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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4pm update: People's Pledge sources tells me that Anne Marie Morris, the MP for Newton Abbot has come out in support of a referendum.
Mike Freer, the MP for Finchley and Golders Green, has also backed a referendum. This is significant because Freer was not one of the 81 rebels, but has now come round to the view that Britain should have an in/out European referendum.
These two new additions to the list of MPs supporting the People's Pledge means 68 MPs - from several parties - back a referendum.
Following on from their successful referendum campaign in Thurrock - turnout was higher than in the recent local elections - The People's Pledge campaign have announced further referendums, to be held in 3 contiguous seats. The campaign has announced a shortlist of 39 seats, grouped in 13 contiguous triples, from different regions, from which one triplet will be chosen in the next few days, with a polling date set for late July.
By Joseph Willits
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Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, James Brokenshire MP, has answered questions from four Tory MPs about the Government's plans to combat metal theft. Brokenshire said that "the Home Office is discussing with other Departments what legislative changes are necessary to assist enforcement agencies and deter offenders". Some of the measures to do so, he said, would include "introducing a new licence regime for scrap metal dealers and prohibiting cash payments" and establishing a "metal theft taskforce" together with the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Responding to a question from Gravesham MP Adam Holloway about the financial implications of metal theft, Brokenshire said the cost could be "anywhere between £220 million and £777 million per annum". Holloway asked whether there was "any argument for seizing the entire inventories of metal dealers found to be purchasing what are effectively stolen goods". Brokenshire confirmed that this was one of the reasons for a new taskforce, "to inform intelligence and ensure that those responsible for such crimes are brought to justice".
“Before becoming a Member, I was a schoolteacher, and I intend to champion the issues of school funding, deprivation and exclusions. I am delighted to have been called to speak in the debate on poverty because although I represent a large rural constituency I was brought up in a neighbouring constituency of Hull as a proud comprehensive boy, and I am pleased to say that there are two comprehensive boys now in Parliament, one on each side—[ Interruption. ] I meant two Hull comprehensive boys. I have taught in some of the most deprived schools in Hull, so the issues of child poverty and deprivation are dear to me.
“In my time in Parliament I wish to champion the cause of excluded children, who under the last two Governments—and perhaps also under previous Governments—have not received the attention that they deserve. In particular, children who receive free school meals are three times more likely to be excluded from school. As a practitioner in the last few years, I know that we had fine words from the previous Government, but we were hamstrung in schools by a commitment to social inclusion. The social inclusion agenda was introduced for good reasons, but it had the opposite effect to that intended in secondary schools, because it tied the hands of schoolteachers who wanted to deal with discipline, which is at the core of many of the problems we face in schools today. I do not have time to go into great detail today, but I intend to champion the cause of excluded children in the future. We are moving in the right direction with the pupil premium, but we must accept that dealing with excluded children is expensive. We need to follow the examples of excellent practice around the country and make progress on this issue.”
“I want to talk about the educational attainment levels of looked-after children in our country. This is about poverty on an amazing scale—educational poverty. Incredibly, Sir Donald Thompson, in his own maiden speech some 31 years ago, talked about the attainment levels of children through education back then. Although the percentage of year 11 looked-after children who achieve five A* to C grades at GCSE has doubled in the past 10 years, it is incredibly sad that that number still only accounts for 14% of them. Nationally, more than 13% of our looked-after children still miss more than 25 days of schooling, sometimes because of exclusions. A third of previously looked-after children are not in education, employment or training at the age of 19. A total of 22% of persistent young offenders were being looked after by social services, and a staggering further 27% had been looked after previously.
“Earlier, a colleague talked about aspiration. In 2005, a research report by the Frank Buttle Trust showed that only one care leaver in every 100 children goes to university—a staggering 1%. In 2008, “Care Matters”, the ministerial stock-take report by the then Department of Children, Schools and Families, showed that 7% of care leavers went to university. Whatever the current figure is—whether it is 1% or 7%—it compares with 43% of all other children. Frankly, that is not good enough.
“In Calderdale, where I have spent the past three years as lead member for children’s services, I am glad to say that our looked-after children do significantly better than the national picture. Sadly, however, it is still not good enough. We have a fabulous team in Calderdale who strive for excellence in attainment for our looked-after children. I am incredibly proud of two of the last things that I did as lead member before coming to this House. First, I secured money to fund a virtual head teacher for our looked-after children in Calderdale. In itself that is not unusual, but it is an important and significant step forward for those children. Secondly, under the superb leadership of Councillor Stephen Baines, the Conservative leader of Calderdale council, last year we became only the second authority in the United Kingdom, after Rotherham, to introduce a virtual library so that every child under the age of five gets a free book monthly. That is unusual in itself, but in conjunction with the facilities at Sure Start children’s centres, where parents who cannot read are also taught to do so, it is a perfect way of starting to break the cycle of poverty.”