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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My series profiling the backbench groups of Tory MPs has usually featured groups with general ideological goals. Groups representing the traditional right or Thatcherite wing of the Party cannot be said to focus on a single area of political life. Nor can newer groups like the Free Enterprise Group, or the 2020 Conservatives. However, Fresh Start, the subject of this profile, is focused on one big area of politics: Europe.
Origins of Fresh Start
Fresh Start was formed before the summer recess in 2011, and formally launched in September last year, at an event to which all Conservative MPs were invited. Anthony Browne, in his ConservativeHome column, reported on the launch of Fresh Start at the time:
"By one count there were 104 Conservative MPs; another put it at 120 – twice the total number of Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons. Either way, it was standing room only in the Thatcher Room in Portcullis House last night, as much of the parliamentary Conservative party (and the odd hanger-on like me) met to discuss Britain’s way forward with the European Union."
The founders are Andrea Leadsom, Chris Heaton-Harris, and George Eustice, all 2010 intake members:
By Jonathan Isaby
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I have already covered Conor Burns' sideswipe at Lord Heseltine from the debate on Lords reform, but what else happened during the debate?
Overall, one got the impression that (with a few exceptions) the Conservative benches were highly sceptical about an elected second chamber - including many who are usually deemed to be supporters of the Government.
Later in his speech, Conor Burns spoke in favour of the status quo - ie a fully appointed chamber - and then considered what parties had promised in their manifestos:
"I wish to deal briefly with the argument that reform was in every party’s manifesto. It was, to some degree, and the Liberal Democrats, who had the most pro-reform manifesto commitment, got 23% of the vote in the general election. Labour, which was slightly more lukewarm, got 29%, and the Conservatives, who were the most lukewarm, got 36%. There is almost an argument that if we want to do things on the basis of what was in the manifestos, we should remember that the most people voted for the party that was most lukewarm on the issue. We have to ask ourselves, as at the time of Maastricht, when all three Front-Bench teams are united on something, how do those who dissent make their view known?
By Jonathan Isaby
"The Chancellor's excellent fiscal policy is in safe hands but, sadly, monetary policy is not. The good work done by the Budget will be threatened by monetary policy. We all know that the Bank of England has let inflation out of the box. It has lost control of inflation. Consumer prices index inflation is now 4.4%, and retail prices index inflation, which many people feel is a truer measure of the cost of living, is now 5.5%. Too many letters have been sent to the Chancellor by the Governor of the Bank of England explaining why, yet again, he and the Monetary Policy Committee have missed the inflation target.
"Our higher-than-expected inflation has had the following consequences. Our debt interest payments are £4.6 billion higher than forecast in November for the simple reason that inflation has fed through to gilts, one third of which are index linked. We have also seen increases in the spending totals for social security and public sector pensions. This has led to an overshoot in the public sector borrowing figure, not for this year but for next year, of £4 billion. For 2012, there will be an overshoot of between £10 billion and £12 billion on the borrowing numbers that we forecast last autumn.
"Higher inflation has another pernicious consequence. It will make cuts in public spending deeper, assuming that the Chancellor sticks to his cash totals, which I have every confidence he will. The Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast that average earnings will not grow faster than inflation until 2013, but the real worry in the OBR report is that inflation will not be tamed, and that the Bank of England does not tighten monetary policy in such a way as to get inflation under control. The report sets out a very gloomy scenario. It is that, in 2012-13, inflation could be stubbornly trading at around 4%. In those circumstances, real earnings would need to tick up. They will tick up, and there will be upward pressure at that stage for the Bank to jack up interest rates.
"According to the OBR's gloomy scenario, it could be as bad as having a 6% base rate by 2013. That would result in the mother of all squeezes-much worse than the one we are already contemplating. That is why I suggest that, when we look at the macro-economy, we pay more attention to what the Monetary Policy Committee is doing. It is the duty of this House to scrutinise exactly how the committee is ensuring that monetary policy works together with, and supports, fiscal policy. At the moment, it is not doing so."
By Jonathan Isaby
In advance of yesterday's debate on votes for prisoners, the man moving the motion, David Davis, made his case on ConHome here.
