By Peter Hoskin
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With the Budget less than a couple of weeks away, I thought it would be a good time to collect some of the recommendations being put to George Osborne by Tory parliamentarians. Of course, the parliamentarians listed below may want other measures too – and there may be other parliamentarians who want what they want – but I’ve tried to go with the most prominent examples from the past few weeks. If you think I’ve missed anyone off, please do shout out in the comments section, or email me on pete @ conservativehome.com (without the spaces).
Robert Halfon MP: The reinstatement of the 10p tax rate
Robert explained how and why he wants the 10p rate of income tax reinstated in a recent article for ConservativeHome. Here’s a snippet:
“When Labour brought in the 50p income tax-rate, it cost HMRC something like £7 billion pounds overnight, as people changed their behaviour to avoid the new tax. This year, the Coalition will cut that 50p income tax-rate down to 45p, because this is expected to raise more money from the rich, not less. The message of the campaign at CutTaxTo10p.com — or, alternatively GreatGordonBrownRepealBill.com — is that we should use every extra penny raised from this to restore the 10p basic rate of income tax, to help lower earners. Added to the Universal Credit, this will help stop disincentives to employment, and to ensure that work always pays.”
He also discussed the policy on the Daily Politics today.
By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday in Parliament, Richard Bacon, a Conservative backbencher, tried to introduce a Bill which would repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. One of Mr Bacon's lines of argument was that the legal requirement for Ministers to amend legislation - without a vote in Parliament - in order to comply with European human rights legislation - is "fundamentally undemocratic":
"Under section 10, a Minister of the Crown may make such amendments to primary legislation as are considered necessary to enable the incompatibility to be removed by the simple expedient of making an order. In effect, because the accepted practice is that the United Kingdom observes its international obligations, a supranational court can impose its will against ours. In my view this is fundamentally undemocratic."
Mr Bacon also compellingly argued that the controversial social issues that judges often like to get involved in should be decided by "elected representatives and not by unelected judges":
"[T]here is no point in belonging to a club if one is not prepared to obey its rules. The solution is therefore not to defy judgments of the Court, but rather to remove the power of the Court over us. ... Judges do not have access to a tablet of stone not available to the rest of us which enables them to discern what our people need better than we can possibly do as their elected, fallible, corrigible representatives. There is no set of values that are so universally agreed that we can appeal to them as a useful final arbiter. In the end they will always be shown up as either uselessly vague or controversially specific. Questions of major social policy, whether on abortion, capital punishment, the right to bear firearms or workers rights, should ultimately be decided by elected representatives and not by unelected judges."
By Matthew Barrett
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The Daily Mail this morning reports on the 118 Conservative MPs who have written to constituents indicating their opposition to gay marriage proposals. The Mail says "Their opposition has been expressed in letters and emails sent to constituents who have contacted them with their own concerns", and points out that if these MPs voted against proposals, it would constitute the biggest Tory rebellion in modern times. However, Equalities Minister (and Secretary of State for Culture) Maria Miller pointed out on Twitter that since any vote on the issue would be a free vote, it would not technically be counted as a rebellion.
I have listed the MPs from the Mail's story below.
By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday, a Private Member's Bill by Rebecca Harris, the Member for Castle Point, which sought to move British clocks forward by an hour all year round, was brought before the House.
The Government was supportive of the Bill, and there was a strong turnout with wide cross-party support for the proposal. However, a small group of Members, mostly Conservative, managed to talk the Bill out of Parliament. As a result of the Bill not being passed yesterday, the Government has decided not to allow further Parliamentary time for its consideration, and the Bill is now dead.
"[T]he Bill’s Achilles heel is that it has been redrafted in such a way that it would enable the United Kingdom Government to change the time zone in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. We know that the Scottish Parliament, and MPs representing Scottish constituencies, do not support a change that would make winter mornings in Scotland even colder and darker than they are already. ... my concern is that if this Parliament changes the time zone for the United Kingdom against the wishes of the people of Scotland, it will give extra ammunition to those people in Scotland who are campaigning for independence. We would be playing into their hands if we forced the Bill through."
Over the last few days, North East Somerset MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has called for Somerset to have its own timezone. This was part of the run-up to yesterday's debate. Mr Rees-Mogg attempted to amend the proposed Bill to make considerations for Somerset, in order to delay its passage. Although his amendment was not selected for consideration, Mr Rees-Mogg did play an active role in opposing the Bill. Mr Rees-Mogg's contributions were very varied and lengthy, but I have chosen a few of his more remarkable comments:
By Tim Montgomerie
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Last night at least 32 Tory MPs (listed below) voted with Labour against an 88% hike in Britain's contribution to the IMF. The hike is to partly fund the IMF's ability to fund bailouts. I write "at least" because I've only quickly scanned the voting list. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if I've missed anyone off the list.
