By Matthew Barrett
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I recently profiled the 2020 and Free Enterprise groups of Tory MPs. Those two groups are formed by ideology: MPs are attracted to the groups because, in the case of the Free Enterprise Group, members wish to open up markets and make Britain business-friendly enough to compete with other world class economies. The 2020's members want to renew and refresh Project Cameron, while considering how the country should look after a majority Conservative government.
The 40 is rather different as it is a group of MPs brought together solely by necessity - the members are those MPs who were elected in 2010 with the narrowest majorities in the Party.
Origins of the group and key members
The group was founded early last year by Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood), Graham Evans (Weaver Vale), and David Mowat (Warrington South). There is no rigid structure to the group as such, given its non-ideological purpose, but when it meets, the convener is usually David Mowat. Other key "executive" members of the group include Evans and Ollerenshaw, as well as Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye), James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) and Ben Gummer (Ipswich).
By Tim Montgomerie
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The Westminster Hour's Carolyn Quinn spoke to Tory MP Michael Ellis about his organisation of a Diamond Jubilee tribute to Her Majesty The Queen, paid for by MPs and peers. Mr Ellis took charge after, during a tour of the Commons, it was pointed out to him that MPs had paid for a fountain below Big Ben for the Queen's Silver Jubilee and for a sun dial for her Golden Jubilee.
This time a stained glass window has been commissioned for the north window of Westminster Hall - the part of the Palace of Westminster most associated with the monarchy. Before it is installed the window will be showcased at ground level to the one million people who visit parliament each and every year.
£85,000 was raised over two months from members of both Houses of Parliament. No taxpayers have been hurt!
Listen to the whole five minute interview and ConHome's congratulations to Michael Ellis on this great project.
By Matthew Barrett
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Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Member for North East Somerset, has, in his time in the House, distinguished himself as a defender of traditional British institutions. In the debate that followed the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement on the Civil List, Mr Rees-Mogg defended and celebrated our monarchy.
His key points were:
By Jonathan Isaby
Two Tory MPs sought an update on the Government's plans to bring forward proposals to prevent unfair dismissal on grounds of age, to which Work and Pensions Secrteary Iain Duncan Smith replied:
"We are moving in that direction. Our changes will abolish the default retirement age, and we will make sure that people can no longer be kicked out of work because they have reached a certain age. By getting rid of that, we will improve the economy and help older people find work for a longer period, which is beneficial to the economy and beneficial for those people."
Supplementary exchanges then followed:
Robert Halfon (Harlow): In the recession redundancies have been higher among the over-50s than any other age group, including in Harlow. Many people, like my constituent, Kevin Forbes, who applied for more than 4,500 jobs, are worried that employment law is biased against older people. What are the Government doing, apart from what my right hon. Friend has just described, to make work fairer for the over-50s?
Iain Duncan Smith: The reality for companies and for those who are seeking work is that, because of the need for employment over the next few years, we will need more and more of the skills that are present in the age group to which my hon. Friend refers. Therefore, companies have to reach the sensible solution, which is that people who have those skills and ways of doing their jobs can stay in work much longer. The Work programme will be set up so that they can be helped back into work if they become unemployed. My concern is that companies should recognise that older workers have huge value, well beyond the cost of paying their wages.
Michael Ellis (Northampton North): Constituents in Northampton have raised with me the fact that they have been forced to retire because of their age before they were ready to do so. As I know my right hon. Friend accepts, older people offer a wealth of experience and skill. What progress have the Government made on the consultation on the default retirement age?
Iain Duncan Smith: The consultation has gone very well. We are sifting through the responses. There have been more responses than we anticipated. The vast majority have been positive, although there are some, in some areas of business, that were not as positive as we had hoped. We will publish those results and press on. I can guarantee to my hon. Friend and the rest of the House that we will press on with the issue.
Earlier in the session, Employment Minister Chris Grayling said that the new enterprise allowance would expand to become a nationwide scheme from next autumn, being launched initially on Merseyside before being rolled out nationally.
But Tory backbencher Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) had a concern about the scheme:
"I welcome the fact that the enterprise allowance scheme, which had such a positive effect in the 1980s, is being reinstated. However, I have a concern about the eligibility criteria: one has to have been unemployed for six months or more to be eligible. The National Audit Office noted in the 1980s that the longer someone spent on unemployment benefit before going into self-employment, the less successful that tended to be. Given that, will the Minister consider reducing that time and allowing people who have been unemployed for less than six months to go on to the scheme?"
