By Peter Hoskin
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With the Budget less than a couple of weeks away, I thought it would be a good time to collect some of the recommendations being put to George Osborne by Tory parliamentarians. Of course, the parliamentarians listed below may want other measures too – and there may be other parliamentarians who want what they want – but I’ve tried to go with the most prominent examples from the past few weeks. If you think I’ve missed anyone off, please do shout out in the comments section, or email me on pete @ conservativehome.com (without the spaces).
Robert Halfon MP: The reinstatement of the 10p tax rate
Robert explained how and why he wants the 10p rate of income tax reinstated in a recent article for ConservativeHome. Here’s a snippet:
“When Labour brought in the 50p income tax-rate, it cost HMRC something like £7 billion pounds overnight, as people changed their behaviour to avoid the new tax. This year, the Coalition will cut that 50p income tax-rate down to 45p, because this is expected to raise more money from the rich, not less. The message of the campaign at CutTaxTo10p.com — or, alternatively GreatGordonBrownRepealBill.com — is that we should use every extra penny raised from this to restore the 10p basic rate of income tax, to help lower earners. Added to the Universal Credit, this will help stop disincentives to employment, and to ensure that work always pays.”
He also discussed the policy on the Daily Politics today.
By Paul Goodman
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The four in question, as above, were Peter Luff, Tim Loughton, Cheryl Gillan and Nick Herbert.
My report on their views of how British government now works - and to what degree it requires overhauling - can be read on the Conservative Intelligence website.
By Matthew Barrett
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Paul Goodman and Harry Phibbs have already covered this strange case of UKIP-supporting foster parents having children taken away from them by the council in Rotherham. Such a breach of political freedom and liberty has been greeted with concern by a number of Tory MPs - including the Education Secretary, Michael Gove - in tweets and elsewhere. I have collected some below.
Michael Gove has released a statement (via here):
"Rotherham have made the wrong decision in the wrong way for the wrong reasons. Rotherham's reasons for denying this family the chance to foster are indefensible. The ideology behind Rotherham's decision is actively harmful to children. We should not allow considerations of ethnic or cultural background to prevent children being placed with loving and stable families. We need more parents to foster and many more to adopt. Any council that decides supporting a mainstream UK political party disbars an individual from looking after children in care is sending a dreadful signal that will only decrease the number of loving homes available to children in need."
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 Tim Montgomerie
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Fifteen Conservative MPs have written to The Telegraph this morning, urging the Tory leadership to introduce a tax allowance for married couples. They write:
"The Coalition Agreement commits the Government to bring forward “budget resolutions to introduce transferable tax allowances for married couples,” while allowing the Liberal Democrats to abstain on them. We are now past the half way point of this Parliament and, as Conservative MPs, we are calling on the Prime Minister to ensure that these budget resolutions are put before Parliament as part of the Finance Bill 2013.
Recent research in America has shown that college graduates who become single parents are likely to be less well off financially than those who only complete secondary education, but go on to marry.
We believe that these proposals are a vital weapon in combating child poverty.
The Prime Minister has always kept the promises made in the Coalition Agreement, whether on pensioners’ benefits, such as free bus travel, or on aid spending. We call on him to commit himself to putting these budget resolutions on transferable tax allowances for married couples before Parliament next year."
Analysis by the charity Care and the Centre for Social Justice has shown that a transferable tax allowance is more pro-poor than the Coalition's flagship tax policy of raising the starting threshold for paying income tax. The policy has three additional benefits - it rewards the marriage commitment; it honours a manifesto promise; it brings us into line with nearly every other developed country in the world, where family breakdown rates are less serious.
By Tim Montgomerie
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I published some photographs of Tory MPs - including the Prime Minister - enjoying the Jubilee celebrations on Sunday. Here are some more. They involve a lot of cake and quite a bit of rain.
First up is Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt. No doubt enjoying the break from the responsibilities he has for Middle Eastern policy he's judging a Jubilee cake competition at Wyboston, Chawston and Colesden Village Party.
By Joseph Willits
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Yesterday in the House of Commons, Parilamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education Tim Loughton spoke of the need for children exposed to domestic violence to receive "well targeted support from a range of agencies". Loughton said that "prolonged or regular exposure to domestic violence" was "likely to have a serious impact on children’s safety and welfare".
Labour MP Graeme Morrice asked Loughton how the "number of children who are exposed to domestic abuse both as witnesses and as victims" could be reduced. Loughton said that the very fact that domestic violence "is at the core of many safeguarding issues" is "alarming". Both the introduction of specialist domestic violence social workers, and "an ending violence against women and girls action plan" produced by the Government last March, were too examples of the problem being addressed.
