By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.
Robert Halfon, the Member of Parliament for Harlow, and one of the most successful campaigning MPs in Parliament, has organised a motion, backed by 60 MPs from all parties, and including 41 Tories, calling for the Office of Fair Trading to investigate allegations of price-fixing by British oil companies. The full motion is worded as follows:
"That this House urges the OFT to investigate oil firms active in the UK; calls on the Government to consider the emergency actions being taken in other G20 nations to cut fuel prices, for example President Obama strengthening Federal supervision of the U.S. oil market, and increasing penalties for “market manipulation”, and Germany and Austria setting up a new oil regulator, with orders to help stabilise the price of petrol in the country; finally urges the Office of Fair Trading to note that the Federal Cartel Office in Germany is now investigating oil firms active in the UK, after allegations of price-fixing."
By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter
A number of Tory MPs led by Damian Collins have come together to propose a new industrial strategy for Britain. Mr Collins explains how the approach recommended by him and his colleagues is different from the industrial strategy of the 1970s and also a mythical laissez-faire policy:
"The industrial strategy of the 1970s saw Governments give direct financial aid to failing industries in order to protect jobs. Here people were in effect being paid to build cars that customers didn’t want to buy. That approach was unsustainable and it was in time new ownership, leadership, design, innovation and the commitment of the workforce that ultimately saved businesses like Jaguar and Land Rover from the state run motor industry. 21st century industrial strategy is not just about identifying where direct financial assistance can help accelerate the development of a business or economic region, as we are seeing in the Government’s strategy for enterprise zones and the regional growth fund. This has also been important in the development of new economic clusters, like Tech City, where Government support has acted as a catalyst for private enterprises to bring in much greater levels of investment. In addition to this we have to ensure that our tax and regulatory environment helps UK firms that are competing in a global economy to thrive. This is why, for example, the tax credits announced in the last budget for the production of high end television series, animation and video games were so important. Despite the UK having some of the best practitioners in the world, we were losing business to other countries that could undercut us on price significantly because they offered tax incentives to investors."
By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter
Earlier this week I covered some of the Budget debate contributions from backbenchers. On Thursday, other Tory MPs gave their verdicts on the Chancellor's financial plans. I have compiled the best speeches below.
"The family is the backbone of our society, and the issue of child benefit is always difficult. Fairness remains the key, and the original changes proposed caused considerable difficulty. I am pleased that the Chancellor listened to our concerns, and those of constituents, that the proposed changes were not really acceptable. By amending the proposals and tapering the benefit from an annual income of £50,000, some 90% of families will continue to benefit from financial support during these difficult financial and economic times. This Government are listening and changing policies after representations have been made, and that is to the credit of the Chancellor and the Treasury team."
"One of the most remarkable things about the Opposition’s response to this Budget is that we have not heard a single pledge to reverse any of the changes being proposed. We have heard a lot of carping and that they are going to vote against some of the measures on Monday, but they are not actually going to change them should they ever come back to power. When they do carp, they seem to be carping on behalf of some rather strange interests. They want the top 10% of households to keep their child benefit. They want the better-off pensioners to keep their age-related allowances. Indeed, they want the super-rich to go on enjoying some £65 million-worth of evasion of stamp duty and abuse of tax reliefs. That seems to me an extraordinary position for the Opposition to get into."
By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter
The Forty. The 301. The 2020. These are some of the groups formed by Conservative MPs after the last general election. Most are largely made up of, or driven by, 2010-intake MPs. Over the next few weeks, I'll be profiling some of these groups.
Today, we kick off with the Free Enterprise Group (FEG). The FEG is considered influential by sources at the Treasury, and George Osborne is said to think very highly of it, regarding it as the most important of the new groups to emerge.
Origins of the Group: The group initially formed out of concern at the anti-free market atmosphere that has developed in the last few years. The behaviour of the last government, in cosying up to big business cartels and corporatist interests, often gave people a mistakenly bad impression of the free market that didn't necessarily exist twenty years ago. Polling suggests 21st-century Britons are less receptive towards free enterprise than the Chinese, Americans and Germans. There is also a wider cause - making Britain globally competitive again. The FEG's website highlights startling statistics about our place in the world: the fact that we are now 83rd in the world for regulation, 94th for taxation, and so on. This concern derives not just from the fact that we are being overtaken by emerging markets like Brazil, but also established Western economies, like Germany, have become more free market than Britain.
