By Paul Goodman
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It might be assumed that the overwhelming majority of Tory MPs are adamantly opposed to prisoners voting.
Not so - at least, if yesterday's Commons statement is anything to go by.
By my count, David Davis, Gerald Howarth, Nick de Bois, Eleanor Laing, Peter Bone, James Clappison, Christopher Chope, Henry Bellingham, Roger Gale, Robert Halfon, Henry Bellingham, Roger Gale, David Ruffley, Dan Byles, Andrew Bridgen, David Nuttall, and Glyn Davies all made points either about Parliamentary sovereignty or the Court itself.
Caroline Dinenage, Philip Hollobone, Mark Menzies, James Pawsey, Neil Parish, Michael Ellis, and Justin Tomlinson all made arguments against prisoners being given the right to vote - seven MPs in total.
By contrast, I count five of their Conservative colleagues suggesting that at least some prisoners should be given the right to vote. This claim will perhaps not be believed unless their contributions are quoted in full below.
Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): Just because there may be a bipartisan consensus does not mean that it is right or rational, and it certainly does not include me. May I volunteer to serve on this Joint Committee, and may I ask those who give evidence the following? Is denying the vote to someone who has been sentenced to jail after being convicted of a crime a deterrent? It clearly is not. Is it a punishment, given that most criminals have not voted in their lives? Is it a penance? Or is it part of rehabilitation? Having discussed Strasbourg, we ought to start discussing why we are doing this to prisoners.
Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to nail the myth about the so-called blanket ban? We do not have a blanket ban in this country; remand prisoners, contemnors and fine defaulters retain the right to vote. Will he assure me that it is for this Parliament to consider a range of options, which I hope the Joint Committee will consider carefully?
Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Should we not set store by precedent? Am I right in believing that when we signed up to the convention, before the 1960s, those serving as misdemeanours for fewer than six months were allowed to vote but felons serving for more than six months could not? Of course we must be sovereign, but is that not the sort of compromise that could be reached to ensure our continued membership of the Council of Europe?
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I draw the House’s attention to my recently published book on prison reform. I have represented hundreds of people who were in prison, not one of whom ever said to my good self that they were busting for a chance to vote; I assure the Secretary of State that that was not the intention of many I represented. What is the proposal in the option for considering short sentences of a few weeks or even a few days in custody?
Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend say that he will uphold our obligations under international law. I welcome the middle option of six months or fewer as something that those of us who are not implacably opposed to prisoners having the right to vote under any circumstances could consider. Will he qualify that further and comment on whether further restrictions could be added to that option—for example, eliminating from the list of eligible people those who have a record of violence or taking into consideration their previous convictions?
By Matthew Barrett
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Robert Halfon, the Member of Parliament for Harlow, and one of the most successful campaigning MPs in Parliament, has organised a motion, backed by 60 MPs from all parties, and including 41 Tories, calling for the Office of Fair Trading to investigate allegations of price-fixing by British oil companies. The full motion is worded as follows:
"That this House urges the OFT to investigate oil firms active in the UK; calls on the Government to consider the emergency actions being taken in other G20 nations to cut fuel prices, for example President Obama strengthening Federal supervision of the U.S. oil market, and increasing penalties for “market manipulation”, and Germany and Austria setting up a new oil regulator, with orders to help stabilise the price of petrol in the country; finally urges the Office of Fair Trading to note that the Federal Cartel Office in Germany is now investigating oil firms active in the UK, after allegations of price-fixing."
By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday evening a debate was held on regional pay. I blogged earlier this week on why I don't think the Government will introduce regional pay bargaining - and the Commons debate last night certainly didn't dispel my theory. After initial pro-regional pay contributions to the debate from Elizabeth Truss, Mike Freer, Margot James, Aidan Burley, and Andrea Leadsom, Guy Opperman, the Member for Hexham rose. He said:
"There are two key arguments in the debate, the first of which is economic. Having worked as a legal aid barrister or state prosecutor for 15 years .... It was during that time that I saw the effects of local pay, as it is described, and took into account the argument of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) ... who first contemplated it in 2003 and then forced it on the Courts Service in 2007. As with so many of the right hon. Gentleman’s economic policies, I see little evidence that local pay was a success. I have tried to study the economic argument behind it ... I do not support such arguments, which are obscure at best and have not been shown to work in real terms. Also—surely this is the crucial point—it is not supported by businesses in my constituency, none of which has come to me to press for it."
"In our region, the Humber, we cannot get NHS workers to come and work and have to consider paying them more. A few years ago we could not get teachers to teach in the city of Hull and had to give them an enhanced salary to do it. Whatever the economics, the reality is that we cannot get some public sector workers to come to our region. How we would do that if we paid them even less is beyond me."
