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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Expanding upon his earlier remarks, Jesse Norman appeared on The World At One, and described the reform proposals as "a constitutional monstrosity", saying the Bill "should never have reached the House of Commons":
"Unfortunately the Conservative manifesto didn’t contain anything like the commitment that everyone’s pretending it did and it’s a small dishonesty to pretend that it did. What the Conservative manifesto said is that the party made a commitment to ‘seek to build a consensus’ for a mainly elected second chamber. Now it has sought to build a consensus until it is blue in the face and all of that tells us that there’s no possible consensus around the bill. Now, there might have been a consensus around a more intelligently crafted set of reforms but this bill is a total nonsense."
"This bill, which is being drawn up to satisfy the Deputy Prime Minister, is clearly a nonsense. I think that most people would be pretty outraged at the idea that some grubby little deal between the Conservatives and the Liberals that says we will give you permanent controlling vote position in the House of Lords in return for you to agreeing to vote for boundary changes that will give us 20 extra seats. That is not the basis of which to proceed with major constitutional reform."
"Absolutely not. I think this is an extraordinary piece of legislation in many ways. This is legislation brought forward by a government which actually gives Parliament more power over the executive. We will actually end up with a proper, fully-fledged bicameral system, which will ensure that Parliament can hold government more to account, in many ways ensure that we get better legislation, and possibly from a Conservative point of view desirable with less legislation."
By Tim Montgomerie
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In day two of yesterday's debate in the House of Lords about reform of the Upper House, Lord (Michael) Forsyth was in very good form.
"I wonder whether your Lordships remember the Austin Allegro. The Austin Allegro was probably the worst car ever built. It was completely unreliable, it had a totally underpowered engine, and its big selling feature was that it had a square steering wheel. This car was designed by the management for political reasons. They ignored the people who knew about cars and design and it was meant to save British Leyland. It was the management's answer. In fact, they were so convinced that it would save the company that it was nicknamed the "flying pig". I do not know whether noble Lords can see the parallel that I am drawing here, but it seems to me that this Bill, which has been so comprehensively filleted by the Joint Committee, has many similarities to the Austin Allegro in so far as the Deputy Prime Minister believes it will save the Liberal Party at the next election. It was conceived for political reasons and without any recognition of the needs of the consumer and the customer-in this case the wider electorate."
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 Tim Montgomerie
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The Coalition may get its welfare bill passed but it may do so at a cost to its relations with the House of Lords.
The Upper House repeatedly amended the welfare bill - sometimes by large majorities. Labour, crossbench and Lib Dem rebels defeated, for example, the benefits cap but there were also a significant Tory rebellion - led by the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay - against reforms to the Child Support Agency.
The Coalition is attempting to prevail by asserting what is known as "financial privilege". This gives the Commons "sole rights" in respect of financial legislation that applies indivisibly to public expenditure and to the raising of revenue to meet that expenditure (PDF background here).
"It cannot be denied that we are in extremely difficult financial times, and that the government has no choice but to take measures to address the situation. Tackling the unsustainable rise in spending on benefits and tax credits, as part of the government’s overall deficit reduction strategy, is undeniably important."
By Jonathan Isaby
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I picked out the highlights of the first day's debate on the Government's plans for the second chamber on Wednesday. Here are extracts from some of the speeches from the Tory benches during the second and final day's debate on the topic (for now)...
The Marquess of Lothian (Michael Ancram)
"It could be said that the proposal on which we are asked to take note must rank among the most inappropriate political events since Nero fiddled while Rome burned. That is not to criticise the quality of this debate, which, at least until now, has been superb, although for all I know the melody played by Nero might also have been superb. The simple fact is that this proposal is the wrong answer to the wrong question at the wrong time and, in my view, is being addressed in the wrong way. Its proponents seem to challenge the doubters, such as me, to show why it should not be adopted. That approach is perverse. Surely it is for the proponents to show why these proposals should be adopted-something that they have so far singularly failed to do. I was taught many years ago that constitutional propositions should be tested against basic criteria.
