Mark Harper

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For the cricketer, see Mark Harper (cricketer). For the American football player, see Mark Harper (American football).
The Right Honourable
Mark Harper
Mark Harper - Minister of State for Immigration.jpg
Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury
Government Chief Whip in the House of Commons
Assumed office
9 May 2015
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Michael Gove
Minister of State for Disabled People
In office
15 July 2014 – 8 May 2015
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Mike Penning
Succeeded by Justin Tomlinson
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 (Security and Immigration)
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional and Political Reform
In office
11 May 2010 – 4 September 2012
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Chloe Smith
Member of Parliament
for the Forest of Dean
Assumed office
5 May 2005
Preceded by Diana Organ
Majority 11,064 (22.7%)
Personal details
Born Mark James Harper
(1970-02-26) 26 February 1970 (age 45)
Swindon, Wiltshire, England
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Margaret Harper
Alma mater PPE Brasenose College, Oxford

Mark James Harper (born 26 February 1970) is a British Conservative Party politician.[1] He is the Member of Parliament for the Forest of Dean constituency and is the Government Chief Whip in the House of Commons.

Harper was previously Minister of State for Disabled People and before that Minister of State for Immigration.[2] He is a non-practising chartered accountant.

Early life and career in accountancy[edit]

Harper was born in Swindon, Wiltshire, and educated at the Headlands Comprehensive School and Swindon College. He read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Brasenose College, Oxford where – like David Cameron before him – he studied under Professor Vernon Bogdanor.[3]

On graduation in 1991 he joined KPMG as an auditor. After qualifying as a chartered accountant, he joined Intel Corporation in 1995 as a senior financial analyst, becoming a finance manager in 1997 and an 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. He splits his time between London and his home in Newham Bottom in Gloucestershire.[4]

Entry into politics[edit]

Harper became the treasurer of the Swindon Conservative Association in 1993, 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 - the same number of votes by which he was defeated at the previous election. At the 2010 general election, Harper was re-elected with 46.8% of the vote, thereby increasing his majority to more than 11,000.[5] In the May 2015 general election, his majority fell by 77 votes.

On matters of foreign policy, Harper has often supported British military intervention overseas.[6] He is sceptical about the benefits for Britain of being in the European Union.[7]

Parliamentary career[edit]

On 24 May 2005 Harper made his maiden speech,[8] in which he advocated giving the parents of children with special educational needs the option of sending their children to a non-mainstream school - an issue of local interest in Harper's Gloucestershire seat and one close to the heart of the then Shadow Education Secretary, David Cameron, whose son Ivan was born with severe learning difficulties.[9] When Cameron was elected leader of the party in December 2005, he made Harper a frontbench spokesman on defence, armed forces welfare issues and veterans.

Harper has sat on the Commons Administration Committee and briefly on the Work and Pensions Committee. In the reshuffle of July 2007, Harper was made Shadow Minister for Disabled People - a position he held until 2010.[10][11]

The 2009 scandal over MPs' expenses showed Harper to be a parsimonious parliamentarian: he was reported to have claimed only for a brief period of temporary accommodation occupied on a short-term basis soon after being elected in 2005, and an anti-fungal spray costing £5.14.[12]

Junior Minister at the Cabinet Office[edit]

Soon after the general election in 2010, Harper took up the role of Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Political and Constitutional Reform in the Cabinet Office.[13] There he worked with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 that legislated for a referendum on whether to switch from 'first past the post' to the Alternative Vote system for electing MPs (Harper was not a fan of this plan, which was a key bargaining chip of the Coalition negotiations that took place in May 2010). The Act also aimed to change the shapes of parliamentary constituencies and introduce fixed-term parliaments.[3][14] On 5 May 2011, the referendum was held and voters rejected the proposed switch to the Alternative Vote system. Fixed-term parliaments became law later that year but the changes to constituency boundaries, which would have been advantageous to the Tories, never materialised.

In October 2010, the Government introduced the Public Bodies Bill to the House of Lords,[15] which would allow it to sell or lease public forests in England. Harper defended the proposals, describing them as an "exciting opportunity for community ownership." However, they were widely criticised by many residents within his Forest of Dean constituency[16][17] and by politicians with connections to the large oak forest after which Harper's parliamentary seat is named - most notably Baroness Jan Royall, Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords. Following a public meeting - after which Harper had to be rescued by the police[18] from what he described as "a baying mob" - 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.[19][20][21]

Harper worked on the House of Lords Reform Bill, which set out to introduce a smaller second chamber consisting mostly of elected peers. This was a Liberal Democrat policy that had also been mentioned as an aspiration in the Conservative Party's manifesto of 2010. However, in July 2012, 91 Conservative MPs defied the whips and voted with Labour against the proposals, something which led the coalition government to abandon the planned reform soon afterwards.

