By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday in Parliament, Richard Bacon, a Conservative backbencher, tried to introduce a Bill which would repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. One of Mr Bacon's lines of argument was that the legal requirement for Ministers to amend legislation - without a vote in Parliament - in order to comply with European human rights legislation - is "fundamentally undemocratic":
"Under section 10, a Minister of the Crown may make such amendments to primary legislation as are considered necessary to enable the incompatibility to be removed by the simple expedient of making an order. In effect, because the accepted practice is that the United Kingdom observes its international obligations, a supranational court can impose its will against ours. In my view this is fundamentally undemocratic."
Mr Bacon also compellingly argued that the controversial social issues that judges often like to get involved in should be decided by "elected representatives and not by unelected judges":
"[T]here is no point in belonging to a club if one is not prepared to obey its rules. The solution is therefore not to defy judgments of the Court, but rather to remove the power of the Court over us. ... Judges do not have access to a tablet of stone not available to the rest of us which enables them to discern what our people need better than we can possibly do as their elected, fallible, corrigible representatives. There is no set of values that are so universally agreed that we can appeal to them as a useful final arbiter. In the end they will always be shown up as either uselessly vague or controversially specific. Questions of major social policy, whether on abortion, capital punishment, the right to bear firearms or workers rights, should ultimately be decided by elected representatives and not by unelected judges."
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
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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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Robert Halfon, the Member of Parliament for Harlow, and one of the most successful campaigning MPs in Parliament, has organised a motion, backed by 60 MPs from all parties, and including 41 Tories, calling for the Office of Fair Trading to investigate allegations of price-fixing by British oil companies. The full motion is worded as follows:
"That this House urges the OFT to investigate oil firms active in the UK; calls on the Government to consider the emergency actions being taken in other G20 nations to cut fuel prices, for example President Obama strengthening Federal supervision of the U.S. oil market, and increasing penalties for “market manipulation”, and Germany and Austria setting up a new oil regulator, with orders to help stabilise the price of petrol in the country; finally urges the Office of Fair Trading to note that the Federal Cartel Office in Germany is now investigating oil firms active in the UK, after allegations of price-fixing."
By Matthew Barrett
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My series profiling the backbench groups of Tory MPs has so far mainly featured groups founded or mostly composed of 2010 intake MPs. Last time, I looked at the Thatcherite No Turning Back group, founded in the 1980s. This week's group is somewhere between the two. The Cornerstone Group is the main group whose defining mission is to represent socially conservative Members of Parliament. The group was formed in 2005, and presented some challenges for David Cameron's leadership. In this profile, I'll see how the group is doing now.
Origins of the group
Cornerstone was founded by Edward Leigh and John Hayes, who still chair the group. Leigh has been the MP for Gainsborough since 1983, and is a former Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry, who was sacked for his opposition to Maastricht, and John Hayes, who has been the MP for South Holland and the Deepings since 1997, and the Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning since 2010.
Cornerstone admired the work done during Iain Duncan Smith's time as leader to promote a more communitarian, Burkean conservatism, and wanted to ensure IDS' work on this front was carried on.
When the group launched formally in July 2005, it released a pamphlet, which criticised Michael Howard's election campaign for being too quiet about tax cuts, public service reform and family values. Strongly condemning the personality politics and liberalism of New Labour, Leigh wrote:
"We believe that these values must be stressed: tradition, nation, family, religious ethics, free enterprise ... Emulating New Labour both lacks authenticity and is unlikely to make us popular. We must seize the centre ground and pull it kicking and screaming towards us. That is the only way to demolish the foundations of the liberal establishment and demonstrate to the electorate the fundamental flaws on which it is based."
The group first exerted its influence during the 2005 leadership contest. A group of about twenty Cornerstone supporters interviewed David Cameron, David Davis and Liam Fox. Fox apparently put in the best performance, while David Davis was, reportedly, not able to take criticism well. This meeting, combined with David Davis' alienating stint as the Minister for Europe under Major, and Davis' reluctance to support Iain Duncan Smith's compassionate conservatism programme wholeheartedly, is thought to be why many Cornerstone supporters first voted for Fox, and then switched to Cameron.
