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Coffee House

How a new whip saved a new minister from an embarrassing rebellion

11 September 2012

6:44 PM

11 September 2012

6:44 PM

It was not the ideal first outing for a new minister at a committee approving new legislation. Justice Minister Helen Grant arrived at the committee considering two compensation schemes last night to discover Conservative backbenchers in uproar. None of the MPs had been able to get their hands on the explanatory notes for the legislation, which covers the Victims of Overseas Terrorism Compensation Scheme 2012 and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2012. So they did not know, until they arrived at the evening meeting, that they would be expected to approve sweeping cuts to compensation for postmen attacked by dangerous dogs and other victims of crime.

Four Conservative MPs – John Redwood, Angie Bray, Jonathan Evans and Bob Blackman – started whispering in horror when they saw what they would be asked to vote on. Redwood, not the most reluctant when it comes to cutting spending, told the group he hadn’t come into politics to cut compensation for victims of crime. When MPs from such opposite ends of the Conservative party as Jonathan Evans and John Redwood unite on an issue, it’s clear trouble is brewing, and the whip attending the session, David Evennett, realised this. He began to pop in and out of the meeting as the MPs demanded some indications that there would be mitigation for these cuts. Eventually, he announced that these proposals were going to go back to the Ministry of Justice for further consideration.

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Evennett is one of the new whips appointed in last week’s reshuffle, but he’s not new to the job: he served as an opposition whip between 2005 and 2009. One of the MPs who was there last night tells me that ‘it was lucky we had a whip who knew what he was doing there: anyone new would have been like a rabbit in headlights’.

The coverage of last night’s change of heart quotes a spokesman from the MoJ saying: ‘We have listened to the views expressed in parliament and will now consider our next steps.’ It’s just as well Evennett was listening to the views being whispered in the committee, too, otherwise Helen Grant would have had a very unpleasant introduction to her new job indeed.

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