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
Follow Matthew on Twitter
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.
During proceedings, Mark Francois, the shadow Europe minister, moved an amendment which would put a "referendum lock" on any future handover of power to Brussels - in other words making any future Treaty which transfers power to Brussels subject to a vote of the British people.
As he explained:
"These amendments and new clause 68 would ensure that any future treaty that transferred areas of power or competences from the United Kingdom Parliament to the European Union would require the consent of the British people in a referendum as a condition of its ratification. This referendum lock would give the British people the final say on whether they wish this Parliament to hand over further areas of power to the European Union. This is a right similar to the one that voters of the Republic of Ireland already enjoy under their constitution."
"If we were not to succeed tonight and if we were victorious at the general election, we would amend the legislation as an incoming Conservative Government in order to achieve a referendum lock... My party believes that the British people should be given the last word on any future transfers of power from the UK to the EU, so I challenge the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats to have equal trust in the British people and to support this amendment tonight.
"Before they vote, I would also ask them to consider the following. If they vote against the amendment, they will be voting against giving the British people a say on any future handover of power to the EU and people will rightly ask why. Their most likely conclusion will be that Labour and the Liberal Democrats, once again, mean to sign new treaties handing powers over from Britain to the European Union without consulting the voters, as they have conspired to do in the past. If that is what they plan to do, we will be happy to inform voters of their intentions at the imminent general election."
Despite the support of the SNP, several unionist MPs from Northern Ireland and a handful of Labour and Lib Dem rebels, the amendment failed by 303 votes to 183, with Labour and the Lib Dems whipped to vote against it.
The Lib Dem opposition to the amendment marks another high point in hypocrisy for them and, in particular, their leader. At the Liberal Democrat Conference in 2005, one Nick Clegg proposed a motion stating that "Any proposals which involve significant change in the relationship between the Union, the member states and its citizens should be approved in Britain through a referendum".
The Shadow Europe Minister was in fine form during yesterday's Europe debate in the Commons, suggesting that Labour put media management first when the priority should have been to win the EU's economic portfolio for Britain:
"It would also be churlish not to express our gratitude to the Foreign Secretary for his decision to champion Tony Blair in his campaign for the presidency. It was strongly our view that the former Prime Minister was exactly the wrong man for the job. Not only would his appointment dramatise the treaty's lack of democratic legitimacy, but to make so ambitious and limelight-hungry a politician the office's formative first occupant-he is even more so than the current Minister for Europe-would have shaped the post as an unconstructive centralising institution.
In the EU, the front-runner seldom gets the job. By doing everything that he could to make Tony Blair the front runner, the Foreign Secretary did a great deal to undermine his case. Characterising him as the man who could stop the traffic in Washington and Moscow helpfully crystallised everything that many countries did not want the President to be and implicitly put down the other candidates. The Prime Minister's people skills are obviously rubbing off on the Foreign Secretary.
We congratulate Baroness Ashton on her appointment. It is interesting that she was the Government's third or even fourth choice for the job-I will return to that in a minute-but we appreciate the appointment of someone able to work across the political divide. Some have criticised her for a lack of experience in foreign policy, but we know that she possesses a keen intelligence, and we are prepared to work with her in the British national interest.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) warned the Government before the summit, however, they should have sought for Britain not the position of President of the Council or High Representative, but a major economic portfolio in the European Commission. Recent events have borne out the wisdom of that warning, as the noble Lord Mandelson belatedly grasped. The whole saga of the appointments to the European Commission and other positions demonstrates this Government's lack of influence in the EU, lack of strategy and disunity.
The Government received no support for Tony Blair's candidacy from their socialist allies. They were talked into seeking the High Representative position. It is reported that the Prime Minister agreed not because he thought that Britain's interests would thus be best served but because he thought that it might secure better headlines. According to one key figure, there were two groups in the Government: those who made the real-world argument that the UK's interests would be best served by securing a strong economic portfolio to protect the City, and the media managers. It is, sadly, no surprise that this Prime Minister preferred to listen to the media managers. Once again, his preference for short-term personal political calculation has trumped the national interest.
Many will also find it extraordinary that the Prime Minister of this country was reduced to accepting his third choice of High Representative before he could find someone acceptable to the Party of European Socialists. They will find it even more extraordinary that the First Secretary of State, it is said, conducted his own campaign for the job and that even with his skills he was unsuccessful. As No. 10 was trying to push one set of candidates for the job, it appears that the First Secretary was trying to press another, namely himself."
Mr Francois' performance gets top marks from Quentin Letts in The Daily Mail: "If the Tories somehow manage to win the election, let's hope he is made Europe Minister and is allowed to do it for a decent spell."
Caroline Flint, the Minister for Europe, made a stunning admission in the House of Commons yesterday - that she has not read the Lisbon Treaty. During a European Committee session, the following exchange (not yet online) took place between the Minister and Mark Francois, her shadow:
"Mr Francois: Given that the treaty is integral to the documents we are debating this afternoon, I am a little surprised at the continuing vagueness of the Minister's answer. This is a really simple question: has the Minister read the elements of the Lisbon treaty that relate to defence?
Caroline Flint: I have read some of it but not all of it.
Mr Francois: What!
Caroline Flint: I have been briefed on some of it.
Mr Francois: That is an extraordinary answer. The Minister for Europe has not read all of the Lisbon treaty. That is an absolutely extraordinary revelation. It is a bit like the Irish Prime Minister saying that he had not read it before the referendum. That is an incredible answer. If she is Minister for Europe, why has she not read the treaty?"
