Julian Lewis MP

1 Feb 2011 10:43:48

Liam Fox expresses his fear that Iran may have a nuclear weapon next year as Lib Dems demand to know if money is already being spent on components for Trident

By Jonathan Isaby

At yesterday's Defence questions, the Tory MP for Watford, Richard Harrington, sought Liam Fox's assessment of Iran's potential nuclear capability.

The Defence Secretary replied:

"Iran does not yet have nuclear weapons as assessed. However, it continues to pursue uranium enrichment and the construction of a heavy water research reactor, both of which have military potential, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. We share the very serious concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran not having adequately explained evidence of possible military dimensions to its nuclear programme. We will therefore respond accordingly."

Richard Harrington Commons As a supplementary, Harrington expanded on his enquiry:

"I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but in the light of recent comments by Meir Dagan, who recently retired as the head of Mossad, about Iran's first nuclear weapon possibly being ready by the middle of this decade, will he make a statement on how the Government intend to proceed in their approach to Iran's nuclear programme?"

Liam Fox Commons In his reply, Fox said it was "entirely possible" that Iran could have a nuclear weapon as early as next year:

"My hon. Friend raises perhaps one of the most important questions at the present time, which is: how do we assess Iran's intentions and how do we assess the time scale? Despite his long experience, I think that Mr Dagan was wrong to insinuate that we should always look at the more optimistic end of the spectrum. We know from previous experience, not least from what happened in North Korea, that the international community can be caught out assuming that things are rosier than they actually are. We should therefore be clear that it is entirely possible that Iran may be on the 2012 end of that spectrum, and act in accordance with that warning."

An exchange then followed with Julian Lewis, a Tory defence spokesman in opposition, whcih raised the subject of Trident:

Julian Lewis square Dr Julian Lewis: What sort of signal does it send to Iran and other hostile would-be proliferators that our nuclear deterrent could be put at ransom in the event of another hung Parliament, as a result of our not having signed the key contracts and the hostility towards the replacement of Trident evinced by the Liberal Democrats?

Dr Fox: The Government remain committed, including in the coalition agreement, to the renewal of our nuclear deterrent. As I am sure my hon. Friend would expect, I will be campaigning to ensure that the next Parliament is not a hung Parliament, but one in which we have a majority Conservative Government.

The issue of Trident was then revived later in the session by a couple of Liberal Democrat MPs:

Continue reading "Liam Fox expresses his fear that Iran may have a nuclear weapon next year as Lib Dems demand to know if money is already being spent on components for Trident " »

22 Jan 2011 06:33:44

Tory MPs condemn BBC slur against Norris McWhirter at Culture Questions

By Jonathan Isaby

Just before Christmas, Alex Deane used this piece on ConHome to highlight the outrageous attack on Norris McWhirter and the Freedom Association by David Baddiel and Alan Davies on a BBC radio programme, who linked them with fascism.

At Culture Questions in the Commons on Thursday, several Tory MPs took the opportunity to raise the matter on the floor of the Commons.

Robert Halfon Commons Harlow MP Robert Halfon asked Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt:

"When considering the governance of the BBC, will he also examine BBC impartiality? On "The Alan Davies Show" last year, BBC employees likened the Freedom Association to the British National party and its founder, the late second world war hero Norris McWhirter, to one of Mosley's brownshirts. When I wrote to the BBC I received a ridiculous letter from Mark Thompson refusing to apologise. Will my right hon. Friend demand that the BBC starts to live up to the obligation in its own charter?"

The Culture Secretary replied:

"I agree that impartiality at the BBC is paramount and that the particular comments to which my hon. Friend refers were totally inappropriate. I can understand why many people found them offensive. By way of reassurance, I say to him that in the selection process for the new chairman of the BBC Trust, which is responsible for impartiality, we have said that all candidates must show commitment to improving governance at the BBC. I hope that these issues will continue to be addressed."

Julian Lewis square Julian Lewis from New Forest East also spoke passionately in defence of Norris McWhirter:

"I thank the Secretary of State, from the bottom of my heart, for what he said about the disgraceful attack on the reputation of Norris McWhirter, whom the BBC was delighted to have as one of its star celebrities for decade after decade. May I tell him that I worked with Norris McWhirter for many years in politics, and one could never find a more dedicated opponent of totalitarianism? That is hardly surprising given that at the age of 17, he volunteered for the Royal Navy and took part in one of the most successful anti-U-boat organisations in the battle of the Atlantic. It was a particular disgrace that someone-David Baddiel-who, like me, is from a Jewish background, should denounce that admirable man as a fascist or a Nazi sympathiser simply because he disagreed with him politically."

