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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Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart of the University of Nottingham have released a new pamplet - "The Bumper Book of Coalition Rebellions", which documents the 239 backbench rebellions so far in this Parliament, in which 544 votes have been held.
The pamplet takes us from the first rebellion, on the government’s control of time in the Commons, to the last, on Sunday Trading during the Olympics. This Parliament has seen more rebellions by government MPs than in any other session in the post-war era. As "The Bumper Book" says, "It comfortably beats the previous record of 128, held by Conservative MPs in the 1971-72 session. Indeed, a figure of 239 is higher than all but three entire post-war parliaments."
In fact, there were more rebellions in the last two years than there were between 1945 and 1966 - a period which saw six Prime Ministers and six parliaments. On a different measure, the "relative rate of rebellion", this session's 239 rebellions constitute a rebellion by Coalition MPs in 44% of divisions, which is a record in post-war parliaments. The 44% figure can be broken down further: Conservative MPs have rebelled in 28% of votes, while Lib Dems have rebelled in 24% of votes.
It is also notable how much of a contrast there is between the 2010-12 session and most first sessions in a parliament. As the pamplet says: "The rebellion rate for coalition MPs collectively is way above all other first sessions in the post-war era (the previous record was 28%, for Labour MPs in the 2005-6 session, as the party entered its third, and most troublesome, parliament under Tony Blair)".
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 [email protected] 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 Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday saw the Second Reading in the Commons of the Pensions Bill - the legislation currently in the news which accelerates the existing timetable for increasing the State Pension age to 66. This will mean the pension age will be increased from 60 to 65 for women by 2018, before being raised to 66 for both men and women in 2020.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, said the core aim of the Bill is to "to secure this country’s retirement system, putting it on a stable and sustainable footing for the future."
The news headlines surrounding the Bill relate to the fact that women born in March 1953 will begin to receive their pension at 62, but women born in April 1953 will have to wait until 65. Mr Duncan Smith was asked about this early on in his remarks:
"Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Given that the vast majority of the 600,000 people who will be excluded from getting a pension under the raised threshold are women, is the Secretary of State at all worried that the Bill is beginning to look as if it discriminates against women?
Mr Duncan Smith: I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s concern. We are not blind to the issue, but we have decided to strike a balance between making the scheme work from the beginning and avoiding driving people on very low incomes into sacrificing too much and therefore not seeing the rewards. It is important to make the point that in the Green Paper, as the hon. Gentleman will have noticed, we talk about the single tier pension, from which there will be very significant benefits to women. We hope that in due course that will achieve a balance.
I do not dismiss the hon. Gentleman’s considerations. We keep the issue constantly under review and will watch carefully to see what happens. It is important that we get auto-enrolment off the ground in a stable manner. I hope hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that these are balanced decisions—sometimes nuanced decisions—that we have to take, but we will make sure that we review them."
Mr Duncan Smith was also asked about this specific group of women several times, by Members on all sides, including Conservatives Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) and James Gray (North Wiltshire), as well as Labour's socially conservative welfare reformer, Frank Field. Mr Duncan Smith stood his ground and defended the Government's policy:
by Paul Goodman
We link today in our news section to reports of the Government's internal deal over Trident - which Liam Fox described in the Commons yesterday as follows
"The coalition agreement reflected both coalition parties’ commitment to a minimum credible nuclear deterrent, but also the desire of the Liberal Democrats to make the case for alternatives. As Secretary of State for Defence, I am absolutely clear that a minimum nuclear deterrent based on the Trident missile delivery system and continuous at-sea deterrence is right for the United Kingdom and that it should be maintained, and that remains Government policy; but to assist the Liberal Democrats in making the case for alternatives, I am also announcing today the initiation of a study to review the costs, feasibility and credibility of alternative systems and postures. The study will be led by Cabinet Office officials overseen by the Minister for the Armed Forces. A copy of the terms of reference of the study will be placed in the House of Commons Library."
It's worth noting that this arrangement was subject to two questions from the Conservative backbenches. The first came from Julian Lewis, formerly a Shadow Defence Minister.
"Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I am really rather worried that my right hon. Friend is in danger of inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on the Minister for the Armed Forces, who is really quite a decent chap. If the Secretary of State, like me, had had the experience of watching the hon. Gentleman address the Liberal Democrat conference on this subject, he would have seen that it was indistinguishable from a CND revivalist meeting. How is it fair to the Minister for the Armed Forces to confront him on the one hand with serious arguments about why Trident is the only option while on the other hand requiring him to go back to the Liberal Democrats and tell them that unavoidable conclusion?
Dr Fox: I rather fear that my hon. Friend is a little too late. Having made my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces sit through some 57 hours of the strategic defence and security review, I feel I have already inflicted a cruel and unusual punishment on him. I refer my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) back to the advice he gave me when we were in opposition, which was that we should never be afraid to have the most rigorous look at alternative systems. When one considers the evidence, the costings and the threats, one inevitably comes to the conclusion that a submarine-based continuous at-sea deterrent based on the Trident system will be the best protection for the United Kingdom. I take him at his word and I am not at all afraid to consider the alternatives."
by Paul Goodman
I've glanced back at the Prime Minister's Commons statement on Monday about Libya, and found the following:
These were all fair questions. But I'm struck on reading them by one that was missing.
David Cameron did nothing to discourage speculation, raging that day, that Britain would play a part in military operations against Gaddafi - including the imposition of a no fly zone (which Labour's Mike Gapes referred to).
It's striking that not a single backbench question tried to pin down Cameron on the matter, ask how a British contribution to a no fly zone or other intervention would work; how it might be affected by the coming defence spending scaleback - and, above all, how we could avoid being further drawn in.
Today's news is that the Government's backing off military intervention, and the media's beginning to ask questions about how it would work. What can we glean from the fact that no Member of Parliament did so? (Though Tredinnick deserves a mention in dispatches for coming closest.)
One for the localists amongst you: there were oral questions on communities and local government yesterday.
Monmouth MP and pugilist David Davies asked about the Government's programme to tackle violent extremism, a topic which Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government Paul Goodman has also been pursuing.
"David T.C. Davies: When I last raised this issue, I asked the Secretary of State for an assurance that not one penny of Government money was being given to extremists or to violent extremists. She was unable to give me that assurance at the time, but the Department has now had a year to look into the issue. Can we possibly be given an assurance today that not one penny of Government money is being given to extremists, and if not, why not?
Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that he has raised the issue before. I am delighted to be able to tell him about the range of work that has been done in the last 12 months. First, extensive guidance was published for all local authorities in June last year, setting out exactly the criteria on which groups should be funded. We fund groups that stand up to tackle violent extremism and uphold our shared values. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that following a point of order raised by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), I undertook to place in the Library of the House, by the end of April, full details—they are held in our Government offices—of the projects being funded."
That answer does not inspire confidence.
"Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): As the Secretary of State has answered this question herself, may I first say to her that we believe she had no alternative to the course that she took in suspending relations with the Muslim Council of Britain?
Let me now return to the question. The House will have noted that, for the second time, the Secretary of State was unable to give my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) the guarantee that he seeks that extremists have not got their hands on taxpayers’ money. As I know from correspondence with her, the reason is simple: no system exists to check who receives the cash before it is given. That is frankly scandalous. Can the Secretary of State at least guarantee that when she publishes information on where last year’s Preventing Violent Extremism money went—she has promised to do so—she will publish the details of who received the money, down to the very last penny?
Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that there is no system for checking the allocation of those funds to community groups. There is a system, for local authorities, the police and a range of other organisations, to ensure that the funds are allocated to groups that uphold our shared values and are committed to standing up to tackle extremism.
I have told the hon. Gentleman that this is not a ring-fenced grant, for the very reason that we want the work to be embedded as mainstream work for local authorities, and to draw in funding from other sources to ensure that it can be done in a proper, comprehensive fashion. I have also told him that we will place the information in the Library. We have told local authorities that the grant is not ring-fenced, but because of its exceptionally sensitive nature, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan), has written to local authorities saying that we will continue to monitor it extremely carefully. The hon. Gentleman must accept, however, that if we want this work to be embedded as mainstream activity, we must be prepared to make sure we are working in proper, effective partnership with our local authorities."