Chris Grayling replied thus:
"I would very much like to improve the support that we provide, but obviously we have to do that in the context of the finances that we have inherited from the Opposition. The big difference that the new scheme will make is that it will also take advantage of the expertise of existing business people. I hope that my hon. Friend, who has a strong track record in business, will look to become a mentor for one of the new business people. That is an important difference from the previous scheme; the new scheme offers both financial and practical support, and not just financial support."
Three newly-elected barristers all delivered maiden speeches during yesterday's debate on the Queen's Speech which highlighted the failures of criminal justice policy under the previous Labour Government.
"We have confused legislative hyperactivity with effectiveness. The sausage-factory approach that saw Criminal Justice Act after Criminal Justice Act has not resulted in a better system; in fact, it has made it a great deal worse. The law of unforeseen consequences means that the extra burden placed on the system is causing it to creak at the hinges.
"The words of politicians in this House and other places sound particularly hollow to those at the chalk face trying to grapple with the reality. We have spent too much time concentrating on the consequences of offending, instead of looking at the means of preventing it in the first place. The rhetoric of being tough on crime so loved by a former Prime Minister misses the point. It is time for us to be smart on crime, by looking at the causes of that criminality and dealing with them, lest we reap the whirlwind of social problems and increased expenditure.
"When there is no option, we must stop being spellbound by the complexity of things. Prison is there to perform three simple functions: to protect the public, to punish offenders and to offer the hope of rehabilitation. None of those important functions seems to have been properly valued, as the events of recent years bear out. It is a scandal that those who have to pass sentences in the Crown court and other places are influenced by pressures on prison numbers. It is simply unacceptable and literally a denial of justice.
"If we are to deal most effectively with criminality in our country, we need to call criminal offences crime, move away from the unproductive and costly antisocial behaviour structure and all the rhetoric surrounding it, and remember that at the root of it all, it is crime prevention and early intervention, particularly in the lives of young people, that we will see reaping real rewards, when we come to look back at our time in office. My plea today is for effective action on crime—for a bit of cleverness, rather than the rhetoric of tabloid newspapers. I look forward to, I hope, playing my part in the debates on crime and other issues that are important to the constituents I represent in the years ahead."
"Some 3,600 new criminal offences have been created in the past 13 years, a rate of about one every weekday. You will be reassured to hear, Mr Deputy Speaker, that it is now illegal to sell a grey squirrel and to explode a nuclear bomb. Many hundreds of other pieces of legislation have been passed: 404 forms of behaviour are illegal now that were not illegal in 1997. To give one an idea of the progress—or lack thereof—whereas for most of the past 100 years there was about one criminal justice Bill per decade, there were 60 in the past decade.
"I am afraid that we have not had the progress that we would like. To give one example of that quickly, within the last several months at court, several barristers were kept waiting while prisoners refused to alight from a bus because they were worried about losing their places in an overcrowded prison system. The prison officers refused to force them off the bus, because doing so would breach their human rights. Many were kept waiting for many hours. One prisoner decided that he needed to use the facilities and was allowed to alight from the bus, go into the cells, use the facilities and go back, voluntarily, and get back on the bus, because to have forced him to do otherwise would have been a breach of his human rights. Meanwhile, many were kept waiting in court. I hope that my time in the House will help to ameliorate some of those discrepancies and disconnections that now exist in our system."
And Guy Opperman, who replaced Peter Atkinson as MP for Hexham, took up the same theme, saying that he had spent too long "watching while Home Secretaries meddle with the criminal justice system to little positive effect":
"There have been dozens of criminal justice Bills in the past 13 years, very few of which were any good. No one has introduced a prison reform Act since 1952. I, like others, have worked at the criminal Bar, prosecuting and defending in many murder trials, and I have seen enough of the inadequacies of prison life to know that wholesale reform is required. To fail to reform the Prison Service would be a crime, because we are simply not solving the problem of crime and punishment. We have doubled the prison population in the past 18 years, yet reoffending rates remain in excess of 70%. We send more people to prison than anyone else in Europe, yet we are not safer.
"I will campaign for a better focus on sentencing, rehabilitation, drug testing and simple education in prisons. It is often said that too often Governments consult but do not listen. I want to ensure that the victim has a voice in this House. I am proud of the fact that the previous Labour Government, in their wisdom, gave me two separate national awards, one for my help to victim support and one for my campaign to challenge the state on unlawful hospital closures. I expect no such generosity from my hon. Friends in this Parliament.
"People do not expect government to solve everything; in fact, in my experience, people are amazed when government does anything good at all. But we have a fresh chance, after the dark days of economic meltdown and a broken political system, to establish a new beginning. I accept that it will not be easy, but I am ambitious for my constituents and for this country."