Having reshaped his Cabinet substantially last summer - sacking two Cabinet Ministers in the process - David Cameron is unlikely to do so again during this one. This is because to do so would both risk destabilising his already fractious Parliamentary Party, and offend his instinct to keep changes to his front bench to a minimum. From the Prime Minister's point of view, it makes sense to delay a substantial Cabinet clearout until next summer, when a team can be put in place to fight the election in 2015.
Leaving the next big shuffle until later in the Parliament will also minimise any backlash from sacked Ministers, since they will rally round Cameron during the election run-up (that's the theory, at any rate). The claim that Sir George Young will stay in post for the time being would dovetail with such an approach. The Prime Minister's most likely reshuffle course, therefore, will be to restrict change to the lower ranks of the Government - but to promote to just below Cabinet level men and women who, in his view, are capable of making it to the top table next year.
By Matthew Barrett
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After today's 1922 Committee elections, Robert Buckland has been elected Joint-Secretary (replacing Karen Bradley, an Assistant Whip) and Simon Hart and Karl McCartney have also been elected to the Executive, replacing George Hollingbery (now PPS to Theresa May) and Simon Kirby (now PPS to Hugh Robertson).
A few results of the Select Committee elections have trickled through, and this post will be updated with a full list of newly elected committee members in due course.
The following MPs have been elected to Select Committee vacancies:
Business, Innovation and Skills Committee
Caroline Dinenage and Robin Walker
Culture, Media and Sport Committee
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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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 Paul Goodman
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8.45pm Update by Matthew Barrett: I have now learned which candidates are being backed by the traditional organisations on the right of the Conservative Party, such as the No Turning Back group. I have highlighted these in purple.
The following have been returned unopposed:-
Posts for which elections will take place (I have marked those previously identified by Tim as members of the 301 slate in blue):
1) Secretary - the following nominations have been received for TWO posts:
NICK DE BOIS
2) Executive members - the following nominations have been received for TWELVE posts.
PRITI PATEL - Priti Patel is being backed by both the 301 group, and the right of the Party.
Finally and separately, the following nominations have been received for Conservative members of the Backbench Business Committee - four posts:
By Tim Montgomerie
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Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured) was one of forty or so MPs and peers from all parties who ran yesterday's Westminster Mile - a race to raise funds for Sport Relief. The winner, though, was another Tory MP, George Eustice. He beat last year's winner David Davies into second place. The Monmouth MP would probably beat George, however, in a boxing contest! Others taking up the challenge for Sport Relief included Alun Cairns MP for Vale of Glamorgan, Rob Wilson MP for Reading East and Karen Bradley MP for Staffordshire Moorlands.
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Caroline Spelman has just made a difficult statement to the Commons, making a full U-turn on the Government's proposals to sell off some state-owned forests. She announced
Mrs Spelman said that she takes "full responsibility" for the situation and in particular takes the message from this experience that people cherish the forests and woodlands and the benefits they bring. She concluded:
"I am sorry. We got his one wrong. We have listend to people's concerns."
Later on I will try and include some of the reaction from Tory backbenchers.
In the meantime, do read my post from last Friday: Lessons for the Government to learn from the forests fiasco.
Nick Watt from the Guardian has already blogged to commend Caroline Spelman's execution of the U-turn and to criticise Labour's spokesman, Mary Creagh, for a laboured and ineffective performance.
He rightly observes that Creagh managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by speakng for far too long and claiming that Labour was the party of the countryside, which prompted Tory MPs all the more to go into bat for Spelman and aid her in attacking Labour's hypocrisy on the issue of forests.
Here's a selection of the contributions from the Conservative backbenches in response to her statement:
Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford): The Secretary of State has had the honesty and guts to come here to say that she presented ideas to the British public, but the British public did not much like them, so she said sorry and came up with a new approach. Is it not instructive that that is in such amazing contrast to the behaviour of that lot on the Opposition Benches who, no matter how many acres of woodland they sold and no matter how much gold they sold and at what price, nevertheless ran our economy into the ditch, from which we are trying to dig it out?
