Here’s an afternoon summary.
• Labour’s Chris Bryant has said that the law should be changed to ensure that people who lie to Commons select committees can be fined or jailed. There was some support for his call, which came during a debate which saw MPs agree unanimously that the Commons standards and privileges committee should look into the culture committee report saying three News International executives lied to parliament and that it should propose appropriate sanctions. In recent years select committees have been uncertain what powers they have to deal with witnesses who are uncooperative or dishonest, but the debate suggests that there is strong support in the Commons for toughening up the rules in this area. Bryant said parliament had to assert its power.
Surely to god, it is time that we asserted the freedom of parliament – in fact, the rights of parliament. Not for our own sakes – it’s irrelevant for our own sakes – but quite simply because if parliament is lied to we cannot do our job on behalf of our constituents, and if parliament is lied to there is impunity thereafter, people will do it again, and then the democratic process unfolds.
• The European court of human rights has reaffirmed its declaration that prisoners in the UK should be given the right to vote. As Owen Bowcott reports, the appeals section of the Strasbourg court reaffirmed its decision that blanket disenfranchisement of all those serving time is illegal and imposed a fresh timetable for Britain’s delayed compliance with similar past rulings. The keenly anticipated ruling on Scoppola vs Italy brings some political relief in confirming there is significant leeway allowed in how the rights are granted, meaning that individual countries may choose to exclude certain groups of serious offenders, such as murderers and rapists. Responding to the decision, Downing Street said:
This is a judgment affecting Italy, but clearly we need to consider the implications of that judgment on the issue of prisoner voting for the UK. The position for the UK is that the attorney general has argued that the issue of social policy, including prisoner voting, is a matter for parliament and it is for Parliament to judge whether and which prisoners should have the vote, and that the court should not interfere with that judgment unless it is manifestly without reasonable foundation.
• Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland secretary, has become the first cabinet minister to say he opposes gay marriage. As PoliticsHome reports, he sent a letter to a constituent saying: “Having considered this matter carefully, I am afraid I have come to the decision not to support gay marriage.”
• Nick Clegg has said that, even though legislation has not been passed changing the laws of succession, a first-born girl born to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would become Queen. During questions in the Commons, he said the new rules were already in place.
If the birds and bees were to deliver that blessing to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and indeed the nation, then that little girl would be covered by the provisions of these changes of the rules of succession because they operate from the time of the declaration of the Commonwealth summit last October. It is very important to remember that the rules are de facto in place, even though they have yet to be implemented through legislation in the way that I have described.
That’s all for today. Thanks for the comments.
The debate is over. The Commons agrees by acclamation to refer the matter to the standards and privileges committee. There is no oppositon.
Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem deputy leader, says there is no point having a select committee system unless there is a way of punishing people who do not obey the rules.
He says he is not just worried about the behaviour of individuals; he is concerned about what News International was doing as a company. Big companies should not be above the law, he says. “Corporate responsibility must be accepted.”
John Hemming, a Lib Dem MP, says he agrees with most of what Chris Bryant said. Parliamentary privilege is there not just to protect MPs, but to protect the rights of people who elect MPs, he says.
Labour’s Kevin Brennan says he feels “uneasy” that the only option available to the Commons is a referral to the standards and privileges committee.
Bernard Jenkin, the chairman of the public administration committee, says he has been asked by the liaison committee to look into what can be done about select committee witnesses who commit a contempt of parliament.
Philip Davies, a Conservative member of the culture committee, is speaking now. He says the lies told by the News International executives were not “little white lies”.
They were deliberate attempts to mislead the committee.
The standards and privileges committee needs to consider why people were lying. Were they trying to protect themselves, or to protect colleagues?
People who came to the committee came with “a corporate game plan”, he says. It was that nobody knew anything, and nobody knew anybody who did know anything.
Davies says he asked Hinton if he received coaching.
Those three individuals “palpably lied to the select committee”, he says. It would be good to know how that came about, Davies says. He thinks they were told to lie.
Davies says he would be sympathetic to the committee looking into whether other individuals lied to it “if the legal situation allowed”.
Kevin Barron, the Labour chairman of the standards and privileges committee, says his committee is willing to take this up. He urges MPs not to ask members of his committee questions about its inquiry as it goes on.
4.27pm) was not agreed by all members of the committee.Louise Mensch, a Conservative member of the committee, says the sentence mentioned by Paul Farrelly (see
She says it should be assumed that when someone gives evidence to a select committee that they are telling the truth. It should not be necessary to get them to give evidence on oath.
There could be problems with parliament jailing people for lying to a committee, she says.
But in the US people can be prosecuted for lying to a congressional committee. A case of this kind is underway at the moment, involving the baseball star Roger Clemens. She says it would be better for prosecutors to take on these cases, rather than parliament itself, so that people have confidence that the procedure is fair.
Paul Farrelly, a Labour member of the culture committee, is speaking now.
The committee found it “inconceivable” in 2009 that the News of the World single “rogue reporter” story was true.
But, on the basis of the same evidence, the Press Complaints Commission concluded that the News of the World was telling the truth. Instead the PCC decided to shoot the messenger – the Guardian newspaper.
He says he hopes the committee’s conclusion about “wilful blindness” resonates.