Jeremy Hunt replied thus:

"I echo what I said about the importance of impartiality, and say simply to my hon. Friend that given his sustained interest in that, many people at the BBC are gutted that he did not put his name forward for the chairmanship of the BBC Trust."

12 Jan 2011 08:38:27

Tory MPs call for Cameron to show "backbone" and resist voting rights for prisoners

Tim Montgomerie

In Westminster Hall yesterday, ahead of the binding Commons vote, Philip Hollobone instigated a debate on voting rights for prisoners. Mark Harper MP for the Coalition is proposing that prisoners with sentences of four year or less should get the vote. Labour will seek to amend that proposal, limiting voting rights to one year sentences or less. Unless the Coalition compromises it is likely to be defeated.

Jail Vote Philip Hollobone called for David Cameron to show backbone in resisting votes for prisoners

"Here is a question for hon. Members. Who said: 

"Frankly, when people commit a crime and go to prison, they should lose their rights, including the right to vote"?

He also said:

"It makes me physically ill even to contemplate having to give the vote to anyone who is in prison."

The answer is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and I could not agree more with him. The vast majority of people in this country would also back him in those sentiments. One difference between the Prime Minister and myself, however, is that he is actually in a position to do something about this issue. We need some backbone-we need a hardened spine-if we are to take on the European Court of Human Rights and resist its judgment."

Dr Thérèse Coffey noted that rapists will be given the vote under the Coalition's four year limit

"On the point about limits, does my hon. Friend agree that the crimes of rape, for which a three-and-a-half year sentence was awarded in November, in a case in Warwick, and armed robbery with a knife, which has also been given a sentence of less than four years, are serious crimes, and that it is shocking that the Government even contemplate that such things should be covered?"

Matthew Offord pointed out that many other nations have not complied with the European Courts on this issue

"It may interest hon. Members to know that 13 other countries that are signatories to the European convention on human rights also have blanket bans. Why is this country being singled out for the treatment it is getting from the European Court, when blanket bans continue in other countries, such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Moldova and Slovakia, among others? Our constituents will be outraged that the UK is being singled out for special treatment."

Stewart Jackson argued that the Government's four year limit was "arbitrary"

"Is not it true that the recent case of Greens and M.T. v. the United Kingdom specifically allows the Government to proceed with a range of policy options, which, like the consultation in 2009, could be put out for public discussion? Instead the Government have gone for an arbitrary four-year limit, without any further debate or discussion in the House or with the public."

Continue reading "Tory MPs call for Cameron to show "backbone" and resist voting rights for prisoners" »

10 Dec 2010 06:52:27

Tory MPs argue over whether increasing fees will discourage school leavers from going to university

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.

Andrew Percy Commons Brigg and Goole MP Andrew Percy, a rebel and member of the new intake (who used to work for fellow rebel, David Davis) expressed his fears thus:

"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:

Continue reading "Tory MPs argue over whether increasing fees will discourage school leavers from going to university" »

10 Sep 2010 15:59:01

MPs vote overwhelmingly in favour of British troops remaining in Afghanistan (with only one Tory MP dissenting)

By Jonathan Isaby and Paul Goodman

8.45 pm update: It's also worth noting the amendment tabled by Julian Lewis, supported by three other Conservative MPs, which sought to add to the motion the following words -

"provided that a more realistic military strategy is adopted designed to fulfil the United Kingdom's long-term interests in the region at lesser cost in life, limb and financial resources".

Lewis argued that -

"...all the Governments are signed up to an unrealistic strategy which ought to be changed. The reality is that General Richards was not really wrong in what he said previously and he is not really wrong when he says that we ought to be talking to the enemy. It is a question of timing. The truth of the matter is that General Petraeus is absolutely right to pursue such a counter-insurgency strategy, provided that we have all the time in the world and that we are prepared to take the casualties that are being inflicted on us by irregular forces. If we are not prepared to take those casualties, we will have to adopt a more realistic strategy, because otherwise we will withdraw arbitrarily and, on our withdrawal, the likelihood of the Afghan Government's being able to sustain themselves is open to doubt."