"First, are these proposals wanted? Like many others here, in over 40 years in active politics I have never met anyone outside the refined and elitist quarters of the political class who has ever even remotely raised the question of House of Lords reform with me. Anyway, it is not for us to show that it is wanted; it is for its proponents to show that it is wanted. So far they have failed to do so, because they cannot.
"Secondly, will these proposals repair something that is not working? Even the paper that we are debating accepts that your Lordships' House is currently working well and it contains no apparent proposals for making it work better. Indeed, the only proposals for that are those advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, in his Bill, which I strongly support.
"Thirdly, will these proposals improve the governance of this country? Given that the role and powers of the second Chamber are to remain unchanged, even its most ardent proponents are not arguing that reform will improve the governance of this country; they are arguing only that it will be more democratically authoritative, whatever that is meant to mean in this context. I have yet to hear a remotely convincing explanation of that.
There were some noteworthy questions in the House of Lords yesterday.
If Lord Tebbit gets the memos from modernisers at Conservative Campaign Headquarters, I'm not sure he reads them:
"Lord Tebbit: My Lords, will the noble Baroness say whether her legislation and her policies will do anything to rectify the gross imbalance of the sexes in the Crown Prosecution Service, where twice as many women as men are employed? What will she do about that to help these poor men who are being discriminated against?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, that is an interesting point. In many professions and sections of our society, women do some jobs and men do others. It is part of the culture, but it is also part of our education; women and men do not know of the opportunities that are available to them. Therefore, we need more men to know about the opportunities in the Crown Prosecution and more women to know about opportunities in science."
(Barnoness Royall is Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords.)
Baroness Morris of Bolton (Shadow Minister for Women and Health) asked a question that will cause fewer palpitations:
"My Lords, one area where the pay gap is most stark is the City, usually because of bonuses. Given that the Government are now a substantial shareholder in a number of banks, how will they ensure that there is fair play in those institutions?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, that is yet another interesting point. The Government of course have some responsibility here, but the Equality and Human Rights Commission is conducting a series of inquiries in sectors where inequality is clear, including in the financial sector. We look forward to hearing the results of those inquiries."
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean is a former Secretary of State for Scotland. Speaking in the House of Lords yesterday, he asked the Government about the taxation of small businesses:
Whether their proposals to help small businesses maintain employment will include retaining after 1 April 2009 the staff hire concession, which prevents value-added tax being charged on the wages of agency workers.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, this year’s Budget announced the withdrawal of that administrative VAT concession from 1 April 2009. It was introduced as a temporary measure in April 1997 to correct a distortion of competition that no longer exists, and there is no basis in law for its retention. From April, normal VAT rules will apply to temporary staff suppliers. Most businesses will be unaffected as they can recover in full any VAT they are charged when hiring staff.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very disappointing response. What does the Government’s rhetoric about helping small businesses and businesses to maintain employment in a recession mean if they plan to impose from 1 April next year a tax of 17.5 per cent on the wages of temporary workers? The Minister says that it will not affect many businesses but does he not realise that part-exempt businesses, which include financial services, charities, social care, education and social housing, will not be able to recover the VAT? I understand that even the Government think it will result in an extra £125 million being imposed on the costs of employing people. Should not the Government put their rhetoric into action and continue this concession, given the recession that we are about to face, which they have played such a part in creating?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government will be translating rhetoric into action in the Pre-Budget Report on Monday. I hope at that stage that the Opposition’s rhetoric extends beyond the interests that
involve about 30,000 equivalent full-time workers when the country is facing difficulties for a very large number of the employed population. The noble Lord must recognise the magnitude of the issue we face; the Opposition—he is a significant figure in them—appear to be concentrating on an administrative concession that was granted by that Administration in 1997 on a temporary basis and which was declared in 2005 to be outside the law. Over the past three years, we have consulted and indicated that we intend to comply with the law. I hope the Opposition applaud that position."
It was disingenuous of Lord Davies to accuse Lord Forsyth and the Opposition of being obsessed about a minor detail. Asking a specific question at a specific time is not an indication that the questioner only cares about that subject. Labour have made a nasty habit of this kind of tactic throughout their time in office.