By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter
Here is a selection of the arguments that Tory MPs made during yesterday's debate on limiting the increase in benefits to 1% for each of the next three years.
The Government's overall policies help those on low incomes: "The Opposition have argued that this uprating of 1% will impact on working people and not just those on benefits. Given that the previous Government made 90% of workers eligible as welfare recipients, that is inevitable. Unfortunately, Labour Members make the mistake of taking these measures in isolation. If we take the Government’s measures as a whole, including tax allowances, energy tariff changes and cutting petrol duty, low-income working households will be better off." - Aidan Burley MP
And the biggest burden of deficit reduction is being met by the better off: "I want to remind the Opposition of what they have done. They have opposed £83 billion-worth of savings this Parliament. That is equivalent to adding another £5,000 of debt for every working family in the country. We hear much about taxing the rich, yet, in this Parliament, the richest will pay more in tax than in any single year of the previous Government—more tax on capital gains, more stamp duty—they will be less able to avoid and evade tax and they will pay more when they take out their pension policies." - Iain Duncan Smith MP
Stop taxing people only to return that money via the benefit systems: "Is not the philosophical underpinning of this debate our wish to create a hand-back society, not a hand-out society? Is not cutting taxes on lower earners the best way to help those on low earnings, rather than recycling their hard-earned money through the benefits system?" - Robert Halfon MP
Fairness between those in work and those out-of-work:
By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.
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
Follow Matthew on Twitter.
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
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 Joseph Willits
Follow Joseph on Twitter
Perhaps because the time for reading his Christmas Carol is approaching, yesterday's education Topical Questions was full of references to Charles Dickens. Gavin Barwell MP (Croydon Central) began by asking for more. He congratulated Michael Gove's pledge of £8million for additional school places in Croydon, but asked whether "there will be further such tranches of money in future" due to an increase of 10% in the number of children in reception classes.
Barwell had, Gove replied, "Great Expectations" about what I can get out of the Chancellor", prompting shouts of "Hard Times" from the rest of the House. The Education Secretary continued:
"Well, really it is a “Tale of Two Cities”: the City of London under Labour, under-regulated and, sadly, not paying the taxes that it should have; and the City of London under the Conservatives—at last getting the resources into the Exchequer".
Edward Leigh MP (Gainsborough), highlighted the fact that "many members of the Cabinet, including the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, owe their start in life to private education". Leigh asked whether the Government would look to Europe where there are "many more bridges between private and state education ... for instance, the state paying the salaries of teachers in private schools", and not rule out "imaginative ways of helping ordinary people to access private education".
by Paul Goodman
I've found the following methods in yesterday's first day's debate on the budget - having earlier covered the speeches of Andrew Tyrie, John Redwood and Stewart Jackson.
1) Draw attention to the dire state of the public finances bequeathed by the last Government to this one.
This was the route taken by Jo Johnson (Orpington) -
"When countries that had public finances in a comparable state to ours last May are still fighting off the terrible spectre of sovereign debt default, it would be terrible folly to slow the pace of what is widely regarded as a necessary fiscal consolidation. Our policies are under intense scrutiny by the international bond markets, to which we are paying £120 million in interest daily. We cannot afford for our borrowing costs to rise, as they have elsewhere. We are paying 3.6% in the gilt markets on our staggering public debt. Other countries are paying rates closer to 8% or 9%, and Greece is paying a staggering 12.6%. We simply cannot afford to be complacent, as the Governor of the Bank of England made clear in a recent hearing of the Treasury Committee, at which he stated firmly that UK gilt rates would rise by three percentage points if we backtracked from the course of fiscal consolidation that we have outlined."
