Bill’s inception. After my position in the ballot for private Members’ Bills was announced, I sought their views on what piece of legislation I might introduce. The acceptance or, I should say, non-acceptance of Scottish banknotes was certainly to the fore. It was an issue with which I was personally familiar and a problem, at least anecdotally, that most Scots have experienced. There is also a phenomenon to which my constituency of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale bears witnesses. My constituency has as its backbone the M74 corridor linking central Scotland with the north of England. Increasingly, people who are heading back to England, having spent time in Scotland and found themselves in possession of Scottish banknotes, are going to local banks and businesses and asking to have their Scottish notes changed to Bank of England notes, for fear that they will run into difficulty with the use of the Scottish notes back in England. My constituents deal politely with such requests when they can be accommodated, but they are irked by the implicit suggestion that there is something wrong with the Scots notes.
The Bill is not designed to force unwilling retailers to take Scottish banknotes or to impose draconian sanctions on anyone who does not. I am very aware of the regulation that business faces already, and I want less regulation, not more. Unnecessary additional burdens are to be avoided. The Bill simply seeks to put Scottish notes on an equal footing with any other banknote that is accepted.
All Members will have seen Scottish banknotes, and some will even have used them daily, but few will have considered all the issues that are being aired today. If they have not had cause to ponder them before, they might believe that the deeper significance of Scottish banknotes does not resonate with the public. However, I would tell them that the existence of Scottish banknotes is one of those things that we see before us every day but take for granted. Only when Governments have conspired to do away with them, either through carelessness or small-mindedness, has the attention of the public and the media flashed on to what they stand for. Only then do we realise the historical, cultural and promotional value that the notes have in addition to their monetary value.
In February 2008 Hammersmith & Fulham MP Greg Hands (now a Shadow Treasury Minister) filed a complaint with Standards Commissioner John Lyon about Gordon Brown. Today the Prime Minister has been found by the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee to have inadvertently broken the rules relating to the sub-letting of taxpayer funded constituency offices.
The Prime Minister and MSP Marilyn Livingstone rented part of their office to the Labour Party. The Committee says:
"We conclude that Mr Brown should not have sub-let part of his accommodation paid for from Parliamentary allowances. However, neither Mr Brown nor the Labour Party derived any financial benefit from this arrangement and there was no intention to deceive. We accept that Mr Brown's breach of the rules of the House was inadvertent and that he took steps to rectify it as soon as it was drawn to his attention. Mr Brown has apologised and in our view no further action is necessary."
Mr Hands has commented too:
“I welcome the Committee's report and accept Gordon Brown's apology for breaking Commons rules on office sub-lets. It does not appear that the Prime Minister has personally profited from the breach, and he did quickly rectify the situation when it was brought to his attention by my complaint and by the media.
It is ironic that the rules breached were those introduced after the resignation in shame of Henry McLeish as First Minister of Scotland, who was found to be subletting his Parliamentary office ('a muddle not a fiddle'). Brown's case is different in that there has been no suggestion of personal gain, but nevertheless the case is a reminder that the Prime Minister and all members of the Government that they are also Members of Parliament, and they need to obey important parliamentary rules like these."
In the latest edition of Hansard, the Prime Minister gives some rather terse responses to written questions put down by Conservative members.
Chichester MP Andrew Tyrie asked about special advisers:
"To ask the Prime Minister how many expert advisers, excluding special advisers, have been commissioned by his Office since June 2007; and on which topics they have advised. 
Here is that answer:
"Mr. Tyrie: To ask the Prime Minister what expert advisers have been commissioned by his Office since 1997; on what topic each was commissioned; and whether the adviser so appointed made a declaration of political activity in each case. 
The Prime Minister: Since 2003, the Government have published on an annual basis the names and overall cost of special advisers and the number in each pay band. Updated information will be published in the usual way."
Shadow Environment minister Greg Barker wanted to know - perfectly reasonably - what the Prime Minister's team is doing about energy and climate issues:
"To ask the Prime Minister what work the No. 10 Policy Directorate (a) has undertaken and (b) plans to undertake on energy and climate-related matters. 
That answer is absurdly brief, and pretty much tautologous.
Greg Hands: "I am not someone who is opposed per se to European co-operation or even to the pooling of sovereignty in certain areas such as, for example, in the administration of trade policy. But I believe that any new and/or significant transfer of power to Brussels needs to fulfil two important criteria. The first is that the British people must vote democratically for it to happen; the second is that the ensuing structures and processes in Europe must themselves be democratic. Both are crucial, yet neither is being fulfilled by the treaty that we will be considering at length this Session.
I wanted to focus my comments less on the process—it does not really need to be said any longer that the process of arriving at this treaty has been deeply dishonest and full of subterfuge, practised both by those proposing the new treaty and by the Government here in the lead-up to signing it—and principally on the contents. We are in danger of becoming too fixated on manifesto pledges and red lines—important though they are—and we need to get across what is wrong with this treaty and how it is against British interests. I will outline seven areas of particular concern.
The first was talked about at length by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague); the role of the new EU President. As he rightly pointed out, the federalist vision is that the position be eventually merged with that of the President of the Commission. Giscard d’Estaing said: “We will probably have to have at least two executives in the beginning”.
The UK fought in the drafting of the constitution against any merging, but the new treaty will allow for it. The final text states only that: “the President of the European Council should not hold national office”
but it is quite possible for him or her to be the President of the Commission. Suddenly we would have a very powerful head of the Executive, combining the roles of the President of the Council and of the Commission, but crucially he or she would be unelected either by the peoples of Europe or even by the Parliaments."
More from Hansard here.