By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter
One of the most encouraging things about today's Conservative Party is the liveliness of the Class of 2010. Starting tomorrow Matthew Barrett will be looking at the work of different backbench groups but here's a summary of some of the more interesting projects and thoughts launched by some of our newest MPs in recent days. I've arranged the list alphabetically...
First I direct you to a piece in yesterday's Observer by George Freeman. George is at the heart of a Tory interest in developing a new industrial strategy - not a return to a 1960s/70s policy of picking winners (or picking losers as invariably happened) but, in his slightly jargonistic words, the need to "focus on the technologies and sectors of the British innovation and knowledge economy which can best compete in the new markets of the developing world". He suggested five themes for his strategy including a focus on building deep relationships with emerging markets; development of innovation cities, corridors and neighbourhoods; and the identification and exploitation of technologies where we have a competitive advantage. Read more.
In yesterday's Sunday Times (£) Sam Gyimah called for new ways of graduates helping their universities to educate more young people, especially from less privileged backgrounds. Noting that barely 1% of UK alumni make gifts to their institutions compared to 10% in the USA he recommends mechanisms whereby graduates can keep paying into the student financing system even after they've repaid their own loans.
By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.
Conservative MPs, from both sides of the referendum argument, have been appearing in the media, and their words provide an insight into the possible themes of this evening's debate.
Arguing against a referendum as described in tonight's debate motion:
By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter
The company Key Business Insight's "Commons Performance Cockpit" ranks MPs by their total cost - that is, staffing costs, travel expenses, office costs, salary, and so on. The majority of the 50 "most efficient" MPs, in terms of total cost, are Conservatives.
The top 50 "most efficient" MPs between 1st April, 2010 and 31st March, 2011 are listed below:
*Took his seat on 3rd March, 2011
**Took her seat on 13th January, 2011
***Resigned his seat on 8th February, 2011
by Paul Goodman
Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) returned to Labour's debt legacy -
"The shadow Chancellor was wrong blindly to dismiss what is happening in the gilt markets. I read the yield curve this morning, just as he did, and it is clear that 10-year gilts yields are low at the moment. If the market believed that the Government’s debt reduction plan was going to change, those yields would undoubtedly rise and the cost of borrowing would rise substantially from £120 million a day, ruling out any prospect of more of the things that we really want to spend public money on. Labour Members shouted out, “Too fast, too deep,” yesterday, but they should remember that there are risks involved, and that theirs is an equally dogmatic strategy.
The shadow Chancellor, in contending today that the changes were too fast and too deep, once again relied on the Keynesian multiplier. He is an eminent economist, and he should know better than to rely too heavily on that mechanism. It has traditionally held out the prospect that public sector investment has an impact on the private sector, so there could be an element of crowding out and of limiting of growth potential. If the right hon. Gentleman has read the recent academic research, however, he will also know that the size of the multiplier in the growth phase of an economy is about a third of the size of the multiplier when an economy is going into recession. To rely on that thesis is therefore to rely on a very weak economic mechanism."
Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) drew on his business experience -
The hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) mentioned bank lending, but fast-growing companies’ revenues are often volatile and their cash flows can be unpredictable. Banks do not want to lend to them, so we need to be able to create an environment for equity lending. One thing we know in the UK is that, if people want to raise amounts below £2 million, they find it incredibly difficult to do so. Such risk capital, however, encourages businesses to take a risk—to take on the new plant, to hire new staff—so it is great that there are so many changes to the enterprise investment scheme in “The Plan for Growth”.