Johnson referred specifically to current events in Portugal, and today's debate will surely provide more of the same. Sajid Javed (Bromsgrove) made similar points, and also spotlighted the danger posed to the Government's strategy by rising inflation -
"Lastly, as has been mentioned, in particular by the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), there is concern about global inflation. Clearly inflation has been caused primarily by rises in the price of oil, metals and food, but in the UK, in particular, devaluation has had an impact. It has had a positive impact on exports, but it tends to import inflation too. What has not been mentioned today is the potential impact of quantitative easing - the policy of buying up to £200 billion of both corporate bonds and gilts. That has an impact on the money supply in this country and it is doubtless having an impact on inflation.
With RPI inflation at 5.5% - the figure was published yesterday-and our gilt rate at 2.37%, the real rate of return is negative on our bond markets and that is a very fragile situation for the markets. To put that into context, the last time that RPI inflation was at that level was in 1991. At that time, our five-year gilt rate was at 10.09%. Clearly if the markets woke up one day and decided that they were not going to accept such low negative interest rates any more, we would be in a much worse predicament. That underlines the need for continued fiscal consolidation."
2) Get specific when praising the Government's strategy.
Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) highlighted the planned increase in apprenticeships -
"Finally, I want to mention the advances that we are making on skills, which are vital to ensuring that our work force can sustain the jobs that we will hopefully help to create in the economy with the additional measures that the Chancellor has mentioned this afternoon. It is fantastic that we will have another 250,000 apprenticeships over the next four years. I am heartened by that, because young people have for so long been cast adrift, and this will help to bring them into employment and training in a sustainable way, and also in a way that will perhaps enable them to garner the knowledge to create their own businesses one day and employ others, which is what we have seen over many years.
I welcome the university training colleges, and I am sure that the large industrial companies in the west midlands will welcome that approach. I hope that it will help people to acquire the skills to fill what those companies are describing at the moment as a void. Companies such as Jaguar Land Rover want to expand greatly, and they need a supply of skills to sustain any such expansion. They need skills from local people in the west midlands. We do not want to bring in people from other countries to fill that void."
3) Ground your speech in your constituency experience
Richard Harrington (Watford) used business trends in his seat to show the effect of Government policy -
"I want to talk about some specific factors that are important to business people, and therefore important to growth. There is a lot of talk about banks and the availability of capital, and about what the Government should do and what they have not done. Again, I want to comment based on my experiences in the constituency. The bank lending situation is getting better; there is no doubt about that, as the loans are beginning to come through. In Watford alone, under the enterprise finance guarantee loan scheme, 23 companies have already borrowed money amounting to £4 million. That is a comparatively small sample and it reassures me for the future that this scheme, which is to be expanded, does work, and that it does so in a comparatively short period of time.
It is very fortunate for us that interest rates are low, but the decisions made by businesses do not change when fluctuations are minor, such as 1% up or 2% down. Their decisions do change when the situation reaches a ludicrous point; I was once left with a loan on which I was paying 2% over base when the base rate was 15%. Variations such as 1%, 3% or 5% make little difference. Again, what matters is confidence in the economy and confidence that the Chancellor has done the right thing today. So I must encourage what the Government are doing on the fundamentals, because people and businesses will want to borrow money only when there is confidence in the future and confidence that we are doing the right thing."
4) Support the budget and float some ideas
Richard Fuller (Bedford) made a pitch with a strong social justice, One Nation flavour -
"In the context of protecting the most vulnerable, let me first urge Ministers to continue to give full support to the welfare reform measures that are being pushed through by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The universal credit will be of major, long-term, significant and beneficial advantage to low-paid and poor people in our country, and it is a measure that those on the Treasury Bench should support in the years ahead.
Secondly, I should have liked to hear a little more about support for our charities. I was very pleased to hear about the £550 million of support that the Chancellor was offering to them in the form of various benefits, but I should have liked him to be more radical. There are many steps that we can take to ease the rules and regulations and break down some of the barriers that prevent social investment from various sources. We should be a bit more open in relation to the way in which money can flow from social investment to outcomes and social impact bonds. I should have liked to hear about personal tax deductions for charitable donations, and I should very much like the Treasury-either directly or through the big society bank-to help charities to procure local government services. They need that support to arm them in their continuing battles with bureaucracies."
