By Paul Goodman
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Eighteen months or so ago, I asked on this site why pro-EU Conservatives are so shy of making that case? That question may now become redundant - at least as far as a new group of Tory MPs is concerned.
Laura Sandys speaks for a newly-formed European Mainstream Group in the film above. "We feel very strongly that our voice hasn't been heard for many years," she says. "New people have come into Parliament who want to ensure that we have much stronger focus."
Ben Wallace, Ken Clarke's PPS, also speaks out. "I think the other lot are very good at getting their message across," he says - clearly intending to play a part in changing the balance. Richard Ottoway claims that a majority of the Parliamentary Party wants to stay in the EU.
By Matthew Barrett
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Generally speaking, Fridays are unproductive days in Parliament. They are used to consider Private Member's Bills, which are often talked out by MPs, some of whom are serious in their opposition, and some of whom have been asked to block a Bill by a party hierarchy (not always their own). With the possibility of a PMB passing through to the next stage of consideration by Parliament often being risky, a day when several PMBs go through is notable.
Such a day happened yesterday. There were PMBs passed through in both Houses. In the Commons, Bills included:
And in the Lords, two went through:
The titles might be a little dry, but they dealt with common-sense causes, including stopping non-disabled drivers using disabled car parking spaces, and trying to stop illegal scrap metal dealing - often involving the terrible crime of stealing from churches and graves.
By Matthew Barrett
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The Scrap Metal Dealers Bill actually passed through the House. Philip Davies and Christopher Chope did not talk out the Bill - which they are certainly adept at doing - as expected, and it passed through to Third Reading. The Government supported the Bill - although it was a private member's bill, rather than a government bill - and tough action for illegal scrap metal dealers is on its way.
There's going to be a strange spectacle today in the House: a Tory private member's bill supported by many Tories (and many other MPs) looks likely to be talked out of Parliament by two Tories, despite the Government supporting it.
The legislation before the House is the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, introduced by Richard Ottaway. This is an issue where plenty of support for action exists, and which has the power to get traction outside Westminister. Nevertheless, Philip Davies and Christopher Chope have tabled tens of amendments, ensuring the Bill will not get passed today.
There are some legitimate concerns about whether the content of the Bill is strictly limited to eradicating illegal scrap metal dealing. One can read the many, many amendments, and find Davies and Chope have attempted to remove from the text, for example, a clause which would mean "No person aged under 21 shall sell or attempt to sell scrap metal."
But why has such a widely-supported policy of getting tough on illegal traders been left to a private member's bill, where proper, helpful amendments cannot really be made? Why is the Government willing to take another series of negative attacks from Labour, especially during Remembrance weekend?
James Brokenshire, a Minister at the Home Office, implied that the Government supported tougher measures. He told ITV News last night:
"I well understand the impact that these appalling crimes have when you have a monument to remember those who’ve given service to our country. We’re certainly examining the options – the Prime Minister has indicated that as part of our review of theft more generally, the sentencing guidelines council looking at that, whether there is justification for further enhanced measures where attacks take place against these types of monuments because I well recognise the concerns, the anger that is generated when these take place. It’s also looking at whether we can get further regulation of the licensed premise, to actually put that into place – there’s a Private Member’s Bill that’s being debated in Parliament tomorrow."
By Matthew Barrett
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Richard Ottaway, the Member of Parliament for Croydon South since 1992 (previously Nottingham North 1983-7), has announced his intention to stand down at the next general election. Mr Ottaway, 67, told his constituency party "I feel now is the right time to call it a day":
"Serving the Croydon South constituency for more than two decades has been an immense privilege. I have been lucky to work alongside excellent colleagues and residents who care so deeply about this great neighbourhood. Whether helping individuals resolve issues on health, education or housing, or campaigning successfully for major projects including the Coulsdon Bypass, the modernisation of Purley Hospital and the Cane Hill redevelopment – I love every minute of my job. But I feel now is the right time to call it a day. I would like to spend time with my family and enjoy my hobbies while I still can."