By Paul Goodman
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Grovelling? Yes, let's face it: it happens. But not yesterday when the Prime Minister was questioned after his statement on Libya. Read Patrick Mercer on Islamism, Andrew Tyrie on torture, Peter Lilley on getting Libya to pay, Baron on intervention, Chisti on Syria. Plenty of pertinent questions
Also follow David Cameron being polite to Mark Pritchard, telling Rory Stewart that he shouldn't have gone to Libya recently, and being thrown for a moment by a very sharp question from Andrew Bridgen. Here are the exchanges in full from Hansard.
"Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): As someone who had reservations about the principle of intervention, may I congratulate the Prime Minister on a successful outcome in Libya? It was largely achieved by two aspects: first, it was legal; and secondly, it had the support of the Libyan people. Further to the previous question, however, will my right hon. Friend now use it as an illustration to persuade permanent members of the Security Council, such as Russia and China, that a well conducted intervention can be successfully used to restrain autocrats in countries such as Syria?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. Everyone should have misgivings about such operations, and one should never have the naive belief that they are easy or that everything is going to go to plan. That very rarely happens, and we should always be hard-headed and careful about such things. We should also respect the fact that this is not done—this is not completed yet.
Also, I think that we should be very cautious about trying to draw up a new doctrine, because it seems to me that as soon as a new doctrine is established, a case comes up that flies completely in its face, but I do hope that other members of the Security Council will see that there has been success in removing a dictator, and in giving that country a chance of peaceful and democratic progress, which will be good for the world.
By Jonathan Isaby
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Paul has already covered the row yesterday afternoon between Tory MP and 1922 Committee Secretary, Mark Pritchard, and the Government Whips' Office and their attempt to persuade him to withdraw his motion proposing an outright ban on wild animals from circuses.
So what was the substance of the debate?
Pritchard's motion proposed directing "the Government to use its powers under section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to introduce a regulation banning the use of all wild animals in circuses to take effect by 1 July 2012." but the Government was not at all happy about that, as Defra Minister, James Paice, was forced to explain:
"We had a new set of advice from our lawyers and we had to use that in coming to our view. It clearly indicated that there were serious risks of a legal challenge should we opt for an outright ban, despite our being minded to do so. I will return to the detail of those legalities because that has occupied much of the afternoon’s debate, but it is for that reason and in the interest of avoiding a long judicial process that we concluded that the quickest way to reduce and, we hoped, eliminate cruelty to wild animals in our circuses would be a robust licensing system, which might well result in circuses deciding to stop keeping such animals."
"If the House were to approve the motion, the Government would have to respect that, but as a Minister I am duty bound to lay before it the possible consequences—I stress the word “possible”—of that decision not only for the Government, but for the House, taxpayers and possibly the animals that we are concerned about... The legal advice we have received on section 12 of the 2006 Act is that although it could be used as the basis for a total ban, it is highly likely that we would be challenged on the basis that an outright ban was a disproportionate measure for improving welfare in circuses.
But Mark Pritchard was indefatigable in his defence of his proposal:
"Today, this country has three travelling circuses with a total of 39 wild animals, including zebras, tigers, lions and camels. Until the recent exposure of the brutality with which Annie the elephant was treated, there were also elephants, but there are now no elephants in circuses in England... The trouble with the Government’s proposed licensing scheme is that it would create a new generation of animals that could be imported. It would give a green light to new imports. We might not have any elephants left in our circuses now, but we would certainly have some if the new licensing regime came into effect. My concern is shared by 92% of the public, and there are very few public policy areas that attract that support. I am concerned about the cruel and cramped conditions in the housing and transportation of these wild animals. Countries including Singapore, Bolivia, Israel and Hungary have banned the use of wild animals in circuses. Many of those circuses are commercially successful.
By Tim Montgomerie
"That this House recalls with deep sorrow, this week 20 years ago, the cowardly murder of Ian Gow, the then hon. Member for Eastbourne, a former Minister of The Crown and Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, when, in the early hours of 30 July 1990, a device planted by the Provisional IRA exploded beneath his car at the family home in Hankham, East Sussex, cruelly depriving the House of Commons of a man of integrity and one of its most principled, caring and generous parliamentarians, and the United Kingdom of a genuinely courageous politician, who was fearless in his defence of the nation; and resolves this day, to honour the memory of Ian Gow and to strive to uphold the love of country that this truly honourable Member dedicated his life to serving."
