Tony Baldry MP

6 May 2009 10:53:49

No-one should be forced to fund a political party

Julie Kirkbride MP There were questions to Justice ministers yesterday. These are the highlights.

Bromsgrove MP Julie Kirkbride raised the thorny issue of the state funding of political parties:

"Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a huge conundrum when it comes to party political funding? The public want democracy, but it is expensive. They do not want to pay for it with their own taxes, and they do not want other people to pay for it with their hard-earned cash.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Lady has put the dilemma very acutely. She will know that one of Sir Hayden’s key recommendations was that in return for donation limits there should be very extensive state funding. I think it is now recognised, not least given the state of the British economy, that the British people would not take kindly to that proposition. In Canada, where there had been state funding, the Government of Mr. Stephen Harper suddenly decided to withdraw it as an economy measure, causing a fundamental crisis in Canadian politics. That, I suggest, is another reason not to introduce comprehensive state funding.

Yes, it is true to some extent that the public want democracy and do not want to pay for it. Meanwhile, I happen to believe that it is entirely honourable to ask people to contribute to the political parties of their choice, provided that those who donate make it clear that they are donating."

Large donations should be declared. No-one should be compelled to donate to a political party, either through their membership of an organisation or through their taxes. It should be up to parties to make themselves sufficiently appealing to voters that they want to support them, and many of us would deeply resent being made to fund a political movement we find repugnant (and I'm not even thinking of the ghastly extremist parties!).

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13 Mar 2009 13:55:00

David Willetts calls funding of further education an "unfolding disaster"

David_willetts_mpThe Department for Innovation, Skills and Universities was up for questions yesterday.

Shadow Secretary of State David Willetts asked about the role of about further education in the recession:

"I want to ask the Secretary of State about something that I hope he will agree is very important in ensuring that people have training and skills in the recession, which is the role of further education colleges. What does he say to a college that had moved out of its old buildings having been promised capital for a rebuild, but will now find itself operating out of temporary classrooms because of his Department’s incompetence in its management of the capital programme? How does that contribute to investing in skills in a recession?

Mr. Denham: As the hon. Gentleman knows very well from my having made a written ministerial statement last Wednesday as promised, we will spend the £2.3 billion that we have been allocated in this spending review period on capital investment in FE colleges. That is in sharp contrast to the position 10 years ago and comes on top of many hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in recent years. His own constituency has benefited from no fewer than 11 different FE capital projects in recent years. He did not say anything about that, surprisingly.

The Learning and Skills Council informed me about 10 days ago that it had given approval in principle to another 79 colleges, with more in the pipeline. It is clear that we cannot fund all those in the next two years, which is why we have done two things. We have asked the LSC to consult the Association of Colleges and others on ways to prioritise those that are in the pipeline, to give colleges some certainty. Secondly, the LSC has agreed to my request that it appoint Sir Andrew Foster to provide a report to me on how this situation could have arisen.

Mr. Willetts: Havant college is actually one of the many colleges affected by the moratorium. We calculate, on the basis of the Secretary of State’s own statement, that 144 will be affected. He said that he had invited Sir Andrew Foster to explain to him what went wrong. Will he confirm the details in the LSC’s minutes, which we have obtained with a freedom of information request, that senior officials from his Department attended every meeting of the LSC when the capital moratorium was discussed, and that it was specifically concluded at the end of the meeting when the moratorium was first imposed that he should immediately be informed? Why is he now saying that he needs a review, given that his Department was kept in touch throughout this unfolding disaster?

Mr. Denham: The position is clear. Ministers were first alerted to a potential problem with the capital programme at the end of November—I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with the date. We received the next information just before the December meeting, at which the decision was made not to approve any further colleges in detail. Ministers were not given the picture that I was able to put in the written ministerial statement last week until the week before last—I think, but I will give him the date—as a result of the review that we asked the LSC to conduct. The numbers of colleges that the hon. Gentleman has calculated that were promised approval in detail, and the numbers in the pipeline—that is significant, because not only colleges that have had approval in principle are waiting for funding clearance—did not become available to Ministers with any clarity until that date. We shared the information with the House within the most reasonable timetable possible—after the LSC met last week to consider which colleges could be approved and the shape of the rest of the programme."