After the 2010 election, Mr Ottaway, a former Royal Navy officer, unsuccessfully stood against Graham Brady for the Chairmanship of the 1922 Committee, but soon after became the first elected chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Mr Ottaway served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary during the Thatcher and Major years, and had been the Vice Chairman of the '22 since 2005.
By Paul Goodman
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Last year, the Prime Minister flew to Brussels amidst rumour of a leadership challenge if he didn't achieve at least a token repatriation of power.
Today, he faced the Commons not only with no such repatriation realised but with his veto - so rapturously greeted at the time by Conservative MPs - arguably valueless, since it's now clear that he won't challenge the principle of the EU institutions being used to enforce the F.U agreement.
Yet there was no mass revolt from his backbenches, and no revival to date of the leadership challenge rumours. What explains this change in the Tory atmosphere? I hope to explore the question in detail soon, but will for the moment rest with an answer I've cited before.
By Paul Goodman
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Grovelling? Yes, let's face it: it happens. But not yesterday when the Prime Minister was questioned after his statement on Libya. Read Patrick Mercer on Islamism, Andrew Tyrie on torture, Peter Lilley on getting Libya to pay, Baron on intervention, Chisti on Syria. Plenty of pertinent questions
Also follow David Cameron being polite to Mark Pritchard, telling Rory Stewart that he shouldn't have gone to Libya recently, and being thrown for a moment by a very sharp question from Andrew Bridgen. Here are the exchanges in full from Hansard.
"Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): As someone who had reservations about the principle of intervention, may I congratulate the Prime Minister on a successful outcome in Libya? It was largely achieved by two aspects: first, it was legal; and secondly, it had the support of the Libyan people. Further to the previous question, however, will my right hon. Friend now use it as an illustration to persuade permanent members of the Security Council, such as Russia and China, that a well conducted intervention can be successfully used to restrain autocrats in countries such as Syria?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. Everyone should have misgivings about such operations, and one should never have the naive belief that they are easy or that everything is going to go to plan. That very rarely happens, and we should always be hard-headed and careful about such things. We should also respect the fact that this is not done—this is not completed yet.
Also, I think that we should be very cautious about trying to draw up a new doctrine, because it seems to me that as soon as a new doctrine is established, a case comes up that flies completely in its face, but I do hope that other members of the Security Council will see that there has been success in removing a dictator, and in giving that country a chance of peaceful and democratic progress, which will be good for the world.
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?
By Jonathan Isaby
Conservative MP and Foreign Affairs Select Committee chairman Richard Ottaway wished the Government well in its effort to get last night's UN resolution so that there was a clear legal basis to proceed.
He noted that the Prime Minister had set out three conditions that would have to be met before he would support a no-fly zone, before going on to say:
"Yesterday, the Government added a fourth condition: the national interest. In the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday I asked the Foreign Secretary how he would reply to a request from a country such as Ivory Coast, where genocide was going on, or Burma or Somalia-there are plenty of places with internal conflict. He replied that that has to be judged on a case-by-case basis, and that is under the national interest. If we intervene in Libya, will that set a precedent that will be relied on by those countries?
"That means, in effect, that we are picking our countries. Let us be clear exactly what that means. It is a reincarnation of the Chicago doctrine introduced by Tony Blair 12 years ago. It is worth reading the speech that he made in April 2009 in Chicago, 10 years after his original speech in Chicago. He said that it "argued strongly for an active and engaged foreign policy, not a reactive or isolationist one: better to intervene than to leave well alone. Be bold, adventurous even in what we can achieve."
"That is a pretty gung-ho approach. I am not saying that the current Government are being gung-ho, but it is a warning about how we could get carried away unless we sit back, are rational and address the need for a clear legal basis.