So below are some of the highlights from the contributions of other Conservatives during the debate.
NB A full breakdown of how all MPs voted is here.
South West Devon MP Gary Streeter said the motion invited people to address the "fundamental issue" of "whether or not we can pass our own laws":
"There comes a time when it is necessary to take a stand. I argue that right now, on this issue, it is right for this House, today, to assert its authority. The judgment of the ECHR in the Hirst case flies in the face of the original wording and purpose of the European convention on human rights, in which it was clearly intended that each signatory should have latitude in making decisions on the electoral franchise in that country.
"We decided in this country centuries ago that convicted criminals should not have the right to vote, and I support that decision. After all, the punitive element of incarceration is the denial for the time being of certain rights and privileges that our citizens enjoy. We decided long ago that in addition to surrendering their liberty, convicted criminals while in prison would also give up their right to vote. That was the case in 1953 when the treaty on human rights was signed, and it remains the case."
Attorney General Dominic Grieve set out the Government's position early in the debate:
"Ministers will abstain. The Government believe that the proper course of action will be to reflect on what has been said and think about what proposals to bring back to the House in the light of the debate. The Government are here to listen to the views of the House, which are central and critical to this debate, as was acknowledged in the Hirst case."
By Jonathan Isaby
During Justice Questions yesterday, the issue of votes for prisoners was raised on the back of the recent judgment from the European Court of Human Rights.
"The Hirst judgment says that article 3 of protocol 1 of the European convention on human rights obliges this House to give some prisoners the vote; as we have heard, it also gives rise to financial compensation to some prisoners who have been denied that right. Although I sympathise with my right hon. and learned Friend, does he accept that there is an intellectual case for, in time, bringing powers back to Westminster in this area by repealing the Human Rights Act 1998 and withdrawing from the European convention of human rights?"
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke was not sympathetic to this course of action:
"There has been another British case today, which has clarified the situation slightly and has underlined the fact that the Government have discretion on how to comply with their obligations. In due course, obviously, we shall establish a commission on how best to give effect to our human rights obligations in this country, but that will not happen until at least next year. The coalition Government do not intend to withdraw from the European convention on human rights, which was imposed by the victorious British on the rest of Europe after the war in order to establish British values across the countries that were recovering from fascism and was drafted largely by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, who put what he thought were the best principles of British justice into it."
"In considering the Government’s policy on this thorny issue, will the Secretary of State, if he has to abide by the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, restrict the right to vote to those prisoners at the lowest level of seriousness — for example, those dealt with by the magistrates courts for summary offences only?"
Ken Clarke replied:
"This applies only to prisoners — obviously, people who have not been in prison do not lose their vote at all. We have to comply with the judgment of the Court. The problem is that this extremely annoying issue will become even more annoying to the public and everyone else if we simply do nothing and wait until some huge financial judgment is made against the taxpayer, which will turn the present public anger into fury. That is why we are going to bring forward considered proposals. At the moment, someone not sent to prison does not lose their vote — irrespective of what other punishment they receive in their summary trial."
By Jonathan Isaby
Peter Bone, the independent-minded MP for Wellingborough, yesterday introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill with the innocuous-sounding title of the House of Commons Disqualification (Amendment) Bill. Its effect would be to abolish whipping in the Commons by disqualifying anyone who is a Whip from membership of the House of Commons.
He said that he wanted to "rebuild trust in politics" and drew inspiration both from the Prime Minister and Edmund Burke, starting by citing words previously uttered by David Cameron:
“[A Bill] gets sent to the House of Commons where it’s debated without diligence—because automatic guillotines cut time short. It’s passed without proper scrutiny—because standing committees for Public Bills are stuffed with puppets of the Government. And it’s voted through without much of a whisper—because MPs have been whipped to follow the party line. We’ve got to give Parliament its teeth back so that people can have pride in it again—so they can look at it and say ‘yes: those MPs we elect—they’re holding the government to account on my behalf.’”
And then there were these words from Edmund Burke, who in 1774 said of the perfect Member of Parliament that:
“his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice... to any set of men living.”
