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.
I wondered earlier this week here whether Labour MPs would use the Select Committee elections to make life difficult for David Cameron.
They didn't. Instead, they lined up behind the Conservative establishment candidates. Andrew Tyrie took the Treasury Select Committee; Richard Ottaway, Foreign Affairs (a big, big consolation prize, after his defeat in the 1922 Committee Chairmanship election); James Arbuthnot, Defence; Stephen Dorrell, Health; Tim Yeo, Climate Change. Anne McIntosh, who won the Environment Committee, leans towards the left of the Party.
I didn't, of course, see anyone cast a ballot paper. But unless Conservative MPs turned out en masse to vote against the Party's right - an unlikely course of action, given the '22 Executive results - Liberal and Labour support for less spiky candidates provides the only comprehensible explanation of the results.
It would be unfair to view the victors as patsies. Tyrie, in particular, has a track record of independent-mindedness. But ask yourself whether Cameron Towers would prefer the winners to, say, Patrick Mercer at Defence or Peter Bone at Health (let alone Nadine) or Philip Hollobone at Climate Change, and there's only one answer.
Bernard Jenkin and Chris Chope are both seen as men of the right. But Chope's used the Chamber to launch independent-minded assaults on establishment causes, and it's noticeable that he lost out in the tussle for the Public Administration Committee Chairmanship.
John Whittingdale at Culture and Greg Knight at Procedure, both No Turning Back Group stalwarts, are in unopposed. Graham Stuart won what should have been, even if it wasn't, a close-fought battle for the Education Committee.
As most readers know, the Select Committee Chairmanships have been carved out among the parties, and tomorrow's elections for the posts will be cross-party. So Conservative MPs, for example, can vote for Labour candidates, and vice-versa. Jonathan has a list of those standing here.
A question follows: on what basis will Labour MPs vote for the Conservative candidates? Answer: it depends. Some will support the best candidate. Others will vote for the Conservative candidate seen to be the more left-wing of the two.
Such is the attachment on the Labour benches to climate change orthodoxy, for example, that large number of the Party's MPs are likely to line up behind Tim Yeo, the establishment candidate for the Energy and Climate Change committee.
In other cases, however, Labour MPs will surely ask: who's the candidate more likely to cause David Cameron trouble? Or, if they've a more elevated turn of mind: who's the candidate more likely to stand up for the legislature against the executive?
In some cases, it's hard to tell. For example, both candidates for the Treasury Select Committee Chairmanship, Michael Fallon and Andrew Tyrie, are independent-minded. But in others, it's easier to see who'd be more likely to give Downing Street a fit of the heebie-jeebies.
Step forward, then, Peter Bone - standing for the Chairmanship of the Health Select Committee - John Baron, contesting Foreign Affairs (Baron pursued Ministers energetically about Iraq during the last Parliament) and, in the Defence Select Committee poll, no fewer than three of the candidates: Julian Lewis, Patrick Mercer and, above all, Douglas Carswell (one half of the Carswell-Hannan "Cannon" dynamic duo).
If Carswell in particular wins (an unlikely event, but you never know), expect senior officials in the Ministry of Defence to start screaming and screaming, and be unable to stop...
So if any of the above are elected, take a long, hard look at the Labour benches for those responsible.
Official disclaimer: nothing in this article is to be read as an endorsement of any candidate, in any election, at any time, anywhere...
Yesterday saw Foreign Office questions.
Shadow Deputy Secretary of State for Wales David Jones and former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind both asked about Iran's nuclear ambitions:
"The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report of 19 February shows that Iran continues to refuse to suspend its proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities and has not granted the IAEA the access that it seeks as required by five UN Security Council resolutions. We, and the international community, will continue to press for Iran to fulfil its international obligations and restore confidence in its intentions.
Mr. Jones: Does the Secretary of State agree that while President Obama’s recent outreach to Iran is welcome, diplomatic overtures must be backed by a readiness on the part of the United States and the EU to impose such further sanctions as are necessary until such a time as Tehran can demonstrate to the unequivocal satisfaction of the UN inspectorate that it has abandoned its ambitions to develop a military nuclear capability?
David Miliband: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his enunciation of the policy, which I think has support across the House. It is the so-called dual-track policy, which is that we should seek to engage with Iran, that we should make it clear that we have no quarrel with the Iranian people and that the choice of Government in Iran should be a matter for them. However, whatever the Government in Iran, they need to abide by their international responsibilities. If they refuse to do so, there are costs associated with that decision.
The hon. Gentleman is right that there are responsibilities on the EU and the US, but the responsibilities go wider. The international coalition, which is right to fear an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, goes wider than the EU and the US. Russia, China and the Gulf states have responsibilities, too, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would want to join me in working to ensure that they are part of a global coalition against an Iranian nuclear weapons programme.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind: With North Korea, it has proved useful to include its neighbours, Japan and South Korea, in the negotiations to discourage it from going down the nuclear weapons route. Should not Iran’s neighbours, particularly Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, be invited by the Security Council to join the negotiations over Iran, especially as the Iranians need to realise that those three countries might themselves go nuclear if Iran ends up as a nuclear weapons state?
David Miliband: Only up to a point. The multilateral negotiations are not being conducted under a UN framework—the E3 plus 3 is not a UN body, but it is recognised to have a global coalition behind it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman might have an important point, which was at the heart of the E3 plus 3 offer agreed under my chairmanship last May in London. It concerns what will happen in the future if Iran ceases its nuclear weapons programme or restores the confidence of the international community that it does not have a nuclear weapons programme. There are important regional political issues about Iran’s legitimate interests in the region, but no discussion of those issues can take place without the involvement of the countries that he has mentioned."