"We then have the problem of what will happen if another Arab state behaves in the same way as Libya does. We have seen what is going on in Bahrain, with the state of emergency. We all heard reports on the radio this morning of protesters being killed. We cannot intervene in every case. We could end up with a very awkward situation where one Arab country provides aircraft to help police the no-fly zone and then ends up attacking its own people. Then what is our national interest?"
by Paul Goodman
I've glanced back at the Prime Minister's Commons statement on Monday about Libya, and found the following:
These were all fair questions. But I'm struck on reading them by one that was missing.
David Cameron did nothing to discourage speculation, raging that day, that Britain would play a part in military operations against Gaddafi - including the imposition of a no fly zone (which Labour's Mike Gapes referred to).
It's striking that not a single backbench question tried to pin down Cameron on the matter, ask how a British contribution to a no fly zone or other intervention would work; how it might be affected by the coming defence spending scaleback - and, above all, how we could avoid being further drawn in.
Today's news is that the Government's backing off military intervention, and the media's beginning to ask questions about how it would work. What can we glean from the fact that no Member of Parliament did so? (Though Tredinnick deserves a mention in dispatches for coming closest.)
I wondered earlier this week here whether Labour MPs would use the Select Committee elections to make life difficult for David Cameron.
They didn't. Instead, they lined up behind the Conservative establishment candidates. Andrew Tyrie took the Treasury Select Committee; Richard Ottaway, Foreign Affairs (a big, big consolation prize, after his defeat in the 1922 Committee Chairmanship election); James Arbuthnot, Defence; Stephen Dorrell, Health; Tim Yeo, Climate Change. Anne McIntosh, who won the Environment Committee, leans towards the left of the Party.
I didn't, of course, see anyone cast a ballot paper. But unless Conservative MPs turned out en masse to vote against the Party's right - an unlikely course of action, given the '22 Executive results - Liberal and Labour support for less spiky candidates provides the only comprehensible explanation of the results.
It would be unfair to view the victors as patsies. Tyrie, in particular, has a track record of independent-mindedness. But ask yourself whether Cameron Towers would prefer the winners to, say, Patrick Mercer at Defence or Peter Bone at Health (let alone Nadine) or Philip Hollobone at Climate Change, and there's only one answer.
Bernard Jenkin and Chris Chope are both seen as men of the right. But Chope's used the Chamber to launch independent-minded assaults on establishment causes, and it's noticeable that he lost out in the tussle for the Public Administration Committee Chairmanship.
John Whittingdale at Culture and Greg Knight at Procedure, both No Turning Back Group stalwarts, are in unopposed. Graham Stuart won what should have been, even if it wasn't, a close-fought battle for the Education Committee.
As most readers know, the Select Committee Chairmanships have been carved out among the parties, and tomorrow's elections for the posts will be cross-party. So Conservative MPs, for example, can vote for Labour candidates, and vice-versa. Jonathan has a list of those standing here.
A question follows: on what basis will Labour MPs vote for the Conservative candidates? Answer: it depends. Some will support the best candidate. Others will vote for the Conservative candidate seen to be the more left-wing of the two.
Such is the attachment on the Labour benches to climate change orthodoxy, for example, that large number of the Party's MPs are likely to line up behind Tim Yeo, the establishment candidate for the Energy and Climate Change committee.
In other cases, however, Labour MPs will surely ask: who's the candidate more likely to cause David Cameron trouble? Or, if they've a more elevated turn of mind: who's the candidate more likely to stand up for the legislature against the executive?
In some cases, it's hard to tell. For example, both candidates for the Treasury Select Committee Chairmanship, Michael Fallon and Andrew Tyrie, are independent-minded. But in others, it's easier to see who'd be more likely to give Downing Street a fit of the heebie-jeebies.
Step forward, then, Peter Bone - standing for the Chairmanship of the Health Select Committee - John Baron, contesting Foreign Affairs (Baron pursued Ministers energetically about Iraq during the last Parliament) and, in the Defence Select Committee poll, no fewer than three of the candidates: Julian Lewis, Patrick Mercer and, above all, Douglas Carswell (one half of the Carswell-Hannan "Cannon" dynamic duo).
