By Matthew Barrett
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The Government has given the go-ahead for fracking licenses to be granted. Shale gas has the potential to transform our energy outlook, reducing our carbon emissions, reliance on foreign oil, and most importantly, prices.
Questions to the Lib Dem Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, were held in the House yesterday. A number of Tory MPs, including Members local to the main fracking site in the North West, welcomed the decision to start exploiting shale gas.
Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) hailed the possibility of shale gas reducing fuel poverty:
"I want to see proper environmental safeguards and generous community benefits for the areas where fracking will take place, but does my right hon. Friend agree that shale gas has the potential not only to lead an industrial renaissance in this country but to play a serious part in dealing with fuel poverty?"
Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) wanted to dispell the "alarmist stories" about lax regulatory regimes:
"Many of my constituents remain concerned about the parallels that they perceive between shale extraction in the United States and what is being planned in the United Kingdom. Will the Secretary of State say a little more about why he thinks that the regulatory environment here will be superior to that of the United States, thereby disproving many of the alarmist stories that are circulating?"
By Tim Montgomerie
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I published some photographs of Tory MPs - including the Prime Minister - enjoying the Jubilee celebrations on Sunday. Here are some more. They involve a lot of cake and quite a bit of rain.
First up is Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt. No doubt enjoying the break from the responsibilities he has for Middle Eastern policy he's judging a Jubilee cake competition at Wyboston, Chawston and Colesden Village Party.
By Matthew Barrett
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In the Commons yesterday, a debate was held on whether to suspend Sunday trading restrictions for the period of the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer. The Bill passed through the House, with only extremely minor rebellion from the Tory benches. This was surprising because there was some consternation felt by some sections of the backbenches about the proposals, with the suspicion that the period was simply softening the public up for a full scrapping of Sunday trading laws.
"Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Will my hon. Friend reassure a significant number of Harlow residents who have written to me that the Bill is just a temporary Bill for the Olympics, and that there are no plans to extend Sunday trading per se?
Mr Prisk: I am happy to give that assurance. I do not want to test the patience of the Deputy Speaker. The motion is about the proceedings of the House, but I want to make it crystal clear that the Bill will come off the statute book immediately after 9 September."
The first vote, which was merely a procedural vote concerning the passage of the BIll, was agreed to with 281 ayes, and 112 noes. The only two Tory noes on that vote were Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone, who voted with the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party and many Labour MPs.
"Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. He is being extremely generous very early on in his remarks. Will he give me some reassurance? What protection will be in place for, say, volunteer sports coaches or church workers with commitments on Sundays, if their volunteer commitments are threatened by having to work extra hours?
Vince Cable: Of course, they could opt out of the commitments, as is already provided for under existing legislation, which means that they will receive all the protections subject to unfair dismissal legislation."
By Tim Montgomerie
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Yesterday I noted that the Tory backbenches were bubbling away with innovative new thinking. Those backbenchers can be encouraged this morning to know that their ideas can become policy.
Exhibit one is Mark Menzies. Mark has been campaigning for a relaxation of Sunday trading laws during the Olympics Games. He put forward a Ten Minute Rule Bill on the subject and lobbied various ministers, including Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. He wrote about his campaign on his personal website. 48 hours ago he got a call from the Chancellor of the Exchequer's office to say that his idea would be implemented with emergency legislation rushed through parliament to enable it. Retailers are set to gain by tens of millions of pounds for this temporary economy-boosting measure - and he proves that backbenchers can make a difference.
Another backbencher making a difference is Ben Gummer. Earlier this year Ben argued that every taxpayer in the country should receive a personalised statement of the tax they pay and how that tax is spent. It was this ConservativeHome article - entitled "George Osborne should give every taxpayer a receipt, detailing how their money is spent" - about how they do this in America that reminded Ben about the potency of the idea. Today's Mail and Telegraph both lead on the news that George Osborne will implement this idea. For the first time ever we'll know exactly where our money goes. I suspect many people will be surprised at the relatively small sums that go to help tackle global poverty.
In Monday's debate looking ahead to the Strategic Defence Review, two newly-elected Lancashire MPs delivered their maiden speeches.
"We make things in Fylde. It is the home of nuclear fuel, employing 2,000 people, and in a future debate I wish to expand on that point. It is home also to the military aircraft division of BAE Systems, employing more than 8,000 people directly. Indeed, it is not only the home of the Typhoon Eurofighter; Nimrod final fit-outs and all the developmental work on unmanned aerial vehicles takes place there. The Americans take the credit for many things, but one thing for which they cannot take credit is that technology. The United Kingdom is the world leader in that technology, and it is developed in my constituency.
"On the defence review, I should like to make an appeal to the Minister. I know that budgets are tight and many Members from all parts with interests in defence procurement are making pitches, but we need Typhoon tranche 3b for a number of reasons. We live in an unpredictable world, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) said, we cannot tell what the future holds, other than that it will be unpredictable. At times Government Front Benchers talk about export potential, and British Aerospace is working very hard in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Japan to win exports. However, the aircraft's cost model is built on the premise of a future RAF order, and Ministers must be aware that if a future order is not forthcoming the cost dynamics will change, and BAE might not be competitive with the United States and France in export markets."
Unusually, he concluded by paying tribute to the Unite trade union:
"I may be the only Conservative Member to do so, but there we have an example of the trade union working with BAE management and the Government to deliver what is important: a quality product, products coming off the production line and everyone pulling in the same direction. I really hope that Unite continues to work with the current Government and with BAE to deliver that."
"Across the north-west, 3,400 volunteers-men and women-are in the TA, on top of the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and the Royal Marines Reserve. Since 2003, 1,700 of those volunteers have served in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans. I wish to pay tribute here to the chairman of my association, Dr Robin Jackson, who is commander of 207 Field Hospital (Volunteers), soon to go out to Afghanistan. I am sure that all hon. Members' prayers, as well as mine, go with those people on their second tour of duty in that country. I was so pleased when, in response to questions from more eloquent Members than me, the Secretary of State spoke about the importance of our reserves, what they contribute, and the mobility that they give to this country and to the Army's capability. They are a fantastic operation."
He also pleaded for our troops to be properly equipped:
"As I am sure most Members understand, all our constituents are questioning our engagements abroad at the moment. Certainly in my constituency-where people are, as they say, not backward in coming forward-the jury is still out on what is going on in Afghanistan. However, I will tell Members what they will not put up with and what they expect from this new Parliament: whatever future engagements the Government have for our soldiers, whether regular or volunteer, never again should they be sent out there without the best equipment that this country can provide."