The Government won the vote to increase Britain's contribution from £10.7 billion to £20.15 billion by 274 votes to 246. This is the first time that the Labour frontbench has voted with Tory Eurosceptics. Labour was voting against an increase in the IMF subscription that was largely agreed during Gordon brown's time in office.
On his blog John Redwood suggests that the 29 rebels are only one sign of Tory discontent. Given that there are more than 300 Tory MPs he calculates that AT LEAST 80 Conservatives were unavailable, abstained or voted against the government. He writes:
"Some of us want the UK government to use the influence it says it has at the IMF to halt the futile bail outs of Eurozone members. The debt markets show the markets do not believe that Greece can repay all its debts in full and on time. Yesterday was a day when market worries spread beyond Greece, Ireland and Portugal to Italy. Those in charge of the Euro scheme need to get a grip. It is doing a great deal of financial and economic damage, and they no longer seem to be in control of their project. The IMF should decline to bail out rich countries that have shackled themselves to a currency scheme that was badly put together and needs a thorough re think."
"The decision to raise our IMF subscriptions by 88 percent was first mooted when Gordon Brown was in charge – but was okayed by the current government last October. While Canada, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium all managed to keep the increase in their subs low, whoever negotiated the deal on our behalf seems to have preferred to have UK taxpayers assume greater debt liabilities so that they could sit on a bigger chair at the various international summits they attend on our behalf. Alongside fiscal policy and monetary policy, our approach towards the bailouts and the IMF shows that there has been remarkably little change in economic policy at the Treasury since Gordon Brown was in charge."
By Jonathan Isaby
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I have already covered Conor Burns' sideswipe at Lord Heseltine from the debate on Lords reform, but what else happened during the debate?
Overall, one got the impression that (with a few exceptions) the Conservative benches were highly sceptical about an elected second chamber - including many who are usually deemed to be supporters of the Government.
Later in his speech, Conor Burns spoke in favour of the status quo - ie a fully appointed chamber - and then considered what parties had promised in their manifestos:
"I wish to deal briefly with the argument that reform was in every party’s manifesto. It was, to some degree, and the Liberal Democrats, who had the most pro-reform manifesto commitment, got 23% of the vote in the general election. Labour, which was slightly more lukewarm, got 29%, and the Conservatives, who were the most lukewarm, got 36%. There is almost an argument that if we want to do things on the basis of what was in the manifestos, we should remember that the most people voted for the party that was most lukewarm on the issue. We have to ask ourselves, as at the time of Maastricht, when all three Front-Bench teams are united on something, how do those who dissent make their view known?
By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday saw MPs debating the merits of the Big Society on a backbench motion moved by Dover's Tory MP, Charlie Elphicke, which stated its support for the Big Society, "seeking stronger communities where power is decentralised and social action is encouraged."
"The big society has been "much discussed in the media", yet this was, Elphicke asserted, "practically the first proper occasion on which it has been discussed on the Floor of this Chamber."
His motion had been co-signed by a number of Conservative MPs, as well as Labour's Jon Cruddas and Tristram Hunt and Lib Dem Bob Russell.
Here are some excerpts from a variety of the 24 speeches delivered by backbench Tory MPs - who, interestingly enough, were all members of the 2010 intake.
What I want to talk about is the sense of annoyance that everyone has when an individual feels put off from simply sweeping the snow from the pavement outside their house for fear that they will be sued, or when they are scared to jump into a pond and rescue a drowning child.
How have we got to the situation where individuals do not feel that they can take responsibility, and that rules and procedures stop them doing so? It is important to encourage people to take more action and more responsibility for their own lives and for their communities. People in communities are frustrated, such as the head teacher who cannot decide which children are in his school and feels that he is being told what to do by diktat, and the hospital worker who wants to take responsibility for his area, but who has to follow detailed rules and procedures.
Communities as a whole-big communities such as mine in Dover-want a greater sense of being able to chart their own destiny and future direction, but feel hampered by central Government saying, "No, these are the rules. This is how it is going to be. It is all going to be top-down and what you say doesn't count for much." It is that sense of annoyance and frustration, which stalks the land up and down the country, that the big society aims to counteract.
By Jonathan Isaby
Crawley MP and former leader of West Sussex County Council, Henry Smith, introduced a ten minute rule Bill yesterday to stop unscrupulous private car park operators from taking liberties against unsuspecting motorists.
