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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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."
Established by parliament in 1994, the Intelligence and Security Committee provides democratic scrutiny of the finances, policy and administration of our three intelligence agencies – MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. Only two decades ago it was regarded as unthinkable that parliament should have a role in this shadowy area of the State but the relationship has developed such that the Agencies now accept a greater level of accountability, and have greater respect for the independence of the ISC. The coalition believes there is room for stronger oversight still and proposes giving the Committee further powers.
The ISC is currently chaired by former Foreign and Defence Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, and Committee members are Hazel Blears, Robin Butler, Menzies Campbell, Michael Ancram, Julian Lewis, Paul Goggins, George Howarth and Mark Field. On Wednesday, Mark spoke at the Cyber Defence & Network Security Conference 2012 in his capacity as a Committee member.
The full speech can be read here and is précised below.
The growth of the internet is the defining technological change of this generation. Not only has it transformed the way we communicate, socialise, transact, consume, but it has linked the world in ways seemingly unimaginable even a decade ago.
The inevitable impact on the political sphere was clear for all to see last year. The Arab Spring, the rapid coordination of global protest movements, the London riots, the continued dramatic, debilitating drip of Wikileaks – these events were not necessarily foreseen, but they were in part facilitated, and certainly enormously accelerated, by the internet.
In 1995, the number of web users stood at 16 million. That figure has mushroomed to the over two billion users we see today. Such expansion brings exciting economic, political and cultural opportunities. But it also heralds a new age of previously unseen threat. With a total disregard for convention and an ability to break down perceived norms at staggering pace, the internet presents to diplomat, politician, businessman and everyday citizen alike a challenge of epic proportions.
By Joseph Willits
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In Parliament yesterday, Immigration Minister Damian Green responded to an urgent question tabled by his Labour counterpart Chris Bryant after reports that 4,238 foreign criminals awaiting deportation were still committing crimes. In May of this year, 3,775 foreign criminals were awaiting deportation, but by September the number had increased by almost 500.
Green said that in 2010, the Government had "removed more than 5,000 foreign criminals, 43% by the end of their prison sentence", adding that "where there are barriers to early removal, the agency seeks to detain them to protect the public".
However, the removal of foreign criminals is effected by legal issues Green said, saying that the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) had to "operate within the law". The UKBA "must release foreign offenders when ordered to do so by the courts and release low-risk offenders where there is no realistic prospect of removal within a reasonable period". Green said that "challenges under human rights legislation, the situation in the offender’s home country, and lack of co-operation by the offender or his home Government in getting essential travel documents" could all delay the deportation process. Whilst the deportation process was still ongoing, "the UKBA works closely with the police and the National Offender Management Service to reduce the risk of reoffending".
By Tim Montgomerie
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Earlier this week John Baron MP called a debate in Westminster Hall to question UK participation in IMF bailouts of the Eurozone. Pasted below are extracts from what he, Mark Hoban MP and Mark Field MP said.
Endless bailouts and EU summits are not addressing the Eurozone's underlying uncompetitiveness: "Will additional IMF funding work? That will simply reinforce existing eurozone policy, which is itself fundamentally flawed. The existing policy simply does not address the core causes of the crisis, which are a lack of competitiveness and Governments spending too much. Debt is the problem, as I have said, not demand. We have had 14 or perhaps even 15 gatherings, conferences and summits to save the euro, but each has failed to address the core reason for the problem, which is a fundamental lack of competitiveness."
IMF packages usually rely on devaluation nut that option is not available inside the Eurozone: "Another reason why this policy will fail is that it fundamentally ignores the importance of devaluation to recovering economies. Usually, there are three elements in an IMF package: reduced spending, increased revenue and the ability to allow the currency to devalue. That last bit is important because a currency that devalues helps to take the strain off the economy. If an economy is deemed to be, say, 25% uncompetitive compared with its neighbours, allowing its currency to depreciate to about the same extent will go a long way towards taking the strain. If we cut off that option, that 25% gain in competitiveness can only really be brought about by cuts to public services, salaries and pension funds. That is simply not an option, and for that reason that makes those austerity packages so much worse."
The Eurozone, not the IMF should address its problems: "I question why the IMF is getting involved in these bail-outs. The eurozone is a currency union. If a state within the United States got into trouble, the IMF would not be expected to ride to the rescue. The same should be true of the eurozone. I contend that Greece is not economically sovereign; it has no central bank; it cannot set interest rates; it has no currency; and it cannot devalue. I would go so far as to question whether Greece is even politically sovereign. At least in the United States, the people can elect the governor of individual states. That is not happening in Greece and Italy."
The Bundesbank should use its reserves to save the Eurozone: "What makes the situation even worse is that the eurozone has resources that could do much more to help the situation. For example, the Bundesbank has reserves of £180 billion, £130 billion of which is in gold, and gold is going up in price. That is in stark contrast to our country and the action of the previous Government, who sold gold at near the bottom of the market."