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11 Mar 2009 14:31:53

Theresa May excoriates Government for inaction on unemployment

Theresa_may_mpThe Conservatives held a debate on unemployment in the House of Commons yesterday. Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Theresa May spoke from the front bench.

"I am sure that no one in this Chamber needs reminding of the unemployment challenge that this country faces. Every day, Members of this House deal with letters and e-mails from constituents who have lost their jobs and are unable to find another. People feel helpless, frustrated, distressed and utterly let down. Who can blame them? The recession is having a devastating effect on employment around the country. No industry or geographical area remains immune from this downturn and the people of Britain are dealing with its harsh realities every day.

What has been the Government’s reaction to this crisis? Have they taken immediate action to help people now? Sadly not; unemployment has been rising constantly for more than a year, yet the Government closed an average of one jobcentre a week in 2008. As late as last July, Ministers were still issuing press releases patting themselves on the back for record levels of employment, and brushing the unemployment problem to one side. As Ministers were reminding us that we should see the rise in jobseeker’s allowance “in context”, perhaps I can provide a little context for the Government, in the hope that it will get them to face up to the problems that we face.

There are 1.97 million people unemployed. Youth unemployment is at its highest level since 1995. There are record redundancies, combined with the lowest level of vacancies since records began. Jobseeker’s allowance claims are up by 55 per cent. in one year, with the claimant count smashing through the 1 million mark, and there are over 130,000 fewer jobs in the economy since June last year. The reality is that Britain now faces an unemployment crisis.

Yet there is still no real action from the Government. Instead, true to form, they have given us only empty promises. In October, the Government announced £50 million of help for people “currently facing redundancy”. Five months on, how many have received that help? None. Why? Because the projects will not start until April. In December, the Government announced £79 million of funding. Two months later, they reannounced that help. Only then was it revealed that no new employment programmes would be in place as a result of that money until the end of this year.

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26 Feb 2009 11:49:52

Nick Hurd backs short-term Treasury loans to sound charities

Nick_hurd_mpQuestions were put to the Cabinet Office / Duchy of Lancaster yesterday. Members were swift to express their deep sympathy to David Cameron and his family over the death of Ivan. I add my own.

Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Nick Hurd posed a question about charities. (Naomi House, to which he refers, is a children's hospice in Hampshire.)

"On behalf of the Conservative party, I thank the Parliamentary Secretary and other hon. Members who have expressed sadness at the death of Ivan Cameron. His was a tragically short span of life, but one filled with a great deal of love. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) will draw strength from the House’s condolences.

Until now, the Treasury has done nothing for a significant number of charities, which have lost money in the Icelandic bank failure, so charities such as Naomi House face having to cut back their good work just when it is most needed. Let me make the Parliamentary Secretary an offer. We support the principle of a short-term Treasury loan fund to help sound charities, which face genuine hardships as a result of lost bank deposits. Will he work with us to develop cross-party consensus on a measure that will have minimal cash-flow impact on the Treasury and deliver real help to a vital sector of society?

Kevin Brennan: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s interest in the matter, but we need to separate the budget from the issue of help in the short term. I have already made it clear that there are attempts in the case of Naomi House to look at brokering a local solution. Those discussions are ongoing and we will be carefully monitoring the situation of charities more generally."

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23 Jan 2009 13:00:23

Written answers round-up

Here is the latest batch of interesting written answers from the House of Commons.

Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions Andrew Selous had a written reminder that ministers are supposed to make big announcements to Parliament first when it is in session - a rule that they in fact breach on a spectacularly frequent basis:

"To ask the Leader of the House what recent discussions she has had with Ministerial colleagues on the criteria to be used in deciding whether an announcement should be made by means of an Oral Statement. [250014]

Chris Bryant: My right hon. and learned Friend and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues when deciding whether an oral statement should be made to announce Government policy. This is done against the general principle set out in the Ministerial Code that when Parliament is in Session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance, in Parliament, and taking into account the importance of the issue and the other business before the House."

The answer to Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt also serves as a reminder - that the Church of England is responsible for much of our architectural heritage:

"To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners how many church buildings are listed. [250272]

Sir Stuart Bell: The Church of England is responsible for approximately 13,000 listed buildings. This represents about 45 per cent. of all the grade I listed buildings in England."

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14 Oct 2008 11:23:42

Human rights debate

Yesterday the House of Commons debated democracy and human rights. A number of Conservative MPs made interesting contributions.

