A variety of reactions are pasted in this blog. The names of those calling for some change of message, priority or operational changes are emboldened. We have also included the contributions of MPs who have not advocated substantial changes.
5.45pm A little round-up of what Tory MPs have said during the day:
David Ruffley MP advocated radical economic measures - and a withdrawal from the Coalition if Lib Dems won't back them:
"I think now with the position now where there was a Coalition Agreement two years ago but quite a few senior colleagues think that was then, this is now. We didn't think two years ago that the economy would still be flat on its back and everything now has to be directed towards getting the British economy going. And yes it does mean looking at tax again but also, a freer labour market, the hiring and firing proposals to make sure that young people aren't turned away from jobs because of the very onerous social employment protection legislation in this country, so we should say to the Liberals on things like that which they are blocking, 'Listen we are in a real hole now. We need some radical economic polices put in place and you go with it and if you don't, we how would you like a general election?'"
Peter Bone MP urged the Government to drop any "wishy-washy" policies in the Queen's Speech:
"You can see what happens when there is a Conservative Government, because there was a Conservative Government run in London by Boris and he got re-elected. He put forward Conservative policies and he got re-elected and he bucked the national trend, and that really should be a message for the Coalition. Be more conservative and be less liberal wishy-washy and I think that’s what the voters would like to see in the Queen’s speech.”
By Matthew Barrett
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The 301 group is perhaps the most active and important group of backbench Tory MPs. Tim Montgomerie reported last week that three MPs - Charlie Elphicke, George Hollingbery and Priti Patel - want to organise a candidate to be elected to the 1922 Committee's executive who will give the '22 a focus on policy and campaigning. The Spectator's James Forsyth blogged that "The vote for their candidate, and his opponent, will give us the best idea yet of where the backbenches are at the moment politically. Indeed, I expect that the machinery of the 301 group, the most pro-Cameron of all the backbench groups, will be thrown behind the Elphicke-Hollingbery-Patel slate."
To organise or endorse candidates for the '22 is certainly the most power a backbench group has yet wielded in this Parliament. In this profile, I'll be looking at the origins, members, aims and plans of the group to get a sense of what the group wants to campaign for.
Origins of the group
The 301 was first organised by Kris Hopkins (Keighley), a former soldier and leader of Bradford Council, and Jessica Lee (Erewash), a former barrister, and now Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve. The group began with small meetings of a handful of MPs who were "concerned that the narrative in Parliament was not representative of the conversation" that MPs had had with the electorate while campaigning during the 2010 general election, and also dissatisfied with the fact that the mechanisms of debate amongst backbenchers, and between the back and front benches, were not conducive to trying to correct that narrative. Each of those attending brought a friend, and so on, until after three meetings the group reached 60 members.
By Matthew Barrett
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In a statement to the House on North Africa and the Middle East this afternoon, William Hague announced the government's intention to abstain on the United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood. The Foreign Secretary said:
"Mr Speaker, the events in the Arab Spring and mounting concern over Iran's nuclear programme do not detract from the urgent need to make progress on the Middle East peace process. I repeat our calls for negotiations on a two-state solution without delay and without pre-conditions, based on the timetable set out in the Quartet statement of the 23rd of September. ... The UK judges that the Palestinian Authority largely fulfils criteria for UN membership, including statehood as far as the reality of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories allows, but its ability to function effectively as a State would be impeded by that situation. A negotiated end to the occupation is the best way to allow Palestinian aspirations to be met in reality and on the ground. ... We will not vote against the application because of the progress the Palestinian leadership has made towards meeting the criteria. But nor can we vote for it while our primary objective remains a return to negotiations through the Quartet process and the success of those negotiations. For these reasons in common with France and in consultation with our European partners, the United Kingdom will abstain on any vote on full Palestinian membership of the UN."
By Joseph Willits
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In an over-subscribed Urgent Question debate in the Commons yesterday, on the Palestinian statehood bid, foreign office minister Alistair Burt (standing in for Hague who was in Libya) refused to be drawn on whether the government would officially support a Palestinian bid for UN membership.