The UK government is showing no leadership: "The Government seem to have fallen in behind the French and Germans in this cry that somehow we must save the euro. I suggest to the Minister that that is economic clap-trap. Binding divergent economies into a single currency without full fiscal union was, and remains, a massive mistake. Similar thinking warned us of the perils of exiting the exchange rate mechanism, yet look what happened then: almost to the day that we exited the ERM, our recovery started and it was a very strong recovery."
by Paul Goodman
I was the first journalist to write that Quilliam is to close, but the think-tank's doing its best to defy my prediction. For those who haven't followed the story, Quilliam is Britain's sole counter-extremism think-tank. It's funded by government (though it's long been seaching for private and voluntary sector money to replace it). The Home Office is about to end its financing - which mean that, if replacement money isn't found, Quilliam will be no more.
Paul Goggins, a former Labour Minister, led a Westminster Hall debate yesterday. Every speaker supported Quilliam. Julian Lewis spoke from the Conservative backbenches -
By Jonathan Isaby
"That this House regrets the unnecessarily high costs and inadequacies of the systems introduced by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA); calls on the IPSA to introduce a simpler scheme of office expenses and Members’ allowances that cuts significantly the administrative costs, reduces the amount of time needed for administration by Members and their staff, does not disadvantage less well-off Members and those with family responsibilities, nor deter Members from seeking reimbursement of the costs of fulfilling their parliamentary duties; and resolves that if these objectives are not reflected in a new scheme set out by the IPSA in time for operation by 1 April 2011, the Leader of the House should make time available for the amendment of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 to do so."
The motion had been tabled by a cross-party group of MPs, but it fell to Conservative MP Adam Afriyie - who does not himself claim expenses - to move it, giving IPSA four months to change the way it handles MPs' expenses or face being reformed by new legislation.
Mr Afriyie said he wanted to highlight the way in which the current expenses system "unintentionally discriminates against MPs with family commitments and those who come from a less well-off background":
"The system seems almost designed to create a Parliament for the wealthy. If a Member does not have sufficient resources to subsidise themselves, they become ensnared in a vice-like grip designed to bring them into disrepute—they have to produce every single receipt for some sort of personal item. Wealthier Members or those with independent means, of course, can simply not claim. As I look around both sides of the Chamber, I know that probably not a single Member here has claimed everything that they are entitled to claim—first, through fear of the public and the media really having a go, or secondly, because it is too complicated and time-consuming to do so. We have to ask ourselves whether the public want such a system for their Parliament. The wealthy swan through, buy their way out of the system with no trouble at all and are treated as saints when they are nothing of the sort, and everyone else is stuck in the system."
"The current system causes inconvenience and makes things very difficult for Members with families and Members who are less well-off. It also causes problems, because Members are not making claims. Looking back at this year, and certainly over the past six months, I know that virtually every one of my colleagues—I have spoken to 350 MPs one-to-one—has not made the claims that they are entitled to make. That may be seen externally as a great success—“Look, IPSA has crushed the MPs, and they cost far less!”—but we all know that that is not the situation. We know that Members are borrowing from their parents, having to borrow cars from friends, and still sleeping on floors of offices, which they are not supposed to do, because they are not claiming what they rightfully should be able to claim. It is not a good situation.
"However, I am not moaning on behalf of existing MPs. I love all the MPs here, but I am not whingeing on their behalf. What I am concerned about is the functioning of Parliament for the next 100 years. Where will we be in 30 years’ time if we continue down this route where only the wealthy can serve? That is where we were before; I thought we had moved on. IPSA, I hope you are listening."
"The motion asks not for a system that involves looking into the individual lifestyle of every Member, but merely for a simplified system that recognises the variability in family arrangements. The motion asks not for a system that investigates the lifestyle, family arrangements and travelling habits of every MP, but for a simpler system that saves the taxpayer money, so that MPs can focus on the job at hand, whether or not they have a family."
"I am begging IPSA please to propose a scheme that sorts the problems out, and I hope that it will. It has the mandate of the House of Commons already, so it can do so. However, the motion states that if a scheme that can be put into operation by 1 April 2011 is not proposed, this place will act—not in our interests, but in the interests of our constituents and Parliament.
"I am now on the record as encouraging IPSA to come forward with a scheme, but we must be clear on timing. If a proposal is not forthcoming by, say, mid-January, it will be impossible to introduce a scheme before the beginning of the next financial year. Therefore, if the motion is carried, it is necessary for us to introduce a Bill or a statutory instrument or something, probably this side of Christmas, in case IPSA’s proposal is not the right one. Otherwise, we are trapped within the current system, and our constituents will suffer. The costs will be astronomically high for at least another year to a year and a half, and I fear that Members will begin to leave Parliament. The work of Parliament will continue to be impeded unless such changes are made."