Increasing relief to 30% means that someone who is going to invest in a business knows that they can offset 30% of their investment against tax. It will encourage people to take sensible risks and invest in those companies that will drive growth. Raising the relevant annual limit to £1 million and to £10 million per company means that companies can seek capital from high net-worth and private individuals, not just from institutions. Anybody who is involved in small businesses knows that people often rely on friends and family to support their business in its early stages, so it is good to see the Government backing those who are ready and willing to take such risks.
Raising the limit on qualifying companies to 250 employees means that the measure will apply not just to start-up companies, where the failure rate can be quite high, but to well-established companies that need capital to grow. I would like to see what more the Government can do to allow connected persons to enjoy such tax reliefs, because connected persons—directors—cannot enjoy them at the moment, and that is where businesses get much of the expertise that they need. By making investment in small businesses easier, the Budget recognises and encourages people who are willing to take risks."
And Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) also spoke about business -
"The most exciting aspect of yesterday’s Budget was the direction of travel the Chancellor set in respect of the conditions for business that he wants in Britain, because growth will ultimately be achieved through the individual efforts of business leaders, not through Government. The 2% cut in corporation tax signals to companies that Britain is once again open for business. It is now clear to every potential investor, in the UK and overseas, that this Government are committed to putting in place the best corporation tax rates in the G20 by the end of this Parliament. Overnight, global companies such as WPP have said that that will make a difference to their decisions on where to invest. That is great news.
The Budget also encourages those who want to set up a business to go for it. It contains a big nudge from the Government for people to give entrepreneurship a go. There is a golden carrot to dangle before those thinking of taking a risk: a 10% capital gains tax rate up to £10 million. The profit motive is a motivator, and the Budget clearly says, “If you believe in your business, take the risks and are successful, you will be much better off financially.” Therefore the message is, “Unless you’re a cracking singer or can dance like the Business Secretary, forget `The X Factor’ and `Strictly’; this Budget gives you a golden ticket to join start-up Britain.”
The moratorium on new legislation for small businesses with fewer than 10 employees will be a big relief for entrepreneurs, who need to be fully focused on jobs and growth rather than the latest wheeze from Whitehall. When I was a small business owner, dealing with employment law took more time than any other management responsibility. Employment laws and regulations have been piled on British business since 1997."
Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks), a Party Deputy Chairman and Select Committee member, decided to make constituency points to illustrate his general ones -
I am struck in my constituency by how many companies succeeded in growing even under the previous Government, without direct subsidy or specific grants. I visited three recently. The Sevenoaks energy academy, which I had the honour of opening last year, trains hundreds of engineers in renewable energies, providing courses in fitting solar panels, rainwater harvesting and so on. One of Sevenoaks's most dynamic business women, Julie Walker, made a £1.5 million investment in that academy, and I welcome that.
Michael Fallon: I will not, if the hon. Gentleman will excuse me. Secondly, Vine Publishing is a new media company in my constituency, which is heavily involved in all kinds of print and digital work. Its turnover now approaches more than £3.25 million and it employs 12 people. It was founded by three entrepreneurs, who dropped out of university because they preferred to go into business.
Thirdly, I attended the opening of the Ideal Waste Paper Company this month. It has built a major new recycling facility at Swanley-a £14 million investment, creating 60 new jobs and recycling more than 250,000 tonnes a year.
Those are examples of companies of the future, in the new technologies, the new energies and the new media. We should all ask ourselves how we get more of them. Of course, getting the long-term climate is right, but we must also address how to make it easier for people to set up such companies."
As did Jessica Lee (Erewash) -
"I was particularly delighted to hear the announcement about the establishment of an enterprise zone for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. My constituency is right in the heart of that area, and I will do my best to ensure that we are its beating heart; I will fight for an appropriate level of investment. We also have some of the centres of innovative manufacturing that were announced yesterday, at Loughborough university and the university of Nottingham. Again, many young people in my constituency could benefit from that training and help, and I will do all I can to make those facilities available to them.
The enterprise zones will follow the structure set out in the local enterprise partnerships. We were lucky to have a strong LEP application for Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire from the outset, and it was one of the first to be accepted. That group is already taking great steps towards being up and running, so that it can take in bids and bring in investment and jobs. I think that the enterprise zone will assist in that even further.