On Tuesday, ConservativeHome reported that only 2 Tory MPs, Nicholas Soames and Sir Peter Bottomley had signed an Early Day Motion in favour of a Palestinian state. Upon writing this, the number had increased to four Tory MPs, with Julian Brazier and Eleanor Laing adding their signatures.
The hesitancy with which Tory MPs are having putting their name to the EDM, bears resemblance to the government's caution, because of fears that the bid could ruin the peace process. Alistair Burt stated that it would be "premature to speculate on what the Government’s response might be" before any proposal for membership had been published. Burt also stressed it was "vital that any action in the UN does nothing to endanger the prospect of talks".
Following on from the Arab Spring "the world can no longer claim that change in the Middle East will come slowly and incrementally, or allow the middle east peace process to limp along indefinitely, as it has done", said Burt. Any resolution made between the Israelis and Palestinians, he said, is seemingly "more significant" in relation to events of the Arab Spring.
By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday saw the Second Reading in the Commons of the Pensions Bill - the legislation currently in the news which accelerates the existing timetable for increasing the State Pension age to 66. This will mean the pension age will be increased from 60 to 65 for women by 2018, before being raised to 66 for both men and women in 2020.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, said the core aim of the Bill is to "to secure this country’s retirement system, putting it on a stable and sustainable footing for the future."
The news headlines surrounding the Bill relate to the fact that women born in March 1953 will begin to receive their pension at 62, but women born in April 1953 will have to wait until 65. Mr Duncan Smith was asked about this early on in his remarks:
"Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Given that the vast majority of the 600,000 people who will be excluded from getting a pension under the raised threshold are women, is the Secretary of State at all worried that the Bill is beginning to look as if it discriminates against women?
Mr Duncan Smith: I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s concern. We are not blind to the issue, but we have decided to strike a balance between making the scheme work from the beginning and avoiding driving people on very low incomes into sacrificing too much and therefore not seeing the rewards. It is important to make the point that in the Green Paper, as the hon. Gentleman will have noticed, we talk about the single tier pension, from which there will be very significant benefits to women. We hope that in due course that will achieve a balance.
I do not dismiss the hon. Gentleman’s considerations. We keep the issue constantly under review and will watch carefully to see what happens. It is important that we get auto-enrolment off the ground in a stable manner. I hope hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that these are balanced decisions—sometimes nuanced decisions—that we have to take, but we will make sure that we review them."
Mr Duncan Smith was also asked about this specific group of women several times, by Members on all sides, including Conservatives Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) and James Gray (North Wiltshire), as well as Labour's socially conservative welfare reformer, Frank Field. Mr Duncan Smith stood his ground and defended the Government's policy:
By Matthew Barrett
On Monday, William Hague opened a debate about the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Questions about Libya, UN and NATO involvement came up initally, but events in Israel and Palestine - especially the new agreement between Hamas and Fatah - were also raised, with Conservative members firmly advocating that Hamas should accept Israel's right to exist.
Israel is not the cause of the Middle East's problems: "When Osama Bin Laden was killed a few weeks ago, an important article by Robert Fisk appeared in The Independent, in which he made the point that al-Qaeda’s irrelevance has been shown by the fact that the Arab spring was demanding not more Islamic fundamentalism, but freedoms. It is just as important to note that the Arab spring has not been demanding a change in Palestine, essential though that change is; the Arab spring has been demanding the sort of freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the rule of law—that are provided and embodied in Israel. My main initial point about Israel is that it is not the middle eastern problem; the autocratic regimes that have been surrounding Israel are the problem."
The Hamas-Fatah agreement could mean larger Hamas influence: "If the new Hamas-Fatah organisation follows the Fatah line I will be utterly delighted. That would mean that we could negotiate with Hamas again and that Israel would have a useful negotiating partner, because all these things must be achieved by negotiation and cannot be achieved by force or unilateralism. If, however, the new united organisation follows the Hamas line, the reconciliation will be either meaningless or significantly worse. This is not a various shades of grey issue, but a black and white one."
