Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Communications bill changes needed..

BREAKING NEWS: James Brokenshire, security minister at the Home Office has been on the Today programme discussing the Government's options following the news that Nick Clegg wants to send the draft Communications Bill "back to the drawing board". He
"We accept the substance of the joint committee's report. They have accepted there is a need for us to make this legislation.
"The deadline, effectively, is the police saying they need this legislation to happen. We know that there is work to be done and I absolutely accept that. We've been working through this and noting the points that have been said and work is already advanced on making some of the changes."
Maria Miller appeared in the Commons yesterday to answer an urgent question on gay marriage, she will be back to make a full statement at 12:30 this afternoon. The gist will be that the Coalition, at a leadership level at least, are committed to enacting legislation, and soon. Whether Dave's masterplan to show the world the caring, sharing face of Conservatism will eventually bear fruit remains to be seen. At the moment, the modernisers and traditionalists are slugging it out in the fashion of David Davies and the Pink Pounder (Telegraph story here).
Dave's decision to have a fight over this one is causing him damage on the backbenches. MPs complain that he is choosing battles over issues that in their minds are marginal - gay marriage, planning, minimum alcohol price - when he should be focusing on the economy. What is more, even if he does secure passage for the Bill through the Commons, the Lords will be a different proposition. The FT (£) reports that Stewart Jackson has been trying to point out that the Coalition will not, by convention, be able to use the Parliament Act to force legislation through the Lords as gay marriage was not a manifesto commitment, meaning the entire exercise could be in vain. 
It isn't just the Tory backbenches stirring for a fight. It is clear from both the Mac cartoon and Quentin Letts' sketch that the Mail is prepared to go to war on the issue.  Then there is the public. Half a million of them signed a petition opposing gay marriage as part of the Government's consultation. Around 64,000 supported the proposals. So much for the biggest "listening exercise" in British history.
The Home Secretary's "snoopers charter" has created a rift between her and Nick Clegg, with the Lib Dem leader insisting that the Coalition go "back to the drawing board", according to the Guardian. Mr Clegg is concerned by the findings of a parliamentary scrutiny committee which found the £1.8bn price-tag "fanciful and misleading". In addition, the "request filter" feature on the new system would capture huge volumes of communications data, another factor in Nick's thinking. Mrs May will try and plead her case in the New Year, but the Bill is dead in its current form.
At least his experiences in the Coalition have given Dave a taste for breaking bread with the enemy. Yesterday he was thge guest of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, managing a Jackie Milburn moment, claiming not to have voted in the X Factor since being badgered into dialling for Will Young by his daughter. Mr Young won a completely different talent show. So far, so Tony. The Telegraph's Michael Deacon says it was one of the Prime Minister's "jazz answers". He just makes it up as he goes along.
The meatier segment of Mr Cameron's address dealt with Europe, not least his oft delayed European speech which is rumoured to be in the pipeline for the New Year. He is, he assured us, taking a "tantric" approach - "it'll be even better when it does eventually come". As I write in my column today, though, it is getting to the time when European policy can no longer be a laughing matter, even if he's just stalling for time:
"We would benefit from hearing what he wants for Europe, but he might prefer to say nothing about what he will do until we have a clearer idea of what Europe will become."
It has been a while since a new Conservative attack line on Labour, so Grant Shapps' article on ConservativeHome this morning can be taken to signal a new direction. Whereas previously Ed was wonkish and professorial, he is now a policy vacuum. Millions of pounds of public grants for policy development have yielded no new policies at all, according to Mr Shapps. In contrast, he points out that when in opposition under Mr Tony, at the same stage of the cycle Labour had already produced a policy on mini-bus regulation. Money well spent.
The SNP are right that there is still a debate over whether an independent Scotland would automatically enter the EU. The problem is, they are the only ones arguing that it would. Yesterday José Manuel Barroso came down firmly on the side of the noes, telling the BBC that Scotland would need to negotiate entry as a new state (FT (£) report). If the SNP still want to argue the point, perhaps Alex Salmond should forward his legal advice from earlier this year, ahem.
Government plans to give ministers control over senior civil service appointments will be forced through despite opposition from Whitehall. Francis Maude is sticking to his guns despite the opposition of the Civil Service Commission and its head, Sir David Normington. The Guardianreports that the Coalition may legislate on the changes if they continue to meet institutional resistance.
If Owen Paterson's remarks on GM food have no other legacy, there is always the resuscitation of the Mail's "Frankenstein Food Watch" to keep the march of the mutant crops at bay. Rather than a knee-jerk response, however, our leader column argues that "mankind has always modified its food sources, and has increased crop yields in the process". Mr Paterson is slowly winning converts for his bio-revolution.

Parliament scrutinises away:

@BillEstersonMP: "Tory MP Mark Pawsey just asked a government minister if he thought a government policy was a good idea. What a tough question " 


In the Telegraph

Ben Brogan - Like tantric sex, our wait for a European policy goes on and on
Best of the rest

Rachel Sylvester in the Times (£) - It's more like a souk than a rose garden now
Ross Clark in the Daily Express - Why we must not surrender in the war against drugs
Steve Richards in The Independent - With this ring...the Tories edge into the future


09:00 am: Education minister Elizabeth Truss to give a speech on international test results. The speech comes on the day research is published looking at pupil performance in reading, maths and science. Microsoft Ltd, Cardinal Place, 80-100 Victoria Street.
09:30 am: Commons Energy Committee takes evidence on shale gas. Committee Room 6, House of Commons.
09:30 am: Commons Treasury Committee takes evidence on the autumn statement from OBR chairman Robert Chote. Wilson Room, Portcullis House.
10:30 am: Commons Culture Committee takes evidence on press regulation from PCC chairman Lord Hunt. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
10:30 am: Work and pensions minister Steve Webb speech on child maintenance reforms. Henry Fawcett Primary School, Bowling Green Street.
10:30 am: Big Brother Watch press conference on draft Communications Bill. Speakers include Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and Dacid Davis. Smeaton Room, 1 Great George Street. 
12:30 pm: Maria Miller statement to launch Government's gay marriage proposals. House of Commons.
02:00 pm: Commons Environment Committee takes evidence on tree health and ash dieback. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.
04:00 pm: Prime Minister David Cameron gives evidence to the Commons Liaison Committee. Questions will focus on the issues of the future direction of policing and the criminal justice system and "green government". Grimond Room, Portcullis House.