By Peter Hoskin
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130 MPs voted in favour of John Baron's amendment expressing regret at the absence of an EU Referendum Bill in the Queen's speech. 277 voted against.
Peter Bone, who was a teller for those supporting the amendment, has confirmed that 114 of the 130 were Tory MPs. That exceeds the 100 that Philip Hollobone was anticipating, and it far exceeds the 60 or so that some in Government were talking about. There were also 12 Labour MPs, 4 DUP and one Lib Dem.
Although it's not strictly a rebellion – thanks to the oddities listed by Andrew Sparrow here – it's still rather embarrassing for David Cameron. It seems that the draft EU Referendum Bill rushed out yesterday did very little to sway hearts and ayes. Many of his MPs don't think he's doing enough to reassure the public of his intentions.
And the whipping operation? According to Zac Goldsmith, this was a truly free vote with "no pressure from the Whips", so may help absolve them. But it doesn't shake the fact that Team Cameron won't be thrilled with tonight's outcome – or, more exactly, with this whole farrago in the first place.
Anyway, here's the list of the 114 Tory MPs who supported the amendment:
The Queen's Speech this morning included the following Bills to be introduced in this Session of Parliament:
Other key non-legislative items mentioned in the Queen's Speech:
5pm update: A Conservative MP calls to tell me that one of his astounded colleagues counted the number of Labour MPs present as just 127 out of 350.
Below is a screen grab of the Labour benches at the opening of business this afternoon, for the debate on the Queen's Speech.
Usually the chamber is packed and with standing room only for this occasion; but look at all the empty places on the Labour benches... they've given up the ghost already.
From 3pm or thereabouts I will be live-blogging David Cameron's response to the speech.
She also announced two draft bills:
Yesterday the Conservatives led a debate on the economic, pensions and welfare portions of the Queen's Speech.
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne kicked things off. The Tory amendment indicated humble regret that:
"the Gracious Speech fails to deliver a clear direction for British economic policy, does not contain measures to assist in building a low debt and low tax economy, and lacks any radical action to unblock the credit channels of our banking system; note that many individuals have seen returns on their savings severely reduced as a result of the economic downturn and regret that the Government has no plans for emergency protection of pensioners with a suspension of annuity rules; further regret the absence of a clear strategy on value added tax; and further regret the absence of measures to avoid the United Kingdom undergoing the worst recession in the G7 next year.”.
Mr Osborne then turned the screw:
"What has been the judgment in the last week alone on the Chancellor’s claim? The pound has fallen against the euro, hitting a record low earlier today and demonstrating again the Prime Minister’s maxim that a weak currency is a reflection of a weak economy and a weak Government. The loss of international credibility has sent the cost of insuring British Government debt higher than insuring the debt of those two homes of French fries, Belgium and McDonalds. An independent survey out today says that the drop in the VAT rate seems to have made little difference in lifting consumer confidence and encouraging consumers to spend. The head of Barclays bank says that despite the measures announced by the Government over the past few weeks, such as those on stamp duty, house prices will fall by at least as much next year as they have this year.
This lunchtime, the Minister for the Olympics has contradicted every statement made by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor over the past six months by admitting, in her words, that Britain is facing a recession
“deeper than any that we have known”.
So, what about all that talk about the 1980s and 1990s now? The Finance Minister of the world’s third largest economy has described the Government’s approach as “crass” and “breathtaking” and raising debt to a level that will take “a whole generation” to pay off. That is the problem with saving the world—sometimes the world answers back."
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Chris Grayling wound up the debate for the Conservatives.
The House of Lords also debated the Queen's Speech yesterday.
The Bishop of Bath and Wells is one of the Lords Spiritual and so does not have a party affiliation. Nonetheless he made a highly entertaining and thought-provoking maiden speech that ConservativeHome readers shouldn't miss.
(There are some uncharacteristic typos in the Hansard report. These have been left in so as not to alter the text in any way.)
Readers will note that the Bishop was very funny, but also muscular in his insistence that we must address poverty. Conservatives may differ from him on the means, but it is encouraging to see a clergyman being both forthright and accessible.
"My Lords, I begin by expressing my thanks to Members of the House for their kind and generous welcome. I also thank all the officials, and staff for their courtesy and unfailing helpfulness to me and my family, particularly on the day of my introduction.
In the aftermath of the “Blackadder”television series, there are always perils for the bishops of Bath and Wells. I am constantly reminded of the alleged activities of one of my predecessors as a baby eater, as well as doing unmentionable things with a red hot poker. Entering your Lordships’ House has proved no exception, and the greeting from the Doorkeeper on my first day referring to these matters was capped only by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark seeing my five week-old granddaughter arrive and remarking, “The Bishop has brought his own lunch”.