The committee decided it would not be right to just blame two executives. Instead, the committee decided that the corporate culture was to blame.
He refers MPs to the final sentence of paragraph 275.
In failing to investigate properly, and by ignoring evidence of widespread wrongdoing, News International and its parent News Corporation exhibited wilful blindness, for which the companies’ directors—including Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch—should ultimately be prepared to take responsibility.
Damian Collins, a Conservative member of the culture committee, is speaking now.
The News International executives were “undone” by information released from people not working for the company, he says.
We were given consistently false reassurances about the rigour of internal investigation.
Parliament was misled over a long period of time, he says.
The committee will want to return to this matter when legal proceedings are over.
Bryant is still speaking.
The Commons should consider whether the three individuals should be fined.
It should consider whether they should be fined, he says, not least because parliament has incurred considerable expense.
And the Commons should consider jailing these people. It is claimed they might flee abroad. (Hinton lives in the US.) But, in 1880, when parliament last used its power to lock someone up, the individual involved fled to France. That did not stop the Commons arresting him when he returned to the UK.
Chris Bryant, a Labour member of the committee, is speaking now.
He says we may just have witnessed the tip of an iceberg. Some 40 people have been arrested. There may be more arrests. This is “one of the most flagrant examples of contempt of parliament in parliament’s history”, he says.
People were lying to protect their company’s commercial interests.
And News International turned the police into a “partially-owned subsidiary”, he says.
Bryant says the government has published a paper on parliamentary privilege. Sir George Young was suggesting that the standards and privileges committee should be wary of recommending a punishment.
But, under the Scotland Act, lying to a committee of the Scottish parliament is an offence punishable by three months in prison.
Perjury is an offence punishable by up to seven years in prison, he says.
Parliament needs to exercise powers in this area, he says.
Until this investigation, a Commons committee had never heard from the Murdochs. But they are the most powerful people in the British media. They should have been giving evidence to select committees.
Therese Coffey, a Conservative member of the committee, is speaking.
She says one of the lawyers working for News International, Julian Pike, told the committee that he knew News International executives were misleading the committee the moment he heard them give evidence.
Lawyers should be more willing to insist that their clients act honestly, she suggests.
Angela Eagle, the shadow leader of the Commons, is speaking now.
She pays tribute to the work of the culture committee.
MPs are constrained in what they can say today, she says. But MPs will have a chance to debate this more widely.
Select committees mainly use informal powers to get the information they need, she says. The select committee system works well.
But it would not if witnesses felt they could mislead a committee without consequence.
Attempting to mislead a committee is a contempt of the House, she says.
That’s why this matter should be referred to the standards and privileges committee.
Sir George Young, the leader of the Commons, is speaking now.
He says it is right for this matter to be referred to the standards and privileges committee.
The integrity and effectiveness of the system relies on the truthfulness and completeness of the written and oral evidence submitted.
Tom Watson, a Labour member of the committee, is speaking now.
These are very serious matters, he says. The affair began when Chris Bryant asked a question at a committee hearing about News International paying police officers.
The committee wants the three people involved to receive some form of parliamentary justice, he says.
It does not want to interfer with the police inquiries.
Whittingdale is still speaking.
He says it was originally suggested that the “For Neville” email could have been going to “any old Neville” at News of the World. But the committee established that there was only one Neville there – Neville Thurlbeck, the chief reporter.
The committee published a report saying the News of the World had not investigated phone hacking properly.
After that, more evidence emerged. The police re-opened their investigation, there was a fresh debate in the Commons and James Murdoch said statements given to parliament had been wrong. At that point the committee re-opened its inquiry.
During this inquiry, three crucial documents emerged. None came from News International. They all came from lawyers from some of the individuals involved.
The first was the letter sent by Mulcaire to Hinton objecting to his dismissal. Muclaire said phone hacking had been discussed at News of the World editorial conferences.
The second was an email from Crone to Colin Myler, the former News of the World editor. Crone said the the “For Neville” email was very damaging, and proved that the News of the World had accessed lots of voice mail. It was written almost a year before Crone told the committee that the “For Neville” email was of no real significant.
The third was a document was legal advice from Michael Silverleaf, a QC, telling News International that there was serious evidence that phone hacking had gone on at the News of the World.
The committtee concluded that it had been misled by Hinton, Crone and Myler.
Philip Davies, a Conservative member of the committee, asks Whittingdale to confirm that the committee was unanimous on this point.
Whittingdale says that’s right.
The committee took evidence from other witnesseses, some of whom have been arrested. But it decided not to publish conclusions about them. It reserves the right to return to them at a later point, he says.
These are serious matters, he says. The conclusions bear profound consquences.
I’m not entirely clear what the consequences are.
The individuals should have a right to rebut the charges, he says.
Therefore the committee decided it was best to refer the matter to the standards and privileges committee.
Whittingdale is going into the background to his committee’s inquiry.
He says Les Hinton, the News International executive chairmann told his committee, after the conviction of Glenn Mulcaire for phone hacking, that there was no evidence that phone hacking went any wider at the News of the World. But Whittingdale says his committee had suspicions that it had gone further.
