By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.
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
Follow Matthew on Twitter.
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
Of the Parliamentary groupings founded by MPs after the 2010 general election, the 2020 group is perhaps the least understood. Channel 4's Michael Crick and the FT (£) covered its launch during conference last year. Those two reports implied the 2020 group was a centre-left grouping pre-occupied with "countering the rise of the right". The 2020 is not about bashing the right. It's about upholding the ideas and optimism of the Cameron leadership era, and ensuring they can help inspire a majority Conservative government. In this profile, I will take a closer look at the 2020, its aims, role, and plans for the future.
Origins of the Group:
The 2020 was founded in Autumn 2011 by Greg Barker, the Minister of State for Climate Change, Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-upon-Avon), and George Freeman (Mid Norfolk), with Claire Perry (Devizes) joining soon after. It was launched at conference last year.
Members of the group (see below) are drawn from across the ideological spectrum (one member told me the 2020 tries to "reject the stale orthodoxies and dogmas of the old left versus right split in the Tory Party"), but members are united in wanting to develop conservatism and what the Party might look like in 2020. Founder George Freeman said: "The 2020 was set up as a forum to help the new Conservative generation define a modern progressive Conservatism for our times. What is the DNA that unites this diverse new generation? What are the long term social, economic, and technological changes that will shape our world? By tackling these and related questions we hope to help Conservatives define and dominate the radical centre ground of British politics."
Fellow founder Greg Barker explained another aspect of 2020's mission: "There's a strong strain of optimism that ran through the early Cameron message, and that message of change, hope and optimism, sometimes because of austerity, gets overshadowed, and we see ourselves as the guardians of that message".
By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter
Yesterday on ConservativeHome Ruth Lea questioned the continuation of UK aid to India. Her sceptical position is shared by most Britons. By 60% to 14% voters told YouGov that aid spending should be switched to countries with greater needs.
In a letter to The Telegraph Tory MPs Bob Blackman, William Cash, Stephen Hammond, Richard Harrington, Pauline Latham and Jeremy Lefroy have come to its defence (my emphasis):
"SIR – In the debate about British aid to India, we believe our programme in India is helping to rebuild lives and is also in Britain’s long-term interest. While it is true that India is a growing economic force, it is also home to a third of the world’s very poorest people. It is right for Britain to work with the Indian government to help tackle this dire poverty.
It is also right to ensure that our aid is targeted effectively. We welcome the Coalition Government’s radical overhaul of the Department for International Development’s aid programme to India: freezing the amount spent and targeting it at three of the poorest states. India is a vital strategic ally with whom we share extensive connections; more than 1.6 million British Indians live here. With India we share democracy, the English language and trade links that amount to billions of pounds. India will be an essential partner if we are to rebalance our economy and improve human rights around the globe.
Providing short-term support to ensure people in India can eat and live should not be contentious. We do not believe our aid programme should continue indefinitely, but now isn’t the time to turn our backs."
I certainly agree. DFID notes that "a third of the world's poorest people (living on less than 80p a day) live in India – more than in sub-Saharan Africa". Just because the Indian government has the wrong spending priorities, the poor citizens of its country should not suffer.
Other signatories include a number of business people plus Lord Popat of Conservative Friends of India and Baroness Jenkin of Conservative Friends of International Development.
The House of Commons returned yesterday and got stuck into Defence questions.
Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox asked about Afghanistan:
"The general consensus on Afghanistan in the House has put the United Kingdom in a strong position in NATO. Does the Secretary of State agree that, if there is to be further British deployment in Afghanistan, four criteria must be met? First, there must be a clear and achievable political mission to support the military mission, as was the case with the surge in Iraq, but that does not currently exist in Afghanistan. Secondly, governance in Afghanistan, including widespread corruption, must be tackled because it is undermining our efforts. Thirdly, as has been said, all NATO allies should be asked to take a fairer share because too many are shamefully failing to do that. Fourthly, any increase in troop numbers must be matched by a proportionate and appropriate increase in equipment such as helicopters and armoured vehicles.