Hamas must renounce violence: "At a time when the Arab spring is showing that the Arab people are desperate for freedoms, now is not the time for the United Kingdom or the international community to abandon the Quartet’s principles. They must demand that Hamas should renounce violence, recognise the state of Israel and honour the previous agreements."
Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford) stated that Israelis must be sure of their future security: "The vast majority of Israeli people also think that a two-state solution is the long-term source of their security, but they will grasp it only if there are guarantees that that state will not threaten the long-term security of Israel. It is not unreasonable to ask for that when only five years ago Israel withdrew from Gaza and Gaza immediately fell into the hands of an organisation that is directly sponsored by Iran and wants to wipe Israel from the map. It is not unreasonable when Lebanon’s Government have been brought down and the new Prime Minister has been put in place by an organisation whose leader only yesterday said that we need to drive Israel into the sea, and that no treaties, no borders, no agreements will stop that happening. It is not unreasonable for the Israeli people to have that expectation."
Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) talked about the severe threat of Iran's nuclear ambitions: "Iran is a state that espouses a jihadist, anti-Semitic, militant theology. It is a leading sponsor of state terrorism across the middle east. Furthermore, it wishes to challenge the United States and undermine the historic undertaking of the Baghdad pact of the 1950s, through which the United States sought to support moderate Arab states. There is no doubt that the Iranian regime not only sees itself as the pre-eminent regional power seeking hegemony in the middle east, but is developing a supra-conventional nuclear missile capacity to consolidate that hegemony and become a rival to the United States in global terms. Iran is close to weaponised nuclear capability, and to being able to move, via a breakout position, from the conversion of low-enriched uranium to high-enriched uranium at the minimum 90% level. Once the regime has achieved that, weaponisation can be achieved relatively simply... A nuclear Iran would destroy the policy objective of global non-proliferation and semi-permanently destabilise the middle east, with countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and smaller Arab states seeking nuclear parity. That argument is enunciated in a report entitled “Global Trends 2025” by the National Intelligence Council. The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran presents a clear and present danger to Israel and to regional stability, and it is too great a risk. The European Union, the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency must rise to the challenge of preventing that prospect from coming to fruition."
Read the whole debate in Hansard.
by Paul Goodman
I list below every question asked by a Conservative MP yesterday in response to the Prime Minister's Commons statement about Libya. For better or worse, I haven't cited his replies in every case, but his answers on regime change, the arms embargo and the International Criminal Court are of special interest, and are therefore quoted in full.
"Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): As one of the doubting Thomases of the past few weeks, I congratulate the Prime Minister on his success and leadership and offer him my full support. I also join him in paying tribute to Sir Mark Lyall Grant and his team at the UN for what is a remarkable diplomatic success, which hopefully will mark a turning point in the development of these issues at the UN. I am sure the Prime Minister agrees that difficult questions remain. At this moment, however, it is incumbent on all of us to stand behind the armed forces, particularly our airmen, who have to implement the resolution.
Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): Yet again, my right hon. Friend has shown a breathtaking degree of courage and leadership. I support what he has said and what he has done. Does he agree that, while regime change is not the aim of these resolutions, in practice there is little realistic chance of achieving their aims without regime change?"
Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): I join others in congratulating the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and all the others who have been involved in securing this very tough resolution, and indeed the building of a broad-based coalition to deal with Gaddafi. Does the Prime Minister agree, however, that in the weeks to come it will be important for the country to know that at the same time as trying to deal with Gaddafi, the Government are also intent on forging ahead, with our European partners, in keeping the middle east peace process revitalised and going, so that we can draw the poison from the well?
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Caroline Spelman has just made a difficult statement to the Commons, making a full U-turn on the Government's proposals to sell off some state-owned forests. She announced
Mrs Spelman said that she takes "full responsibility" for the situation and in particular takes the message from this experience that people cherish the forests and woodlands and the benefits they bring. She concluded:
"I am sorry. We got his one wrong. We have listend to people's concerns."