Then, in 2009, the Guardian published a story about the News of the World’s payment to Gordon Taylor to settle a phone hacking claim. The Guardian also produced evidence including the “For Neville” email. This seemed to show that hacking did go further than Mulcaire.
The committee took evidence from several News International executives.
Tom Crone, the legal manager, said he became aware of the fresh phone hacking allegations in 2008. But he told the committee that these allegations did not amount to much.
Hinton said no evidence was presented to him suggesting that phone hacking went beyond Mulcaire.
John Whittingdale, the Conservative chairman of the Commons culture committee, is opening the debate. He says he is proposing the motion on behalf of all members of the committee.
The motion is unusual, if not unprecedented in modern times, he says.
Select committees rely upon witnesses giving evidence honesty.
And so the finding in the committee’s report, that the committee was misled by three News International executives, is important.
The standard and privileges committee has to establish if the culture committee was misled.
More importantly, it needs to decide what parliament should do about it, he says.
The debate on the Commons culture committee report will start soon. It should be relatively low-key; MPs are only deciding whether or not to refer the matter to the standards and privileges committee, this is almost certain to go through on the nod and the whole debate is only expected to last about 90 minutes. It is unlikely to be a full-blown parliamentary attack on News International.
Here’s the motion being debated.
That this House notes the conclusions set out in chapter 8 of the 11th report from the culture, media and sport committee, session 2010-12, on News International and phone hacking, HC 903-I and orders, that the matter be referred to the committee on standards and privileges.
Here’s an afternoon reading list.
[The Beecroft report] delivered in October but finally published this week does nothing to persuade people who might be sceptical of its proposal. There is no evidence, or modelling of potential effects. Its process was closed. The commissioning process was unclear. There was a single reviewer representing only one side of the argument. Unlike the Brown reviews, it lacked an effective champion within government – indeed the Business Secretary has gone out of his way to dismiss it. And the Telegraph has revealed that No.10 excised some of the more controversial proposals before official publication. So far, the main effect of Beecroft has been to entrench pre-existing views …
But the government needs to learn an important process lesson from Beecroft. There is a world of difference between a good review and a bad review. A good review opens issues up, engages people and confronts the real choices policy makers face – rather than hide them. It uses rigorous evidence to expose issues – and to build a new consensus if rebalancing is necessary. And a public review allows the government to distance and promote public discussion.
Sensible Labour contributors agreed that to be competitive the UK needs a flexible workforce, and claimed that the last Labour government had recognised that. Sensible Coalition MPs said that employees need rights: the aim should not be to return to all powerful employers who can fire on whim or exercise unfair discrimination.
There is plenty of scope to reach some agreement on how to make the employment of new workers by small companies more attractive to employers. It would be helpful in promoting recovery.
I asked how much extra GDP we might get from the full Beecroft. The government said it did not know. I suspect it would be mildly positive, but it is unlikely to be the game changer that tips us into fast growth on its own. That still requires action on issues like banks, credit and energy prices.
In recent decades the Co-operative party has excelled in hiding its light under a bushel. It had never embraced the “statism” that beguiled other parts of the Labour movement. When, during the 1980s, it was accused by Labour’s Bennitte left-wing of insufficient commitment to their particular brand of socialism, the Co-operative defended itself like the best of tortoises and withdrew into its shell.
But with the Bennite hare having run out of puff, the Co-operative tortoise is winning the race to find Ed Miliband a “big idea”. Moreover, with 29 MPs and 15 peers, it is now the fourth largest political party in Parliament.
Unlike Labour, which reconfigured its “party chairman” as a “leader” during the 1920s, the Co-operative never changed its original structure, with the result that the role of general secretary is more important than in that of any other mainstream UK political party. With the retirement of Michael Stephenson (general secretary since 2008), Miliband and the Opposition shadow cabinet will be keeping a close eye on the “runners and riders” – not least because several of the shadow Cabinet, including Ed Balls and Stephen Twigg, are Co-operative party MPs.
Ed Miliband took the shadow cabinet to the Olympic Park today. While he was there, he urged trade unionists not to go on strike during the Games.
I don’t want to see industrial action during the Olympics. The Olympics are a great thing for London and a great thing for Britain. We have the chance to inspire young people into sport. There may be extra strain on public sector workers. What’s really important is that there isn’t industrial action.
Earlier this month Unite said it would ballot London bus drivers on strike action over the Olympics. The union is demanding extra payment for its members to compensate for the extra workload created by the Games.
Nick Clegg is taking questions in the Commons.
He has just told Labour’s Sadiq Khan that he expects to publish the House of Lords reform bill “well before the summer recess”.
Here’s a lunchtime summary.
• Nick Clegg has claimed that there is too much class snobbery in Britain. He made the suggestion at the end of a much-trailed speech on social mobility which also marked the publication of a report identifying 17 indicators that the government will use the measure whether social mobility is improving.
Too often, the question of class and class attitudes is left in the shadows of the social mobility debate. Politicians are often reluctant to get into a discussion about class especially if, like me, they have been fortunate in their background, schooling and opportunities. But we can’t ignore it. Class still counts. We are a long distance from being a classless society. And I don’t only mean in the hard material facts – inequalities in income, health and wealth. I also mean in terms of the attitudes and assumptions we carry around in our heads – about ourselves and about others. Eighty years ago, the historian Frank Harris declared that: ‘Snobbery is the religion of England’. I think that statement still has more than a ring of truth today.
