Julian Huppert, the MP for Cambridge, is unhappy, according to the Times (£). When he rises to speak in the Commons, his fellow MPs greet him with a collective sigh, as theatre-goers once greeted Peter O'Toole's legendarily calamitous production of "Macbeth". Yesterday, they upped the ante - and Mr Huppert clambered to his feet amidst a chorus of jeers. Hansard records the following recent exchange: "Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) rose. Hon Members: "Oh, no." Asked if he felt bullied, Dr Huppert replied - honestly and pithily - "Yes."
I know how he feels. Over ten years ago, I was minding my own business in the Commons chamber, in the pleasant state of daydream that MPs habitually slip into when their colleagues are speaking, when my tranquility was suddenly and brutally disturbed. Tony Banks, the former Labour MP, was speaking. He was saying that John Thurso, the MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, looked remarkably like Lord Lucan. "He has done well to seek the anonymity of being a Liberal Democrat," he said.
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 Matthew Barrett
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The Daily Mail this morning reports on the 118 Conservative MPs who have written to constituents indicating their opposition to gay marriage proposals. The Mail says "Their opposition has been expressed in letters and emails sent to constituents who have contacted them with their own concerns", and points out that if these MPs voted against proposals, it would constitute the biggest Tory rebellion in modern times. However, Equalities Minister (and Secretary of State for Culture) Maria Miller pointed out on Twitter that since any vote on the issue would be a free vote, it would not technically be counted as a rebellion.
I have listed the MPs from the Mail's story below.
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 Jonathan Isaby
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I have already covered Conor Burns' sideswipe at Lord Heseltine from the debate on Lords reform, but what else happened during the debate?
Overall, one got the impression that (with a few exceptions) the Conservative benches were highly sceptical about an elected second chamber - including many who are usually deemed to be supporters of the Government.
Later in his speech, Conor Burns spoke in favour of the status quo - ie a fully appointed chamber - and then considered what parties had promised in their manifestos:
"I wish to deal briefly with the argument that reform was in every party’s manifesto. It was, to some degree, and the Liberal Democrats, who had the most pro-reform manifesto commitment, got 23% of the vote in the general election. Labour, which was slightly more lukewarm, got 29%, and the Conservatives, who were the most lukewarm, got 36%. There is almost an argument that if we want to do things on the basis of what was in the manifestos, we should remember that the most people voted for the party that was most lukewarm on the issue. We have to ask ourselves, as at the time of Maastricht, when all three Front-Bench teams are united on something, how do those who dissent make their view known?
By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday Justice Secretary Ken Clarke presented his Green Paper on Criminal Justice, “Breaking the Cycle: Effective Punishment, Rehabilitation and Sentencing of Offenders”. ConHome has already covered some of the announcements contained therein here and here, but here are some of the highlights of what Mr Clarke said in presenting the Green Paper to the Commons and the reaction he got from Tory backbenchers.
"Of course, criminals must face robust and demanding punishments. This means making them work hard both in prison and in the community. More prisoners will face the tough discipline of regular working hours. This has been lacking in most prison regimes for too long. Community sentences will be more credible, with more demanding work and greater use of tough curfew requirements. There will be greater reparation to victims through increased use of restorative justice and by implementing the Prisoners’ Earnings Act 1996. We will bring forward other changes to make sure that more offenders directly compensate the victims of crime.
"But we will take a new approach to the reform of offenders. I regard prison first and foremost as a place of punishment where people lose their liberty as reparation for what they have done, but on top of that, prison cannot continue to be simply an expensive way of giving communities a break. We must give higher priority to ensuring that more prisoners go straight on release.
"Offenders will face a tough and co-ordinated response from the police, probation and other services. It will mean that they must either address the problems that fuel their criminal activity or be caught and punished again."
"The sentencing framework must provide courts with a range of options to punish and rehabilitate criminals and keep the public safe. The sentencing framework has developed in an ad hoc fashion recently, with over 20 Acts of Parliament changing sentencing in the past 10 years. This has left it overly complex, difficult to interpret and administer, and hard for the public to understand. We need to make better use of prison and community sentences to punish offenders and improve public safety, while ensuring that sentencing supports our aims of improved rehabilitation and increased reparation to victims and society. We will therefore simplify the sentencing framework in order to make it more comprehensible to the public and to enhance judicial independence. We will reform community orders to give providers more discretion, and we will encourage greater use of financial penalties and improve their collection."
"Let me assure the House that public safety remains our first priority. We will continue to ensure that serious and dangerous offenders are managed effectively and their risk is reduced through appropriate use of prison and then through the multi-agency public protection arrangements... Any adult who commits a crime using a knife can expect to be sent to prison, and serious offenders can expect a long sentence. For juveniles, imprisonment is always available and will also be appropriate for serious offenders."
There were some voices of considerable scepticism from some Tory MPs sitting behind him:
Apart from paying tribute to his predecessor and talking proudly of his constituency, he spoke with passion - and from personal experience - about the need to support special needs education and to challenge the fears and prejudices of some about people with disabilities:
"I feel passionately as a new Member that I want to introduce or try to reintroduce that culture of aspiration, because educational aspiration matters to me personally. As far as we can tell, I am the first Member of Parliament to be elected who attended a special school, and I particularly ask those on the Front Bench to pay special attention to needs of special schools, because they do matter. Had I not gone to that special school for the first few years of my education, I would not have been able to transfer to mainstream education. Without the speech therapy that I got at primary school, I might not have been able to stand here today and make a speech, so special needs education does matter.
"Once again, as far as we can tell, I also the first Member of Parliament to be elected who has cerebral palsy. I do not claim that that marks me out as anything special at all. I have never let it define my politics. Those who know me know that my interests are wide-ranging and far-reaching, and I will not let it define what I do in this Chamber—certainly not. I do not see myself as a role model for anyone. I have too many frailties, weaknesses and imperfections for that. I am but a weak and humble man after all.
"None the less, I hope that I can be a role model to the many people out there who might feel that they want to play a role in public life, but may not quite have the confidence to do so. I know from experience that one needs a bit of courage, yes; a bit of self-deprecation, yes; and the humility to accept that sadly, yes, the bar is still that bit higher for some of us. I found that during my campaign, when my cerebral palsy was used against me by some. It surprised and shocked me, but on 29 April I picked up The Economist and read in an article about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget crisis in California that people with cerebral palsy and epilepsy—the combination I have—had “mental disabilities”. If a publication as august as The Economist cannot get it right, it shows that there is an awful lot of work to do.
"Just last week, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Lord Morris’s Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, which introduced the basic concept of rights for disabled people, an Act without which I would not be here in the public sphere today, and I pay tribute to that. But it is abundantly clear to me that no matter how much we legislate, no matter how many laws we pass, we cannot legislate for what occurs in people’s minds. I hope, by my presence in the House over the coming years, not so much by what I say but by the very fact of being here, that I can challenge some of the misconceptions, prejudices, fears and suspicions that go with my conditions."
Paul has uploaded the full speech onto YouTube, for you to watch it in its entirety below.