He then got into the thrust of his case:
"We should be acting on behalf of our constituents and, using our “'unbiased opinion” and “mature judgment”, scrutinising every piece of legislation that comes our way to hold the Government properly to account, regardless of party politics. But Burke could surely not have foreseen how difficult it is today for a Member of Parliament to live up to his ideal. Sadly, all too many of us do indeed succumb to pressure from a very particular “set of men living”—that is, the flatterers, cajolers and sometime bullies who make up our party Whips.
"Parliament was originally intended to act as a check on the Executive and to hold it to account, yet with the advent of the party and such concepts as party loyalty and party manifestos, Members of Parliament have put their individual judgment to one side increasingly frequently and, more often than not, are treated by the Whips as little more than sheep. In fact, the Whips even divide Members into groups which they call flocks. These flocks are then blindly herded into Division Lobbies and told to vote a particular way on a subject that they know nothing about. Many Members of Parliament today go through the Lobby not even knowing what part of the Bill they are voting on.
"Such behaviour is an insult to our constituents and to British democracy. It was particularly bad under the last Labour Government, when the Whips, working in secret, skilfully used flattery, enticement, patronage, threats and downright bullying to get Members of Parliament to ignore their better judgment and, in many cases, the opinions of their constituents, and vote in whichever way the former Prime Minister wanted. The ways of the Whips Office are, by their very nature, secretive. After all, what party would want the public knowing precisely to what lengths a few men and women will go to secure what they arrogantly assume to be the best option for the country?"
"What is more frustrating is that the individual members of the Whips Office are often very talented Members who would be better employed helping to run a Department or seated on the Back Benches holding the Government to account, rather than wasting their time as Whips. In my experience, Whips are extremely hard working and carry out their functions, including their pastoral care, with great diligence. Nor am I saying that they have not in the past usefully performed certain functions to ensure the smooth running of the House, such as communicating Back-Benchers’ views to the leadership and vice versa, and organising House business. Yet, with the admirable and long-awaited changes to Parliament which our new Government have already enacted, such as setting up the Backbench Business Committee and the soon-to-be-created business of the House committee, business could be organised perfectly well without the Whips and the usual channels.
"Although my Bill would abolish the position of Whip, it would not abolish the Whips Office, an entity already run by civil servants and which would continue to deal with day-to-day House administration. As for the channels of communication between the leadership and Back Benchers, in each party there are vocal Back-Bench groups, such as my party’s 1922 committee, which perform such a function admirably and efficiently.
"The position of Whip could be made redundant easily. The only role left for Whips to perform is that of strong-arming Members and ensuring a less democratic and efficient Parliament as a result. The public are clearly crying out for a change in the way that Parliament operates. They want a less powerful and overbearing Executive, and Members who are able to represent their views and use their judgment, not Members who act just as Lobby fodder in order to rubber-stamp the decisions of the Executive, blindly following the party’s view and not even knowing what Bill they are voting on.
"This Parliament is moving steadily towards a separation of its powers from those of the Executive. My Bill is a further step on that progressive journey. In fact, it would benefit not only British democracy but the British economy. Following recent events, the public have become increasingly irritated by the scale of expenditure, yet by abolishing the Whips’ positions we would save approximately £6.5 million per Parliament in ministerial salaries—a quite extraordinary amount. Surely it is only right that alongside the Prime Minister’s plans to reduce the number of Members of Parliament, we make at least some effort to reduce the size of the Government."
"I yield to no one in my admiration for my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), who has a proven track record of raising thought-provoking questions. His speech has raised a thought-provoking question in my mind — why he has not given much more weight to the pastoral care that the Government Whips Office, and indeed the Opposition Whips Office, gives to individual Members.
"I make this point not because I am a Whips’ nark — although it is for other hon. Members to judge whether that is the case — or because I am a member of that formidable trade union, the ex-Whips Office, but rather because in the past six months I have had experience of the personal advice, support and care of Her Majesty’s Government’s Whips Office. That has been given to my staff and to me; it was necessary after my temporary leave of absence after the general election.