Today’s social mobility report contains some evidence that social mobility is improving (see 11.03am), but the data does not provide a reliable picture of what has happened since the coalition took power.
• Clegg has dismissed the proposal to allow “no fault dismissal”. Asked about the idea, set out in the Adrian Beecroft report published yesterday, Clegg said: “I don’t support [the proposal] and I never have, for the simple reason I have not seen any evidence that creating industrial-level insecurity for workers is a good way of creating new jobs.” As Juliette Jowit and Nicholas Watt report, Clegg’s comments reinforce reports that Downing Street has already decided to bury the idea. The Daily Telegraph quotes one government source as saying: “No one really has any idea what went on with this report, it was very much Steve Hilton’s project. The whole thing is a bit dodgy and we wish it had never happened.” No 10 has also denied reports claiming that the Beecroft report was “doctored” by the government before it was published.
• The International Monetary Fund has said the government should prepare a Plan B, featuring temporary tax cuts and more infrastructure spending, in case the eurozone collapses or the economy fails to recover. “If the economy turns out to be significantly weaker than forecast, fiscal easing should be considered,” said IMF managing director Christine Lagarde. “Measures should be focused on supporting growth and employment.” As the Press Association reports, the IMF also said that further easing of monetary policy, by printing money or even cutting the 0.5% base interest rate, was “required” now to inject some vigour into a flat economy. Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, said the IMF report vindicated Labour’s stance on the economy.
The IMF is right to call for action to boost the British economy and to stop slow growth and high unemployment causing long term damage to our economy. A year ago the IMF warned that if economic growth undershot expectations, the government should boost the economy with temporary tax cuts and greater infrastructure spending – as Labour has called for in our five point plan for jobs and growth.
But George Osborne, the chancellor, said the IMF were backing his position.
The IMF couldn’t be clearer today. Britain has to deal with its debts and the government’s fiscal policy is the appropriate one and an essential part of our road to recovery. I welcome the IMF’s continuing support for the UK deficit reduction plan. They agree that, in their words ‘reducing the high structural deficit remains essential’ and make clear in their statement that they consider the current pace of fiscal consolidation to be appropriate.
• Inflation has fallen by more than expected. It came down from 3.5% on the consumer prices index (CPI) measure from 3.5% in March to 3% in April.
• Ed Davey, the energy secretary, has said that the draft energy bill being published today will not introduce public subsidies for new nuclear plants. Full details of the draft bill are on the Department of Energy’s website.
• The Labour MP Tom Watson has told the Leveson inquiry that Labour ministers were too worried about maintaining the support of the Sun.
As a minister when I discussed issues and policy there was always a conversation about how this would play out in The Sun. There was a sense that there was a mystique about the News International stable, that they had unique access to Downing Street, and as a minister that was important, and the way you were portrayed in News International papers was important and they factored that into their thinking.
I have no hard evidence there was a craven understanding between politicians and senior executives at News International, but I do believe that is the general view of the public and we need reforms that ensure public confidence in those relationships is restored.
• Theresa May, the home secretary, has unveiled details of her plans for new measures to tackle anti-social behaviour.
• Sir Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, has said that police structures need radical reorgansiation. In a speech to the Acpo conference, he said police forces have been left dealing with 21st century threats with a system designed before colour television was invented.
We will get on with the job, but collaboration is not as efficient or consistent as amalgamation. The obvious risks are a patchwork quilt of sub-optimal solutions which don’t provide the public with consistency or value for money. We are having to make things work in spite of, and not because of, the current structure.
Whilst Scotland presses forward with a single command, based on a clear political decision to strip out separate organisational overheads and amalgamate, we will continue to deal with 21st Century threats with a model of policing designed in 1962 before colour television was invented. That simply cannot be right.
• The Electoral Commisison has revealed that donations to political parties rose to just under £9m in the first quarter of 2012 – up £1.9m on the previous three months. As the Press Association reports, the Conservatives continued to receive the most at £4,086,097 but Labour was close behind, bringing in £3,452,441. Money given to the Liberal Democrats totalled £606,724.
• The Ministry of Defence has awarded contracts worth £350m to UK companies to design the next generation of nuclear submarines. As the Press Association reports, most of the work on the Trident system will go to BAE Systems, which said it will sustain the jobs of 1,000 workers at its site in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. The first Successor submarine is due to delivered in 2028, replacing the Vanguard class vessels which currently carry Trident. A decision on the final design and build will not be made until 2016, but the MoD said detailed work has to take place now.
• The British Medical Association has said that the NHS is heading towards “operational and financial meltdown” due to a financial squeeze, misguided government policies and rising demand from patients. As Denis Campbell reports, family doctors are so disillusioned by changes being foisted on them and the direction of the NHS that the health service could “run out” of GPs, Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee, said.
• The shadow cabinet has been meeting at the Olympic Park.
As for the rest of the papers, here are three articles that are particularly interesting.
• Mary Riddell in the Daily Telegraph says that Ed Miliband’s decision to appoint Jon Cruddas to head Labour’s policy review is a big gamble.
