Stop me if you've heard it already, but ConservativeHome has the crucial detail from the Tory awayday - namely, that Robert Buckland's table won the quiz at yesterday evening's dinner. Take a bow, too, Henry Bellingham, Nicky Morgan and Christopher Pincher, whose knowledge, according to my source, won the victory.
That over 100 Conservative MPs voted for John Baron's amendment yesterday evening suggests that they agreed with it - that's common sense, after all, isn't it? But matters are rarely that simple in the House of Commons.
A picture is beginning to emerge of Tory MPs who disagreed with the motion but still backed it. Why? Because they didn't want to explain to their Associations and constituents that in their view David Cameron's new EU referendum bill pledge rendered the amendment unnecessary.
James Kirkup writes this morning about the power of local Associations and the shrinking of the Conservative member base. He is correct (as usual). But fear of local voters counted as much yesterday evening as fear of local activists - at least for MPs in marginal seats,
Some of them are furious with Baron for pushing his amendment to the vote, and claim to have told him so. It can be argued that this reflects badly on them, rather than Baron - that if they disagreed with his amendment, they shouldn't have voted for it.
This week's '22 Committee elections also suggest that while their votes were with Baron, their hearts were elsewhere. Robert Buckland is an outspoken supporter of Britain's E.U membership - and thus a rarity among the 2010 intake of Conservative MPs.
At roughly the same time as yesterday evening's vote, it was announced that he has been re-elected as a secretary of the 1922 Committee's executive committee. In public, Tory MPs may be backing the rebels, but in private they are supporting the loyalists.
By Paul Goodman
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For statutory regulation
Sir Edward Garnier
Against statutory regulation
This is, as the headline says, a snapshot. It doesn't deal with speeches that didn't touch on the regulation debate; nor does it count interventions, and by its nature it compresses a good deal. For example, Mr Collins, like some other speakers, was against statutory regulation by OFCOM. And Sir Edward rejected the very term "statutory regulation", preferring "statutory underpinning".
8.30am Update: Ms Coffey has pointed out the thrust of Mr Collins's speech was against statutory regulation, and I have made the necessary change. Quentin Letts describes her in his sketch today as a "very great lady".
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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After today's 1922 Committee elections, Robert Buckland has been elected Joint-Secretary (replacing Karen Bradley, an Assistant Whip) and Simon Hart and Karl McCartney have also been elected to the Executive, replacing George Hollingbery (now PPS to Theresa May) and Simon Kirby (now PPS to Hugh Robertson).
A few results of the Select Committee elections have trickled through, and this post will be updated with a full list of newly elected committee members in due course.
The following MPs have been elected to Select Committee vacancies:
Business, Innovation and Skills Committee
Caroline Dinenage and Robin Walker
Culture, Media and Sport Committee
By Paul Goodman
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Michael Crick tweeted earlier this evening: "Four MPs at 1922 Committee critical of Andrew Mitchell - Andrew Percy, James Duddridge, Ann Main, Sarah Wollaston. 12-15 backed him."
I am told that the difference of view was more 50-50 than three or four to one. (Memories don't always tally, as I pointed out earlier this week in the context of the row itself.)
Robert Buckland, Bernard Jenkin, Edward Leigh, Penny Mordaunt, and Nicholas Soames were apparently supportive of Mr Mitchell (and Philip Davies rather critical).
I'm also informed that there is no mood in the '22 Executive for the Chief Whip to go now, though some of its members think that he should have departed after the original incident.
My guess earlier this week was that Mr Mitchell would attend the '22, and that any criticism of him would be muted.
For better or worse, he wasn't there - I presume it was decided that MPs present should be able to speak freely - and it can't fairly be claimed that they were constrained in what they said.
So we have the worst outcome for Cameron and the best outcome for Miliband: a wounded Conservative Chief Whip. I don't think Mr Mitchell should go, but he is in a bad way.
21.45pm Update A very senior source insists that the Crick tally was correct. I am recording his view to reinforce the point that, as I note above, "memories don't always tally".
By Matthew Barrett
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We know that 91 Tories voted against the Lords Reform Bill last night. That's the big, headline grabbing figure - the biggest rebellion in this Parliament.
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 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 Joseph Willits
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Social networking, flashbacks to the G20 riots, the role of CCTV, restorative justice, and the power of the police in their approach, seemed to be some of the themes covered.