The Lisbon Treaty provides for: a new EU president; an EU foreign minister and EU diplomatic service; the European Court of Justice having jurisdiction over key elements of criminal legislation (including arrests and sentencing); more powers for Europol; the EU setting uniform standards for asylum seekers; legally binding status for the Charter of Fundamental Rights; the abolition of national vetoes and new areas where no veto will apply; and a ratchet clause allowing the EU to abolish any non-defence national veto without a new Treaty.
Caroline Flint may not have read the Treaty, but she has offered opinion on it readily:
"I believe that the Lisbon treaty is good for the United Kingdom and good for Europe."
"The Lisbon treaty provides a simpler, more streamlined EU."
(Both House of Commons, 13 October 2008.)
When Ken Clarke admitted he hadn't read the Maastricht Treaty he got into a spot of bother. I wonder how this story will run.
Update: The debate took place in European Committee B. Immediately following the exchange above, the (Labour) Chairman Eric Illsley intervened:
"The Chairman: Order. The Lisbon treaty is not entirely relevant to the documents under debate.
Mr. Francois: With respect, it is mentioned a number of times in the documents.
The Chairman: It is related, but it is not the document under debate this afternoon. I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear that in mind.
Caroline Flint: The Lisbon treaty’s mutual assistance clause, article (1)49, is in accordance with article 51 of the UN charter, which states that countries have
“the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs”,
and as such—
Mr. Francois: You are supposed to be Minister for Europe; how can you not have read the treaty?
The Chairman: Order."
Gary Streeter, South West Devon MP and a former Shadow Cabinet member who has consistently supported human rights, posed the initial question:
"What recent discussions he has had with the Government of Belarus on human rights in that country. 
The Minister for Europe (Caroline Flint): I met the Prime Minister of Belarus in London on 17 November. I urged the Government to make tangible human rights progress in a number of areas, including greater freedom of the media, engagement with civil society and political opponents of the regime.
Mr. Streeter: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. She will know that, since 1994, that country has been run by an autocratic Soviet-style president, who keeps himself in office by locking up political opponents and rigging elections— [ Interruption. ] —nothing like this country whatsoever. Given that we are talking about a European country—a country in the centre of Europe—surely the UK and EU can do more to support the movements for change and the opposition in Belarus, and to bring about a peaceable, transforming, democratic revolution in that country.
Caroline Flint: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I know that he plays an important role in human rights issues. I reaffirm to the House that, although the EU, with the UK’s support, has opened up some opportunities, there is a six-month window: come March this year, Foreign Ministers will take a decision on whether some of the opening up and reduction of restrictions should continue. Although some small progress has been made in the past few months in relation to the media and political prisoners, a lot more could be done. It is up to those who run Belarus to make the effort. We shall continue to press, as we have for many years through our mission in Belarus, to support those who want more democratic engagement and freedom of expression."
Mark Francois: This has been a debate about broken promises. First, the Government promised a referendum. Then, in lieu of a referendum, they promised the House of Commons 20 days of detailed parliamentary debate. Then they broke that promise, and allocated only 14 days—less than half the number given to debate the treaty of Maastricht. Then they broke that promise. They told us that we would give the Bill line-by-line scrutiny, but they so manipulated the debate that the detailed scrutiny of the amendments was left until the end of the day, and large groups of amendments were not debated at all, including critical amendments on borders, visas, immigration, asylum, defence, social policy and the free movement of workers. None of those provisions was subjected to line-by-line scrutiny at all, yet such scrutiny was the Government’s main excuse for not granting a referendum in the first place.
I turn first to the Foreign Secretary’s speech. At the risk of being ungallant to him, I must say that he did not have a very good day. First, he tried to argue that the Government had originally promised a referendum on the EU constitution because it represented fundamental changes to our relationship with the European Union. Then, when he was pressed further, the right hon. Gentleman said that it did not represent a fundamental change in our relationship with the EU. Taking interventions from all sides, he completely dropped the ball when he said that the reason why the Government promised a referendum in the first was that they needed to “clear the air”. Well, if we needed to clear the air then, why do we not clear the air now and give the people of this country the referendum that they were promised? If that is the only argument that the Foreign Secretary can put to the House, I look forward to the rapid promotion of the Minister for Europe.
Let me turn now to deal with those parliamentary statesmen, the Liberal Democrats, who are planning, I am told—with some honourable exceptions—to abstain constructively. They have no mandate for an in-out referendum in their 2005 manifesto, which promised a referendum on the EU constitution and gave no promise on an in-out referendum. They are arguing a case to paper over the cracks in their policies without any endorsement from the people who sent them to this House of Commons. That is the mess that they find themselves in. My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) made the point about the missing cojones—and I have to say that, at the end of this debate, they have still not been discovered. The Government lost a pair of discs; the Liberal Democrats lost a pair of something else—and they have not yet been found.
Tonight we are taking an important decision for our country, so what are the Liberal Democrats going to do? What is the party of Lloyd George, Asquith and Gladstone going to do tonight when the future of our country is in the balance? They are going to go and hide in the toilets because they do not have the guts to vote on the question either one way or the other! And it is the Liberal Democrats who promise us a new politics, a politics of change. If that is all they have to offer, they should go back to the starting board and start again.
The two documents are the same. The Council mandate of the intergovernmental conference 2004 brought forward almost all the same innovations. That is how it was done. The European Scrutiny Committee said that the two were substantially equivalent and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing summed it up perfectly when he said:
“Public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly... All the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way.”
In the latest poll, 88 per cent. of the British people wanted a referendum. This House collectively, and all parties, gave their word that they would have it. We dishonour this place if we do not keep that promise. We say: let the promise be kept, let the question be put, let the Commons retain its honour in the eyes of the public, and let the people decide."