By Jonathan Isaby
In advance of yesterday's debate on votes for prisoners, the man moving the motion, David Davis, made his case on ConHome here.
So below are some of the highlights from the contributions of other Conservatives during the debate.
NB A full breakdown of how all MPs voted is here.
South West Devon MP Gary Streeter said the motion invited people to address the "fundamental issue" of "whether or not we can pass our own laws":
"There comes a time when it is necessary to take a stand. I argue that right now, on this issue, it is right for this House, today, to assert its authority. The judgment of the ECHR in the Hirst case flies in the face of the original wording and purpose of the European convention on human rights, in which it was clearly intended that each signatory should have latitude in making decisions on the electoral franchise in that country.
"We decided in this country centuries ago that convicted criminals should not have the right to vote, and I support that decision. After all, the punitive element of incarceration is the denial for the time being of certain rights and privileges that our citizens enjoy. We decided long ago that in addition to surrendering their liberty, convicted criminals while in prison would also give up their right to vote. That was the case in 1953 when the treaty on human rights was signed, and it remains the case."
Attorney General Dominic Grieve set out the Government's position early in the debate:
"Ministers will abstain. The Government believe that the proper course of action will be to reflect on what has been said and think about what proposals to bring back to the House in the light of the debate. The Government are here to listen to the views of the House, which are central and critical to this debate, as was acknowledged in the Hirst case."
Thirty-nine pubs are closing each and every week. The all-party save the pub group secured a Westminster Hall debate last week to highlight the problem and discuss solutions. Contributions from MPs are extracted below.
Karen Bradley MP said pubs are socially useful: "The group shares a belief that the British pub is an important part of this country's history and heritage, and that pubs are hugely important to the communities they serve as a focus for community, social, sporting and charitable activity. The traditional public house also provides a sociable and controlled drinking environment, which is important to encourage responsible sociable drinking."
Jack Lopresto MP says the smoking ban should be relaxed: "Overall, the smoking ban has been positive. It has improved the environment of pubs no end, especially for those that rely on serving food as a key part of their business, and it makes for a much more pleasant experience for most people who are non-smokers. It has also made pubs more family friendly. But there needs to be a re-think on having a dedicated smoking area inside buildings, with extractor fans, where no children would be allowed and no food would be served. I realise that this would not be possible in every case, but it would allow many pubs to utilise extra space or even have a smoking bar and non-smoking bar or room/lounge-whatever-and end the practice of smokers being thrown outside in all weathers at any time of day or night, with the problems that can be caused with disturbance to local residents who live close by. That would generate a significant increase in business for pubs that are currently struggling and it could make the difference between a pub staying open or closing."
Thérèse Coffey MP said that pubs should offer diverse services: "We must also encourage other income streams; I think of what is happening with post office essentials. If a pub is open from 11 until 11, there is no reason why one cannot buy stamps and get driving licence forms and so on there. There are also aspects such as the internet hub. We have the digital village pump, and I know that schemes are afoot already to try to ensure that it is near the pub, so that people can use the internet there as well. Of course, we had the endorsement of His Royal Highness Prince Charles in 2001, when he spoke about the pub as the hub. On that note, I raise my glass and toast the future of British pubs. Cheers, everyone."
By Jonathan Isaby
At Home Office questions yesterday, Immigration MInister Damian Green answered a selection of questions on non-EU migration, further to the recent announcement that there will be a reduction in the number of visas issued next year from 28,000 to 21,700.
As a supplementary question, Sheryll Murray, the new MP for South East Cornwall specifically asked how many migrant workers are from within the EU and how many are from elsewhere, to which the minister replied:
"I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking that question, because it enables me to puncture one of the great urban myths in the immigration debate, which is that most immigration comes from within the European Union. The net migration figures - which we will get down to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament - show that the vast bulk of immigrants come from outside the European Union. She asked about the numbers. In 2009, 292,000 non-European economic area migrants entered the UK and only 109,000 left. The House will see that the vast majority of net immigration comes from outside the European Union. Such immigration is precisely what we will take action on."