Tracey Crouch (Chatham & Aylesford) highlighted the role social networking had played in the disruption, but also how it countered and assisted, she said “social networks such as Twitter have also provided the police … with an opportunity to dispel rumours and myths about where future disturbances happen.” She asked the Home Secretary to “congratulate forces that have used social networking to their advantage and concentrate on the closed networking opportunities” such as Blackberry.
Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) whose constituency was devastated in parts by the rioting welcomed, alongside other factors, David Cameron’s talk of “fresh powers” in regard to social networking. He also welcomed aforesaid “fresh powers” on “curfews ... and on powers for the police in relation to people who cover their faces”. He heaped praise on the people of his constituency who played their part in their attempts to undo the damage caused. “People want criminals brought to justice” he said, and talked of “the crucial role” that CCTV played “in identifying who was responsible” he added, “I hope that members on the Treasury Bench will take note of that”. Barwell also reiterated the sentiments of many people. “People want those responsible to be properly punished and to make reparation to those they have damaged. They want those who have committed these crimes to have access to taxpayers’ money in the form of benefits. They want those who are council tenants evicted, so that decent people on the waiting list get a home instead. They want those who are not British citizens removed from this country.”
Lee Scott (Ilford North) whose constituency was also affected by the riots, urged more powers to be given to the police that it is important we take off their “handcuffs” and that they “should be allowed to do what they think they need to. The use of water cannons, and rubber bullets should be at their discretions, he said.
Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) stressed that it was important for “political leaders to articulate their support” and that “we must not fall into the trap that her Government did when Ministers in the Ministry of Defence failed to give backing to troops doing very difficult jobs in very difficult circumstances.”
Angie Bray (Ealing Central & Action), member of another affected constituency, encouraged the debate on “what policing wants.” She welcomed such a debate between the public, their elected representatives and the police. She stressed the need for “consent” particularly in they need to “provide a slightly more robust response” during events we have just witnessed.
Margot James (Stourbridge) asked about the stand-and-observe order given to police under certain circumstances. She asked the Home Secretary, “given that they have been criticised for how they dealt with the G20 riots, on which there is a case pending in the European Court of Human Rights … whatever police powers we end up agreeing with … we must provide consistent support when things go wrong.”
Robert Buckland (South Swindon) highlighted that many involved in the rioting and looting have been young children. He encouraged the need for “restorative justice … making them face up to the victims of their crimes and making them play their part in restoring the damage that they have done”. He suggested this as a a “good way to divert those young children from further involvement in the gang culture and crimes that we have seen.”
By Jonathan Isaby
It comes on the day that the FairFuel campaign handed a 120,000-striong petition to Downing Street calling for the 1p rise not to be imposed.
Tory MSPs joined their SNP and Lib Dem colleagues at Holyrood in backing the following motion:
That the Parliament notes that petrol and diesel prices in Scotland are among the highest in Europe and have reached record levels and that the planned rise in fuel duty by the UK Government in April 2011 could increase prices by a further 4p per litre; recognises that such increases impose an additional burden on households and businesses at a time of rising living costs and could undermine the economic recovery; notes the UK Government’s proposal to introduce a 5p-per-litre fuel discount scheme for island communities, and calls on the UK Government to cancel the rise in fuel duty planned for April and implement a fuel duty regulator that would ensure that some of the additional revenue that the UK Government will receive from increased revenues due to recent increases in oil prices is used to reduce fuel duty to help support Scottish households and businesses.
The Green MSPs opposed the motion, whilst Labour's representatives in the Scottish Parliament all sat on their hands.
Jackson Carlaw MSP, the Conservative Shadow Minister for Transport, said:
“Last month Annabel Goldie raised concerns about the cost of fuel directly with the Prime Minister... Labour left the UK finances in a desperate state but, in view of the prevailing record fuel prices, we join the calls for the UK Government to cancel the fuel duty increase Labour planned for April - in so doing families and businesses alike will benefit.”
And on Labour MSPs' failure even to express a view on the issue, he added:
“The incompetence of Labour plumbed new depths this evening. A party which is asking to be taken seriously as a potential government in Scotland has proved itself to be leaderless, clueless and spineless.
“Given the opportunity to support a call for the UK Government to postpone the planned rise in fuel duty – a rise inherited from the last Labour Government – Scottish Labour astonished the parliament by abstaining.
“Motorists across Scotland can now see that Labour is not on their side. Whilst all the other main parties supported the call, Labour MSPs sat on their hands. How can anyone take them seriously when they collapse in the face of the big decisions?”