Something has gone wrong here, and MPs are right to keep pressing until we find out what it is.
James Gray, MP for North Wiltshire and Dylan Moran lookalike, has had a written answer about HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa and Asia:
"To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what assistance his Department is giving to programmes to combat HIV/AIDS in (a) Africa and (b) Asia; and if he will make a statement. 
£ million 2005-06 2006-07 2007-08
To strengthen and deliver a wide range of HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care services in the period 2005-06 to 2007-08, total bilateral expenditure on HIV and AIDS programmes in Africa was £576 million and in Asia £343 million.
DFID also provides multilateral assistance to a range of organisations, a significant proportion of which is used to tackle HIV and AIDS in Africa and Asia. For example, DFID has provided over £250 million in core support to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria over the period 2005-06 to 2007-08."
These are fairly large sums of money. Doubtless some people will feel that we can no longer afford them. But we shouldn't give up on the rest of the world through panic or indifference. What we should focus on is ensuring that our money is as well spent as possible.
James Gray MP: "In addition to the first-class medical care offered to our soldiers returning from Afghanistan, is it not high time that we recognised their great gallantry by striking a gallantry medal for those who have been wounded or even killed there? Perhaps we ought to call it the Prince Harry."
Mr. Speaker: "Order. That is far too wide of the question."
James Arbuthnot MP: "Does the Secretary of State agree that the men and women of the armed forces doing such important work in Iraq and Afghanistan are heroes, whatever Prince Harry may modestly say about himself, and that we can be utterly proud of what they are doing? Is the Secretary of State on Facebook? Has he been invited to join a group demanding an apology from the Drudge Report?"
Des Browne MP, Defence Secretary: "I have not specifically been invited. With all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman and his advice, which I normally respect immensely, it might be unwise for me to join Facebook. However, I support the tenor of his question. All those who serve us in Iraq and Afghanistan—and in other places, including Sierra Leone, which my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces recently visited—are entitled to be considered heroes. On the right hon. Gentleman’s observation about Prince Harry and his treatment by the media, I thought the most important thing Prince Harry did was put into context the heroism of those with whom he had served."
Bernard Jenkin MP: "We welcome Prince Harry back from Afghanistan and celebrate the achievements of the British military there, but we must avoid missing the big picture, which is that there is strategic confusion in Afghanistan. We have no UN co-ordinator, there is a divided command chain, several allies have different caveats on their armed forces and there is little evidence that the aid effort will have a long-term impact on the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. When will these matters be resolved? Will they be addressed at the Bucharest summit?"
Des Browne MP: "The hon. Gentleman is right to identify those as the priorities on Afghanistan. It is crucial that the leadership of the international community in the form of a UN special representative be appointed sooner rather than later to give coherence to the international community. It is regrettable that a previous appointment fell apart in the way it did. The other points that he made are also important and it is to be hoped that we will make significant progress at or about the time of the Bucharest summit on those points, all of which identify priorities of the Government on Afghanistan."
Paul Farrelly: I am sure that nothing will be more sympathetic to the Queen than a good old patriotic fly-past. Will my right hon. Friend use this occasion to quash the ridiculous story that the Red Arrows have been barred from the opening ceremony of the Olympics?
Tessa Jowell: I can absolutely, unequivocally and categorically assure my hon. Friend that there is no truth whatsoever to that story. It was highly regrettable that in the face of the scale of denials from Lord Coe, who I understand took the trouble to e-mail every Member of Parliament, and the clear statement that there was no truth in the story, the party operation of the Opposition—Conservative central office—continued to try to get a campaign going. The important thing is that the Red Arrows—part of every national celebration—are also part of the Olympics. I want to see that happen.
James Gray: Would the Minister care to substantiate the remark that she has just made and give us one shred of evidence that, somehow or other, it was the Opposition who perpetuated the myth about the Red Arrows? That is quite untrue; she is misled on that point. The Leader of the Opposition has gone to great lengths to ensure, through his noble Friend the Conservative peer Lord Coe, that the Red Arrows will play a leading part in the Olympics.