"I suggest to hon. Members that they view the Whips Office, or the Opposition Whips Office, as being bit like the NHS. We hope that we never need it, but it is very good to know that it is there if we do. That has been my experience. All of us in this place come into politics because we want to serve, and that calling brings with it its own unique demands. I am not for one second suggesting that we are a special case in that sense, but I would suggest that most other jobs have very highly developed human resources or personnel departments that individuals can go to. In this House, we do not have a similar support network — except, that is, for the Whips Office. The House relies on the Whips Office for the delivery of pastoral care. In my case, that has resulted in my full return to health and a full recovery. I hasten to add that I do not want to overdo it — it was not just the Whips Office that delivered my speedy return, but the Whips Office contributed to it, and I must say that I am enjoying it hugely."
Supporting Bone in presenting the BIll were Philip Hollobone, Christopher Chope, Douglas Carswell, David Nuttall and Labour MP Graham Allen. Bone joked that the list would have included Philip Davies, "but he felt that it might damage his career prospects".
MPs did not force a division on the Bill, letting it proceed to its next stage without a vote, although it stands no chance of becoming law.
The end of half-term brings with it a new edition of Hansard and written answers. Herewith some that grabbed my attention.
The answer that leapt out at me was to Shadow Home Affairs Minister David Ruffley. Staggeringly, the Government doesn't seem to know by how many police officers the country is short:
"Mr. Ruffley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many police officer vacancies at all ranks there were in (a) the Metropolitan Police Force and (b) all other forces in 2007-08. 
I suppose now that Eric Pickles is Party Chairman he won't table so many questions. That's a shame. He asked a good one about The Man's power to rifle through our bins:
"To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what powers waste collection authorities have to enter premises in relation to suspected breaches of waste regulations; and what powers they have to (a) measure and (b) photograph household waste; 
Jane Kennedy: Section 92A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA) gives local authorities powers to serve a litter clearing notice on any open land, requiring the occupier, or failing that, the owner, to clear litter from that land. If the notice is not complied with, they can enter the land, clean up and then reclaim their costs.
Section 59 of the EPA allows waste regulation authorities and waste collection authorities to serve a notice on the occupier or owner of land to require the removal of controlled waste unlawfully and knowingly deposited. Where a person fails to meet these requirements, the local authority or the Environment Agency may clear the waste and seek to recover the costs.
It is intended that joint waste authorities should have the same powers as are currently available to local authorities when they are carrying out those functions which joint waste authorities may take over."
"Mr. Ruffley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment she has made of the (a) reliability and (b) usefulness of headcam technology in tackling crime; if she will make resources available to make this technology more widely available to the police; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Alan Campbell: A pilot programme for body worn video (which includes head cameras) ran in Plymouth from September 2006 to April 2007. During the pilot the following key points were identified:
Violent crime was reduced by 8 per cent in the pilot sectors (1 per cent. elsewhere);
More serious violence was reduced by 18 per cent. (no change elsewhere);
An increase of 85 per cent. in violent incidents resulting in an arrest;
An increase of 40 per cent. in the number of violent crimes detected.
A number of providers supply body worn video devices. Individual police forces negotiate the best device to fit their needs. Kent police have demonstrated some excellent work in developing a bespoke device with a commercial provider.
The Home Office made a fund of £3 million available specifically to enable police forces across the country to widen their use of body worn video devices. This announcement was made on 12 July 2007, when guidance on the use of this equipment was published by PCSD, which was compiled with NPIA and the support of ACPO."
Politicians are right to look at the use of modern technology in tackling crime. Increasing the number of handheld weapons scanners was a key pledge of Boris Johnson's Mayoral campaign. CCTV - whilst controversial - is a feature of our town and city centres. Automatic Number Plate Recognition can be employed by the police to read a car's registration plate and then compare it with a database. This can be particularly helpful in anti-terrorism operations.
The London Mayor has also implemented New York-style crime mapping, where crime levels are indicated on an electronic map. This may be a useful tool for officers, but the idea is also that it will enable the public to hold the police to account more effectively, by making the public better informed.
But what technology can never do is take the place of effective beat policing. The number one priority should be to scrap red tape (without then failing to keep essential records) so that police officers can be a visible presence on the streets and nick criminals.