Loughton also spoke of the need to clarify the currently confusing definition of domestic violence, which has been one of the priorities of an inter-ministerial group chaired by Theresa May.
By Paul Goodman
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Lists of how Conservative MPs vote on "moral" issues have a perennial fascination (since they tend to divide more evenly than Labour ones.) Some vote for reasons of principle alone; others, particularly senior ones, want to show a bit of ankle to the party's right or the liberal media - and these motives aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.
Here below from Hansard is the list of MPs who voted for the Dorries/Field abortion amendment yesterday on counselling. Among the senior Conservatives who voted in the Aye lobby were Henry Bellingham, Graham Brady, Chris Grayling, John Hayes, Gerald Howarth, Tim Loughton, Maria Miller, and Desmond Swayne, David Cameron's PPS.
I noted yesterday that Liam Fox, Owen Paterson and Iain Duncan Smith voted for the amendment, which was lost by 316 votes to 118. I will try to have a look later at those who passed through the No lobby.
By Matthew Barrett
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One of the moments of excitement from today's Prime Minister's Questions was a clash between John Bercow and Childrens Minister Tim Loughton, which appears to be a further installment in an ongoing series of exchanges between the two .
As can be seen from the video above, an angry and ruffled Speaker Bercow singled out Loughton, telling him to "calm down" and "behave like an adult". Bercow then said if Loughton couldn't comply, he should "leave the Chamber, get out, we'll manage without you."
Very shortly after, the Speaker stopped proceedings again, telling Loughton "No, it's not funny, only in your mind, Mr Loughton, is it funny. It's not funny at all, it's disgraceful."
Mr Loughton has since tweeted:
Beckenham MP Jacqui Lait introduced a Bill in the Commons yesterday. It seeks to "prevent the exploitation by parents of their children by means of seeking publicity, primarily for the purpose of financial gain, in respect of the actions of such children; and for connected purposes".
The Bill was presented by Mrs Lait, Charles Hendry, Mr. Nigel Waterson, Mr. Iain Duncan Smith, Mrs. Maria Miller and Tim Loughton (Shadow Minister for Children). It will be read a second time on 26 June.
Mrs Lait said:
"It would be a rare adult who was not appalled to discover that a mother could plot with other members of her extended family to kidnap her daughter for financial gain, and I, for one, was relieved that the plot was discovered and the mother and her accomplice jailed. Not much later, the story broke of the alleged 13-year-old father, and we had to endure the spectacle of him, the baby, the mother and other claimants to fatherhood all over the world’s media.
I ought to declare an interest as my husband is leader of East Sussex county council, which was involved in that case. Senior officers in the council have done much devilling work for me and I am grateful to them for their help and advice, as I am to the Clerks and the Library of the House. I am also grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) and for Wealden (Charles Hendry), among others, for sponsoring the Bill, and I hope they do not think I am treading on their toes. I regard this as potentially a nationwide issue.
I also alerted the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Malik) to the fact that I was planning this Bill. I quite understand that, as a Minister in the Ministry of Justice, he cannot be involved, but I hope he hears my argument and acts on it. I am also hugely grateful to the Centre for Social Justice for its analytical work, which has opened up the whole debate on the impact of family breakdown on society
Those two cases had in common the misguided desire of a self-interested adult member of a dysfunctional family to profit by exposing their child to a media storm. I shall not refer any more to the details of those cases as those involved have had the protection of the law to regain their anonymity. What alarmed me about them was the damage that would inevitably be caused to the youngsters who were exposed to the full glare of publicity.
Here are the highlights from yesterday's Children, Schools and Families questions.
Buckingham MP John Bercow advocated a more liberal exclusion policy:
"Of course, schools sometimes mistake disability for disobedience. Children with special educational needs are nine times more likely to be permanently excluded from school, and the Government are rightly committed to reducing the incidents of such exclusions. In the light of that, will the Under-Secretary of State consider the merit of amending the law so that a child with SEN or disability may be permanently excluded from school only if a review has taken place of the sufficiency and effectiveness of the reasonable adjustments that have been made under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to seek to accommodate that pupil?
Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I pay tribute to his expertise in this area of special educational needs, and we certainly share his passion and commitment to promoting improved outcomes for children with SEN and disabilities. I am, of course, aware that he has a private Member’s Bill that is due for its Second Reading on 15 May. I believe that that is one proposal that may be considered in it. We certainly look forward to debating that."