"This is a sensitive issue and the public are understandably concerned. I am certain that tomorrow this debate will be reported as, “MPs whinge about their conditions and the independent body that controls them”, but that is not what the debate is about. The debate is about saving the taxpayer money and ensuring that MPs’ voices are heard and not hidden through fear of speaking out."
Other Conservative MPs contributing to the debate made a variety of points.
By Jonathan Isaby
He opened the debate by stating his fear that those, including Conservative Ministers, who talk about "rebalancing the economy" so that it is less dependent on the City are "playing to the gallery as part of the general banker-bashing sentiment".
"It is superficially convincing to promote attempts to stimulate growth more evenly through the regions, and stepping up our game in the innovation and incubation of companies in the high value-added areas of high-tech manufacturing, engineering, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. I acknowledge my own part in that: I have played a role in ensuring the incubation of those small companies in the City of London. The Corporation of London is to be complimented for finding premises in double-quick time for such companies. I wholly support the initiatives of the Government, in particular funding the £200 million science park in St Pancras. That is both welcome and highly commendable.
"However, we should be wary of how the aim of rebalancing is pursued. Unwisely, most of the focus so far has been on how we might shrink the City to reduce its relative importance, rather than providing a positive economic climate in which all other sectors can flourish.
"Before we pursue what I believe would be such a dangerous policy any further, I wish to make the case why financial services must remain a central plank in Britain's bid for continuing relevance in a fast-changing global economy. A strong financial services sector is overwhelmingly beneficial to our nation. It will provide the critical mass to draw business to this country. It offers diversified sources of capital to small business. It makes huge contributions to the Treasury's coffers, in terms of tax and employment, and it supports a wide range of complementary industries, from law to leisure. It is also one of the very few areas where we might envisage significant growth in the decades to come.
"The tens of millions of people who join the ranks of the global middle class annually from India and China have a greater cultural propensity to save, and they will seek expertise in investing their savings for the future. It seems evident to me that the entire drive for the west is directed towards capturing the growth of the developing markets. It is an argument that has been put to me in recent weeks by German industrialists. Here in the UK, we have already secured such an important competitive advantage. It is in the financial services sphere. Why throw that advantage away?"
"It is time that we changed our attitude towards the City, from one of punishment, which has taken place in the past two or three years in the aftermath of the financial crisis, to hard-headed realism. How we treat our nation's most valuable economic resource in the years ahead will be a litmus test for international business in determining how serious Britain is in its wish to be dynamic and have an open economy that embraces global talent, promotes aspiration and welcomes business."
You can read his whole speech and the minister's response in Hansard.
It was Treasury questions yesterday.
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne poured scorn on the Budget growth forecasts:
"As the Chancellor knows, the growth forecasts that he gave us in the Budget last week, which predicted a return to boom levels of growth in just two years, and that the economy would stay at those boom levels, were greeted with near-universal derision, yet they were the fiction on which he constructed every other Budget forecast. When he gave those forecasts, did he know that the IMF was planning to contradict them flatly just an hour later?
Mr. Darling: Yes, of course I knew the IMF forecasts. The IMF takes a more pessimistic view, not just of our economy but of every economy across the world. However, we ensure that our forecasts are based on the information that we have. If hon. Members look at the IMF and its forecasting over the past three months, they will see that it has downrated its forecasting three times since last October, which demonstrates the uncertainty in the system. However, I believe that because of the action that we are taking, because of the fact that we have low interest rates, because inflation will be coming down this year, and because of the action that most other countries are taking to look after and support their economies, that will have an effect, which is why I remain confident that we will see growth return towards the end of this year.
Mr. Osborne: Frankly, I do not think the Chancellor is in any position to lecture anyone else about downgrading their forecasts after last week. Is not the truth this—that the dishonest Budget has completely unravelled in the space of just a week? We have seen the IMF produce those growth forecasts, which were wholly different from the ones given an hour earlier to the House of Commons. We have the CBI saying that there is no credible or rigorous plan to deal with the deficit. We have the Institute for Fiscal Studies pointing to the black hole, and yesterday a former member of the Cabinet, beside whom the Chancellor sat at the Cabinet table, said that his tax plans were a breach of a manifesto promise that is damaging not just to the Labour party, but to the economy. Today we had the Prime Minister getting a lecture in prudence while he was in Warsaw. We are used to Polish builders telling us to fix the roof when the sun is shining, but not the Polish Prime Minister as well.
Does not the collapse of the Budget in the past week and the damage to the Chancellor’s credibility make an almost unanswerable case for an independent office for Budget responsibility, so that we get independent forecasts on Budget day and the assumptions of the Budget are believed by the public?
