By Tim Montgomerie
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As reported widely in today's written and broadcast media a new Tory-led group has been formed to support equal marriage. You can read more about 'Freedom to Marry' on its website.
I should declare an interest. Some months ago I made a conservative case for gay marriage on this website and I've joined the group as one of its supporters. The other initial supporters are listed below:
As media outlets have noted the support of evangelical Christians Alistair Burt and Desmond Swayne as well as the Catholic Cabinet minister Patrick McLoughlin is an indication of the group's broad base. More high-profile supporters will be announced in the coming days and weeks.
By Matthew Barrett
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Conservative Friends of Israel is an influential affiliate group of the Conservative Party which contains perhaps the largest number of Conservative MPs of any group in Parliament. It exists to promote understanding of and support for the State of Israel in the Conservative Party, and its membership reaches the highest echelons of power, including the Foreign Secretary, William Hague. In this profile, I examine its origins, membership, role, and activities.
Origins of the group
Conservative Friends of Israel (CFoI) is the oldest group of Conservative MPs I have profiled so far: it was founded by Michael Fidler, who was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Bury and Radcliffe between 1970 and the October 1974 election. After losing his seat, he decided to focus on building a pro-Israel group within the Conservative Party - there had been a Labour Friends of Israel group since 1957 - so Fidler launched CFoI in 1974, and served as its National Director.
Sir Hugh Fraser served as the first Chairman of CFoI, from 1974. Sir Hugh was a Conservative MP of the old school: after a distinguished military intelligence career in the Second World War, he entered Parliament in 1945, and he missed out on being Father of the House to James Callaghan in 1983 by only a few days. Sir Hugh had an interest in oil and the Middle East and served a number of positions in the War and Colonial Offices, before entering Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Air in 1962. He might be best known to some readers as the outsider candidate who came third in the 1975 party leadership contest, behind Mrs Thatcher and Edward Heath, gaining only 16 votes.
By Matthew Barrett
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Following on from the last few days' rolling blogs, I have below a final list of the MPs (and Baroness Warsi) appointed as Ministers for each department. I have put new appointments in bold.
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Department for Communities and Local Government
By Tim Montgomerie
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I published some photographs of Tory MPs - including the Prime Minister - enjoying the Jubilee celebrations on Sunday. Here are some more. They involve a lot of cake and quite a bit of rain.
First up is Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt. No doubt enjoying the break from the responsibilities he has for Middle Eastern policy he's judging a Jubilee cake competition at Wyboston, Chawston and Colesden Village Party.
By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday evening in the House, Dominic Raab introduced the following motion:
"That this House notes the passage of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Bill through the United States Senate, the Bill to condemn corruption and impunity in Russia in the case and death of Sergei Magnitsky in the House of Commons in Canada, the approval of the resolution of the Dutch Parliament concerning Sergei Magnitsky dated 29 June 2011, and paragraphs I and 20 to 21 of the resolution of the European Parliament of 14 December 2011 on the EU-Russia Summit; and calls on the Government to bring forward equivalent legislative proposals providing for a presumption in favour of asset freezes and travel bans for officials of the Russian state and other countries, wherever the appropriate UK authorities have collected or received evidence that establishes that such officials:
(a) were involved in the detention, physical abuse or death of Sergei Magnitsky;
(b) participated in efforts to conceal the legal liability for the detention, abuse or death of Sergei Magnitsky;
(c) committed the frauds discovered by Sergei Magnitsky; or
(d) are responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross violations of human rights committed in Russia or any other country against any individual seeking to obtain, exercise, defend or promote basic and internationally recognised human rights, including those set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966."
By Joseph Willits
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In an over-subscribed Urgent Question debate in the Commons yesterday, on the Palestinian statehood bid, foreign office minister Alistair Burt (standing in for Hague who was in Libya) refused to be drawn on whether the government would officially support a Palestinian bid for UN membership.
On Tuesday, ConservativeHome reported that only 2 Tory MPs, Nicholas Soames and Sir Peter Bottomley had signed an Early Day Motion in favour of a Palestinian state. Upon writing this, the number had increased to four Tory MPs, with Julian Brazier and Eleanor Laing adding their signatures.
The hesitancy with which Tory MPs are having putting their name to the EDM, bears resemblance to the government's caution, because of fears that the bid could ruin the peace process. Alistair Burt stated that it would be "premature to speculate on what the Government’s response might be" before any proposal for membership had been published. Burt also stressed it was "vital that any action in the UN does nothing to endanger the prospect of talks".
Following on from the Arab Spring "the world can no longer claim that change in the Middle East will come slowly and incrementally, or allow the middle east peace process to limp along indefinitely, as it has done", said Burt. Any resolution made between the Israelis and Palestinians, he said, is seemingly "more significant" in relation to events of the Arab Spring.
Rochford & Southend East MP James Duddridge (right) asked about the cost to taxpayers of assuming liability for the Royal Mail pension scheme:
"The Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs (Mr. Pat McFadden): We estimate that the Government will assume total liabilities of £29.5 billion and assets of £23.5 billion. That would mean the Government absorbing a deficit of £6 billion. This assessment of the liabilities in the scheme and the funding position is based on the most recent trustee valuation, from March 2008. However, we anticipate that the funding position of the scheme could well have worsened since that date, so when we have updated figures from the new valuation, beginning this month, we will finalise our assessment of the funding position of the scheme.
James Duddridge: Clause 20 of the Postal Services Bill will allow the Government to take the existing assets from the pension fund into the consolidated fund and spend it that very same year. Is it wise as part of addressing the pension funding crisis to take the existing inadequate assets and use them to rescue the Government’s current deficit, making the problem worse in the longer term?
Mr. McFadden: Our motivation is not about the public sector accounting impact. Our motivation is to give greater security to the hard-working men and women who work for Royal Mail, because the pension fund is an increasing burden for Royal Mail. At the same time, however, if we are to ask the taxpayer to take on those liabilities—I have set out what the scale of those liabilities is—it is equally right that we also give the taxpayer some confidence that the company can be transformed and modernised in the future. It is precisely those two things that are set out in the Postal Services Bill, which was published recently."
There may well be merit in the Government subsidising postal deliveries to far-flung parts of the UK, but I don't see why mail services as a whole should not be opened up to competition.
Shadow Corporate Governance Minister Jonathan Djanogly had a concern:
"The Minister has just said that the Government proposals would provide greater security for postal workers’ pensions, but can he confirm that clause 19(6)(b) of the Postal Services Bill provides that this or a future Government could waive the pension guarantee and vary the terms of the postal workers’ pensions without the approval of the trustees, who will lose their power to protect the pensions under the provisions of the Bill? Mr. McFadden: The changes that we propose to the pension scheme will mean that the deficit is handled on the same basis as the pension schemes serving teachers, nurses and civil servants. That will indeed give Royal Mail staff far greater pension security than they get at the moment, when the deficit appears to be increasing year on year."
"The Minister has just said that the Government proposals would provide greater security for postal workers’ pensions, but can he confirm that clause 19(6)(b) of the Postal Services Bill provides that this or a future Government could waive the pension guarantee and vary the terms of the postal workers’ pensions without the approval of the trustees, who will lose their power to protect the pensions under the provisions of the Bill?
Mr. McFadden: The changes that we propose to the pension scheme will mean that the deficit is handled on the same basis as the pension schemes serving teachers, nurses and civil servants. That will indeed give Royal Mail staff far greater pension security than they get at the moment, when the deficit appears to be increasing year on year."
Britain's Christian heritage is under stealthy attack: "This debate is about the relentless assault, mostly by stealth, on this nation’s much-loved Christian heritage and traditions. It is about how anti-Christian sentiment is increasing, not decreasing; why many Christians feel they are not getting a fair hearing when it comes to Christianity in the public square; and what many people of all faiths and no faith see as the increasing marginalisation of Britain’s Christian history, heritage and traditions through the actions of Whitehall Departments, Government agencies, local authorities, the charity commissioners, or other sectors of society. I will also comment on the creative industries and some sections of the media."
Christianity is alive in today's Britain: "Britain’s Christian traditions are both rich and deep, and are enjoyed today by people from all faiths and none. Furthermore, this Christian tradition has held Britain’s communities together for many hundreds of years and through the very many challenges of British history. The most recent English church census reveals that at least 3.2 million people still attend church every Sunday. The Christian Church is not dead: it is very much alive. Perhaps that is an important oversight that some have mistakenly made."
But in the public square...
Less celebration of Christmas: "A recent survey in The Sunday Telegraph revealed that fewer and fewer schools are staging traditional Christmas nativity plays, supposedly through fear of offending people of other faiths and those with no faith. But what about the offence to Christians?... Other examples include some charity organisations banning Christmas messages or nativity scenes from their shop windows and displays; some—not all—Government Departments banning the word “Christmas” from all official celebrations; and the Home Office spending tens of thousands of pounds a year on celebrating Muslim and Hindu festivals, but very little on celebrating Christmas."
Discrimination against Christian groups in access to services and grants: "It is also wrong when Christianophobia occurs on university campuses, when Christian groups try to access local government grants and funding or seek to rent public buildings, and in decisions relating to adoption and fostering services. Local, regional or national fundholders and decision makers who are Christianophobic need to stop breaking the spirit of anti-discrimination laws and look beyond Christian labels to see the wider benefits that hundreds of faith groups bring to local communities up and down the nation."
Christianity doesn't need special rights - just equal rights: "I have a question for the Minister: would our nation be safer, happier, wealthier and more at peace with itself if our Christian traditions and heritage were recognised and celebrated in a more even-handed way, rather than marginalised and scorned? As I said at the outset, this debate is not about “doing God.” Politicians, especially one as flawed as I am, need to tread carefully in this area. This debate is not about asking for special rights for the Christian tradition, but for equal rights. I hope the Government will today send out a clear and unequivocal message from Parliament to Departments, agencies, local authorities, and institutions that the Government condemn all religious intolerance, including rising Christianophobia."
"That Christianity has a pre-eminent position in British life in comparison to other religions is not wrong. It is not a case of equality. Of course, the practice of all religions should be free, fair and equal, but that Christianity is pre-eminent is not through any attack on equality; it is an acknowledgment of its role in creating the tolerant, free and democratic society that we all enjoy. If we lose that, will it damage the Church and affect the faith of millions in Jesus Christ as Lord and saviour? No, it will not. The nation, however, would lose far more in terms of what the Christian faith can contribute to the life of the nation, to its civic society, its voluntary groups, or anything else. The Church does not need contemporary Britain, but does contemporary Britain need the Church? You bet it does."