By Tim Montgomerie
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One of the most encouraging things about today's Conservative Party is the liveliness of the Class of 2010. Starting tomorrow Matthew Barrett will be looking at the work of different backbench groups but here's a summary of some of the more interesting projects and thoughts launched by some of our newest MPs in recent days. I've arranged the list alphabetically...
First I direct you to a piece in yesterday's Observer by George Freeman. George is at the heart of a Tory interest in developing a new industrial strategy - not a return to a 1960s/70s policy of picking winners (or picking losers as invariably happened) but, in his slightly jargonistic words, the need to "focus on the technologies and sectors of the British innovation and knowledge economy which can best compete in the new markets of the developing world". He suggested five themes for his strategy including a focus on building deep relationships with emerging markets; development of innovation cities, corridors and neighbourhoods; and the identification and exploitation of technologies where we have a competitive advantage. Read more.
In yesterday's Sunday Times (£) Sam Gyimah called for new ways of graduates helping their universities to educate more young people, especially from less privileged backgrounds. Noting that barely 1% of UK alumni make gifts to their institutions compared to 10% in the USA he recommends mechanisms whereby graduates can keep paying into the student financing system even after they've repaid their own loans.
By Matthew Barrett
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The company Key Business Insight's "Commons Performance Cockpit" ranks MPs by their total cost - that is, staffing costs, travel expenses, office costs, salary, and so on. The majority of the 50 "most efficient" MPs, in terms of total cost, are Conservatives.
The top 50 "most efficient" MPs between 1st April, 2010 and 31st March, 2011 are listed below:
*Took his seat on 3rd March, 2011
**Took her seat on 13th January, 2011
***Resigned his seat on 8th February, 2011
by Paul Goodman
Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) and Julian Lewis (New Forest East) entered the Commons together as New Forest neighbours in 1997. Both were on the right of the Party; both were rumbustious Parliamentarians; both were greeted with werewolf howls from Labour backbenchers; both served on the Conservative front bench. But their ways have parted: the first is David Cameron's Parliamentary Private Secretary, the second is a backbencher.
To the second, the first is his "dear and hon. Friend", but these neighbours - two of the three Conservative backbenchers who spoke in yesterday's Commons debate on Spelman's proposals - disagree. The nub of Swayne's position was as follows -
"I hope that those critics will look at these proposals with an open mind and wonder whether they might just be looking a gift horse in the mouth. There might be an opportunity to rebalance the interests of the forests that have been so shoddily disrupted by the creation of a national park. Within the Crown lands of the New Forest, there are already many private lands and private commons. Indeed, the National Trust itself owns two of the real gems: Hale Purlieu and the Bramshaw Commons. The land is not all owned and managed by the Forestry Commission...
...The New Forest is unique and what I would like to see is something along the lines of what we have in Queen's house in Lyndhurst - perhaps even with exactly the same staff and personnel who currently manage the forest there - but reporting not to a board in Edinburgh, but to a board in the New Forest representing the proper interests of the New Forest, and particularly those of the people who have always safeguarded the forest and been responsible for the law of the forest-namely, the Verderers...I say again to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East, and also to opponents, that there is an opportunity here for us that we would be foolish to pass up."
By Jonathan Isaby
Early Day Motions are oft referred to as "parliamentary grafitti": they are effectively petitions which only MPs can sign and are often tabled with the sole intention of allowing an MP to issue a press release to their local paper beginning "Local campaigning MP Joe Bloggs has tabled a motion in Parliament demanding..." in the knowledge that few people will ever read it, let alone debate it.
And it has to be said that with each Parliamentary Session it does seem that more and more frivolous and pointless Early Day Motions are being tabled.
This has promoted four of the new Tory intake to call for them to be reformed or abolished.
Graham Evans, Nick de Bois, Steve Baker and Guy Opperman have made their point by way of an, er EDM - Number 432 in fact, which reads:
"That this House regrets the continuing decline in importance of Early Day Motions which have become a campaign tool for external organisations; notes the role of public affairs professionals in drafting Early Day Motions and encouraging members of the organisations they represent to send pro forma emails and postcards to hon. Members; further notes the huge volume of correspondence that this generates and the consequent office and postage costs incurred; believes that the organisations involved derive little benefit from Early Day Motions, which very rarely have any influence on policy; further believes that public affairs professionals are aware of the ineffectiveness of Early Day Motions, but continue to use them to attempt to justify their services; questions the value for money to the taxpayer of Early Day Motions of whatever origin; and calls for the system of Early Day Motions to be reformed or abolished."
However, Tory MP Julian Lewis has tabled the following amendment, deleteing all and inserting:
"recognises that Early Day Motions provide one of only a few methods of registering the views of large numbers of hon. Members, other than by votes in the House; believes that they enable hon. Members to generate support for worthwhile causes; consequently opposes their abolition; and accordingly advises hon. Members who do not wish to sign them simply to decline to do so."