I am grateful for this opportunity to make my maiden speech in today’s debate on the gracious Speech. Having been a director of one of the church’s mission and development agencies for six years, I am particularly concerned to encourage the Government on matters to do with international development outlined in the Queen’s Speech.
The Jubilee 2000 debtcampaignraised to popular awareness the issue of debt in the poorest of the world’s developing countries. This in turn led to Make Poverty History, a campaign that creates awareness of the ongoing issue of poverty, as well as raising the profile of the millennium development goals, a subject on which the Prime Ministeraddressed the bishops of the Anglican Communion at the Lambeth Conference.
As long as millions of people are in poverty in our world, our whole society is impoverished.The recent view of the world presented by the National Intelligence Councilisthat 63 per cent of the world’s population is expected to be poor in 2025—fewer people than today—but that the poor will be poorer. That emphasises the urgency of the challenge to meet the millennium development goals.
Unfortunately, very few MPs were present for much of what went on.
Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve, who is on fire at the moment, spoke very persuasively.
"On the substance of what the Home Secretary had to say, although I can welcome some aspects of her speech, there are many others that I cannot, because the Government’s record on home affairs and justice is not a happy one and is at variance with the aspirations set out in the Queen’s Speech.
The Government have presided over the virtual doubling of violent crime since they were elected, while their incessant red tape and regulation have tied the hands of the police. Indeed, some announcements that are now being made on the subject are merely rolling back red tape and bureaucracy that the Government previously introduced.
The thirst for headlines and the inflation of ineffective bureaucracy and legislative hyperactivity distract the Government and successive Home Secretaries from the real job at hand: getting more police on the street with the single imperative of cutting crime, and a dedicated border police force to reverse our current vulnerability, which has seen the street value of cocaine and heroin slashed by almost half, while estimates show that the numbers of young women and girls trafficked into prostitution have quadrupled."
Shadow Secretary of State for Justice Nick Herbert wound up for the Tories, and also spoke with great verve.
"Yesterday we saw the Lord Chancellor, in all his finery, skilfully walking backwards, which he did most expertly. That was entirely appropriate, because retreat has been the story of the Prime Minister’s programme on constitutional renewal.
“national debate...founded on the conviction that the best answer to disengagement from our democracy is to strengthen our democracy.”—[ Official Report, 3 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 819.]
Constitutional change was not peripheral to the Government’s agenda; it was central to their programme—“founded on...conviction”. That conviction cannot have been very profound, because just 18 months later, the constitutional agenda has all but disappeared. It has become clear that the Prime Minister had no great vision of a new settlement, just the immediate political challenge of dissociating himself from his predecessor."
Good stuff from the Conservatives - but why were so few MPs present?
Yesterday the House of Commons debated the Queen's Speech. Herewith some extracts of contributions from Conservative members.
David Cameron was on very good form. He was funny, and coped ably with questions about Damian Green before turning his fire on the Government:
"Let me tell the Prime Minister what is wrong with this Queen’s Speech. There is no recognition in the Government’s programme of how the world has changed. We are moving into an age in which there is no Government money left, so we need public sector reform to get better value for money. We are moving into an age of massive debt, so we need to mend the broken society and reduce the demands on the state. But in the Queen’s Speech there is no serious reform, just bureaucratic bungling and technocratic tinkering. It is all about the short-term prospects of the Prime Minister, not the long-term future of the country. It is last year’s Queen’s Speech from yesterday’s Prime Minister.
“Let the work of change begin.”
Let us examine them. We were told that there would be loads of eco towns, but only one is still alive. He promised zero-carbon homes, but there have been virtually zero of them. There are just 15 in the whole country. He promised 3 million new homes, but house building fell by a quarter last year. What about free nursery education for all two-year-olds? That has been abandoned. More maintenance grants for students were granted last year, collapsed in a complete shambles this year and face massive cuts next year. Then there is the Prime Minister’s promise of a new constitutional settlement. We were promised more powers for Parliament to question the Executive. That one ended up down the nick.
It was mildly amusing to hear her address the room as "my Lords and members of the House of Commons", without using the words "ladies and gentlemen"! (But only mildly amusing.)
The speech - written of course by the Government - referred to the global economic downturn, thus seeking to embed the idea that none of this is Labour's fault. I like to think that this stuck in Her Majesty's mouth a little.
The Government is planning a number of bills.
It wants to create "saving gateway accounts" for those on lower incomes. There were also nods to localism and welfare reform, but with absolutely no details (other than an indication that the latter would focus on people with disabilities). In fairness, there is very little time in a short speech about a comprehensive programme, but there will be a day of reckoning.
There was a promise of increased police accountability (perhaps inspired by Boris Johnson's successful London Mayoral campaign which talked a lot about this issue), a "more effective, transparent and responsive" justice system and stronger border controls.
Her Majesty said that her adminstration wants to fight discrimination and pursue equality of pay for men and women. The goal of ending child poverty by 2020 was reaffirmed.