The Equitable Life scandal was rightly prioritised by Conservative members, who leapt on Economic Secretary to the Treasury Ian Pearson, who had this to say:
"I am very disappointed that the Public Administration Committee should choose to obscure the real help that it accepts the Government’s payments scheme will deliver under extreme headlines, seemingly driven by an uncritical acceptance of the findings of the ombudsman’s report and by its unjustifiable and irresponsible characterisation of the manner of the Government’s response. [ Interruption. ] As a Government, we do not depart lightly from any of the ombudsman’s findings, but— [ Interruption. ]
Ian Pearson: The Government do not depart lightly from any of the ombudsman’s findings, but in such an important and complex case we have a clear duty to the taxpayer to ensure that our response is informed by a proper and comprehensive consideration of her report. That is what we have done and, as I have indicated previously, we want to move forward with an ex gratia payment scheme just as quickly as possible. We are talking to Sir John Chadwick about the advice that he is providing."
South Staffordshire's Sir Patrick Cormack (above right) was appalled:
"Is the Minister aware that he has just made one of the most shameful statements to have been made from that Dispatch Box in many years? He has rubbished a Committee presided over by one of his own greatly respected colleagues, and discounted the unprecedented second letter from the ombudsman that we all received this week. He has had no support from the Benches behind him, as not a single Labour Member has risen to echo his words. He should be deeply ashamed of himself, because he is bringing the Government and the whole system into disrepute.
Ian Pearson: I have a lot of respect for the hon. Gentleman, who has a very long track record of upholding standards in this House, but we have departed from the ombudsman’s findings only where we have clear and cogent reasons for doing so. We have applied scrupulously the terms of the Parliamentary Commissioners Act 1967, as interpreted by the Court of Appeal in the Bradley judgment. For no other reasons have we departed from those findings. I have to say that I remain very disappointed indeed that the PAC does not appear to have understood some of the arguments that we have made to it."
(The Public Administration Committee is chaired by Dr Tony Wright.)
THERESA MAY MP, Shadow Leader of the House: "I want to comment on why the issue of whether MPs vote on their pay has resonated so much with the public, and sadly, it is because many voters no longer trust politicians. They have a jaundiced view of politicians and are consistently given the view by the media that all MPs have their snouts in the trough. That is a disappointing representation on the part of the media because it damages this House, politics and our parliamentary democracy if people feel that they are not able to trust politicians. There are, of course, other ways in which trust in politicians is damaged, such as Governments not delivering on their promises, and other factors, but we should be concerned about the image of MPs portrayed by the media... The way in which MPs pay is reported in the press is an important issue. We consistently see the misreporting of the amounts of money that MPs “earn” in this House by the addition to our basic salaries of the budgets that we have to pay for our staff and in order to run our offices. Indeed, only last week The Daily Telegraph set out a table that included average staff salaries and average expenditure on offices alongside average travel expenses and the average additional costs allowance, under the heading “MPs’ Gravy Train”."
NICHOLAS WINTERTON MP: "Including time spent travelling to and from my constituency, I estimate that I spend an average of 85 hours per week on parliamentary and constituency work when the House is sitting. That is more than twice the normal working week in this country."
MARK FIELD MP: "Even if one of those independent mechanisms were properly implemented and all the concerns raised in this debate were addressed, the issue would still become a media hue and cry. Therefore, it is for us, as Members of Parliament, simply to bite the bullet and to drive forward the right sort of pay package, given that we believe in the idea of a sovereign Parliament."
DAVID MACLEAN MP: "Our work load is increasing all the time, but our hours have stayed fairly static, at 60, 70 or 80 a week. I could reduce my work load. I could, on Armistice Sunday, refuse to go to the service in Carlisle in the morning and the one in Penrith in the afternoon. I could refuse to do Saturday surgeries, and could refuse to go to council meetings on a Friday night. We could reduce our time commitment to 40 hours a week, but would that be the responsible, sensible thing to do? Would it be serving our constituents if we refused to do all the things that we have to do that take us 80 hours a week when the House is sitting and 60 hours a week when it is not?"
JOHN MAPLES MP: "A fair amount of remarks have been made about the erosion in our pay, and I do not need to reiterate those. Had the mechanism that we had agreed been followed, however, we would now be paid between £65,000 and £66,000 a year. Were we to continue to allow the erosion of our pay relative to other people, or to the public sector, that problem would sooner or later get so bad that it would have an effect on the sort of people who get into this place. If we want to fill it with people who are either fanatics or rich, that is the way to go, but it is not sensible. There are people who would do the job for nothing—I would be happy to present “Newsnight” for nothing—but whether they are the right people is a different question. It is not the right way of qualifying for a job. We certainly do not want to fill the place up, as we did until about 100 years ago, with people who have significant other sources of income."
and... "If we let the editorial writers of the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph set our pay, we are done for."
The decision over pay did not even go to a formal vote in the end with MPs agreeing to a sub-inflation pay rise (BBC).