Immigration Minister[edit]

In the reshuffle of September 2012, Harper was promoted to Minister of State for Immigration at a time when levels of inward migration were falling but emigration rates were falling faster still, leading to a rise in net migration into the UK.[22]

Over the summer of 2013, Harper trialled a campaign aimed at illegal immigrants that consisted, in part, of lorries with hoardings attached to their load areas driving around London displaying the sign "Here Illegally? Go Home or Risk Arrest" with more information in smaller print on how to contact the Home Office for advice on doing so. The scheme was seen as offensive by some and it divided opinion within the Coalition's ministerial team.[23] In the autumn, Harper told MPs: "The advertising vans in particular were too much of a blunt instrument and will not be used again".[24][25]

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 replaced by James Brokenshire.[26][27]

Minister for Disabled People[edit]

The ministerial reshuffle in July 2014 saw Harper restored to office in the role of Minister for Disabled People at the Department for Work and Pensions.[28] He took over responsibility for the relatively new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and for the dysfunctional testing process used to assess entitlement to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA); both operations were plagued by large backlogs of unassessed claims. Harper also became the minister charged with overseeing the early exit of Atos from the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) contract and the appointment of a new outsourcing partner.

In October of that year, the Office for Budget Responsibility disclosed that Harper's department had failed to make the anticipated £3 billion annual saving in incapacity benefits spending expected by 2014 (the DWP achieved no saving at all from this budget over the whole of the 2010–15 parliamentary term).[29]

By early November, the WCA waiting list had ballooned to well above 600,000,[30] at which point Harper announced that a new outsourcing firm – Maximus – had been chosen to take over the WCA contract from Atos in March 2015.[31] However, the president of Maximus warned that the backlog of new claims would take at least a year to clear – and only if hundreds more disability assessors could be recruited.[32]

In January 2015 Harper appeared before the Work and Pensions Select Committee to explain the problems with PIP.[33] A former senior civil servant appointed by the DWP to review PIP had found the scheme beset by “delays and backlogs" and had described the process, which was introduced by another minister in April 2013, as still representing “a major delivery challenge.” Macmillan benefits advisers had told the reviewer that people had died while waiting for their PIP claim to be processed. The MS Society described these delays as unacceptable and some charities called for the PIP scheme to be halted.[34]

In February, Harper went on television to explain David Cameron's request to Professor Dame Carol Black that she advise him on whether withholding ESA claimants' benefits if they are obese or addicted to alcohol or drugs might encourage them to undergo further treatment - something Harper described as "a very sensible move on the part of the Prime Minister".[35]

In March 2015, Maximus began carrying out WCAs in place of Atos under a completely new contract that would cost almost £600 million and run until late 2018.[36] There was initial optimism within Whitehall that a new contract and a new provider would mean the start of a new chapter in fit-for-work assessment, although the Commons Work and Pensions Committee felt that the DWP's policies, its operational decisions and its failure to monitor Atos adequately were to blame for many of the assessment's earlier failings.[37] Atos senior executives had previously complained to the committee that their assessors were being criticised simply for "applying the legislation the government had laid out" and claimed the company had become a "lightening rod" for public anger over welfare reform, suggesting that it was "massively over-simplistic" to think that picking a different outsourcing firm would fundamentally alter the situation.[38][39]

By late spring, Harper had brought about a substantial reduction in the size of the backlog of PIP claims. This was achieved by: drafting in hundreds more DWP decision-makers; assessing more claims on the basis of the documents supplied by claimants, rather than through more time-consuming face-to-face assessments; changing the way that waiting times were measured; and streamlining the whole end-to-end process.[40][41]

Government Chief Whip[edit]

Harper was promoted to Chief Whip after the Conservative general election victory in May 2015. In October, the influential right-of-centre political website ConservativeHome tipped Harper to replace Iain Duncan Smith at the Department of Work and Pensions or become Energy and Climate Change Secretary over the medium term.[42]


  1. ^ "Democracy Live - Your representatives - Mark Harper". 
  2. ^ Cabinet Office (1 November 2012). "Government ministers and responsibilities – Publications – Inside Government – GOV.UK". Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ "Election results Forest of Dean: Conservative Mark Harper retains seat". Western Daily Press. 
  5. ^ Leighton, Neil (6 May 2005). "Tug-of-war seat returns to Tories". BBC News. 
  6. ^ "Mark Harper". 
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Health and Education". 
  9. ^ "David Cameron: My personal crusade to save special schools". The Independent. 7 June 2005. 
  10. ^ "Rt Hon Mark Harper MP". UK Parliament. 
  11. ^ Pitt, Vern (11 February 2010). "Interview: Mark Harper, Conservative disability spokesperson". Retrieved 20 December 2010. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Constitutional Reform – Who's who". Cabinet Office. Retrieved 20 December 2010. 
  14. ^ "David Cameron says AV is 'obscure, unfair and expensive' as coalition divisions exposed". 18 April 2011. 
  15. ^ "Public Bodies Bill [HL]". 
  16. ^ "Support is growing in the Forest of Dean against rumoured plans to privatise parts of the Forest of Dean - news - This is Gloucestershire - Gloucester Citizen". Gloucester Citizen. 
  17. ^ "CAMPAIGNERS battling to keep Forest of Dean woodlands out of private hands are rallying forces. - Gloucester Citizen". Gloucester Citizen. 
  18. ^ Mendick, Robert; Lefort, Rebecca (5 February 2011). "Minister confronted by protesters as tempers flare over forest sell-off". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 12 February 2011. 
  19. ^ Watt, Nicholas (17 February 2011). "Forest sell-off abandoned: I'm sorry, I got it wrong, says Caroline Spelman". The Guardian (London). 
  20. ^ "Sale of forests in England scrapped". BBC News. 
  21. ^ "Forest sale axed: Caroline Spelman says 'I'm sorry'". BBC News. 
  22. ^ "Net migration to UK increases - Office for National Statistics". BBC News. 
  23. ^ "'Go Home' vans could be introduced across Britain, says immigration minister". 18 October 2013. 
  24. ^ "Home Office's 'Go Home' immigration vans campaign overwhelmed by hoax texts and calls". 31 October 2013. 
  25. ^ Patrick Wintour. "'Go home' vans to be scrapped after experiment deemed a failure". the Guardian. 
  26. ^ "Immigration minister Mark Harper quits over cleaner's visa". BBC News. 8 February 2014. Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  27. ^ Immigration Minister Mark Harper resigns after employing a cleaner working in the UK illegally, The Independent, 8 February 2014, retrieved 8 February 2014 
  28. ^ "The Rt Hon Mark Harper MP". 
  29. ^ "Office for Budget Responsibility". Office for Budget Responsibility. 
  30. ^ Michael Buchanan (30 October 2014). "Cuts to employment and support allowance 'considered'". BBC news. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  31. ^ "Department for Work and Pensions Selects MAXIMUS To Provide Health Related Assessment Services - MAXIMUS United Kingdom". 
  32. ^ "Capability assessment waits 'will take 18 months to reduce'". BBC news. 8 November 2014. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  33. ^ "Minister for Disabled People gives evidence in one-off session". UK Parliament. 
  34. ^ Amelia Gentleman (27 January 2015). "Delays and disarray shatter lives of new disability claimants". Guardian newspapers. Retrieved 27 January 2015. 
  35. ^ "Obese could lose benefits if they refuse treatment - PM". BBC News. February 2015. 
  36. ^ "Work capability assessments: One million disability checks planned". BBC News. 
  37. ^ "Employment and Support Allowance needs fundamental redesign, say MPs". 23 July 2014. Retrieved 10 September 2015. 
  38. ^ Andrew Grice (22 July 2014). "Replacing Atos with another private provider will not solve flaws in". The Independent. 
  39. ^ "Atos was 'lightning rod' for anger over benefit changes". BBC News. 
  40. ^ "[Committee name]". 
  41. ^ "[Committee name]". 
  42. ^ "The Cabinet: Who’s up, down…and likely to be out". Conservative Home. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Diana Organ
Member of Parliament
for the Forest of Dean

Political offices
Preceded by
Andrew Robathan
Shadow Minister for Forces Families and Welfare
Succeeded by
Andrew Murrison
Preceded by
Jeremy Hunt
Shadow Minister for the Disabled
Position abolished
Preceded by
Damian Green
Minister of State for Immigration
Succeeded by
James Brokenshire
as Minister of State for Security and Immigration
Preceded by
Mike Penning
Minister of State for Disabled People
Succeeded by
Justin Tomlinson
Preceded by
Michael Gove
Government Chief Whip of the House of Commons
Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury
Party political offices
Preceded by
Michael Gove
Conservative Chief Whip of the House of Commons