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 Paul Goodman
I've glanced back at the Prime Minister's Commons statement on Monday about Libya, and found the following:
These were all fair questions. But I'm struck on reading them by one that was missing.
David Cameron did nothing to discourage speculation, raging that day, that Britain would play a part in military operations against Gaddafi - including the imposition of a no fly zone (which Labour's Mike Gapes referred to).
It's striking that not a single backbench question tried to pin down Cameron on the matter, ask how a British contribution to a no fly zone or other intervention would work; how it might be affected by the coming defence spending scaleback - and, above all, how we could avoid being further drawn in.
Today's news is that the Government's backing off military intervention, and the media's beginning to ask questions about how it would work. What can we glean from the fact that no Member of Parliament did so? (Though Tredinnick deserves a mention in dispatches for coming closest.)
By Jonathan Isaby
East Yorkshire MP and Procedure Committee chairman Greg Knight was keen to know what progress there was to report on the electronic petitioning of Parliament:
"Is he aware that as long ago as 2008, this House was promised a debate in Government time on the electronic petitioning of Parliament? It is now nearly 2011 and we are still waiting. When, oh when, can we debate e-petitions?"
Sir George Young indicated that the Government was keen on making this happen:
"He will know that there is a commitment in the coalition agreement to take the issue forward. I hope that my office will be in touch with his Select Committee shortly to indicate how we plan to bridge the gap between House and country by taking forward the agenda of petitions. The commitment is that when a petition reaches 100,000, it will become eligible for a debate in this House. I am anxious to make progress on that agenda."
So before too long, all you'll need is 99,999 friends to agree on an issue and you'll be able to get it debated in Parliament.
Other issues raised at Business Questions by Tory MPs today included:
Lib Dem Collective Responsibility
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a clear statement to be made on ministerial collective responsibility? I appreciate that established conventions might need to be varied to accommodate a coalition Government, with the coalition partners voting differently in certain circumstances, but it surely cannot be right for Ministers, including the Chief Secretary to the Treasury today, to agonise publicly in newspapers about whether they are going to support the Government in the Division Lobby.
Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. It is within his memory and mine that when we had a single-party Government in the 1970s collective responsibility was suspended during the referendum on whether we should stay in the European Community, so there are precedents within single-party Governments for suspending collective responsibility. We have a coalition Government, so some of the normal conventions are not strictly applicable. I draw his attention to section 21 of the coalition agreement, which says in respect of the incident to which I think he is referring, that “arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote.”
Protesters camping out in central London
David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Further to questions about the situation in Parliament square, is my right hon. Friend aware that there are now tents on the pavement outside at least one Government Department? Does he not think that that reflects very badly on the Government, the Greater London authority and the Metropolitan police? Why is this part of Westminster the only area in the whole United Kingdom where people can pitch a tent and not be moved on by the police immediately?
Sir George Young: The short answer is that that is because of a somewhat surprising decision—which, of course, one cannot criticise—made by a magistrate, who decided that that pavement was not a pavement because very few people used it. The good news for my hon. Friend is that we have now published the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which deals specifically with encampments on Parliament square. The measures include a power to allow local authorities to attach a power of seizure to byelaws, to allow them to deal promptly and effectively with the nuisances to which my hon. Friend has just referred.
Labour MP supporting student occupations
Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con): Staying on the subject of higher education, may we also have a debate about Members of the House who are supporting direct action by students? Earlier, I notified the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) that I would be raising this matter. His Twitter feed this morning said: “Support Support The Occupations!....To all the student occupations I send a message of my support and solidarity.” Will my right hon. Friend join me in agreeing that we should be democratically debating the measures rather than taking part in the disruption of our higher education institutions?
Sir George Young: I entirely agree. All hon. Members should act responsibly and should not do anything that encourages unlawful action. I think I read that the hon. Member to whom my hon. Friend refers was going to have a conversation with the Opposition Chief Whip; his future can be safely dealt with by those authoritative hands.
Back in July, most of Parliament Square was cleared of protesters who were effectively camping there permanently. However, as the picture above shows, there remain a few tents on the pavement around the (temporarily sealed off) square, facing the main vehicular entrance to the Houses of Parliament.
"When does my right hon. Friend expect Parliament square to be cleared of demonstrators? Is he aware that the situation is worse than it was in the summer, with 20 illegally placed tents on the pavement meaning that nobody can use the square at all? When is he going to deal with this situation?"
Replying, the Leader of the House, Sir George Young, indicated that further legislation may be brought forward to bring an end to the protest once and for all:
"I am grateful to my hon. Friend for once again raising this issue. I support the action that the Mayor of London took a few months ago to clear the green in the middle of the square, and I hope that that area will be restored to the condition in which it used to be. In the meantime, the camps have simply moved to the pavement. That is wholly unacceptable, and it is not what one should see in the centre of an historic capital city. We are going to consider legislation in the forthcoming Home Office Bill to put the situation right."
It was time for questions to the Health Department yesterday. Perhaps the most noteworthy question came from Mike Penning (pictured right), who spoke in light of the revelation that in 2007-08 criminal sanctions following cases of assault in the acute sector rose by thirteen per cent.
Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley asked about sport in schools:
"I welcome the announcement of the Active England strategy, but it has taken a year to get there. I am afraid that the Secretary of State has got it wrong about school sports. The Government are not meeting their commitment to ensure that all pupils get two hours of sport a week in schools. In the school sport survey last October, the number of 11 to 16-year-olds getting two hours of exercise had gone down from 88 per cent. to 83 per cent. in a year. Will the Secretary of State, with his colleagues at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, ensure that the commitment to a minimum of two hours of exercise in schools is achieved, and will he tell us when will it be achieved?
Alan Johnson: From memory, the proportion of young children getting two hours of exercise in schools was about 24 per cent. when we came into government, so a drop— [ Interruption. ] Incidentally, I am not sure about the statistics that the hon. Gentleman just quoted. If there has been a slight drop, it should be seen in that context. Sport in our schools is essential to the sort of message that we seek to deliver, which is why we have pledged not just effort and time, but a huge amount of finance to meet those targets. And we will meet the target in 2010, just as I am absolutely sure we will move on to meet the extended target in 2012."
Shadow Health Minister Mark Simmonds was concerned about access to GPs:
"In Battersea, the provision of primary care is vital to the health of the community, but according to the Royal College of General Practitioners, seeing a doctor who knows the patient and their medical condition personally is important to more than 75 per cent. of patients. Yet the Secretary of State recently said that he “could not care less” which GP he sees. That is totally out of touch with patient needs both in Battersea and elsewhere. Can the Minister confirm that continuity of care is important to the vast majority of patients, particularly those with long-term conditions? If so, why are he and the Secretary of State centrally imposing polyclinics, against patients’ needs and wishes?
Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, I am happy to confirm what the hon. Gentleman asks me to confirm. However, what he says is another of the myths that were peddled by both the Opposition and the British Medical Association, at the time, in their opposition to new GP health centres. I do not know whether he has now abandoned the Conservative party’s opposition to the centres. I suspect that the Conservatives will quietly abandon that opposition, because where the new centres are opening, they are incredibly popular, not least with local Conservative councillors and Conservative MPs who want theirs to open as quickly as possible.
Of course continuity of care is important for many patients, particularly those with long-term conditions. However, many people, such as professionals who are otherwise healthy and who are juggling work and family life, find it very difficult to see their GP, because of opening times. They warmly welcome the opportunity to see a GP, and they do not particularly mind whether it is always the same GP."
It stretches credulity to say that people are indifferent about who their GP is; Mr Simmonds is correct.