Later on I will try and include some of the reaction from Tory backbenchers.
In the meantime, do read my post from last Friday: Lessons for the Government to learn from the forests fiasco.
Nick Watt from the Guardian has already blogged to commend Caroline Spelman's execution of the U-turn and to criticise Labour's spokesman, Mary Creagh, for a laboured and ineffective performance.
He rightly observes that Creagh managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by speakng for far too long and claiming that Labour was the party of the countryside, which prompted Tory MPs all the more to go into bat for Spelman and aid her in attacking Labour's hypocrisy on the issue of forests.
Here's a selection of the contributions from the Conservative backbenches in response to her statement:
Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford): The Secretary of State has had the honesty and guts to come here to say that she presented ideas to the British public, but the British public did not much like them, so she said sorry and came up with a new approach. Is it not instructive that that is in such amazing contrast to the behaviour of that lot on the Opposition Benches who, no matter how many acres of woodland they sold and no matter how much gold they sold and at what price, nevertheless ran our economy into the ditch, from which we are trying to dig it out?
By Jonathan Isaby
In advance of yesterday's debate on votes for prisoners, the man moving the motion, David Davis, made his case on ConHome here.
So below are some of the highlights from the contributions of other Conservatives during the debate.
NB A full breakdown of how all MPs voted is here.
South West Devon MP Gary Streeter said the motion invited people to address the "fundamental issue" of "whether or not we can pass our own laws":
"There comes a time when it is necessary to take a stand. I argue that right now, on this issue, it is right for this House, today, to assert its authority. The judgment of the ECHR in the Hirst case flies in the face of the original wording and purpose of the European convention on human rights, in which it was clearly intended that each signatory should have latitude in making decisions on the electoral franchise in that country.
"We decided in this country centuries ago that convicted criminals should not have the right to vote, and I support that decision. After all, the punitive element of incarceration is the denial for the time being of certain rights and privileges that our citizens enjoy. We decided long ago that in addition to surrendering their liberty, convicted criminals while in prison would also give up their right to vote. That was the case in 1953 when the treaty on human rights was signed, and it remains the case."
Attorney General Dominic Grieve set out the Government's position early in the debate:
"Ministers will abstain. The Government believe that the proper course of action will be to reflect on what has been said and think about what proposals to bring back to the House in the light of the debate. The Government are here to listen to the views of the House, which are central and critical to this debate, as was acknowledged in the Hirst case."
By Jonathan Isaby
One of the fears expressed by the six Tory rebels who voted against the Government on tuition fees last night (full breakdown of who rebelled is here) was that the increase would deter people from poorer backgrounds fro going to university.
It became an issue over which Conservative MPs argued during the debate in the chamber yesterday.
"I speak from my own experiences as a former schoolteacher, which I have mentioned on many occasions, and as the first person in my family to attend university-I know that I am not unique in that among hon. Members. I went to university on a full grant with all my tuition paid, shortly before tuition fees were introduced. I can only think about the impact that the proposed fees would have had on me and my family when I was growing up. Would my parents have encouraged me to attend university, had they thought I would come away with debts of £40,000 or £50,000? I do not think so. Similarly, many of the students whom I taught in deprived schools in Hull wanted to go to university, but when I encouraged them to do so, the response was often, "My dad says that we can't afford to go to university." That was after fees were introduced.
"Since fees were introduced, the evidence has shown that although there has been widening participation, students from some backgrounds are not attending the best universities, as I said to the shadow Secretary of State. They choose where to attend based on money and finances, rather than on what is best for them. They often choose to stay at home."
In reference to similar arguments made by Labour MP Barry Sheerman, Surrey East MP Sam Gyimah responded:
"He reminded the House of the debate on tuition fees here in 2004. That Bill passed by five votes. However, he did not say that, during that debate, we heard the same apocalyptic messages that we are hearing in the Chamber today. The issue then was fees increasing from £1,000 to £3,000. No Government Member says with relish that we should increase fees, but it is important to note that six years on from those debates, 45% of people go to university and 200,000 people want to but cannot go. The hon. Gentleman should therefore have told us that, although we were worried at the time, many of those worries proved unfounded."