5) Finally, attack Labour.
David Amess does this on the first day of each year's budget debate, and didn't disappoint -
"Turning to the Budget, there is no doubt that this has been the most difficult and gloomy time I have known for people in business-until today. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on his well-crafted and clever Budget, which will cheer up the country. It has already cheered up Government Members and, as colleagues will have observed from the general atmosphere among Opposition Members three or four hours ago, it has absolutely cheesed off the Opposition. I am getting sick to death with Members on the Conservative and, dare I say, Liberal Benches being castigated for the absolute mess that the country is in. One party alone is responsible for that-Labour. It is because of the Labour party that we are facing debt interest of £120 million a day and because of the Labour party that we have the biggest structural debt in the G7.
I want to share with colleagues who were elected last year what the past 13 years have been like. As hon. Members will know, the last Prime Minister was previously the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I had the experience of listening to 10 of his Budgets, which he greatly enjoyed delivering. He used to come to the Dispatch Box and two thirds of the way through his speech he would wind Conservative Members up. Then he would make what he thought would be the headline-grabbing news item that would cheer everyone up. But then we would all go away and people would read the Red Book and within a few weeks we would find out that what he had told us was not in any sense accurate. So I congratulate the Chancellor on the new Red Book, because unlike the previous one it is not big enough to use as a doorstop, which is all that one was fit for."
Two maiden speeches by members of the new Conservative intake this week have taken particular time to praise the work of social enterprises, charities and community groups.
“The challenge for the Government, met in the Budget, is to balance our books while rewarding work; to find a way in which our public services can support and raise up the people of this country who need their help, and not—as happens too frequently, despite the best intentions—hold them down. I believe that a key to that is unleashing the power, potential, leadership and creativity of our social enterprises and charities.”
“In Bedford, groups of charities have already come together in a formal coalition, Consortico, which will enable them better to compete for the contracts that local government offers. Those charities and social entrepreneurs need the Government as an ally who will enable them to overcome the inertia and intransigence of some arms of the bureaucratic state. We need the leaders of the arms of the bureaucratic state to become champions of unbundling their privileges, not intransigent defenders of their own interests.”
“It is said that courage is often found in the most challenging times. With the very difficult measures that he proposed in his speech today, the Chancellor has shown us the courage that is needed, and that he can set us on the right course. We need a House that can both strive for the most important interests of this country and amplify the weakest and quietest voices in our community. The people need a House that can be a beacon for liberty, freedom and democracy for those in the world for whom those are still ideals and not reality. We need a House that will restore probity to the public finances, so that future generations of Britons are not shackled by the excesses of this generation. The Budget has made a start.”
"One of the reasons for the high quality of life in Harrogate and Knaresborough is the quantity and range of community groups and social enterprises. I have been particularly impressed on my visits to social enterprises such as Paperworks, Claro Enterprises, Horticap and the Little Red Bus. Numerous voluntary groups do so much to add to the quality of life in our area, and there are 400 charities registered. I have seen the difference that volunteering and social enterprises make, and I welcome the Government’s support for the third sector."
He went on to highlight the importance of tackling debt:
"I heard comment after comment from people fearful of the scale of debts facing our country, knowing that the action to deal with them would not be easy. People have understood that the need to tackle the issue was urgent, but that there would be better times ahead when the consequences of the previous Government’s debts are dealt with.
"There is a lesson from Harrogate on the benefits of clearing debts. The local council has been active in repaying its debts, keen to clear liabilities and save taxpayers paying for interest. Paying interest does not appeal to Yorkshiremen and women—we are famous for liking value. Paying interest is using funds that could be put to better purpose. In this case, I believe that the money that is being saved will be used to expand the local recycling service. The contrast is stark: paying interest, or investing in environmental initiatives. In less than three years, the council will be debt free—the consequences of a good Conservative administration. It will take us far longer than that to clear the debts that we have inherited."