Mark Harper

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For the cricketer, see Mark Harper (cricketer). For the American football player, see Mark Harper (American football).
Mark Harper
Mark Harper - Minister of State for Immigration.jpg
Minister of State for Disabled People
Assumed office
15 July 2014
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Mike Penning
Minister of State for Immigration
In office
4 September 2012 – 8 February 2014
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Damian Green
Succeeded by James Brokenshire
Parliamentary Under Secretary for Constitutional and Political Reform
In office
11 May 2010 – 4 September 2012
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Office Created
Succeeded by Chloe Smith
Member of Parliament
for Forest of Dean
Assumed office
5 May 2005
Preceded by Diana Mary Organ
Majority 11,064 (22.7%)
Personal details
Born Mark James Harper
(1970-02-26) 26 February 1970 (age 45)
Swindon, Wiltshire, England
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Margaret Harper
Alma mater Brasenose College, Oxford

Mark James Harper (born 26 February 1970) is a British politician and self-employed accountant (non-practising).[1][2] He is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Forest of Dean, a former Minister of State for Immigration, and the current Minister of State for Disabled People.[3]

Early life and career[edit]

Harper was born in Swindon, Wiltshire, and educated at the Headlands Comprehensive School and Swindon College. He then studied philosophy, politics and economics at Brasenose College, Oxford, where like David Cameron he studied under Professor Vernon Bogdanor.[4]

On graduation in 1991 he joined KPMG as an auditor. After qualifying as a chartered accountant, in 1995 he joined Intel Corporation as a senior financial analyst, becoming the finance manager in 1997, and operations manager from 2000. In 2002 he left Intel to set up his own accountancy practice.

Harper married his wife, Margaret, in July 1999 in Swindon. The couple live in Newham Bottom, and have two Labrador dogs. He was a governor of Newent Community School from 2000 to 2005, and is a member of The Freedom Association.

Political career[edit]

Harper became the treasurer of the Swindon Conservative Association in 1993, and from 1997 to the new Swindon South Conservative Association, becoming the vice-chairman for a year in 1998. He contested the Gloucestershire seat of Forest of Dean at the 2001 General Election but was defeated by the sitting Labour MP Diana Organ by 2,049 votes. Organ retired at the 2005 General Election and Harper gained the seat for the Conservatives with a majority of 2,049, exactly the same number of votes by which he was defeated at the previous election. In the 2010 general election, Harper was re-elected as member for the Forest of Dean with 46.81% of the vote increasing his majority to over 11,000.[5]

On matters of foreign policy Harper is a noted Euro-sceptic and a strong supporter of Israel and is a member of Conservative Friends of Israel.

Parliamentary career[edit]

Harper made his maiden speech on 24 May 2005, in which he concentrated on the education needs of his constituents with learning disabilities.[6] In Parliament, he served on the administration select committee from 2005 to 2006.

In December 2005 he was promoted to the front bench by David Cameron as a spokesman on defence and veterans. On 15 May 2006, he hosted the first Conservative Party Veterans' Summit, bringing together organisations from across the country to discuss the issues facing war veterans and established a platform from which to develop Conservative Party policy on the issue.[citation needed] On 11 April 2007, Cameron appointed Harper Shadow Minister for Forces Families & Welfare. In July 2007, Harper was appointed Shadow Minister for Disabled People in Cameron's frontbench reshuffle.[7]

Harper was appointed junior minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, in the Cabinet Office in May 2010.[8] He worked with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 which enabled the Alternative Vote referendum and changes to the number and size of constituencies.[4]

He was appointed Minister of State for Immigration in the September 2012 reshuffle, but resigned on 8 February 2014, after he discovered that his cleaner did not have the right to be in the UK.[9][10]

The ministerial reshuffle in July 2014 saw Harper restored to office in the role of Minister for Disabled People[11] to take over responsibility for the Personal Independence Payment and Employment and Support Allowance schemes, both of which were plagued by huge backlogs. At the same time, he also became responsible for overseeing the exit of Atos from the highly controversial Work Capability Assessment contract and the firm's replacement by a new outsourcing partner.[12]

In October of that year, in its Welfare Trends report, the Office for Budget Responsibility disclosed that the DWP had failed to achieve the anticipated £3 billion annual saving in Incapacity Benefit forecast for 2014.[13] A week later, Harper used an interview with the Daily Mail to launch a crackdown on what he called "appalling cheats pretending to be disabled to steal benefits."[14]

On 28 October, Reuters reported that "a source with knowledge of the situation" had told the news agency's London office that the US outsourcing company Maximus was tipped to take over the Work Capability Assessment contract from Atos.[15] Two days later, the BBC reported that the WCA backlog had grown above 600,000.[16] On the same day the DWP officially confirmed that Maximus would take over from Atos, but not until March 2015.[17] On 8 November, the president of Maximus told the BBC that the backlog would take at least a year to clear - and only if hundreds more disability assessors could be found.[18]

In January 2015 he was due to be called in front of the Work and Pensions Select Committee to explain problems in implementing PIP which had a 6-month backlog. An independent review had heard an "overwhelming theme" of “the impact of delays and backlogs” and concluded that the process was “disjointed.” Macmillan benefits advisers claimed people had died waiting for benefits to be processed, whilst the MS Society described delays as unacceptable. Charities have called for the scheme to be halted.[19]


Characterisation of people collecting disability benefits[edit]

On 10 September 2010, Harper stated on the BBC Radio 4 programme Any Questions? that "There are definitely some people in our country, and everyone in every community knows who they are, who are able to work, and don't." After chairman Shaun Ley challenged these words as being "outrageous", Harper repeated the notion, saying, "Everybody knows them, able-bodied people..."[20]