The following MPs have signed the EDM from all parties:
A wonderful initiative that, like Andrew's campaign for three Union flags to be flown over Parliament, deserves to succeed.
The text of Andrew's full 'Dear Colleague' letter from 30th July is pasted below:
It is twenty years ago today, that our friend and colleague, Ian Gow, was cruelly murdered by the Provisional I.R.A.
Many of us remember that day with great sorrow.
Ian’s assassination was a horrific crime against a man of enormous integrity who was never afraid to stand firm for what he truly believed to be right.
His loss deprived the House of one of its finest parliamentarians and Ian paid the ultimate sacrifice for being true to his principles.
The late Ian Gow T.D. M.P. served as a Member of Parliament from 1974-1990, representing the Eastbourne constituency, having previously served in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces in Northern Ireland, Germany and Malaya. He was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher from 1979 to 1983, after which he became a Minister of the Crown until 1985. He later became Chairman of the Conservative Backbench Northern Ireland Committee.
On the 30th July 1990, an explosive device was placed under his car parked outside his family home in Hankham, East Sussex. He tragically died that day.
Earlier this week, I spoke on the floor of the House of Commons, to request that Mr. Speaker give consideration to allowing a permanent memorial in the House, in tribute to Ian Gow.
A shield already exists in the chamber of the House of Commons, above the main door in memory of the late Airey Neave, who died in similar circumstances to that of Ian, having also been targeted by terrorists. Similar recognition for Ian would I believe, be an appropriate tribute.
Ian’s widow, Dame Jane Whiteley, has stated that she would be “delighted and very proud” if this idea were to become a reality.
I wondered if you would be kind enough to indicate whether you would be willing to add your name in support of this idea?
A simple e-mail from you or a note to me via my office in reply, would be most welcome.
Thank you for taking the time to read this message.
With kind regards.
Andrew Rosindell M.P.
Member of Parliament for Romford"
Is there a more patriotic MP than Andrew Rosindell? When he's not campaigning to keep Gibraltar British... When he's not campaigning for a proper celebration of St George's Day... When he's not campaigning for a national holiday to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee... When he's not doing those things he is campaigning for three Union flags to fly across Parliament all year round. At the moment just one flag is flown from the Victoria Tower of Parliament but not from the other two flagpoles.
And he has now won that campaign thanks to the Speaker, John Bercow.
Andrew Rosindell: "On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to my point of order on 12 November 2008 to Speaker Martin, my subsequent point of order on 12 November this year, to your good self, Sir, and my general comments and remarks over the eight and a half years that I have been a Member regarding the flying of the Union flag-the flag of our country-from the flagpoles on the parliamentary estate, will you now give a progress report and explain what is going to happen in the future on this matter?"
John Bercow: "I am grateful to the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) for his point of order and, indeed, for giving me advance notice of it, and I am very happy to provide the progress report that he seeks. He should be aware and the House is now informed that the Chair of the Administration Committee wrote to me on 25 November to inform me that
"the Administration Committee considered a paper from the Parliamentary Director of Estates on flag flying on the Parliamentary Estate."
Following a discussion of this important matter, the Committee agreed to recommend to me that
"flags should be flown on all three flagpoles on the Estate every day of the year, taking account of the usual ceremonial occasions."
The Chair of the Administration Committee, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Doran), helpfully pointed out to me in the letter:
"This would bring Parliament into line with other Whitehall departments. In the case of the Victoria Tower, agreement would be necessary with the House of Lords."
I wrote back to the hon. Gentleman on 30 November, agreeing to his recommendations, including those relating to shape, dimensions and a change to "three by five", which I know will be of close interest to the House. I hope that the hon. Member for Romford feels a proper sense of triumph at what he has achieved in this matter, which he has, as he indicated, pursued over a lengthy period with, if I may say, a tenacity reminiscent of a Staffordshire bull terrier."