There is to be an NHS bill, which will enshrine a duty to take account of the new NHS constitution outlining the core principles of the service and the rights and responsibilities of patients and staff.
Education reform - to "promote excellence in all schools" and create a right for people at work to request time for training - was also on the agenda. So too was "constitutional renewal", which will apparently involve strengthening the role of Parliament and other measures. It seems likely that they will make things worse, given Labour's track record on the constitution.
The Government is further seeking to put in place environmental protections for marine resources and bring in a "right of public access to the coastline", the latter of which is potentially worrying.
Her Majesty also stressed that her government was eager to cement relationships with the devolved administrations, Europe and NATO, and pursue peace and prosperity in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran's nuclear threat was singled out, and the words "continued progress" were used about Iraq, which was fairly bullish.
In a reminder of her status as head of the established Church, the Queen ended by saying that she prays that "the blessing of Almighty God" may rest upon Parliament.
Tom Greeves, who wrote this post, worked for Boris Johnson on his Mayoral campaign.
David Maclean MP during the Queen's Speech debate: "I am disappointed—this has been commented on already, but it is my turn to say so, too—that there is nothing in the Queen’s Speech to deal with the constitutional outrage we face in the House whereby there are two classes of MP. It is not good enough for some Government Members to say that if Tory policies were enacted, there would be a second class of MP—we have that already, and it is called the Members who sit for England, whether they are Tory, Labour or Liberal. We are second-class citizens in this House. We have no say on Scottish matters—maybe we do not want to have a say on Scottish matters—yet Members from Scotland can participate in today’s debate and vote through measures that affect my constituents in England but do not affect their constituents in Scotland. This Parliament is unbalanced, because all of us in this Chamber should work under the principle of equal pain.
If I vote through higher taxes, I should face my constituents, who can complain about it. If Members from Scotland vote through higher taxes in England, however, they do not have to face their constituents in Scotland... Members from Scotland can vote through measures in England on tuition fees or health reforms that do not apply in their own country. When they go back to their constituents, they do not have to explain or justify one iota why they have imposed penalties on people in Cumbria or London, and they are getting off scot-free... My constituents have no say on health care at Raigmore hospital in Inverness or on what goes on in Dumfries and Galloway, but, by God, they are paying for it. The hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown) and the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy) can determine health care in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty). They can determine the level of tuition fees for our constituents in England, but we have no say on those matters in Scotland. I do not want to have a say on Scottish matters, which are up to the Scottish Parliament, but it is therefore utterly unfair for Scottish Members of Parliament to come here with additional rights to dictate terms and conditions on taxes to my constituents that they do not have to suffer themselves.
...In this House, where we should all be equal, Scottish Members of Parliament are using their unequal privileges... We are not equal in this House, because the hon. Gentleman has infinitely more rights than me—he can impose things on my constituents, which I cannot do to his. I think that I have made that point about Scotland, to which we will need to return again and again until we rebalance this House of Commons with equal rights for everyone.
Before someone says that I am in an unholy alliance with the nationalists, I must say that I despise, in the nicest possible way, what the nationalists stand for—I despise nationalism. I respect the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), as I respect all other hon. Members, but I despise nationalism and separatism. Scotland and the Government are going down a very rocky route, which will lead to the disintegration of the United Kingdom."
Tony Baldry MP: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could the monitors in the Palace be checked? I cannot believe that they are working properly, given that not a single Labour Member of Parliament is present other than the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). I cannot recall another occasion on which not a single Back-Bench Labour Member has been present other than the Member who is speaking. How on earth do the Government think they can sustain the debate until 10 pm when no one is here?
Mr. Speaker: The important thing is that the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) is here to listen to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay)—and, of course, I am here to chair the proceedings, so everything is fine.
After 4.58pm John Redwood MP returned to Mr Baldry's theme: "If the Government are serious—and I hope that they are—about wanting to make Parliament the fulcrum of our national political life and the centrepiece of our debate, surely the Chamber is the place where the first clash of argument should take place over the nature of the Queen’s Speech, and whether it is wide-ranging enough or deep and profound enough. If that were the case, more Labour Back Benchers would wish to stay for the rest of the debate. For the Hansard record, only two Labour Back Benchers spoke in the debate after the speeches by Front-Bench Members, so it can probably be argued that they do not support the speech enough to come here and speak in favour of it, although, doubtless, they will vote for it. It implies, too, that they believe that the debate has already taken place."
Then Angus Robertson MP of the SNP: "On the issue of the Hansard record, is it not noteworthy that there is not a single Scottish Labour MP in the Chamber? Many measures in the Queen’s Speech pertain only to England. Labour Members are not prepared to listen to the debate, yet they are prepared to vote for measures that will impact on English constituencies, which is a very odd state of affairs, is it not?"