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Sacked ministers make trouble at Treasury questions

6 November 2012

Treasury Questions was a little quieter than usual today: George Osborne is away and so Ed Balls left the questions to his colleague Chris Leslie. The Shadow Chancellor didn’t say entirely quiet, though, gradually turning a warm shade of pink as he barracked away while perched on the opposition front bench. Labour landed very few blows today: Rachel Reeves continued the attack on the EU budget, Leslie tried rather ineffectually to talk about borrowing, and backbenchers made a few grumbles. The two really interesting questions came from the coalition benches: and more specifically, from two sacked ministers.

Tim Loughton, who is fast establishing himself post-reshuffle as an effective campaigning backbencher specialising in children’s issues, told Danny Alexander he was worried about a plan floated by David Cameron and George Osborne to scrap housing benefit payments for under-25s. He asked:

‘Anne Marie Carrie, the excellent head of Barnardo’s, recently said that the proposal to remove housing benefit from all under-25s ‘is reckless and unfair as it will leave some of this country’s most vulnerable people stranded’. I am particularly concerned about the impact on care leavers, who do not have a family home or family to fall back on and for whom a safe and stable roof over their heads means they can keep off the streets, out of the NEET statistics, and out of trouble. Will the Chief Secretary guarantee now that he will work with other ministers to make sure that any changes to housing benefit for under-25s do nothing further to disadvantage that already disadvantaged group?’

Alexander, whose party is still mulling the cut for young people along with other ideas for taking a further £10 billion from the welfare bill, replied:

‘My honourable friend makes a very good point about care leavers. These ideas have been floated as part of a discussion within government on the next phase of welfare reform. I will certainly make sure that his point is brought to bear in any discussions on that proposal.’


The other complaint came from Lib Dem Nick Harvey, who lost his job as defence minister in the reshuffle. He was unhappy about another plan which George Osborne had announced in his party conference speech: for employees to give up their rights in exchange for shares. ‘Does the minister accept that it will swiftly become a de facto compulsory scheme?’ he asked. ‘What level of employee shareholding is anticipated?’

Exchequer secretary David Gauke responded to this:

‘There will be a range of options – the minimum is 2,000, and the maximum is 50,000 – but this is not going to be a matter that is compulsory. It will not be the right answer for every business, but there are some businesses that need flexibility to find employee status somewhere between a full employee and someone who is self-employed such as a partner, as many hundreds of thousands of people are. I think that it is a sensible, pragmatic response.’

This second question might illustrate a quite obvious divide in the coalition over labour market reform – although one Tory backbencher I chatted with directly after Osborne’s speech said the announcement was ‘rubbish’ because even though it made sense, it would end up with front page headlines saying ‘Tories to workers: give up your rights!’. They were right about that. But Loughton, who has worked hard to become an expert on children’s issues while in government, represents a striking lone voice on the specific impact of a cut, rather than its overall intention, which remains very popular with Tory MPs.  This is not the only issue he has chosen to speak out on now that he is free: shortly after Treasury questions, Loughton was on his feet again making a point following Theresa May’s statement on historic allegations of child abuse at North Wales care homes.

He told the Home Secretary that the government now has a ‘multiplicity of inquiries: this is an inquiry about an inquiry’. He added:

‘Is it not now time, rather than wake up every week to see a new institution involved in this mire, that we have an overreaching, robust public inquiry into the whole failings of child protection in various institutions throughout the latter part of the 20th century, be it the BBC, the health service, the police, the church and so on.’

It will be interesting to see which other areas of policy Loughton chooses to intervene on now that he is on the backbench. Given the depth of his knowledge in this area, he could be quite a dangerous figure, even if he remains outwardly loyal.

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  • barbie

    This policy of not giving the under 25’s housing benefit is a bit dangerous. However, what the young could do is live together to pay the full costs; sharing rent is cheaper and the need for housing benefit would then not arise. However, landlords have realised the deep pockets of the taxpayers and have raised rents beyond real value. Years ago we had rent officiers who set a reasonable level of rent for landlords to adhere to; this made sure rentable properties were available to rent and could be afforded. We also had tiered rents according to the properties value and rooms and, decency. Many unfortunately are not even fit to live in let alone rent out. Social housing rents should set the norm, perhaps slightly above, but again affordablity should be the single norm. This new housing policy will cause many problems, but it can be overcome by utilising rented accomdation to the full and doing it collectively. Students do it so why not workers. Perhaps we should also considar having landlords pay a licence fee to be able to become a landlord in the first place, we could then revoke a property to rent if it does not meet proper standards. There are many things we can do and those who choose to rent, but it wants governments to do something too, instead of just stopping benefits without proper thought and care of the outcome.

  • Russell

    Seems to be quite a theme with this journalists articles. So much so that I do wonder what influence Labour seem to have on the Spectator these days!

    Sacked ministers make trouble at Treasury questions –
    6th November (splits/trouble with coalition)

    David Cameron’s tricky tour of the Gulf –

    6th November (Problems for Cameron)

    Cameron and Clegg locked in staring contest on boundary reforms –
    5thNovember ( Coalition Split)

    Headmistress Hodge grills HMRC on tax avoidance –

    5th November ( Pro Labour/anti coalition)

    Ed Miliband talks a good game on the Living Wage –

    5th November (pro Labour)

    Iain Duncan Smith: the UK should ‘have it all’ –

    November 4th (coalition problems)

    • Sweetpea

      So. Tell us – what are the good news stories emanating from Government upon which you think journalists should be spending their time?

  • Jules

    Why on earth did Cameron sack Loughton? It makes no sense because he was a very good children’s minister and clearly knows his stuff. I wonder if it was because a few months ago, Loughton alerted the public to the fact that private companies who make massive profits through charging vast sums for housing children in care, have been housing the most vulnerable children near bail hostels for criminals and sex offenders? Something that caused outrage. After all, in Toff world, nothing must get in the way of profits, not even child protection.

    The idea of removing housing benefit from under 25’s is absolutely disgusting. For a start most people claiming the benefit in this age group are IN WORK, I repeat IN WORK, but their not earning enough to meet housing costs. So they are the mythical ‘strivers’. This policy is a recipe for homelessness. It also means that an English person age 24 will be on the streets whilst an immigrant or asylum seeker age 26 will be entitled to housing. How can Conservatives sleep at night?

    Labour will win another landslide. You seriously have no idea of the defeat heading the way of the Tory party and the Lib Dems.

  • itdoesntaddup

    Why are MPs who actually do something positive to represent their constituents and the wider country seen as “dangerous”? Blackwhite.

    • HooksLaw

      Seeing as how he wants an inquiry into everything and everyone with anything potentially do do with children for the last 60 years, I would say he was lunatic rather than dangerous.
      The inquiry into the inquiry is because of allegations that it was inadequate. This seems wise since there have been accusations in parliament.

  • HooksLaw

    Tories to workers: ‘Take up an opportunity!’

    Who is left after care-comers, carers and care-goers?

    Children. Now they would be those little creatures with parents, wouldn’t they?

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