January 6th update:
Yesterday, Lord Mandelson announced to the House of Lords:
"2012 will be a landmark year for Her Majesty, Britain and the Commonwealth. Queen Victoria is the only British monarch to have celebrated a Diamond Jubilee. However modestly our present Queen might approach this celebration, I know that people across the whole country will want the chance to recognise this remarkable achievement... We are currently planning a series of fitting events to enable communities all over the country to mark the Diamond Jubilee. Although we are still in the early stages of organisation, I can confirm to the House that these celebrations will take place around the first week of June 2012. In honour of Her Majesty, we will create a special Diamond Jubilee weekend, moving the late May bank holiday to Monday 4 June, and adding an extra bank holiday on Tuesday 5 June."
Who could have predicted that Lord Mandelson would take a law proposed by Andrew Rosindell and adopt it as government policy?
"That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for a national public holiday marking the Queen’s diamond jubilee in 2012 and to establish a framework to ensure that the United Kingdom, its overseas territories and Crown dependencies appropriately commemorate this occasion; and for connected purposes."
Pasted below is the full text of Mr Rosindell's speech:
"On 6 February 1952, following the passing of His Majesty King George VI, Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II. That was nearly 58 years ago, so today, our nation can begin to look ahead to 2012—the year in which, God willing, we will be able to celebrate Her Majesty’s 60th year as Queen and the diamond jubilee of her reign. Of course, 2012 is already the year in which the eyes of every nation and billions of people across the globe will be watching Britain, as we stage the Olympic games here in London. It will undoubtedly be a year in which to celebrate great sporting achievements, but we in these islands will have an ever greater achievement to celebrate as another page in the history of our nation is reached. The 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne will be a momentous occasion, making Her Majesty the second longest reigning monarch, not only since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, but ever to reign over any part of the British isles.
Over the past decades, Her Majesty has witnessed many historic changes throughout her realms and across the world. Under her watchful eye, we have witnessed the evolution of the British empire into the Commonwealth of nations; the cold war, the collapse of communism and the fall of the Berlin wall; the liberation of the Falkland Islands and the handing over of Hong Kong to China. Her Majesty has reigned during times of enormous social and economic change in Britain, with 12 Prime Ministers holding office and 14 general elections—with another one expected—taking place during her long, eventful and distinguished reign. Throughout all those years, the one reassuring constant has been the sovereign herself. Queen Elizabeth II has been a firm hand on the tiller of our nation; Her Majesty has been a shining beacon to nations around the world as to how a modern constitutional monarchy should conduct itself. No other monarch could have propelled this country to such great success, and the Queen is rightly beloved by all her people.
Here are some interesting answers from the latest edition of Hansard.
Shadow Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary David Willetts asked a question that couldn't be answered:
"Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many EU citizens working in the UK paid sufficient national insurance contributions to earn a potential entitlement to the state pension in each year since 1997. 
National Insurance is effectively income tax - especially as we have no guarantee that we will see the benefit of our contributions when we retire. It is staggering that the Government doesn't know how much it takes from British subjects specifically.
Home Office questions came around yesterday.
The most interesting questions were about the holding of DNA samples. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith outlined the Government's position:
"The national DNA database plays a key role in catching criminals, including many years after they might think that they have got away with their crime, eliminating the innocent from investigations, and focusing the direction of inquiries. In 2007-08, 17,614 crimes were detected in which a DNA match was available. Those included 83 homicides and 184 rapes. In addition, there were a further 15,420 detections resulting from the original case involving the DNA match. Those occur when, for example, a suspect, on being presented with DNA evidence linking him to one offence, confesses to further offences.
The specific ruling [by the European Court of Human Rights] was on a blanket policy of retention of the fingerprints and DNA of those who had been arrested but not convicted, or against whom no further action was being taken. The Court also indicated that it agreed with the Government that the retention of fingerprint and DNA data
“pursues the legitimate purpose of the detection, and therefore, prevention of crime”.
I announced in December our intention to remove all those aged under 10 from the database. That has now been carried out. When we bring forward proposals to change the blanket approach to retention, we will give particular consideration to those aged under 18, and to how the protection of the public can be balanced with fairness to the individual."