If appointing Mr Cruddas frightens the Tories, it also alarms some senior Labour figures. “We don’t really know what Jon Cruddas thinks,” says one. Even those who believe Tony Blair’s manic modernising went too far are suspicious of the “faith, flag and family” creed promoted by Blue Labour (Mr Cruddas dislikes the name, but backs the message).
“We’ve had one Blue Labour guru, and look what happened,” says a doubter, recalling the furore over Lord Glasman’s wish to halt virtually all immigration. Others worry that Labour, instead of seizing the future, now risks clog-dancing down dream-cobbled byways to electoral annihilation.
Yet again the relationship between the two men at the top of the Labour Party is characterised more by reciprocated mistrust than mutual respect. There is a difference of personality as well as ideas. Mr Balls has never quite accepted that the man he used to see as the junior partner when they both worked for Gordon Brown has now become his boss. Mr Miliband is uncertain of his rival’s loyalty. According to one MP, the Shadow Chancellor likes to describe himself as the “chief executive”, with the leader as the “chairman” — an eerie echo of the dismissive way in which Mr Balls used to talk about Mr Blair when he worked for Mr Brown. But in the new double act, it’s the Shadow Chancellor who is the showman. When the two men go out campaigning together, Mr Balls dominates — he has perfected a John Prescott meets John Maynard Keynes style of banter that endears him to the party grassroots as the leader shrinks into his shell. “Ed B is the one who holds the room,” according to an MP.
At Westminster, Mr Balls can be overbearing. An attempt to oust Liam Byrne, the Blairite Work and Pensions Secretary, from the Shadow Cabinet, which was resisted by Mr Miliband, is blamed by some on the Shadow Chancellor’s bovver boys. “There’s a gang within the gang,” says an insider. “The punishment beatings are back.” One MP compares Mr Balls and his wife, Yvette Cooper, to the Borgias who just can’t help plotting.
The big mistakes in politics occur when leaders become prisoners of outdated certainties. Mr Major’s government was carried into those treacherous waters where pride and stubbornness displace pragmatism.
Mr Cameron’s vessel is still afloat, but it is fast taking in water. He would do well to change course. The funny thing is that this prime minister should understand better than most the need to navigate according to circumstance.
After all, at the time of the ERM debacle, he was serving as a young adviser to the then chancellor Norman Lamont. The ERM humiliation, he has subsequently remarked, was seared deeply into his consciousness.
Mr Cameron prefers electronic games, karaoke and “chillaxing” at Chequers to deep study of political economy. Each to his own. In this instance, however, all he need do is jog his own memory.
Labour: 41% (no change since ICM last month)
Conservatives: 36% (up 3)
Lib Dems: 11% (down 4)
Labour lead: 5 points
As Anthony Wells says at UK Polling Report, ICM normally give the Lib Dems higher ratings than the other pollsters and 11 points is their lowest rating in an ICM/Guardian poll since 1997.
Labour: 41% (down 1 from Populus last month)
Conservatives: 33% (no change)
Lib Dems: 10% (down 1)
Labour lead: 8 points
Labour lead: 44% (up 1 point from YouGov in the Sunday Times)
Conservatives: 32% (no change)
Ukip: 8% (down 1)
Lib Dems: 7% (down 1)
Labour lead: 12 points
Government approval: -35
And here are some quotes from the Q&A that Nick Clegg did after his speech. My colleague Juliette Jowit was there, and she’s sent me this.
Clegg did not take many questions before officials cut him off with hand at throat gesturing from the back of the room. But what he said was definitely with hearing.
He appeared to put another decisive nail in the coffin of the “no fault dismissal” idea that Downing Street is known to be keen to drop.
“I don’t support them [the proposals] and I never have, for the simple reason I have not seen any evidence that creating industrial level insecurity for workers is a good way of creating new jobs,” said Clegg.
He said he would take seriously any evidence that did emerge from the current consultation, due to end in June, but continued to sound sceptical. “So far there just is no evidence,” he added.
In answer to another question, the DPM sympathised with a point made by the Sutton Trust founder and chairman, Sir Peter Lampl, about the way America’s top Ivy League universities appear more prepared to take students from disadvantaged backgrounds with lower grades if they see potential and a chance to “add value”. “It strikes most people outside Westminster as common sense,” said Clegg.
Clegg also spoke with passion about how the class restrictions work both ways, saying politicians from privileged backgrounds – like himself – had felt unable or unqualified to talk about social mobility. “if you did that you wouldn’t be able to show compassion, show sympathy, to take collective decisions for the common good,” he said.
Another questioner tackled the Lib Dem leader on the coalition government’s manifesto-busting decision to raise tuition fees for universities to up to £9,000 per student. Clegg said that to avoid putting potential students from disadvantaged backgrounds off applying to university it was important to “dispel some myths” about the new system.
Unlike under the previous Labour government, no student now had to pay any up-front fees, students from poorer homes were now eligible for more grants (not just loans), and new repayment terms meant all graduates would pay out less every week when they reached a minimum income threshold to start repaying the loans – “in effect a progressive graduate tax”.