Mr. Hutton: I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman has said. We would not deploy additional forces to Afghanistan unless they had the right equipment to do their job properly. He has rightly drawn attention to the low number of helicopters that are available to support ISAF. We are working on that, as are our NATO partners and allies. The French-UK helicopter initiative is a small step in the right direction—it has yet to produce significant new assets but I hope that it will do soon.
Although I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said, I caution him about drawing too many parallels between Iraq and Afghanistan. They are two very different countries, with very different security situations.
Dr. Fox: The Secretary of State will know that, over the weekend, reports in the press gave detailed information about the life-changing injuries that some of our troops in Afghanistan have sustained. Will he take the opportunity, relatively early in his time in office, to review the way in which the Ministry of Defence publishes statistics, so that we can have a full and transparent picture of the sacrifices that are being made on our behalf? The British public, our armed forces and their families deserve no less, and are far more able to deal with unpleasant truth than with what many may perceive as half-truths and evasions.
Mr. Hutton: I agree that transparency in the figures is important. Every fortnight, we publish a series of figures, which show the extent of injuries and wounds to service personnel in active theatres. It is not therefore fair or reasonable to criticise the MOD for failing to provide an accurate scorecard on what is happening. We do not have a category of “life-changing injuries”. Neither the statisticians nor the services have identified that as a meaningful definition. However, we publish comprehensive, fortnightly data, which deal with the extent of injuries and wounds. I am happy to draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to that, if he wishes."
Here is the latest batch of interesting written answers from the House of Commons.
Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions Andrew Selous had a written reminder that ministers are supposed to make big announcements to Parliament first when it is in session - a rule that they in fact breach on a spectacularly frequent basis:
"To ask the Leader of the House what recent discussions she has had with Ministerial colleagues on the criteria to be used in deciding whether an announcement should be made by means of an Oral Statement. 
Chris Bryant: My right hon. and learned Friend and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues when deciding whether an oral statement should be made to announce Government policy. This is done against the general principle set out in the Ministerial Code that when Parliament is in Session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance, in Parliament, and taking into account the importance of the issue and the other business before the House."
The answer to Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt also serves as a reminder - that the Church of England is responsible for much of our architectural heritage:
"To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners how many church buildings are listed. 
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."
Yesterday the House of Commons held its annual fisheries debate. The Government was led by a junior minister - Huw Irranca-Davies, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Without casting aspersions about his ability, it seems odd that the debate was not led by Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State.
Mr Irranca-Davies's shadow is Bill Wiggin. He made an impressive contribution:
"The Minister has just returned from negotiations in Brussels. I recognise that the parliamentary time available for this important debate is limited, but it would have been helpful to Members to have had a little more time in which to digest the decisions that have been made in the past couple of days and to consider the decisions that will be made next week in the second round of the EU-Norway negotiations.
The revisions of the cod recovery plan that were decided yesterday are an encouraging step in the right direction. Shifting the focus away from Brussels and towards local solutions to reduce cod mortality by 25 per cent. is good for the industry and the environment. We have seen in Scotland the progress that can be made by taking a more flexible approach that rewards fishermen. I urge the Minister, when he returns to Brussels in four weeks’ time, to set the 2009 quotas for our fishing fleet and to press for more flexibility in the common fisheries policy and for quota levels and days at sea that reflect that.
There are so many conflicts between the Commission’s proposals, the views of the scientists it relies upon and the experiences and views of our fishermen on the stocks that they see. These will remain unresolved until some progress is made on understanding what is in our seas. The Commission is calling for a 25 per cent. cut to cod quota, but over the past three years, vast quantities of cod have been discarded. According to the Government’s own figures, between 2005 and 2007 almost 5 million cod were discarded by English and Welsh vessels in the North sea and a further 10 million from Scottish vessels. Annual discard rates have ranged from 40.6 per cent. to 83.6 per cent.—that is over four times more fish thrown back dead than landed."
Would anyone care to defend the Common Fisheries Policy?