Wells MP David Heathcoat-Amory posed a question on civil liberties:
"What does the Secretary of State say to Mr. Daniel Baker, a constituent of mine who was a victim of mistaken identity? He was never charged with any crime and is entirely innocent, but the police are retaining his DNA against his wishes. When will the Secretary of State start recognising the liberties of the individual, and stop regarding everyone in the country as a suspect?
Jacqui Smith: I think that the case study that I cited a minute ago identified some of the important benefits of DNA retention. There are real-life cases in which people have been made safer by the retention of DNA post-arrest. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman’s constituent can apply to the police force, in exceptional circumstances. That is why— [Interruption.] That is why I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will look closely at our proposals for a more proportionate way of dealing with the retention policy."
The Home Secretary had described a case where a man arrrested for violent disorder was released without charge. However, a DNA sample was taken. Several months later a rape occured. Skin taken from below the victim's fingernails was matched to this man's sample, and he is now in prison.
Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling went with the same issue:
"This is a very straightforward and simple issue. It is, right now, illegal to store the DNA of innocent people over long periods on the DNA database, but as of today, the Government are still doing that. Why?
Jacqui Smith: I have made it very clear to the hon. Gentleman that we have looked in detail at the judgment in the case of S and Marper and we will bring forward proposals very soon—and when we do so, I hope that Opposition Members will engage with them with slightly more sophistication than they have done today.
Chris Grayling: But this is illegal now, today. Furthermore, it is a principle in our society that people are innocent until proven guilty. This Government have a habit of throwing away many principles in this society, but that is one that should be sacrosanct. In the case of the DNA database, however, they appear happy to abandon the principle. They are also happy to store the data of babies and children. Their actions are clearly morally and legally wrong. Why will they not just stop keeping this data illegally, right now, today? Why will they not stop now?
Jacqui Smith: As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a period of time during which, quite rightly and reasonably—not least given that the Government’s approach to the retention of data was upheld in the UK courts—there is consideration and proposals are brought forward. That is what the Government are doing, and he obviously was not listening when I said that no DNA of children under the age of 10 is kept on DNA databases now."
The Government has proven itself utterly inept at holding people's personal details, but I don't have any other objections to them holding DNA samples for individuals. Indeed it would seem to have lots of advantages. I suppose one other worry is that most of us are not in a position to question the authority of scientists who assure us that DNA samples match - something I always think of when someone says they are in favour of the death penalty "when there's no doubt".
Romford MP and Shadow Home Affairs Minister Andrew Rosindell introduced his Teaching of British History in Schools Bill yesterday. It would make British history a core subject in schools at all ages.
Mr Rosindell told the Commons:
"Unlike in most European countries, the teaching of history is no longer compulsory in British schools after the age of 14, and evidence suggests that the history curriculum in our country is deeply flawed. The following findings from surveys conducted over the last few years offer some alarming insights into this matter. It was found that 70 per cent. of 11 to 18-year-olds did not know that Nelson’s flagship at the battle of Trafalgar was called HMS Victory. More than 20 per cent. of 16 to 24-year-olds thought that Britain had, at one stage, been conquered by the Germans, the Americans or the Spanish. Several children mistook Sir Winston Churchill for the first man to walk on the moon. He also joins King Richard the Lionheart and Florence Nightingale as being mistaken regularly by our youth as a creation of fiction.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) has previously highlighted, full participation in our nation is greatly aided by a thorough understanding of our heritage and tradition. The study of history helps children better to grasp their own identity, and reading history enables our younger generation to analyse and question the present by engaging and examining what has gone before. Knowledge of the history of our country is so important because it allows people to make informed decisions about the future of our nation. If our children do not know where they come from, how can they possibly move forward? By learning about the rich tapestry of British history, they can identify with the culture and society of modern Britain.
Over the past decade, the number of students reading history has fallen, from 35 per cent. of teenagers taking history at GCSE level in 1997 to 30 per cent. in 2007. This led Ofsted to claim last year that history was increasingly becoming an “endangered subject”. Indeed, Britain in particular is envied for its rich history, the knowledge of which we must cherish and hand down to future generations. Something is going wrong, however. Many pupils harbour a negative view of history by the age of 16. According to some universities, many of those who study the subject in higher education have very little knowledge of history prior to the 20th century.