Finally, the freezing of council tax will benefit hard-working families in my constituency. We are lucky in Erewash because this is the second year running in which the borough council has frozen council tax. That will really help people."
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
One of the fears expressed by the six Tory rebels who voted against the Government on tuition fees last night (full breakdown of who rebelled is here) was that the increase would deter people from poorer backgrounds fro going to university.
It became an issue over which Conservative MPs argued during the debate in the chamber yesterday.
"I speak from my own experiences as a former schoolteacher, which I have mentioned on many occasions, and as the first person in my family to attend university-I know that I am not unique in that among hon. Members. I went to university on a full grant with all my tuition paid, shortly before tuition fees were introduced. I can only think about the impact that the proposed fees would have had on me and my family when I was growing up. Would my parents have encouraged me to attend university, had they thought I would come away with debts of £40,000 or £50,000? I do not think so. Similarly, many of the students whom I taught in deprived schools in Hull wanted to go to university, but when I encouraged them to do so, the response was often, "My dad says that we can't afford to go to university." That was after fees were introduced.
"Since fees were introduced, the evidence has shown that although there has been widening participation, students from some backgrounds are not attending the best universities, as I said to the shadow Secretary of State. They choose where to attend based on money and finances, rather than on what is best for them. They often choose to stay at home."
In reference to similar arguments made by Labour MP Barry Sheerman, Surrey East MP Sam Gyimah responded:
"He reminded the House of the debate on tuition fees here in 2004. That Bill passed by five votes. However, he did not say that, during that debate, we heard the same apocalyptic messages that we are hearing in the Chamber today. The issue then was fees increasing from £1,000 to £3,000. No Government Member says with relish that we should increase fees, but it is important to note that six years on from those debates, 45% of people go to university and 200,000 people want to but cannot go. The hon. Gentleman should therefore have told us that, although we were worried at the time, many of those worries proved unfounded."
This argument was developed with more statistics by Grantham and Stamford's Nick Boles:
“As in 1981, our party once again faces the task of redefining our economy and reshaping our society. That is why I welcome the Chancellor’s proposals for small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy. A long-lasting recovery must have its foundations in the private sector, which is where jobs will come from. Jobs will come if we reward enterprise, endeavour and ambition, and if we have a step change in our approach to enterprise. We need to encourage a spirit of adventure. Without accepting that basic premise, we will not have people taking the risks that are essential to creating the next Vodafone, the next Dyson and the next lastminute.com.”
He also spoke from personal experience about why rewarding endeavour is the best way of promoting social mobility:
“Many Opposition Members say that having the state do less by focusing on getting people into work and building an economy based on rewarding endeavour will penalise the less well-off. They are wrong, and I should know. I grew up in very modest circumstances. My standing here in the Chamber is the result of the vision, care and support of a strong mother, who brought us up on her own and overcame numerous odds, and instilled in us character, discipline and the value of hard work. I do not believe that any state programme could achieve what she has. On the contrary, I would have been trapped in poverty, as millions are.
“At university I struggled to pay my rent. But for the generosity of my college, Somerville, I would have been thrown out. That could have been the end of my university education, and perhaps I would not have made it here, so I understand that we cannot leave people to the mercy of markets. For me, the crux of the Budget is that we should empower individuals, families and communities to make the most of their lives.”
“Small and medium-sized businesses are the mainstay of employment in South Ribble and the risk takers and innovators of our economy. These business people will certainly benefit from the measures outlined last week by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and fellow north-west MP, through his freedom, growth and enterprise agenda, and thanks to the new Government’s regional growth fund, I am delighted that businesses in South Ribble will benefit to the tune of up to £5,000 per employee in national insurance contributions for the first 10 new employees.”
She also called for Government to “get off people’s backs”:
“Above all, the people of South Ribble wanted the Government off their backs and on their side. They believe that they know how to spend their hard-earned money better than any Government, and they voted for power to be handed back to the people. It is with great pride that I am in the House representing the people of South Ribble. I have vowed to put it on the map and to be South Ribble’s voice in Westminster, and not the Westminster voice in South Ribble.”