“There’s not a single reason in the system why a young person from a disadvantaged background, who wants to go to university, should not go,” added Clegg.
the social mobility progress report that the Cabinet Office has published this morning (pdf) and the indicators are robust. If the government carries on publishing these reports every year, then they are going to provide a very good measure of whether the government is making progress or not.Back to Nick Clegg. In his speech said that the government would publish a “powerful set of indicators” to show whether the government was making progress on social mobility. It’s easy to be sceptical about claims like this, but I’ve just had a quick look at
But they don’t provide a particularly good measure yet. That’s because, for more than half the indicators, no information is available on progress since 2010. And, even where data is available from 2010, it probably doesn’t tell you much about the impact of government policies because the 2010-11 outcomes will mostly reflect the impact of decisions taken by Labour.
Still, for what it’s worth, I calculate that the government are making progress on five indicators – and going backwards on three.
Here is my summary of what the 17 indicators are – and whether or not they record progress.
1. Chances of poor children being born with low birth weight – no information since 2010.
2. Chances of poor children having good child development – data not available yet.
3. Chances of poor children making good development in early years – PROGRESS. Gap between the poor and average smaller in 2010-11 than 2009-10.
4. Chances of poor children being good at phonics reading – data not available yet.
5. Chances of poor children doing well at key stage two – PROGRESS. Gap between the poor and the average smaller in 2010-11 than in 2009-10.
6. Chances of poor children doing well at GCSE – PROGRESS. Gap between the poor and the average smaller in 2010-11 than in 2009-10 (but only very marginally).
7. Chances of schools with poor pupils doing as well as schools with rich pupils – PROGRESS. Gap between schools with most deprived intake and least deprived intake smaller in 2010-11 than in 2009-10.
8. Chances of poor children well at A-level – BACKWARDS. Gap between poor pupils and average larger in 2010-11 than in 2009-10.
9. Chances of state school children being more likely to get AAB at A-level – BACKWARDS. Gap between state schools and private schools larger in 2010-11 than in 2009-10 (but only very marginally).
10. Chances of poor children being more likely to be not in education or training from 18 to 24 – data not available from 2010.
11. Chances of poorer children being less likely to be unemployed from 18 to 24 – data not available from 2010.
12. Chances of poorer children being more likely to go to university – data not available from 2010.
13. Chances of state school children being more likely to go to university – data not available from 2010.
14. Chances of graduates from poorer graduates being more likely to get into “graduate” jobs – data not available from 2010.
15. Chances of people from poorer backgrounds being more likely to get into the professions – data not available from 2010.
16. Chances of low earners being able to earn more over the course of a decade – BACKWARDS – Proportion not making significant wage progression higher from 2002 to 2011 than it was from 2001 to 2010.
17. Chances of adults who failed at school getting GCSEs or A-levels after 19 – PROGRESS – Figures higher from 2010-11 than they were in 2009-10.
Here’s the full text of the IMF conclusions on the UK economy. And here are the key points.
• The IMF broadly supports the government’s economic stance.
Current policies are aimed at assisting economic rebalancing and financial sector stability. Strong fiscal consolidation is underway and reducing the high structural deficit over the medium term remains essential. The UK has made substantial progress toward achieving a more sustainable budgetary position and reducing fiscal risks. Bold monetary stimulus has helped support the economy, as has the free operation of automatic fiscal stabilizers.
• But it says the economy has not grown in the way the government expected.
But the economy has been flat. The hand-off from public to private demand-led growth has not fully materialized. Much of this underperformance relative to earlier expectations is due to transitory commodity price shocks and heightened uncertainty following the intensification of stress in the euro area. However, the weak recovery also indicates that the process of unwinding pre-crisis imbalances is likely to be more protracted than previously anticipated, in part due to persistent tight credit conditions.
• It says there are “substantial” risks to Britain from what is happening in the eurozone.
Risks are large and tilted clearly to the downside. Setbacks in the euro area are the key risk to economic prospects and financial stability in the UK as trade and financial links are substantial. An escalation of stress in the euro area could set off an adverse and self-reinforcing cycle of lower confidence and exports, higher bank funding costs, tighter credit, and falling asset values, resulting in a substantial contractionary shock. By contrast, a decisive and durable resolution to stress in the euro area would aid the UK’s recovery and remove this downside risk.
• It says the government should consider new measures to promote growth.
Policies to bolster demand should help close the output gap faster. It needs to be recognized that policy options in this regard come with risks, including uncertainty about their effectiveness. However, these risks need to be weighed against the risk of weak demand that leads to persistently slow growth and high unemployment that become entrenched in decisions made by consumers and investors …
There is scope within the current overall fiscal stance to improve the quality of fiscal adjustment to support growth. The government has taken steps over the past year to make consolidation more “growth friendly” through cuts in spending on items with low multipliers (such as public employee wages) to fund higher spending on items with high multipliers (such as infrastructure). However, the scale of these adjustments has been modest and further budget-neutral reallocations should be sought, recognizing inevitable implementation lags and challenges.
Christine Lagarde, the IMF managing director, has just told the press conference that if the economic situation gets worse, the British government should introduce a fiscal stimulus.
George Osborne is holding his press conference with Christine Lagarde, the IMF managing director, now. He started by welcoming the fact that inflation is now within its target range. It is the first time this has happened since he became chancellor, he said. He also welcomed today’s IMF report, which he said endorsed his economic strategy.