It is Henry and Hitler who now dominate the history syllabus. Most pupils today would be able to recite the fate of Germany in the second world war and the tribulations of Henry VIII and his wives, but little else. World war two and the Tudor dynasty were, of course, significant events in our nation’s history, but to study them in isolation is not truly to understand the events that led to and followed them.
If we are to advance the cause of British history, we must not focus solely on England. Currently, the history curriculum sheds very little light on Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. British history should encompass all countries and all peoples of these isles, as well as those parts of the world in which Britain has had a significant input—including those whose people still identify themselves as British, such as in Her Majesty’s overseas territories and Crown dependencies.
A proper appreciation of our nation’s history is an important factor in forging national cohesion. It would combat the current failure of some pockets of our youth to engage with society and enlighten them as to the impact of the key factors that have shaped our nation over the centuries. History has always been a great contributor to British democracy and has allowed us to conduct a pluralistic analysis of the status quo."
The bill will be read a second time on Friday 16 October.
Perhaps Mr Rosindell will be accused of jingoism, or worse. That would be unfair. He is a consistent enthusiast for Britain, without ever giving the impression that he thinks ill of other countries or people. I personally regret taking Geography instead of History for GCSE (who cares about ox-bow lakes?!), and wish I had been given a better grounding in what has made our nation tick.
The Curriculum is currently too burdensome, but that doesn't mean the next Tory Government should not add any requirements. As long as the overall impact is a (big) reduction in the demands made on teachers, we can well afford to expect that kids learn about their heritage. Indeed we can't afford them not to do so.
The United Kingdom is one of the greatest nations of all time. How sad that so many of us grow up knowing far too little about it.
Herewith some interesting recent early day motions.
Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff put down EDM 676 to call on the Government to make business rate relief for small businesses automatic:
"That this House notes with concern that business rate relief is not taken up by over half of those small businesses eligible to claim it; further notes that as a result small businesses are losing out on saving up to £2,500 yearly; further notes that across the country around £400 million earmarked for rate relief to be paid to small businesses is returned to the Treasury; and calls on the Government to support the Small Business Rate Relief (Automatic Payment) Bill."
Mr Luff is promoting this Bill, backed by the Federation of Small Businesses. It was presented to Parliament on 21 January (there was no debate). In 2007 the Welsh Assembly made such payments automatic in Wales. This seems like a thoroughly worthwhile move.
Romford MP and Shadow Home Affairs Minister Andrew Rosindell is fan of the EDM medium. Number 705, which he tabled, refers to British relations with the Maori people:
"That this House is proud to join the people of New Zealand in celebrating Waitangi Day, their national day, on 6 February 2009, commemorating the historic signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, that marks the coming together of the Maori people and representatives of the British Crown; notes the importance of maintaining strong links between the United Kingdom and New Zealand; recognises the strong historic bond and shared heritage, longstanding trading relationships and deeply intertwined cultural, educational and military ties between the peoples of these two great allies and Commonwealth members who share Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State and Sovereign; and urges the Government to continue to foster and strengthen the special relationship that binds these two nations together."
There are a number of intriguing written answers in the latest edition of Hansard.
Shoreham & East Worthing MP (and Shadow Minister for Children) Tim Loughton uncovered some diplomatic buckpassing by the Government, through a question to the Olympics Minister:
"To ask the Minister for the Olympics if she will invite the Dalai Lama to attend the London 2012 Olympics. 
Tessa Jowell: Guests and dignitaries are invited to attend the Olympic Games by the International Olympic Committee and participating National Olympic Committees, and the Paralympic Games by the International Paralympic Committee and participating National Paralympic Committees."
Mid-Bedfordshire MP Nadine Dorries asked about fishing quotas:
"To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what proposals he has to make changes to the fishing quota system; and if he will make a statement. 
The UK is actively engaged with the European Commission's current activities to reform the Common Fisheries Policy, which will include consideration of the quota and fisheries access management systems. I have publicly signalled my intention that the UK should play a leading role in shaping this reform and the future of the CFP."
Entering a negotiation with no ideas whatsoever is a novel tactic.