I'm with Julian Lewis on this. The massive cross party support for the Save General Election Night campaign last year was able to be demonstrated by Tom Harris's EDM, for example, and they remain a way of enabling MPs to get their points of view about certain issues out in the public domain and I would not want to see them abolished.
That said, I accept that there is an argument for saying that MPs should have to attain a reasonable number of signatures before public money is spent printing the motion and that motions congratulating local sporting teams on victories and promotions really are a waste of said money.
Three newly-elected barristers all delivered maiden speeches during yesterday's debate on the Queen's Speech which highlighted the failures of criminal justice policy under the previous Labour Government.
"We have confused legislative hyperactivity with effectiveness. The sausage-factory approach that saw Criminal Justice Act after Criminal Justice Act has not resulted in a better system; in fact, it has made it a great deal worse. The law of unforeseen consequences means that the extra burden placed on the system is causing it to creak at the hinges.
"The words of politicians in this House and other places sound particularly hollow to those at the chalk face trying to grapple with the reality. We have spent too much time concentrating on the consequences of offending, instead of looking at the means of preventing it in the first place. The rhetoric of being tough on crime so loved by a former Prime Minister misses the point. It is time for us to be smart on crime, by looking at the causes of that criminality and dealing with them, lest we reap the whirlwind of social problems and increased expenditure.
"When there is no option, we must stop being spellbound by the complexity of things. Prison is there to perform three simple functions: to protect the public, to punish offenders and to offer the hope of rehabilitation. None of those important functions seems to have been properly valued, as the events of recent years bear out. It is a scandal that those who have to pass sentences in the Crown court and other places are influenced by pressures on prison numbers. It is simply unacceptable and literally a denial of justice.
"If we are to deal most effectively with criminality in our country, we need to call criminal offences crime, move away from the unproductive and costly antisocial behaviour structure and all the rhetoric surrounding it, and remember that at the root of it all, it is crime prevention and early intervention, particularly in the lives of young people, that we will see reaping real rewards, when we come to look back at our time in office. My plea today is for effective action on crime—for a bit of cleverness, rather than the rhetoric of tabloid newspapers. I look forward to, I hope, playing my part in the debates on crime and other issues that are important to the constituents I represent in the years ahead."
"Some 3,600 new criminal offences have been created in the past 13 years, a rate of about one every weekday. You will be reassured to hear, Mr Deputy Speaker, that it is now illegal to sell a grey squirrel and to explode a nuclear bomb. Many hundreds of other pieces of legislation have been passed: 404 forms of behaviour are illegal now that were not illegal in 1997. To give one an idea of the progress—or lack thereof—whereas for most of the past 100 years there was about one criminal justice Bill per decade, there were 60 in the past decade.
"I am afraid that we have not had the progress that we would like. To give one example of that quickly, within the last several months at court, several barristers were kept waiting while prisoners refused to alight from a bus because they were worried about losing their places in an overcrowded prison system. The prison officers refused to force them off the bus, because doing so would breach their human rights. Many were kept waiting for many hours. One prisoner decided that he needed to use the facilities and was allowed to alight from the bus, go into the cells, use the facilities and go back, voluntarily, and get back on the bus, because to have forced him to do otherwise would have been a breach of his human rights. Meanwhile, many were kept waiting in court. I hope that my time in the House will help to ameliorate some of those discrepancies and disconnections that now exist in our system."
And Guy Opperman, who replaced Peter Atkinson as MP for Hexham, took up the same theme, saying that he had spent too long "watching while Home Secretaries meddle with the criminal justice system to little positive effect":
"There have been dozens of criminal justice Bills in the past 13 years, very few of which were any good. No one has introduced a prison reform Act since 1952. I, like others, have worked at the criminal Bar, prosecuting and defending in many murder trials, and I have seen enough of the inadequacies of prison life to know that wholesale reform is required. To fail to reform the Prison Service would be a crime, because we are simply not solving the problem of crime and punishment. We have doubled the prison population in the past 18 years, yet reoffending rates remain in excess of 70%. We send more people to prison than anyone else in Europe, yet we are not safer.
"I will campaign for a better focus on sentencing, rehabilitation, drug testing and simple education in prisons. It is often said that too often Governments consult but do not listen. I want to ensure that the victim has a voice in this House. I am proud of the fact that the previous Labour Government, in their wisdom, gave me two separate national awards, one for my help to victim support and one for my campaign to challenge the state on unlawful hospital closures. I expect no such generosity from my hon. Friends in this Parliament.
"People do not expect government to solve everything; in fact, in my experience, people are amazed when government does anything good at all. But we have a fresh chance, after the dark days of economic meltdown and a broken political system, to establish a new beginning. I accept that it will not be easy, but I am ambitious for my constituents and for this country."