But the IMF report does seem to make grim reading. Here’s what the Press Association have filed about it.
An escalation of the eurozone crisis would deliver a “substantial contractionary shock” to the UK economy, setting back progress made towards recovery, the International Monetary Fund warned today.
In a report on the UK, the IMF identified uncertainty over the future of the euro as the main danger to recovery and warned: “Risks are large and tilted clearly to the downside.”
The report recognised “substantial progress” towards balancing Britain’s books thanks to the coalition Government’s deficit-reduction programme, but noted that the economy remains “flat” and warned that the weak recovery may be “more protracted than previously anticipated”.
Although recovery is expected to gain pace from the second half of 2012, unemployment is “much too high” and much of the UK’s productive capacity could remain “idle for an extended period”, said the IMF.
The fund called for further monetary stimulus, in the form of the Bank of England printing money in another round of “quantitative easing” or a reduction in the base interest rate from its record low of 0.5% to make borrowing cheaper.
There is scope for the government to boost growth through higher spending on infrastructure projects, which would increase employment and demand within the economy and could be funded within existing budgets by imposing further public sector wage restraint or reforming property taxes, it said.
And if the UK recovery fails to take off, ministers must be prepared to use temporary tax cuts and more infrastructure investment to give the economy a shot in the arm, even if this means reining in the Government’s austerity programme, said the IMF.
To retain credibility in this scenario, ministers would need to deliver a new deficit-reduction programme to show how the books will be balanced over a longer period.
And here’s the top of the Press Association story about the inflation figures.
Inflation fell to its lowest level in more than two years last month, official figures showed today, as high street discounting took the pressure off household budgets.
The consumer price index (CPI) rate of inflation fell to 3% in April, compared with 3.5% in March, its lowest level since February 2010, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
In further evidence that the weak economic climate is forcing retailers to cut prices to draw in customers, clothing and footwear prices rose by just 0.2% in the period compared with 1.4% last year.
And softer excise duty rises on alcohol and tobacco, as well as lower air fares due to the timing of Easter, also helped keep a lid on the rising cost of living.
Bank of England governor Sir Mervyn King narrowly avoided sending his 10th “Dear chancellor” letter to explain why inflation is higher than the government’s 2% target, as at 3% it is now within one percentage point of that goal.
Inflation has fallen from 5.6% last September due to the waning impact of the VAT hike at the start of 2011, falling energy, food and commodity prices and a number of bill cuts from utility providers.
However, it has not dropped as quickly as the Bank of England expected after fears over increasing tensions between the West and Iran pushed oil prices higher in March.
The sharp decrease in inflation in April is likely to bolster the case for the Bank to pump more emergency cash into the economy through its quantitative easing programme.
The economy entered a technical recession in the first quarter of the year as gross domestic product declined 0.2%, following a 0.3% drop in the final quarter of 2011.
Chloe Smith, the economic secretary to the Treasury, said: “Inflation is down and back within the target range for the first time since 2010, which is good news and will provide some welcome relief for family budgets.”
The most significant downward pressure on prices in April came from the transport sector, which saw prices rise 1.2% compared with a 2.8% rise the previous year.
The largest downward effect came from air transport where the timing of Easter meant fares rose 7.4% compared with a huge 29% surge last year.
I’ll come back to the Nick Clegg speech shortly. But, first, here are the inflation figures which are just out.
• The consumer prices index (CPI) measure of inflation fell to 3.0% in April, from 3.5% in March.
• The headline rate of retail prices index (RPI) inflation fell to 3.5% in April, from 3.6% in March.
• The underlying rate of RPI inflation fell to 3.5% in April, from 3.7% in March.
Nick Clegg is taking questions now. But BBC News have decided it would be more interesting to hear from Carole Walker instead.
Clegg is now talking about class.
We are a long way from being a classless society, he says. This covers not just wealth, but attitudes.
Eighty years ago the historian Frank Harris said: “Snobbery is the religion of England.” There is some truth in this, Clegg says.
People at the top are brought up to believe the world is theirs.
But everyone should be brought up like this.
Parents at the top expect their children to become professionals. But, at the bottom, only 20% of parents have these ambitions for their children, he says.
Clegg says the government is putting in place mechanisms to ensure that it makes progress on social mobility: indicators to measure progress, a ministerial group on social mobility and a social mobility and child poverty commission.
He also announces that there will be a social mobility sector transparency board. (It’s not the most exciting announcement he has ever made, he jokes.)
Clegg says the third myth is that social mobility involves dumbing down.
Again, this is nonsense. Nonsense, I should add, which is usually peddled by those who benefit from the status quo – and therefore want to keep things the way they are.
Clegg says the government wants to encourage universities to recruit on the basis of potential, not just on the basis of A-level results.
Now it may surprise the non-Brits among you to learn that in some quarters, the idea of carefully taking into account the impact of background in assessing university applications has been painted by some as a dangerous piece of revolutionary socialism.
But far from dumbing down, it’s about increasing opportunity to achieve excellence.
There is compelling evidence that translation of ability into attainment is affected by your social and educational background. A study at the University of Bristol showed that state school educated children with top A-levels were 50% more likely to get first-class degrees than privately educated children with the same grades.
The second myth is that governments can only promote social mobility in times of prosperity, Clegg says.
