The Week in Westminster – October 14th

After a week of speculation about his private life, centred around his friendship with Adam Werrity, Defence Secretary Liam Fox resigned on Friday afternoon. David Cameron had previously indicated that he would like to keep his Cabinet in place until at least next May, but faced with the resignation of Fox the Prime Minister moved quickly to replace the Defence Secretary – who was regarded as a charismatic spokesman for the right of the Conservative Party in the Coalition government – with Philip Hammond, who moved from the Department for Transport.

Hammond is widely seen as being close to Chancellor George Osborne, who he worked with in the Shadow Treasury team before the General Election last year. He appointed highly rated Conservative newcomer Claire Perry as his Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS). The mini-reshuffle also saw Justine Greening promoted from her role as Economic Secretary to the Treasury to become Transport Secretary, with Chloe Smith moving to replace her. Sajid Javid has become George Osborne’s new PPS.

The controversial proposed Health and Social Care Bill has overcome a serious obstacle in its second reading in the House of Lords this week, but still faces the prospect of delays when it moves to the House of Lords Committee stage on the 25th October. Despite strong lobbying from Labour and some Liberal Democrat peers, the Lords voted against two key proposed amendments. The first, which was defeated by 354-220, advocated abandoning the bill in its entirety and the second, defeated by 330-226, recommended sending it for review by a three-month special committee.

The Government has delayed raising of the state pension age to 66 until October 2020, at a cost of £1.1bn. Under the plans, the Pensions Bill will be amended so that the maximum time people will have to wait for their pension will be 18 months. The changes are a response to criticism that the reforms will disproportionally impact on women, as the threshold is being equalised at the same time as it is being increased.

Jenny Willott, a Liberal Democrat MP, claimed that the decision represented a victory for the Liberal Democrats. She added that her Party ‘would ultimately have liked to have gone further – limiting increases to just a year. However, sadly we are but one part of the coalition and the vast majority of backbench Conservative MPs have remained silent on this issue, not wishing to put their head above the parapet and risk upsetting Number 10.’

Gus O’Donnell, the Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet Office and the UK’s most senior civil servant, has announced that he will retire at the end of the year. His position will be divided into three roles in the future, with Jeremy Heywood, currently Permanent Secretary at Number 10, also becoming Cabinet Secretary. Ian Watmore, the current head of the Efficiency and Reform Group, will become permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, and another, as yet unnamed, civil servant will take the role of head of the Home Civil Service.

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