This argument was developed with more statistics by Grantham and Stamford's Nick Boles:
Three of this week's maiden speeches delivered by new Conservative MPs featured particular praise for Baroness Thatcher.
"Those hon. Members in the Chamber a couple of days ago will have heard my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) claiming that his constituency gave the country the first king of England. I cannot claim that for Finchley and Golders Green, but perhaps I can claim that we gave the country the latter-day Boadicea — in one Margaret Hilda Thatcher. In my view, my noble Friend is the best peacetime Prime Minister that we have had. In this current economic climate, we could learn much from her resolve in addressing the economic crisis that she inherited. Then, unemployment and inflation were rising, and our public sector spending was out of control.
"Perhaps the task ahead for our Government today is slightly greater, as Baroness Thatcher never managed to cut public spending. She was able only to slow its growth, yet we have laid out plans to cut public expenditure—something of a daunting task. Like her, however, I believe that we must return to sound money and good housekeeping, and to protecting our cherished freedoms. Throughout her premiership, she remained an active and effective constituency MP, and I shall be fortunate if I achieve a fraction of what she achieved through my campaigns to improve breast cancer screening for local women, to promote infrastructure investments on the north circular road, and for the free schools programme, which are so wanted and deserved by my local population."
"My noble Friend Baroness Thatcher inspired me to enter politics. She taught me the importance of ideology—crucially, in the context of this debate, that politics is in its essence counter-intuitive, and that Conservative means deliver liberal ends. On arriving at the House just after the general election, it was something of a relief to discover that, on occasion, Liberal means may deliver Conservative ones."
She also outlined her desire to see the interests of veterans looked after properly:
"If I myself have a political ambition, it is—perhaps I may ask the House’s traditional indulgence for a maiden speech—to suggest a cross-departmental project to my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Work and Pensions and for Defence. For several years, I lived in the United States—indeed, my family are American—and I was struck by the exceptional way in which people treat their troops and their troops’ families. Over there, the Veterans Administration, which has a seat at the cabinet table, oversees all military welfare, from hospitals to low-cost housing loans. There was much in the Conservative manifesto for our troops to celebrate, from extra money for mental health provision to the application of the pupil premium to the children of military families. Too often in Government, however, the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.
"I am glad to see my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) in his place beside me, for he spoke most movingly in his maiden speech of the need for this House to put Help for Heroes out of business by providing better medical care for our troops. I suggest to him, and to the whole House, that a fully fledged veterans administration might go even further, overseeing all military welfare, from widows’ pensions to mental health provision, and that it need not cost too much; rather, it would merely tie all military welfare together."
"Grantham achieved global celebrity because of Margaret Thatcher. Thirty years ago, she smashed through the glass ceiling in this House, and gave us all a master class in true grit. I pay tribute to her today."
He also had the task of paying tribute to his predecessor as MP, Quentin Davies, the Conservative who defected to Labour in 2007, and did so with good humour:
"I should like to thank my predecessor, Quentin Davies, for his long record of service. He worked hard for the people of south-west Lincolnshire, and played a crucial role in securing the future of Grantham hospital when it was under threat. It is therefore with a heavy heart that I report to the House the shocking truth about Mr. Davies’s recent ordeal. Three years ago he was kidnapped by a brutal and unscrupulous gang. As a political prisoner, he was spared no indignity. He was even forced to sign a statement hailing the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) as
“a leader, who is entirely straightforward, who has a towering record, and a clear vision for the future of our country”.
"Last week, Mr. Davies suffered the final humiliation—exile to the House of Lords. We can only imagine his anguish as he protested his belief in a fully elected second Chamber and his scorn for titles and other baubles. I hope that the House will join me in sending our condolences to the newly ennobled Lord as he starts his life sentence on the red leather Benches."