By contrast Shadow Minister for Children Tim Loughton stressed the importance of protecting pupils from violence:
"Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Government figures last year revealed that there was a drop of 13 per cent. in permanent exclusions between 2003 and 2007 despite a 50 per cent. increase in the number of children suspended for five times or more— 867 of them excluded for 10 times or more—at a time that saw 4,370 fixed exclusions for serious racist abuse and more than 207,000 serious offences, such as sexual abuse and violence. Yet, in no fewer than 40 per cent. of appeals against permanent exclusions, reinstatement was upheld so that pupils could return to the scene of their offences with impunity, most of them having nothing to do with SEN. Does the Minister think it right that a pupil who has been excluded for violent crime, racist or sexual abuse should be readmitted to schools under any circumstances against the better judgment of the head or the governors?
Sarah McCarthy-Fry: We are certainly committed to backing head teachers’ authority when pupils’ behaviour warrants exclusion. Last year, the number of successful appeals was just 1.2 per cent. of all permanent exclusions, so we must get this in balance. We obviously recognise, and we have said in response to Alan Steer's report, that repeated suspension should lead to permanent exclusion. We are certainly giving back head teachers authority in that."
Christopher Chope MP was unsuccessful yesterday in his bid to block the UK Youth Parliament from ending centuries of exclusive use of the Commons by elected MPs. Here are some of the MP for Christchurch's arguments:
"I could understand a case being made for the use of this Chamber by any number of different organisations, but the fact is that we have never used this Chamber for anything other than parliamentary debate. We do not even use it for parliamentary meetings—party meetings. If it had been used for party gatherings, one might have imagined that when Mr. Blair was lauding all the young women Members of Parliament who had been elected on a Labour party ticket in the 1997 general election, he might have chosen to have the photo-shoot in this Chamber, rather than somewhere else on the parliamentary estate. I can imagine a very strong case for an incoming Conservative Government with 400 or 500 Conservative MPs being able to say, “There is nowhere else large enough on the estate where we can meet following our great election victory, so why not take over the House of Commons Chamber for a meeting?” That would be wrong, because we should not abandon or abandon lightly the traditions of this House, which have meant that this Chamber is the one for those who have the privilege of being elected as Members of the real Parliament, not members of a mock parliament, whether it be a youth parliament, a Muslim parliament or any other parliament.
...The Government have put the cart before the horse. The first principle that we should debate is whether we wish this Chamber to be used for purposes other than those for which it has been used hitherto. If it is decided that we should use the Chamber for other purposes, we can work out whether the applications should be chosen by ballot, such as the one held for exhibitions in the Upper Waiting Hall area; by discussion; or by members of the Administration Committee, who—ironically, and I speak as a member myself—consider the detail of applications for exhibitions in the Palace, but have not been consulted on this point."
...We do not yet know the financial cost of using the Chamber for one day for the annual meeting of the Youth Parliament, but we do know that when the Chamber in the other place was used for half a day, the cost was some £30,000 to £40,000. That was funded partly by this House and partly by a grant from the Ministry of Justice. One might wonder whether that was the best use of that money, in terms of educating a wider group of people about what we do in this place."
...Allowing young people to participate in party political activity, conferences and young people’s political organisations is very helpful for democracy, and I regret very much the reduced activity in all our political parties, including—I am not sure which political party my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) belongs to now— [Interruption.] Very well, the wilderness political party. I gave the example of the late Lord Biffen and the current example of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, but there have been many other people who gained an appetite for engaging in democracy and debate through the political process, without coming to visit Parliament and without having to sit on the green Benches."
Tim Loughton MP dissented from the party's frontbench:
Too often, young people say that politics, Parliament and the ivory tower that is the House of Commons are not for them. They believe that they are populated by people in dark suits who do not understand or engage, and they say, “They are not for us.” What better way to send a message that they are wrong, that we do value their voice and views and that we want to hear from them than by allowing them to have their deliberations in that citadel of privilege, that ivory tower? It is a risk worth taking, subject to the many details that needed to be ironed out.
The debate that we appear to be having about procedural detail will give rise to accusations that we can, at times, be out of touch with people in the community in general, and particularly with young people. We continue to go down that trail at our peril if we want to improve the engagement of young people in politics and improve on the appalling statistic from the last general election that the percentage of 18 to 24-year-olds who bothered to turn out and vote was 39 per cent., or barely one in three. That is the biggest challenge that faces us all. For goodness’ sake, let us take a step in the right direction and say, “Come here. We want to hear what you say, so let’s give it a go.”