Declaration of interest: Tom Greeves was Boris Johnson's crime adviser during the London Mayoral campaign.
Motion: That this House supports the dedication of police officers in the City of London Police, the Metropolitan Police Service and the British Transport Police but notes the unacceptable trend in teenage murders in London, including the shocking figure of 27 murdered in 2007; believes that Londoners’ daily experience of crime, particularly lower level crime and anti-social behaviour, is now far removed from some official statistics; is deeply concerned that violent crime in London as measured by the British Crime Survey is the highest of all the regions in England and Wales and that fear of crime in London is now also the highest of all the regions in England and Wales; further notes the link between gun crime and drugs; further believes that local communities should be given greater freedom to direct the efforts of their police force if streets are to be made safer; and condemns the current Mayor of London for his complacent attitude to these serious crime issues.
"London is the greatest city on earth. It is protected by the dedicated officers of the Metropolitan Police Service, the City of London police and the British Transport police, whom I have had the privilege of visiting during most of today. But it is also the city where the British Home Secretary, on her own admission, does not feel safe walking alone at night, and it is the city where 27 teenagers were murdered by other teenagers in 2007. Last month, a Labour Back Bencher, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), said “I suspect that hardly any children in Islington have not been mugged at some stage.”
The motion that Francis Maude moved: "That this House notes with concern the corrosion of public trust in democracy following the recent succession of scandals over the funding of the governing political party; regrets that a comprehensive package of proposals to reform electoral law was not achieved by the inter-party talks owing to the refusal of the Secretary of State for Justice and the Labour representative, Mr Peter Watt, to accept a comprehensive cap on donations; observes the unhealthy increase in back-door state funding through the £6 million of funds allocated to special advisers and the funding of over 3,000 press and communications officers across Whitehall and its quangos; asserts that the Communications Allowance is an unhealthy extension of taxpayer funding for party propaganda that advantages the governing party; and calls for a comprehensive package of reforms to restore public trust and to support a vibrant local democracy and voluntary activism, which must include an across-the-board cap and annually a genuine individual choice for union members on whether they wish to donate to their favoured political party."
And some key contributions from the Tory benches:
Francis Maude (in ending his speech): "There must be not a penny more of additional state funding for parties without comprehensive reform that addresses the concerns that the public have about party funding. This has been a sorry tale of lawbreaking at the highest levels by one of Britain’s major parties. For the second time in two years, the police are investigating a Labour Prime Minister. I hope the Minister will provide some genuine answers and will also provide the public with some hope that long-term comprehensive reform can eventually be delivered. Given the way that his Government have stumbled from incompetence to chaos to lawbreaking, we may have to wait some time."
Andrew Tyrie: "Under the current Prime Minister, we have not seen any evidence of real commitment to reform. Perhaps I should contrast that with what happened when I was initially involved in the negotiations two years ago. Then, it was quite clear that Tony Blair was prepared to undertake fundamental reform. He knew how dangerous it was for Labour to become too dependent on the unions for cash. That is probably why he got Lord Levy in at the beginning, more than a decade ago, to find some big donors to counterbalance union influence. It may have ended in tears, but it worked for Tony Blair for a time. He always knew that if he had to do without the unions, he could, and the union bosses knew that too."
Jonathan Djanogly: "The 2005 British election survey revealed that 54.3 per cent. of trade unionists voted for parties other than Labour. That is why there should be a specific opt-in to making political fund contributions."
David Ruffley on Peter Hain: "If the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions cannot understand the electoral law on a matter relating to his own campaign, what confidence can the British public have in his grasp of something infinitely more complicated in his Department, such as the social security system, the Pension Service or the Child Support Agency, for which he is personally responsible? I imagine that benefit fraudsters throughout Britain are having a laugh at his palpable failure to adhere to strict legal rules. When their pension credit is miscalculated yet again, pensioners will not be so amused by the Secretary of State’s behaviour, and single parents struggling with the Child Support Agency are unlikely to have their confidence in that organisation boosted by what is happening at the top."
More from Hansard here.