"Often, consumers who have used a publicly available private car park receive in the post several days later a threatening demand from the provider for a so-called penalty payment, alleging that the consumer has not purchased the correct ticket. Even when the consumer produces evidence that they bought, for example, a pay and display ticket, the private operator says that it was not displayed properly. That contrasts with the way in which local authorities run their car parks, where, if somebody can show proof of purchase of a ticket, their fine is cancelled.
"The second area of concern is the way in which some unscrupulous operators, who make up the minority of private car park operators, demand payments for the most minor and accidental infractions, such as a wheel that is just touching the dividing white line between spaces. In one case that I came across, somebody received a demand for payment because they got stuck in a queue of traffic as they were trying to leave the car park and were timed out. Again, we may contrast that with how council-run car parks operate. There is an appeals system, and reasonable appeals often succeed. Indeed, appeals succeed in almost two thirds of cases.
The third, and perhaps most disturbing and insidious, aspect of unscrupulous private car park providers is the sheer scale of the "fine" that they seek to levy against the consumer. Often, there is a threatening letter with a demand for £70, which is hiked up to £100 within a fortnight and then further still as time goes by. Again, we may compare that with local authority-controlled car parks, where the fine is typically £50, reduced to £25 if paid within 28 days. We can see that there is quite a difference."
He said that it was not in his instincts "immediately to reach for regulation or for the rulebook" or to propose establishing "some sort of national agency or quango", but outlined his proposal thus:
"What I propose in the Bill is that local authorities with a licensing function should have the ability to license the operation of publicly available private car parks, in the same way that local licensing committees make decisions about the licensing of publicans for the sale of alcohol or cab drivers for the running of taxis. In a similar way, we could have local democratic control with a local focus, to ensure that there is better practice by the minority of unscrupulous car park operators. My proposal would also carry no cost to the council tax payer or the taxpayer in general. Simply, the system would be paid for by a modest application fee paid by private car park operators to the licensing authority when applying for a licence.
"Coming before the House shortly in the freedom Bill will be proposals to restrict the use of wheel-clamping. I very much welcome that, but I fear that one unintended consequence will be that unscrupulous wheel-clampers will simply switch to issuing demands for payments from people, in the same way that some private car parks do. I believe that the Bill could be a useful way of closing that loophole. There is provision in legislation already for local authorities to operate with private car parks. However, that requires the compliance of the private car park operator and the local authority, and of course, an unscrupulous provider is unlikely to agree to work with the local authority."
The Bill was not opposed and is on the order paper for a Second Reading next February.
Two MPs who got elected at their third successive attempt emphasised the importance of localism in their maiden speeches last Thursday.
"The localism that is evident from the Gracious Speech is one that I know the people of Enfield will welcome, so that they, and not remote politicians, can shape and influence the neighbourhood as they see fit. We were honoured when that localism was made acutely evident when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health visited our hospital, Chase Farm, within 14 days of the general election. He immediately stopped the top-down, London-led, unwelcome and unpopular reconfiguration plans for our hospital and returned the control and direction of our health care needs to residents and GPs, removing the threat of forced closures. That was a welcome demonstration of localism and of the new Government in action.
"That same localism is proposed across other key areas that dominate people’s day-to-day lives, including planning, which can literally have an impact on the street they live on. The Queen’s Speech marks the first real opportunity for an MP to work with his constituents, local authorities and public bodies to shape their neighbourhoods, services and environment and thus deliver real improvement to quality of life for all. I welcome that challenge and opportunity, as will my constituents."
"I cannot help thinking that, after being a somewhat big fish in a small pool, I am now a somewhat smaller fish in a somewhat larger pool. I hope that, as I become used to these larger waters, I shall be able to speak up for the rights of local government and the principle of decentralisation of power away from Whitehall to our local authorities. I believe it is a very important principle that, where services are largely locally delivered, they should be largely locally decided on. I look forward to playing my part in this coalition Government in the devolving of power down to our elected local governments, and the extension of the authority that individuals and communities have over the important public services that are locally delivered."
"One issue that I wanted to touch on — it comes within the DEFRA remit — is dangerous dogs, which have become an increasing problem in Ealing and Acton. I was delighted to see that the coalition agreement goes into some detail about tackling that. I am a little disappointed that it is not an immediate priority — I hope it will be, and I am sure it needs to be. We have problems in the parks throughout Ealing and Acton, and I think it is unacceptable that in this day and age, people cannot enjoy their wonderful green spaces because of the blight of such dangerous dogs.
"We need to look again at what we do to protect people while supporting the vast majority of responsible dog owners. Principally, this is an issue of enforcement. I am not sure that yet another form of licensing will make any difference, because after all, as we all know, the good guys buy their licences and the bad people do not bother. It is an issue of enforcement. I hope that the Government will look at that, introduce measures, and see how we can toughen penalties and crack down on people who consistently flout the law."