At PMQs earlier today, David Cameron replied to the demand from North Swindon's Tory MP, Robert Buckland for "the Government do all that they can to ease the pressure on hard-pressed motorists" by saying:
"I know how difficult it is for motorists, and particularly for small businesses and families, when they are filling up at the pumps and paying more than £1.30 a litre. As we have said, we will look at the fact that extra revenue comes to the Treasury when there is a higher oil price, and see if we can share some of the benefit of that with the motorist. That is something that Labour never did in all its time in government, and it ought to be reminded of the fact that it announced four increases in fuel duty last year, three of which were due to come in after the election."
By Jonathan Isaby
At Home Office questions yesterday, Immigration MInister Damian Green answered a selection of questions on non-EU migration, further to the recent announcement that there will be a reduction in the number of visas issued next year from 28,000 to 21,700.
As a supplementary question, Sheryll Murray, the new MP for South East Cornwall specifically asked how many migrant workers are from within the EU and how many are from elsewhere, to which the minister replied:
"I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking that question, because it enables me to puncture one of the great urban myths in the immigration debate, which is that most immigration comes from within the European Union. The net migration figures - which we will get down to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament - show that the vast bulk of immigrants come from outside the European Union. She asked about the numbers. In 2009, 292,000 non-European economic area migrants entered the UK and only 109,000 left. The House will see that the vast majority of net immigration comes from outside the European Union. Such immigration is precisely what we will take action on."
There were several other supplementaries from Tory MPs on the subject:
Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands): Will the Minister assure the House that the new proposals to control immigration will protect the interests of legitimate businesses?
Damian Green: I give that assurance to the House and, beyond that, to business. We held something that has been unusual in recent years: a consultation that genuinely consulted. We listened to business and changed the rules on inter-company transfers. That is also why we got rid of most of tier 1 and left a small remainder for the very exceptional. We now have a system that will not only enable us to get immigration to sustainable levels, but protect businesses and educational institutions that are vital to our future prosperity.
Robert Buckland (Swindon South): What evidence has he found of abuse in the points-based immigration system that was introduced by the previous Government?
Damian Green: Regrettably, there is large-scale abuse. For instance, we looked at a sample of the migrants who came here last year in tier 1, which is meant to cover the brightest and the best of highly skilled migrants, and nearly a third of them were doing completely unskilled jobs. We have also found widespread abuse in the student system. That tells us that we must refine and smarten the points-based system that was left to us by the previous Government so that it does the job of ensuring that we get immigration numbers down to sustainable levels.
By Jonathan Isaby
During Justice Questions yesterday, the issue of votes for prisoners was raised on the back of the recent judgment from the European Court of Human Rights.
"The Hirst judgment says that article 3 of protocol 1 of the European convention on human rights obliges this House to give some prisoners the vote; as we have heard, it also gives rise to financial compensation to some prisoners who have been denied that right. Although I sympathise with my right hon. and learned Friend, does he accept that there is an intellectual case for, in time, bringing powers back to Westminster in this area by repealing the Human Rights Act 1998 and withdrawing from the European convention of human rights?"
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke was not sympathetic to this course of action:
"There has been another British case today, which has clarified the situation slightly and has underlined the fact that the Government have discretion on how to comply with their obligations. In due course, obviously, we shall establish a commission on how best to give effect to our human rights obligations in this country, but that will not happen until at least next year. The coalition Government do not intend to withdraw from the European convention on human rights, which was imposed by the victorious British on the rest of Europe after the war in order to establish British values across the countries that were recovering from fascism and was drafted largely by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, who put what he thought were the best principles of British justice into it."
"In considering the Government’s policy on this thorny issue, will the Secretary of State, if he has to abide by the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, restrict the right to vote to those prisoners at the lowest level of seriousness — for example, those dealt with by the magistrates courts for summary offences only?"
Ken Clarke replied:
"This applies only to prisoners — obviously, people who have not been in prison do not lose their vote at all. We have to comply with the judgment of the Court. The problem is that this extremely annoying issue will become even more annoying to the public and everyone else if we simply do nothing and wait until some huge financial judgment is made against the taxpayer, which will turn the present public anger into fury. That is why we are going to bring forward considered proposals. At the moment, someone not sent to prison does not lose their vote — irrespective of what other punishment they receive in their summary trial."