His speech can be read here.  He was supported in the lobbies by Philip Hollobone and Andrew Turner.  Conservative MPs seem to have been whipped to vote against the amendment.


Yesterday saw a debate initiated by the Backbench Business Committee on the presence of British troops in Afghanistan.

The motion before the Commons was "That this House supports the continued deployment of UK armed forces in Afghanistan" and was passed by 310 votes to 14. Only one Conservative opposed the motion - John Baron - and two Lib Dems, Julian Huppert and John Hemming. The remaining opponents were a variety of Labour MPs along with the Green and a Plaid Cymru member.

Below are some of the highlights of the Conservative contributions.

Bob Stewart Commons Bob Stewart (Beckenham):

"We have made some fundamental mistakes. I am not blaming anyone, but we made mistakes in 2006 when we dissipated our forces so they were in platoon houses and were not within the envelope. That meant that they could not have protection from artillery, and we had to use air power instead. The air power protecting them knocked out houses around them and killed local people, turning the people against our forces. In 2007 and 2008 we had gone back to counter-insurgency tactics—taking, holding, building—and our gallant troops went in to take, but they could not hold. They had to withdraw. Perhaps Members remember those pictures of helicopters flying with men strapped aboard to try to bring troops back. We could not hold the ground. Also, of course, our enemy came in and put devices on the ground that caused real problems, and they continue to do so to this day.

"We now have a situation in which there is an increase in the number of soldiers on the ground, principally from the United States, and the principles of counter-insurgency are, in fact, beginning to work. They are protecting the people, and the key is whether the Afghan people feel protected and safe and can live a decent life."

Continue reading "MPs vote overwhelmingly in favour of British troops remaining in Afghanistan (with only one Tory MP dissenting)" »

13 Jul 2010 15:22:21

Four of the new Tory intake call for "reform or abolition" of Early Day Motions

By Jonathan Isaby

Early Day Motions are oft referred to as "parliamentary grafitti": they are effectively petitions which only MPs can sign and are often tabled with the sole intention of allowing an MP to issue a press release to their local paper beginning "Local campaigning MP Joe Bloggs has tabled a motion in Parliament demanding..." in the knowledge that few people will ever read it, let alone debate it.

And it has to be said that with each Parliamentary Session it does seem that more and more frivolous and pointless Early Day Motions are being tabled.

This has promoted four of the new Tory intake to call for them to be reformed or abolished.

Graham Evans, Nick de Bois, Steve Baker and Guy Opperman have made their point by way of an, er EDM - Number 432 in fact, which reads:

"That this House regrets the continuing decline in importance of Early Day Motions which have become a campaign tool for external organisations; notes the role of public affairs professionals in drafting Early Day Motions and encouraging members of the organisations they represent to send pro forma emails and postcards to hon. Members; further notes the huge volume of correspondence that this generates and the consequent office and postage costs incurred; believes that the organisations involved derive little benefit from Early Day Motions, which very rarely have any influence on policy; further believes that public affairs professionals are aware of the ineffectiveness of Early Day Motions, but continue to use them to attempt to justify their services; questions the value for money to the taxpayer of Early Day Motions of whatever origin; and calls for the system of Early Day Motions to be reformed or abolished."

However, Tory MP Julian Lewis has tabled the following amendment, deleteing all and inserting:

"recognises that Early Day Motions provide one of only a few methods of registering the views of large numbers of hon. Members, other than by votes in the House; believes that they enable hon. Members to generate support for worthwhile causes; consequently opposes their abolition; and accordingly advises hon. Members who do not wish to sign them simply to decline to do so."

I'm with Julian Lewis on this. The massive cross party support for the Save General Election Night campaign last year was able to be demonstrated by Tom Harris's EDM, for example, and they remain a way of enabling MPs to get their points of view about certain issues out in the public domain and I would not want to see them abolished.

That said, I accept that there is an argument for saying that MPs should have to attain a reasonable number of signatures before public money is spent printing the motion and that motions congratulating local sporting teams on victories and promotions really are a waste of said money.

19 Jan 2010 05:57:10

John Bercow calls for "national leadership" to Save General Election Night

SaveElectionNight graphic In his interview with Carolyn Quinn for The Westminster Hour earlier in the month, John Bercow ignalled his support for Thursday night election counts.

But after a Point of Order raised yesterday by Julian Lewis - highlighting the agreement of Harriet Harman and her Tory shadow, Sir George Young, at last week's business questions - the Speaker went further in his support for the Save General Election Night campaign.