Proposed sale of public forests[edit]

In October 2010, the Government introduced the Public Bodies Bill to the House of Lords,[21] which would allow the Secretary of State to sell or lease public forests in England. Harper defended the proposals, describing them as an "exciting opportunity for community ownership."[22] However, they were widely criticised by many residents within his constituency[23][24][25] and by politicians with connections to the Forest of Dean, most notably Baroness Jan Royall, Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords. She described Harper as "fundamentally wrong" and his views on the subject as "utter nonsense".[26][27] Following a public meeting after which Harper had to be rescued by police[28] and a sustained national campaign which included the newly formed local Forest of Dean pressure group Hands off our Forest, the government announced it had abandoned its plans and would remove the forestry clauses from the Public Bodies Bill.[29][30][31]

'Go Home' ad campaign targeting illegal immigration[edit]

As immigration minister Harper approved and launched the "Go Home" ad campaign that consisted of lorries with hoardings attached to their load areas driving around London boroughs with high proportions of ethnic minorities with the sign "Here Illegally? Go Home or Risk Arrest."[32] The campaign was widely criticised by many politicians on both sides of the political spectrum including Nigel Farage who called it "nasty".[32] Mike Jones, from the Public and Commercial Services Union described the campaign as beneficial to "rightwing racist and fascist organisations such as the BNP, EDL, EVF and others."[32]

Resignation as Minister of State for Immigration[edit]

Harper resigned as immigration minister on 8 February 2014, after he discovered that his self-employed cleaner did not have permission to work in the UK. In his resignation letter, Harper stated that he first made checks on his cleaner in 2007 and "considered the issue again" when appointed a minister in the Cabinet Office in 2010 and immigration minister in September 2012 but had concluded that "no further check was necessary". After launching a campaign to get employers and landlords to carry out "reasonable checks" on workers, Harper claims that he thought it prudent to check the documents again, but could not locate them, and asked his cleaner for new copies. When his private office checked the details with immigration officials, it was found she did not have indefinite leave to stay in the UK. He immediately told Home Secretary Theresa May, and then after notifying Prime Minister David Cameron, he resigned. He was immediately replaced by James Brokenshire.[9][10]


  1. ^ BBC, Democracy Live
  2. ^ Mark Harper chooses not to disclose the names of his parents to Who's who. He was married in 1999 to Margaret Whelan.
  3. ^ Cabinet Office (1 November 2012). "Government ministers and responsibilities – Publications – Inside Government – GOV.UK". Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Wintour, Patrick (12 August 2010). "Mark Harper backs first-past-the-post: meet the man reshaping our politics". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 20 December 2010. 
  5. ^ Leighton, Neil (6 May 2005). "Tug-of-war seat returns to Tories". BBC News. 
  6. ^ Department of the Official Report (Hansard), House of Commons, Westminster (24 May 2005). "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 24 May 2005 (pt 16)". Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  7. ^ Pitt, Vern (11 February 2010). "Interview: Mark Harper, Conservative disability spokesperson". Retrieved 20 December 2010. 
  8. ^ "Constitutional Reform – Who's who". Cabinet Office. Retrieved 20 December 2010. 
  9. ^ a b "Immigration minister Mark Harper quits over cleaner's visa". BBC News. 8 February 2014. Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  10. ^ a b Immigration Minister Mark Harper resigns after employing a cleaner working in the UK illegally, The Independent, 8 February 2014, retrieved 8 February 2014 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Replacing Atos with another private provider will not solve flaws in disability benefits system, MPs warn". The Independent. 23 July 2014. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ Matt Chorley (21 October 2014). "Welfare minister Mark Harper rages at 'appalling' cheats pretending to be disabled to steal benefits in new crackdown on £1bn fraud and vows: 'We WILL catch you'". Daily Mail. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ Michael Buchanan (30 October 2014). "Cuts to employment and support allowance 'considered'". BBC news. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Capability assessment waits 'will take 18 months to reduce'". BBC news. 8 November 2014. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  19. ^ Amelia Gentleman (27 January 2015). "Delays and disarray shatter lives of new disability claimants". Guardian newspapers. Retrieved 27 January 2015. 
  20. ^ "Any Questions?". BBC. 10 September 2010. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  21. ^ Public Bodies Bill
  22. ^ The Forest and Wye Valley Review, 19 November 2010, page 15
  23. ^ Support grows against Forest sell off
  24. ^ Hands off our Forest
  25. ^ The Forester, Hands off our Forest
  26. ^ Forest and Wye Valley Review, 26 November 2010, page 12
  27. ^ Chepstow Today 'Utter nonsense'
  28. ^ Mendick, Robert; Lefort, Rebecca (5 February 2011). "Minister confronted by protesters as tempers flare over forest sell-off". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 12 February 2011. 
  29. ^ Watt, Nicholas (17 February 2011). "Forest sell-off abandoned: I'm sorry, I got it wrong, says Caroline Spelman". The Guardian (London). 
  30. ^ BBC News video
  31. ^ BBC News
  32. ^ a b c Taylor, Matthew; Gidda, Mirren; Syal, Rajeev (26 July 2013). "'Go home' ad campaign targeting illegal immigrants faces court challenge". Guardian newspapers. Retrieved 26 July 2013. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Diana Organ
Member of Parliament for Forest of Dean
Political offices
Preceded by
Andrew Robathan
Shadow Minister for Defence
Succeeded by
Andrew Murrison
Political offices
Preceded by
Jeremy Hunt
Shadow Minister for the Disabled
Succeeded by
Position abolished