Partly this myth comes from those who think our spending plans are dismantling the state’s capacity to help. That we are turning the clock back to the 1930s.
This is simply not true. At the end of this parliament, public spending will still account for 42% of GDP.
Clegg also says a growing economy increases absolute social mobility: ie, everyone gets richer. But it does not necessarily create relative social mobility.
Clegg says in times of economic difficulty, social mobility becomes even more important.
Just think how our economy might have responded to the crisis if everyone who’d ever thought about starting a business could get on with it. If everyone who’d ever hungered after the best education could go for it.
Wasted talent is always a moral crime: but it is increasingly an economic crime, too. The Sutton Trust’s own work has suggested that boosting poor educational attainment up to the UK average would increase GDP by £140 billion by 2050, and increase long-run trend growth by 0.4 percentage points.
Clegg says he wants to tackle some myths about social mobility.
The first is that social mobility is just a product of income inequality.
According to this myth, mobility will follow automatically in the wake of greater equality. And so it follows that the only thing we should worry about is closing the gap between rich and poor.
Of course, reducing inequality is a good and laudable aim. But unfortunately it’s not the straightforward route to social mobility that its proponents suggest.
In many ways, I wish it was. Life would be much simpler. Our goal would be clear: redistribution of income would do the job.
The trouble is that, as this conference has been discussing, it is just not that simple. The causal links are not that clear.
Of course if the gap is narrower you have less distance to travel. But the uncomfortable truth is that nations with similar levels of income inequality have dissimilar levels of social mobility. Why do Australia and Canada have UK levels of inequality, but almost Scandinavian levels of mobility?
Clegg says he does not denigrate anyone who sends their child to private school because they want the best for them. “Indeed, that aspiration on behalf of children is one of the most precious ingredients of parenthood,” he says.
And he says that the fact that he went to a private school (Westminster) should not stop him speaking about this subject.
If people like me who have benefited from the system don’t speak up, we will never get anywhere.
We have to fight for a society where the fortunes of birth and background weigh less heavily on prospects and opportunities for the future.
Nick Clegg is speaking now.
He starts with a some statistics about the scale of the problem.
One in five children are on free school meals; only one in a hundred Oxbridge entrants were;
Only 7% of children attend independent schools, but public schools provide 70% of high court judges and 54% of FTSE 100 CEOs;
One in five children from poorer homes achieve five good GCSEs, compared to three out of four from affluent homes.
This is a legacy “we cannot afford”, he says.
For liberals, this is core stuff. It gets to the very heart of our politics. We are a party and a creed that is defined by our belief in a fairer, more open society.
For me, it’s the reason I do this job.
Nick Clegg will be delivering his social mobility speech shortly.
The Cabinet Office has now published it’s 52-page report Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers: A Strategy for Social Mobility (pdf). It’s an update on progress made on social mobility since April last year.
Clegg would be saying that pupils at private schools are more than three times as likely to get AAB in the key A level subjects as pupils at state schools. In the Guardian on Monday Patrick Wintour said Clegg would be proposing a student premium designed to guarantee financial help for all children on free school meals entering higher education. And today Nicholas Watt reports that the government will be publishing 17 “trackers” to assess progress in improving life chances over the coming decades. This might seem like overkill, but this is one of the great causes of our time. If you don’t accept that, look at the charts that Simon Rogers has posted on his data blog showing that the UK is far behind many other countries on social mobility.MPs are debating the culture committte report on phone hacking later today. But, before that, we’ve got Nick Clegg delivering a speech on social mobility. It has already been extensively trailed. In the Observer Toby Helm revealed that
Here’s the full agenda for the day.
9am: Nick Clegg delivers his speech on social mobility.
9.30am: Inflation figures are published.
10am: George Osborne, the chancellor, holds a press conference with Christine Lagarde, the IMF managing director. The IMF is publishing a report on the UK economy.
10am: Alan Johnson, Lord Smith and Tom Watson give evidence to the Leveson inquiry.
10am: Tim Loughton, the children’s minister, gives a speech to mark the publication of the Prof Eileen Munro’s child safeguarding progress report.
10.30am: Sir Bob Kerslake, head of the civil service, gives evidence to the Commons public adminstration committee about the honours system.
10.45am: Brian Moore, head of the UK Border Force, gives evidence to the Commons home affairs committee.
11am: Theresa May, the home secretary, speaks at the Association of Chief Police Officers annual conference.
12.30pm: Lynne Featherstone, the Home Office minister, gives evidence to the Commons home affairs committee about private investigators.
1pm: Ed Davey, the energy secretary, publishes the draft energy bill. As Fiona Harvey reports, a dash for gas, a major fillip for nuclear power and blows to renewable energy are expected to be the key features.
2.30pm: Nick Clegg takes questions in the Commons.
2.45pm: Caroline Spelman, the environment secretary, gives a speech to the Association of British insurers.
3.30pm: MPs debate a motion calling for the culture committee report on phone hacking, which accused News International executives of misleading parliament, to be referred to the standards and privileges committee.
As usual, I’ll be covering all the breaking political news, as well as looking at the papers and bringing you the best politics from the web. I’ll post a lunchtime summary at around 1pm and another in the afternoon.
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