There are a handful of interesting answers in the latest Hansard.
Buckingham MP John Bercow reminded the useful idiots that Cuba is not Paradise, but rather a dystopian nightmare:
"John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received of the number of people convicted of the crime of social dangerousness in Cuba in each of the last five years. 
The Cuban government does not publish statistics on the number of people convicted on these grounds, but the non-governmental Cuban commission for human rights and national reconciliation, estimates that there are currently between 3,000 and 5,000 people in prison in Cuba convicted of “pre-criminal social dangerousness.”
Our embassy in Havana has requested these figures from the Cuban authorities and I will write if we receive a reply."
Vale of York MP and Shadow DEFRA Minister Anne McIntosh introduced a Private Member's Bill yesterday, about shoplifting.
Miss McIntosh told the House:
"The Bill has cross-party support and I am grateful to my co-sponsors for their support. Organisations representing retailers, including the British Retail Consortium, the Association of Convenience Stores and the Federation of Small Businesses, are supportive of the work that I am doing and welcome the Bill. I am delighted that the Magistrates Association also supports the Bill and that the Justice Secretary has taken the opportunity to meet many of the organisations concerned.
Crimes against business cost the UK economy £19 billion every year according to the British Chambers of Commerce. The cost to small business of shoplifting alone in the past 12 months ran to £1 billion according to the Federation of Small Businesses. In 2007-08, more than 290,000 incidents of shop theft were recorded, and, of course, there might have been many more.
In the latest edition of Hansard there are some more interesting written answers.
Shadow DEFRA minister Anne McIntosh wanted to know about the impact of the recession on giving to churches:
"To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners what assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the effect of the current economic climate on levels of giving to parishes (a) via the collection plate and (b) otherwise; and if he will make a statement. 
Sir Stuart Bell: Over the last 30 years church members have increased giving as a proportion of net income from 1 per cent. to over 3 per cent., so there is still some way to go to achieve General Synod’s 5 per cent. target. Clearly church members will, like everyone else be affected by the present economic difficulties and the dioceses and Archbishops’ Council are monitoring the situation closely. The high proportion who give by regular standing order provides some measure of resilience, but these are uncertain times, particularly with other sources of Church income also under pressure."
Shadow Justice Secretary and Shadow Attorney General Dominic Grieve asked about the powers of the Electoral Commission:
"To ask the hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission what administrative financial penalties may be levied by the Electoral Commission. 
Sir Peter Viggers: The Electoral Commission has powers to issue civil penalties under section 147 of the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) where a relevant organisation is late in delivering a statutory report to the Commission. The amount of the civil penalty is calculated in accordance with subsection 3 of section 147, and depends on how late the relevant information is provided to the Commission.
The Electoral Commission is also able to apply to a magistrates court to order the forfeiture of an amount equal to the value of a donation that has been accepted by a registered party or regulated donee, if the donation was impermissible or a court is satisfied that the true amount of a donation was intentionally concealed."
Shadow Minister for Children Tim Loughton has tabled EDM 2542, on a fantastically unimportant issue:
"JOHN SERGEANT AND STRICTLY COME DANCING20.11.2008
That this House is devastated by the circumstances surrounding John Sergeant's departure from Strictly Come Dancing; notes that the programme is a highly popular light entertainment show aimed at entertaining the licence fee paying public, not a serious talent show to launch `wannabes' on a dancing career; further notes that a key component of the programme is to encourage viewers to exercise a meaningful vote and pay for that privilege and to ignore the wishes of the voting public in this way undermines the whole point of voting; and calls on the BBC to reinstate John Sergeant on the show immediately and for the veteran political commentator, turned entertainingly dodgy dancer, to dust down his sequins, return to the dance floor and manfully face the music until the British public, or jury, decides otherwise."
At the time of writing, only Mr Loughton's Conservative colleague Peter Bottomley has also signed. In fairness to them, there is a place for levity in EDMs.
Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb has tabled a rather more worthwhile one in EDM 2540:
"INTERNATIONAL PARLIAMENTARY CONFERENCE ON AID EFFECTIVENESS19.11.2008
That this House congratulates and commends the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK branch on its timely International Parliamentary Conference held on 17th to 21st November 2008 in the Palace of Westminster for 92 colleagues from across the Commonwealth and beyond on the scrutiny of the effectiveness of international aid; notes that following the Accra High Level Forum in September 2008, the conference debated the vital role of parliamentarians in donor and partner legislatures in holding their executives to account on international aid effectiveness and commitments made under the Paris Declaration in 2005; further notes that the conference discussed the need to enhance the capacity of partner parliaments to undertake more effective scrutiny; and recognises an outreach responsibility within this Parliament to assist in strengthening the capacity of partner parliaments."
Anne McIntosh, Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is interested in landfill, as evidenced by the following written answer:
"Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what progress he has made to meeting the target to complete the process of closing all landfills by 2009 that will not meet the Landfill Directive requirements. 
Jane Kennedy: Implementation of the landfill directive has so far resulted in a reduction in the number of permitted landfill sites in England and Wales from around 2,600 to 560 sites that continue to operate.
closing by July 2009 in accordance with a plan agreed with the Environment Agency (10);
subject to outstanding appeals against the refusal of a landfill permit application (25); or
still being considered following further investigation as to their fulfilment of the landfill directive requirements (75)."
That's a good question from Miss McIntosh. Disagreements about climate change will go on and on, but there's a lot more to the environment than just that. How we dispose of our waste - and how we reduce the amount we produce in the first place - is massively important. (Which is not to say it necessarily has no climate change implications.) Could it even be an area of consensus for ConservativeHome readers?!