Here's what Mr Bercow told the Commons:

Speaker Bercow 3 "For my own part, I am a passionate believer in instant, not slow motion, democracy. It seems to me that it is in the interests of the House and the country that the count should take place on the night, and there are two overwhelmingly compelling reasons why: first, I believe that there could be a threat to the security of the ballot if the count is delayed; and, secondly, it seems to me that on the day the election takes place, it should be possible for the count also to take place so that we get the result speedily.

"Frankly, it should not be beyond the wit and sagacity of humankind—or indeed of local authorities—to ensure that that happens. I politely suggest to the House that what is required is not a passive acceptance of the particular views of individual local authority chief executives, but rather an assertion of leadership nationally and politically, at a local level, to achieve what I sense the House is uniting in wishing to see."

Hear, hear to that. He is right that since the decision on timing of the count is currently written in statute as being entirely at the discretion of the Returning Officer (often the chief executive of the relevant local authority), it needs pressure to be exerted on a cross-party basis both at a local and national level to focus their minds..

Jonathan Isaby

23 Jan 2009 10:02:20

Julian Lewis MP says MPs should NOT face disclosure of rejected expense applications

Julian Lewis in the Commons yesterday:

"May I flag up a matter that I thought was extremely unfair to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett)? She put in a claim in relation to her accommodation for something to do with her garden. The claim was turned down, yet the information that she had tried to get it but been refused was released, much to the joy of the press, who proceeded to criticise her for having asked. Surely what should be revealed is the expenses that are granted. It should not be revealed if somebody asks whether they can claim for something, is told that it is not appropriate and says, “Fine, I will let it go”. That situation was most unfair to the right hon. Lady."

19 Nov 2008 14:18:08

Should demonstrations in Parliament Square be restricted?

Parliament_square_2Julian Lewis, MP for New Forest East and a Shadow Defence minister, has posed an important question about the demonstration in Parliament Square:

"Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs pursuant to the written answer of 21 July 2008, Official Report, column 748W, on noise pollution, whether the repeal of restrictions on demonstrations in Parliament Square will result in (a) permanent encampments and (b) unrestricted amplified broadcast noise being permitted. [228445]

Huw Irranca-Davies [holding answer 20 October 2008]: The Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, published on 31 July 2008, included a number of recommendations on the Government's proposals to repeal sections 132-138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 which pertain to demonstrations around Parliament. The recommendations of the Joint Committee addressed both permanent protests and noise nuisance and the Government will be responding imminently to the Report."

This is a tough one for a Conservative. Freedom of speech is important to us, but so is the maintenance of public spaces. Parliament Square has been a frightful mess for years. It wasn't much fun when inarticulate commentary was blasted through a megaphone. What about the rights of the rest of us to enjoy a national landmark?

The May Day anti-capitalist marches (populated by halfwits who think that trade restrictions are anarchic) caused shops to lose thousands of pounds as the streets were unusable. Trafalgar Square saw some extremely ugly and threatening banners when extremists gathered there.

And yet people must be allowed to speak out, and surely the perceived merits of their arguments shouldn't be the determining factor. So what restrictions should be put on the right to protest?

11 Oct 2008 07:42:27

Julian Lewis on underfunding of the armed forces and the need for a defence review

Lewisjulian2_2Highlights from a contribution to Thursday's debate on Defence in the UK follow. Shadow Defence Minister Julian Lewis detailed how a lack of proper funding to match Britain's military commitments was creating both strategic and personal problems for Her Majesty's Armed Forces.

"The outgoing Secretary of State, Des Browne, deserves credit for his promotion of the case for the next generation of the nuclear deterrent, which was not an easy thing for him to do in the context of Labour party politics. Many Conservative Members often challenged him on other issues, but he always responded without rancour. It was his misfortune to fall victim to the Prime Minister's ill-judged decision to lumber him with a second ministerial portfolio at a time when the country is involved in two counter-insurgency campaigns abroad and a significant security issue at home. Every working minute of the Secretary of State for Defence should have been focused on those threats and the service welfare and procurement issues that traditionally hamper the conditions and capabilities of our forces in the field. It was not fair to the right hon. Gentleman, and it certainly was not fair to our forces in the field, that he had to spend up to 20 per cent. of his time on Scottish affairs. Never before has a Prime Minister taken such a half-baked, ill-judged and morale-sapping decision on parliamentary job sharing. Where United Kingdom defence is concerned, it must never happen again.