By Jonathan Isaby
This afternoon in the Commons, Cabinet Office minister Mark Harper was summoned to the Dispatch Box to answer an Urgent Question on the decision to grant the right to vote to prisoners. Quite why Nick Clegg could not have done so, given that his is the only of the main parties to have actually promoted this policy, I don't know.
Mr Harper explained:
"The UK’s blanket ban on sentenced prisoners voting was declared unlawful by the grand chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in October 2005, as a result of a successful challenge by a prisoner, John Hirst. The Government accept, as did the previous Government, that as a result of the judgment of the Strasbourg Court in the Hirst case, there is a need to change the law. This is not a choice; it is a legal obligation. Ministers are currently considering how to implement the judgment, and when the Government have made a decision the House will be the first to know."
Labour shadow justice minister Sadiq Khan then responded with a flurry of questions:
"When the previous Government consulted on this matter, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who was then the shadow Secretary of State for Justice and is now the Attorney-General, described the prospect of giving prisoners the vote as “ludicrous”. Does the Minister share that view? One of the most troubling aspects of the European Court ruling is that it opens the door to the possibility of serious offenders being given the vote. Will he explain how the Government would ensure that serious offenders are not given the vote? Press reports suggest that sentence length will be the key determinant in deciding which prisoners can vote. If that is the case, what length of sentence do the Government have in mind? How will they ensure that prisoners who are guilty of serious offences but serving short sentences are not given the vote? Will the Minister provide details of the precise mechanics that prisoner voting will entail? Can he also tell us whether prisoners will be allowed to vote in referendums as well as elections?
"The Prime Minister is reportedly “exasperated” and “furious” at having to agree to votes for prisoners. Does the Minister share that view? There is a strong sense that the decision is being forced on this country against the will both of the Government and of the people’s representatives in this Parliament. For the sake of public trust in British democracy, will the Minister who is standing in for the Deputy Prime Minister therefore agree that any legislation put before the House on this vital issue should be the subject of a free vote?"
The minister responded:
"No one would have realised, listening to that, that the right hon. Gentleman was ever a member of the previous Government, who also accepted that the law needed to be changed, and accepted the judgment. I have looked carefully at the media reports, and all I can see is an expression by the Government, relating to what they are going to say in a pending legal case, that they must comply with the law. I would not have thought that explaining that the Government had to comply with the law was particularly revelatory. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman shared our view when he was in government. He was quite right to draw the House’s attention to the fact that the Prime Minister is exasperated. I suspect that every Member of the House is exasperated about this, but we have no choice about complying with the law.
"The fact that the previous Government failed for five years to do what they knew was necessary has left our country in a much worse position, both because of the possibility of having to pay damages and because case law has moved on. The only thing that would be worse than giving prisoners the vote would be giving them the vote and having to pay them damages as well. That is the position that the previous Government left us in.
"I shall now turn to the right hon. Gentleman’s questions. I made it clear in my statement that Ministers were considering how to implement the judgment, and when decisions have been taken they will be announced to the House at the Dispatch Box in the usual way. No decisions have been taken, and I am therefore unable to answer any of his questions at this time. The previous Government took five years to do nothing when they knew that something had to be done—in exactly the same way as they behaved in not dealing with the deficit. This Government have been in office for only a matter of months, but yet again our two parties are having to deal with the mess left behind by Labour."
There then followed questions from a wide variety of MPs, including many angry Tories from across the whole spectrum of the party. Here is a selection of their points:
Yesterday in the Commons saw a debate covering the Coalition Government's proposals to "extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants".
There were many well-informed contributions and a number of the new Conservative intake contributed to voice their concern about the proposal and to make alternative suggestions as to a way forward.
"I have no doubt from my practice and from talking to other members of the Bar and to members of the judiciary that when a name is put into the public domain other complainants come forward. There are many instances of it. I know from my practice that when the name of a priest who was arrested went into the local newspaper, other women came forward who had been to him and to whom he had been their minister. When they knew that others had made a complaint, they came forward. That tendency should not be underestimated."
She has a proposal of her own which she is putting forward via a Private Member's Bill:
"I ask the Minister to consider allowing anybody who is arrested to enjoy the privilege, almost, of not having his or her name published in the press. I believe that we can do that effectively and efficiently while still allowing the prosecution to apply to a judge, depending on the particular circumstances of an offence, for the name to be published. We must allow our judges to exercise their discretion, which they usually do, when they are allowed to do their jobs, particularly well."
Lousie Bagshwe (Corby) agreed with this idea: