By Matthew Barrett
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The Daily Mail this morning reports on the 118 Conservative MPs who have written to constituents indicating their opposition to gay marriage proposals. The Mail says "Their opposition has been expressed in letters and emails sent to constituents who have contacted them with their own concerns", and points out that if these MPs voted against proposals, it would constitute the biggest Tory rebellion in modern times. However, Equalities Minister (and Secretary of State for Culture) Maria Miller pointed out on Twitter that since any vote on the issue would be a free vote, it would not technically be counted as a rebellion.
I have listed the MPs from the Mail's story below.
By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.
Guido Fawkes has a list of new Conservative members of Select Committees, from Graham Brady's office. Mr Brady explains: "For the following committees I have received the same number of nominations as there are vacancies, the following are therefore elected". The appointments are:
Communities and Local Government
John Stevenson (Carlisle), replacing George Hollingbery (Meon Valley), who became PPS to Theresa May at the reshuffle.
Chris Skidmore (Kingswood), replacing Damian Hinds (East Hampshire), who became PPS to Mark Francois, the Minister of State for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans.
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole), replacing Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich), who was made the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Health Services.
At Northern Ireland questions yesterday, the Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward confirmed that Lord Savile was yesterday finally due to deliver his report about the events of Bloody Sunday to his department for national security checks in advance of publication. The Inquiry was established back in 1998.
Blaby's Conservative MP, Andrew Robathan, rasied his doubts as to whether it had all been worthwhile:
"What took place on Bloody Sunday was a tragedy, whoever was to blame. It took place nearly 40 years ago. We have spent £200 million of taxpayers’ money and 12 years looking at the issues, probably just to stir up old enmities and reopen old sores. Does the Secretary of State think that it is all worth doing?"
Mr Woodward responded by asserting that "without the Saville inquiry, there would have been no stable peace process".
The campaign to Save General Election Night gets a big boost today. After no fewer than 220 MPs signed the Early Day Motion on the matter in the last parliamentary session (making it the 20th most signed motion out of 2421), today I have news of polls of MPs and PPCs conducted by ComRes on the subject.
The latest ComRes parliamentary panel of 151 MPs found 90% in favour of counting as soon as possible after voting, with 91% of both Conservative and Labour MPs, and 82% of Lib Dems all taking that view. Click here to download the full table.
Meanwhile, a separate ComRes survey of Conservative MPs and PPCs in target seats found a total of 95% in favour of counting on the night. Click here to download that table in full.
The matter was also raised on the floor of the Commons again today at the parliamentary backwater that is questions to the MP representing the Electoral Commission, who is Conservative MP, Gary Streeter. The Deputy Conservative Chief Whip, Andrew Robathan, was keen to discover the latest position of the Electoral Commission and the various local authorities around the country which are charged with running the counts.
The exchange is as below and Gary Streeter's defence of the Commission's refusal to take a view on the matter is less than impressive. He repeats the mantra being used to defend the switching of counts to Friday, ie that we need to be sure that the count is accurate and that voters have confidence in the result. Is anyone suggesting that overnight counts held at elections for decades have been inaccurate?! And will there not in fact be a number of voters who have less confidence in a result where the ballot papers have been snaffled away and stored overnight somewhere pending a Friday count?
Here's the exchange from this morning:
Here are the highlights from yesterday's Children, Schools and Families questions.
Buckingham MP John Bercow advocated a more liberal exclusion policy:
"Of course, schools sometimes mistake disability for disobedience. Children with special educational needs are nine times more likely to be permanently excluded from school, and the Government are rightly committed to reducing the incidents of such exclusions. In the light of that, will the Under-Secretary of State consider the merit of amending the law so that a child with SEN or disability may be permanently excluded from school only if a review has taken place of the sufficiency and effectiveness of the reasonable adjustments that have been made under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to seek to accommodate that pupil?
Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I pay tribute to his expertise in this area of special educational needs, and we certainly share his passion and commitment to promoting improved outcomes for children with SEN and disabilities. I am, of course, aware that he has a private Member’s Bill that is due for its Second Reading on 15 May. I believe that that is one proposal that may be considered in it. We certainly look forward to debating that."
By contrast Shadow Minister for Children Tim Loughton stressed the importance of protecting pupils from violence:
"Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Government figures last year revealed that there was a drop of 13 per cent. in permanent exclusions between 2003 and 2007 despite a 50 per cent. increase in the number of children suspended for five times or more— 867 of them excluded for 10 times or more—at a time that saw 4,370 fixed exclusions for serious racist abuse and more than 207,000 serious offences, such as sexual abuse and violence. Yet, in no fewer than 40 per cent. of appeals against permanent exclusions, reinstatement was upheld so that pupils could return to the scene of their offences with impunity, most of them having nothing to do with SEN. Does the Minister think it right that a pupil who has been excluded for violent crime, racist or sexual abuse should be readmitted to schools under any circumstances against the better judgment of the head or the governors?
Sarah McCarthy-Fry: We are certainly committed to backing head teachers’ authority when pupils’ behaviour warrants exclusion. Last year, the number of successful appeals was just 1.2 per cent. of all permanent exclusions, so we must get this in balance. We obviously recognise, and we have said in response to Alan Steer's report, that repeated suspension should lead to permanent exclusion. We are certainly giving back head teachers authority in that."
Questions were put yesterday to ministers from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.
Shadow Secretary of State David Willetts expressed doubt that Labour is delivering on its promise of boosting internships. As so often, the minister - in this case David Lammy, Minister of State for Higher Education and Intellectual Property - played an old trick. He accused an Opposition spokesman of scaremongering when in fact he was doing his job: holding the Government to account.
"The Minister referred to his national internship scheme. Will he confirm that after I spent a Saturday afternoon chasing him round the TV studios, it became clear that there is no Government-funded national internship scheme and that the companies that he has identified as providing internships made it clear that no extra internships were intended on top of the ones already announced? Will he also confirm that the Government made a clear commitment to review the student loan regime, that the review will take place this year and that the review of student finance will look forward to ideas for the future and not simply be historical?
Mr. Lammy: The first thing to say is that we are doing all we can to work with employers, careers services in universities, the National Union of Students and students themselves to ensure that students have the best choice and the best portfolio of things they can do when they graduate in the autumn. That compares very well with what was effectively the youth training scheme—YTS—when the Conservatives were in power; nothing was offered then. [Interruption.] The internship scheme was begun in a conversation that the Secretary of State had before Christmas with Microsoft, Barclays and others. I have continued those conversations—indeed, I was talking to Barnado’s just yesterday. So, there will be an increase in internships later in the year, and that will happen alongside the career development loans and all the other things that will be on offer at the end of the year. As the president of the NUS has said, this is not a time for panic; it is a time for proper information. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to bear that in mind when he is making public statements."
Yesterday the House of Commons debated the Queen's Speech. Herewith some extracts of contributions from Conservative members.
David Cameron was on very good form. He was funny, and coped ably with questions about Damian Green before turning his fire on the Government:
"Let me tell the Prime Minister what is wrong with this Queen’s Speech. There is no recognition in the Government’s programme of how the world has changed. We are moving into an age in which there is no Government money left, so we need public sector reform to get better value for money. We are moving into an age of massive debt, so we need to mend the broken society and reduce the demands on the state. But in the Queen’s Speech there is no serious reform, just bureaucratic bungling and technocratic tinkering. It is all about the short-term prospects of the Prime Minister, not the long-term future of the country. It is last year’s Queen’s Speech from yesterday’s Prime Minister.
“Let the work of change begin.”
Let us examine them. We were told that there would be loads of eco towns, but only one is still alive. He promised zero-carbon homes, but there have been virtually zero of them. There are just 15 in the whole country. He promised 3 million new homes, but house building fell by a quarter last year. What about free nursery education for all two-year-olds? That has been abandoned. More maintenance grants for students were granted last year, collapsed in a complete shambles this year and face massive cuts next year. Then there is the Prime Minister’s promise of a new constitutional settlement. We were promised more powers for Parliament to question the Executive. That one ended up down the nick.
Quentin Davies, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence, is not wildly popular on the Conservative benches, from which he defected at the encouragement of Gordon Brown. Yesterday in the Commons he was the subject of severe criticism from Conservative MPs, including Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox.
Major Sebastian Morley, formerly of the SAS, accused the MoD on his resignation of "gross negligence" for failing to supply better kit. Mr Davies described these remarks as "a travesty of reality". Dr Fox objected:
"Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): When a loyal and committed officer resigns and cites a specific reason, he should be treated with the utmost seriousness. When, instead, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) says that it was
“such a travesty of reality that it is actually quite difficult to take this at first face value,”
“a couple of odd things about this resignation”,
Mr. Ainsworth: We do take the complaint seriously; we do take the resignation seriously. We do not accept that we are in any way cavalier with our people’s safety. We put that at the absolute top of our priorities, and all of us in the ministerial team will continue to do so.
Dr. Fox: Still no apology—yet the Under-Secretary’s offence went beyond damaging morale and his own arrogant dismissal of a loyal and committed officer. As my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) said, the Under-Secretary said:
“there may be occasions when in retrospect, a commander chose the wrong piece of equipment”.
Yet is it not increasingly clear that, on the occasion in question, commanders had no choice but to use Snatch Land Rovers? How can it be that after six years and more than £10 billion in spending, we still do not have the armoured vehicles that we require? And, why did the Under-Secretary not take time to discover the facts before opening his mouth and bad-mouthing our commanders?
Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend meant no offence. He was trying to explain to people that we need a suite of vehicles in theatre. That was all he was trying to do, and he did not mean to cause any offence to anyone at all."
Other MPs weighed in too.