"Listening to everything that the Minister said about service welfare, I was reminded of the famous American film, "The Best Years of Our Lives", which won seven Oscars in 1946 and had tremendous resonance with the public, both in America and in the United Kingdom. It was about the problems of re-entry into society at the end of four years of war, in the case of the USA, and six years in the case of the United Kingdom. Our servicemen and women face that problem of disconnection and reintegration into society at the end of every six-month tour. The harmony guidelines are supposed to give them 18 months between operational deployments, but we all know that that does not happen.

"Viscount Slim, the victor of Burma and one of the greatest modern strategists the British Army has seen, once did a radio talk in which he compared people drawing on courage with drawing on a bank balance—although I do not think that he had the modern conditions of British banking in mind. He said that they can overdraw from time to time but must replenish their resources. He also said that the bravest men will crack if they are not rested adequately, and yet, conversely, men who are exhausted but are rested adequately can go back and win the highest awards for valour."

Continue reading "Julian Lewis on underfunding of the armed forces and the need for a defence review" »

4 Dec 2007 16:26:00

Fox and Lewis question grill Des Browne

Julian_lewis Julian Lewis: The Secretary of State evidently did not read the comments of five former chiefs of the defence staff if he genuinely thinks that it is not believed that his having two jobs sends out a terrible signal to members of the armed forces. He will recall that, earlier this month, I asked whether his ministerial salary was paid to him entirely for his duties as Secretary of State for Defence, and he failed to give me a direct reply. However, the Library has spoken to the Cabinet Office and a note to me states that a second official at the Cabinet Office informed the Library that:

'following the recent cabinet reshuffle, the Ministry of Defence was instructed to pay Des Browne a ministerial salary and the Scotland Office was instructed not to.'

There may not be enough money in the defence budget for helicopters, but there is enough for the Secretary of State for Scotland.

More from Hansard here.


Liamfox Liam Fox: The Chief of the General Staff says that the Army has “almost no capability to react to the unexpected”, and the Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff says that:

“the current material state of the fleet is not good; the Royal Navy would be challenged to mount a medium-scale operation in accordance with current policy against a technologically capable adversary”.

Which of those statements should the country be more worried about?

Des Browne: The Army is stretched - I have accepted that. I have been saying for some time that if we continue to ask it to operate at this tempo in the long term, that will be unsustainable. Over that period, we have been reducing the pressure on the Army. It is recognised that with the conclusion of Operation Banner in Northern Ireland and of the operation in Bosnia, and the planned reduction in the number of troops in Iraq, a significant amount of that pressure will be reduced.

The hon. Gentleman’s speech to the Conservative party conference suggested that the Army needed three further battalions. I do not believe that the Army needs that or that it thinks that it needs that. I accept that we need a balanced force structure in the Army, but that debate will not be helped by people seeking soundbites, particularly the sort that do not bring with them the commitment to invest the £700 million that would be necessary to make them reality.

On the Navy, the process of reducing the fleet was started by the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported at the end of the cold war, and has continued in line with the White Paper of 2004 in respect of numbers. The most important thing about our Navy is that with fewer ships it can deliver precisely the same tactical effect as before. I recognise that that does not mean that it can deliver the same strategic effect—that is a function of numbers rather than one of capability—but the ships that the Navy has have significantly greater capability.

Liam Fox: But it is not just about manning where there is a gap. There are real gaps at the moment—we have a real shortage of battlefield helicopters, as I saw in Afghanistan a couple of weeks ago. That came as a direct result of this Government’s decision to cut the helicopter budget by £1.4 billion in 2004. We may be getting more helicopters now, but people in the field are asking what sort of idiots cut the helicopter budget in the middle of two wars. We have ended up with not enough helicopters, soldiers or ships, we are not even paying all our troops and the Prime Minister gives us a part-time Defence Secretary to boot. Do Ministers understand that it is not only former defence chiefs who are angry about this, but increasing numbers inside and outside the armed forces?

Des Browne:
The hon. Gentleman knows two things about helicopters from his trip to Afghanistan. The first is that operational helicopter hours in Afghanistan have increased significantly over the past months and that there are plans to increase the number of helicopters quite significantly. He also knows that that investment has been made and that one cannot just buy helicopters off the shelf—one must get them from the production line and make them deployable, and that takes some time.

More from Hansard here.