Tony Baldry, chairman of the International Development select committee, highlighted the desperate situation in Sudan:

"Before we move on from Sudan, let me point out that Darfur shows the fragility of the international community’s ability to support the emerging norm of the international community’s responsibility to protect. The matter is not just about the failure of the Security Council to enforce that; the international community does not have the military lift capacity to do so either. We are hoping that things in Darfur will not get worse and that something will turn up. There is no UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, effectively, and there is no real process in Darfur. The responsibility to protect is just being forgotten."

David Lidington, part of the Shadow Foreign Affairs team, indicated his determination to make the promotion of human rights a central plank of foreign policy:

"The promotion of human rights should not be seen as an add-on, but as an integral part of our thinking, incorporated in, for example, our national security strategy and our policies on international development. For instance, I should like us to build plans for the reduction and eradication of human trafficking into our poverty reduction programmes, and to find a way in which to integrate our concern for human rights into the pursuit of millennium development goals."

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7 Nov 2007 08:11:49

Tony Baldry and John Redwood wonder why the Labour benches are empty for the first backbench contribution to the Queen's Speech debate

Tony Baldry MP: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could the monitors in the Palace be checked? I cannot believe that they are working properly, given that not a single Labour Member of Parliament is present other than the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). I cannot recall another occasion on which not a single Back-Bench Labour Member has been present other than the Member who is speaking. How on earth do the Government think they can sustain the debate until 10 pm when no one is here?

Mr. Speaker: The important thing is that the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) is here to listen to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay)—and, of course, I am here to chair the proceedings, so everything is fine.

Redwoodjohnincommons After 4.58pm John Redwood MP returned to Mr Baldry's theme: "If the Government are serious—and I hope that they are—about wanting to make Parliament the fulcrum of our national political life and the centrepiece of our debate, surely the Chamber is the place where the first clash of argument should take place over the nature of the Queen’s Speech, and whether it is wide-ranging enough or deep and profound enough. If that were the case, more Labour Back Benchers would wish to stay for the rest of the debate. For the Hansard record, only two Labour Back Benchers spoke in the debate after the speeches by Front-Bench Members, so it can probably be argued that they do not support the speech enough to come here and speak in favour of it, although, doubtless, they will vote for it. It implies, too, that they believe that the debate has already taken place."

Then Angus Robertson MP of the SNP: "On the issue of the Hansard record, is it not noteworthy that there is not a single Scottish Labour MP in the Chamber? Many measures in the Queen’s Speech pertain only to England. Labour Members are not prepared to listen to the debate, yet they are prepared to vote for measures that will impact on English constituencies, which is a very odd state of affairs, is it not?"

Source here.

11 Oct 2007 11:29:20

Smaller General Hospitals

Tony_baldry Tony Baldry MP speaking in a deabte on Smaller General Hospitals, watched by about thirty campaigners in the gallery:

"I suspect that the Minister’s effective response to this debate will be short. In so far as the reconfiguration of local hospital services is concerned, I imagine that she will say, first, that such reconfiguration is a matter for local medical opinion, and, secondly, that Ministers will act in such matters on the advice of the independent reconfiguration panel. If the Minister were to say that, she would be wrong.

Local general practitioners are against the cuts, as are those hospital staff who have been able to speak out against them. Patients and local residents are petitioning and rallying against the cuts to general hospitals in their tens of thousands. In my constituency, local medical opinion is overwhelmingly against the proposed changes to services at Horton general hospital, but it has simply been ignored, and, although the existence of the IRP is welcome, it can, of course, only advise the Government within the policy parameters set by them. [...]

I believe that everyone can understand, after the turmoil of the junior doctors’ training fiasco and the somewhat patronising approach of the previous Secretary of State, that when the present Secretary of State came into office, he was keen to give the impression of drawing a line in the sand and to institute a year-long review of the national health service. I suppose he hoped that that would buy him time to sort out what was going on in the NHS, to try to understand why so much extra investment has led to so little by way of improved outcomes and, in the meantime, to try to shuffle off any difficult decisions to the IRP. Indeed, a study published at the beginning of this month found that health services in the UK are some of the worst in Europe. The UK is in the same league as countries such as Slovenia and Hungary, which spend far less on health, and is languishing below Estonia and the Czech Republic in respect of health care."

More from Hansard here.