If Carswell in particular wins (an unlikely event, but you never know), expect senior officials in the Ministry of Defence to start screaming and screaming, and be unable to stop...
So if any of the above are elected, take a long, hard look at the Labour benches for those responsible.
Official disclaimer: nothing in this article is to be read as an endorsement of any candidate, in any election, at any time, anywhere...
It was Treasury questions yesterday.
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne poured scorn on the Budget growth forecasts:
"As the Chancellor knows, the growth forecasts that he gave us in the Budget last week, which predicted a return to boom levels of growth in just two years, and that the economy would stay at those boom levels, were greeted with near-universal derision, yet they were the fiction on which he constructed every other Budget forecast. When he gave those forecasts, did he know that the IMF was planning to contradict them flatly just an hour later?
Mr. Darling: Yes, of course I knew the IMF forecasts. The IMF takes a more pessimistic view, not just of our economy but of every economy across the world. However, we ensure that our forecasts are based on the information that we have. If hon. Members look at the IMF and its forecasting over the past three months, they will see that it has downrated its forecasting three times since last October, which demonstrates the uncertainty in the system. However, I believe that because of the action that we are taking, because of the fact that we have low interest rates, because inflation will be coming down this year, and because of the action that most other countries are taking to look after and support their economies, that will have an effect, which is why I remain confident that we will see growth return towards the end of this year.
Mr. Osborne: Frankly, I do not think the Chancellor is in any position to lecture anyone else about downgrading their forecasts after last week. Is not the truth this—that the dishonest Budget has completely unravelled in the space of just a week? We have seen the IMF produce those growth forecasts, which were wholly different from the ones given an hour earlier to the House of Commons. We have the CBI saying that there is no credible or rigorous plan to deal with the deficit. We have the Institute for Fiscal Studies pointing to the black hole, and yesterday a former member of the Cabinet, beside whom the Chancellor sat at the Cabinet table, said that his tax plans were a breach of a manifesto promise that is damaging not just to the Labour party, but to the economy. Today we had the Prime Minister getting a lecture in prudence while he was in Warsaw. We are used to Polish builders telling us to fix the roof when the sun is shining, but not the Polish Prime Minister as well.
Does not the collapse of the Budget in the past week and the damage to the Chancellor’s credibility make an almost unanswerable case for an independent office for Budget responsibility, so that we get independent forecasts on Budget day and the assumptions of the Budget are believed by the public?
One for the localists amongst you: there were oral questions on communities and local government yesterday.
Monmouth MP and pugilist David Davies asked about the Government's programme to tackle violent extremism, a topic which Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government Paul Goodman has also been pursuing.
"David T.C. Davies: When I last raised this issue, I asked the Secretary of State for an assurance that not one penny of Government money was being given to extremists or to violent extremists. She was unable to give me that assurance at the time, but the Department has now had a year to look into the issue. Can we possibly be given an assurance today that not one penny of Government money is being given to extremists, and if not, why not?
Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that he has raised the issue before. I am delighted to be able to tell him about the range of work that has been done in the last 12 months. First, extensive guidance was published for all local authorities in June last year, setting out exactly the criteria on which groups should be funded. We fund groups that stand up to tackle violent extremism and uphold our shared values. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that following a point of order raised by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), I undertook to place in the Library of the House, by the end of April, full details—they are held in our Government offices—of the projects being funded."
That answer does not inspire confidence.
"Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): As the Secretary of State has answered this question herself, may I first say to her that we believe she had no alternative to the course that she took in suspending relations with the Muslim Council of Britain?