There were several other supplementaries from Tory MPs on the subject:
Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands): Will the Minister assure the House that the new proposals to control immigration will protect the interests of legitimate businesses?
Damian Green: I give that assurance to the House and, beyond that, to business. We held something that has been unusual in recent years: a consultation that genuinely consulted. We listened to business and changed the rules on inter-company transfers. That is also why we got rid of most of tier 1 and left a small remainder for the very exceptional. We now have a system that will not only enable us to get immigration to sustainable levels, but protect businesses and educational institutions that are vital to our future prosperity.
Robert Buckland (Swindon South): What evidence has he found of abuse in the points-based immigration system that was introduced by the previous Government?
Damian Green: Regrettably, there is large-scale abuse. For instance, we looked at a sample of the migrants who came here last year in tier 1, which is meant to cover the brightest and the best of highly skilled migrants, and nearly a third of them were doing completely unskilled jobs. We have also found widespread abuse in the student system. That tells us that we must refine and smarten the points-based system that was left to us by the previous Government so that it does the job of ensuring that we get immigration numbers down to sustainable levels.
Karen Bradley is the new MP for Staffordshire Moorlands, the seat in which she was born. In her maiden speech yesterday she called for more clarity and simplicity in the legislation passed by Parliament:
“My professional background is as a chartered accountant and chartered tax adviser—and I realise how many people would be disappointed if the word “tax” did not appear in this maiden speech. Over the years I have advised businesses, large and small, on their tax affairs, I have seen many instances of where the intention of the law has been altered in practice, not by another Act of Parliament or even by a judge, but by officials in Government Departments—in my particular case, by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. That is a question not necessarily of unintended consequences, but of deliberately altered consequences by officials.
“Let me provide a concrete example of what I mean; it relates directly to our debate on green energy and reducing carbon emissions. Under the Finance Act 1999, the then Government encouraged people to cycle to work—which given the terrain in the Moorlands, would keep us extra fit. Parliament determined that if businesses provided cycles for their staff, that provision would be exempt from tax. There are several ways that a business could do that—for example, by creating a pool of bikes or by setting up a salary sacrifice scheme. In the latter case, a credit agreement between the employer and employee is required.
“One of the principles in the legislation is that the benefit should be “generally available”. However, HMRC guidance drawn up in the normal way on the matter results in a subtle, but different, position—that the benefit must be “available to all”. Crucially, employees under the age of 18 cannot enter into a credit agreement. This means that most employers could not offer the option to all employees; and, according to the Revenue, if it is not available to all, it cannot be available to any.
“A Department for Transport guideline produced 10 years later attempted to clear up the anomaly, but why did we need guidelines from one Department to interpret guidelines from another when the intent of the law was quite clear? Why should HMRC apply the rules in this way? Did not Parliament say that it wanted this tax exemption to be given to employees to encourage green transport? Who gave the Revenue, a Government agency, the right to re-interpret the law? That may seem a small instance, but it is indicative of the larger problem we face. There is a culture of control often masquerading as advice, and there is a tendency to complicate the law—and not just in the area of tax.
“Too many times my constituents have said to me that they do not understand why MPs or councillors have to take legal advice or are following the official guidance rather than doing what the intent of the law says. Parliament must be supreme, and not just in fiscal matters. Ministers and Members of this House must be confident that they are the masters of the rules, because they are accountable to those who have sent them here. If we pass fewer but simpler and clearer laws, there will be less scope for confusion. Simplicity will help Parliament maintain that supremacy, while transparency will also help to restore the reputation of politics.
“Our electors are more than capable of judging what we are doing—and seeing whether it is worth while—if they can see what it is, and clarity of principle might even increase interest in the business of Parliament. People will see this House as a place of serious and relevant debate, and, dare I say it, simplicity might even help us make efficiency savings. I therefore ask that in this Budget debate, and in the debates that follow on of the Finance and other Bills, we ensure that what we intend the legislation to do is what officials implement and enforce.”