Tessa Jowell: On the basis that I am given an absolutely categorical assurance that no attempt was made at any stage by Opposition Members to blow up this campaign and to exploit what everybody knew to be untrue, I am prepared to let the matter lie. I place on record that there is not and has never been any question of the Red Arrows somehow being prevented from taking part in the Olympic games opening ceremony.
More from Hansard here.
Some excellent questions being asked my Conservative MPs in Defence Questions yesterday...
Bernard Jenkin: The Secretary of State must be the only person in the House who does not understand that the armed forces are overstretched and under-resourced for the commitments that they have undertaken. When is he going to face up to the fact? If the military has to cancel 10 per cent. of their training every year, the resources are clearly not available for it to do the job and be trained for the job that it is meant to do?
Des Browne: Statistics show that the number of training events is increasing every year. For the year 2004-05, the total of planned training events was 379; for 2005-06, it was 533; and for 2006-07, it was 699. I accept that some of those events were cancelled, but the percentage of cancellations has decreased. I accept, too—I have said so at the Dispatch Box—that we are asking the military to do a significant amount, which has an effect. I have also explained time and again what we plan to do to reduce that pressure.
Julian Lewis: Have not the Government failed in their attempts since 2004 to produce a defence-specific inflation index? They keep trumpeting the fact that they have given the armed forces 1.5 per cent. more than the general level of inflation, but the Royal United Services Institute calculates that defence equipment projects run at 5 to 10 per cent. above the general level of inflation. Does that not mean that the Government’s claim that they are spending more on defence in real terms is simply a load of hogwash?
Des Browne: It is not a load of hogwash. I have given the figures, and the Opposition spokesmen must accept, however reluctantly, that there have been real- terms increases. The Opposition face a problem, as there is a £6 billion hole in their spending plans. In our policy debate last Tuesday, I invited the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) to say from the Dispatch Box whether he would match or improve our spending
Andrew Mackinlay (Lab): May I tell the Secretary of State that we did not know that there was a report within Government in 2005? The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs has been asking for and expecting a response to the representations that it made some eight years ago, following the Sandline inquiry and the problems arising from the fact that London is one of the world recruitment capitals for security firms. There is a problem with the interface and relationship between those firms and United Kingdom armed forces, and it needs to be addressed with greater expedition.
Des Browne: I think that my hon. Friend’s question betrays the complexity of the issues involved. The problem is defining the activities that should be regulated, and how any regulation of overseas activities might be enforced. That is not an easy matter to resolve. Indeed, the Blackwater incident and its aftermath shows that the United States of America is struggling to do so, given that the regulation of such companies in Iraq currently depends on a coalition provisional authority memorandum. There are a number of complexities with the issue. I am anxious that they be resolved, and that we can come to the House in good time to explain how we will proceed on that area of policy.
James Gray: The Secretary of State sounds reluctant to grasp the nettle on the issue so ably raised by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). Surely there are two problems: that the companies are doing things that the British armed forces would traditionally have done themselves, were it not for overstretch, and that the attraction of some of the companies is such that they pull people out of our armed services to go and work for them at much higher wages. That in itself contributes to overstretch.
Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman only adds to the complexity of the issues with that qualification. It is not true to suggest that those companies, which are not all, by any stretch of the imagination, within the Government’s control, do work that the British Army would otherwise do were it not for overstretch. In fact, in Iraq, the Departments that contract those companies do so to provide security for civilian operators. It is by no means correct that the Army would provide that security in any event or that other military forces would do so. There is no lack of willingness on my part or energy to work our way through the difficulties, but they are significant, and we want to try to get them right before we announce the detailed policy to the House.
“Our reserves to meet the unexpected (as well as for current operations) are now almost non-existent...We now have almost no capability to react to the unexpected”.
Is that not a shocking indictment of this Government’s stewardship of our armed forces?
Bob Ainsworth: It is not the view of the chiefs of the defence staff that we are asking more than is possible of our armed forces. We, as Ministers, share the concern that our armed forces are extremely busy and that there is not a great residue of capacity left aside. We all know that we have two current operations going on. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is saying that all our armed forces are working extremely hard. No one is trying to hide that at all, but we are dealing with the situation, and our armed forces are dealing with it in an exemplary fashion.
More from Hansard here.