Let me now return to the question. The House will have noted that, for the second time, the Secretary of State was unable to give my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) the guarantee that he seeks that extremists have not got their hands on taxpayers’ money. As I know from correspondence with her, the reason is simple: no system exists to check who receives the cash before it is given. That is frankly scandalous. Can the Secretary of State at least guarantee that when she publishes information on where last year’s Preventing Violent Extremism money went—she has promised to do so—she will publish the details of who received the money, down to the very last penny?
Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that there is no system for checking the allocation of those funds to community groups. There is a system, for local authorities, the police and a range of other organisations, to ensure that the funds are allocated to groups that uphold our shared values and are committed to standing up to tackle extremism.
I have told the hon. Gentleman that this is not a ring-fenced grant, for the very reason that we want the work to be embedded as mainstream work for local authorities, and to draw in funding from other sources to ensure that it can be done in a proper, comprehensive fashion. I have also told him that we will place the information in the Library. We have told local authorities that the grant is not ring-fenced, but because of its exceptionally sensitive nature, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan), has written to local authorities saying that we will continue to monitor it extremely carefully. The hon. Gentleman must accept, however, that if we want this work to be embedded as mainstream activity, we must be prepared to make sure we are working in proper, effective partnership with our local authorities."
Something has gone wrong here, and MPs are right to keep pressing until we find out what it is.
Rochford & Southend East MP James Duddridge (right) asked about the cost to taxpayers of assuming liability for the Royal Mail pension scheme:
"The Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs (Mr. Pat McFadden): We estimate that the Government will assume total liabilities of £29.5 billion and assets of £23.5 billion. That would mean the Government absorbing a deficit of £6 billion. This assessment of the liabilities in the scheme and the funding position is based on the most recent trustee valuation, from March 2008. However, we anticipate that the funding position of the scheme could well have worsened since that date, so when we have updated figures from the new valuation, beginning this month, we will finalise our assessment of the funding position of the scheme.
James Duddridge: Clause 20 of the Postal Services Bill will allow the Government to take the existing assets from the pension fund into the consolidated fund and spend it that very same year. Is it wise as part of addressing the pension funding crisis to take the existing inadequate assets and use them to rescue the Government’s current deficit, making the problem worse in the longer term?
Mr. McFadden: Our motivation is not about the public sector accounting impact. Our motivation is to give greater security to the hard-working men and women who work for Royal Mail, because the pension fund is an increasing burden for Royal Mail. At the same time, however, if we are to ask the taxpayer to take on those liabilities—I have set out what the scale of those liabilities is—it is equally right that we also give the taxpayer some confidence that the company can be transformed and modernised in the future. It is precisely those two things that are set out in the Postal Services Bill, which was published recently."
There may well be merit in the Government subsidising postal deliveries to far-flung parts of the UK, but I don't see why mail services as a whole should not be opened up to competition.
Shadow Corporate Governance Minister Jonathan Djanogly had a concern:
"The Minister has just said that the Government proposals would provide greater security for postal workers’ pensions, but can he confirm that clause 19(6)(b) of the Postal Services Bill provides that this or a future Government could waive the pension guarantee and vary the terms of the postal workers’ pensions without the approval of the trustees, who will lose their power to protect the pensions under the provisions of the Bill? Mr. McFadden: The changes that we propose to the pension scheme will mean that the deficit is handled on the same basis as the pension schemes serving teachers, nurses and civil servants. That will indeed give Royal Mail staff far greater pension security than they get at the moment, when the deficit appears to be increasing year on year."
"The Minister has just said that the Government proposals would provide greater security for postal workers’ pensions, but can he confirm that clause 19(6)(b) of the Postal Services Bill provides that this or a future Government could waive the pension guarantee and vary the terms of the postal workers’ pensions without the approval of the trustees, who will lose their power to protect the pensions under the provisions of the Bill?
Mr. McFadden: The changes that we propose to the pension scheme will mean that the deficit is handled on the same basis as the pension schemes serving teachers, nurses and civil servants. That will indeed give Royal Mail staff far greater pension security than they get at the moment, when the deficit appears to be increasing year on year."