The following MPs, mainly Tory, backed Mr Chope's stance:
Questions were put to ministers from the Department for Children, Schools and Families department yesterday.
The very last question of the session was from John Bercow, Buckingham MP, and addressed the loathsome phenomenon of bullying:
"Given that approximately 6,000 children a year exclude themselves from school after suffering extreme bullying, approximately 50 per cent. of whom have contemplated or attempted to commit suicide, will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and a delegation of interested parties to consider the case for funding the network of Red Balloon learner centres across the country? They are doing fantastic work in restoring the self-esteem of those damaged children, and getting them back into school, into further education, on to university or into employment. They need a bit of help.
Ed Balls: I had the opportunity two weeks ago to meet a group of young people from Norwich and Harrow who were being given chances to get back into school through the support of Red Balloon. Such decisions are made by local authorities, and I urge all local authorities to support Red Balloon and such new opportunities for children. I would love to meet the hon. Gentleman and a delegation again, so that I can hear further inspiring stories of young people getting back into education because of this important voluntary organisation."
Mark Pritchard, who represents The Wrekin, asked about means testing:
"Does the Minister accept that there needs to be more flexibility in the means-testing criteria? For example, the circumstances of a household on an income of £30,000 with a single child in full-time education are entirely different from those of another household on the same income but with five children in full-time education. Such issues have an impact on whether some children fulfil full-time education.
Sarah McCarthy-Fry: The problem is that the more flexibility that we put into the system, the more complex it becomes. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but there will not always be the same number of young people in the 16-to-18 age group. It is that particular age group that we are trying to attract with the education maintenance allowance."
There are a number of intriguing written answers in the latest edition of Hansard.
Shoreham & East Worthing MP (and Shadow Minister for Children) Tim Loughton uncovered some diplomatic buckpassing by the Government, through a question to the Olympics Minister:
"To ask the Minister for the Olympics if she will invite the Dalai Lama to attend the London 2012 Olympics. 
Tessa Jowell: Guests and dignitaries are invited to attend the Olympic Games by the International Olympic Committee and participating National Olympic Committees, and the Paralympic Games by the International Paralympic Committee and participating National Paralympic Committees."
Mid-Bedfordshire MP Nadine Dorries asked about fishing quotas:
"To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what proposals he has to make changes to the fishing quota system; and if he will make a statement. 
The UK is actively engaged with the European Commission's current activities to reform the Common Fisheries Policy, which will include consideration of the quota and fisheries access management systems. I have publicly signalled my intention that the UK should play a leading role in shaping this reform and the future of the CFP."
Entering a negotiation with no ideas whatsoever is a novel tactic.
Shadow Minister for Children Tim Loughton has tabled EDM 2542, on a fantastically unimportant issue:
"JOHN SERGEANT AND STRICTLY COME DANCING20.11.2008
That this House is devastated by the circumstances surrounding John Sergeant's departure from Strictly Come Dancing; notes that the programme is a highly popular light entertainment show aimed at entertaining the licence fee paying public, not a serious talent show to launch `wannabes' on a dancing career; further notes that a key component of the programme is to encourage viewers to exercise a meaningful vote and pay for that privilege and to ignore the wishes of the voting public in this way undermines the whole point of voting; and calls on the BBC to reinstate John Sergeant on the show immediately and for the veteran political commentator, turned entertainingly dodgy dancer, to dust down his sequins, return to the dance floor and manfully face the music until the British public, or jury, decides otherwise."
At the time of writing, only Mr Loughton's Conservative colleague Peter Bottomley has also signed. In fairness to them, there is a place for levity in EDMs.
Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb has tabled a rather more worthwhile one in EDM 2540:
"INTERNATIONAL PARLIAMENTARY CONFERENCE ON AID EFFECTIVENESS19.11.2008
That this House congratulates and commends the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK branch on its timely International Parliamentary Conference held on 17th to 21st November 2008 in the Palace of Westminster for 92 colleagues from across the Commonwealth and beyond on the scrutiny of the effectiveness of international aid; notes that following the Accra High Level Forum in September 2008, the conference debated the vital role of parliamentarians in donor and partner legislatures in holding their executives to account on international aid effectiveness and commitments made under the Paris Declaration in 2005; further notes that the conference discussed the need to enhance the capacity of partner parliaments to undertake more effective scrutiny; and recognises an outreach responsibility within this Parliament to assist in strengthening the capacity of partner parliaments."