By Jonathan Isaby
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The latest issue of the House Magazine (not online) features an interesting little snippet: the ex-MP formerly known as Douglas Hogg could be returning to Parliament through an unconventional route.
When his father, Viscount Hailsham, died in 2001, he inherited the title, but did not style himself as such whilst he remained in the Commons until his retirement as MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham at last year's general election.
Prior to Tony Blair's 1999 House of Lords Act, he would of course have had to resign from the Commons in order to take up his seat in the Lords on his father's death, but after the cull of most of the hereditary peers, he no longer had to do so (and neither did Michael Ancram, when his father, the Marquess of Lothian, died).
However, under the terms of the same House of Lords Act, 92 hereditary peers were saved and the same number have been entitled to remain ever since, meaning that there are still 47 Tory hereditary peers on the red benches.
And when one of the party-aligned hereditary peers remaining in the Lords dies, a by-election takes place to replace him among those remaining hereditaries taking that party's whip in the Lords. Candidacy in these contests is open to any hereditary from that party who was expelled in 1999, or the heir who inherited the title of a former hereditary peer who has since died.
As such, Hogg, now Viscount Hailsham, is on the register of hereditary peers entitled to stand in these by-elections and the House Magazine reports that in the contest to replace the Earl of Onslow, who died last month, Hailsham "appears to be the frontrunner".
If successful in the by-election (whcih is taking place next month), the former Agriculture Minister's return to Parliament will be controversial, since it was reported in March that the House of Lords Appointment Commission had recommended against accepting David Cameron's proposal that he be given a life peerage.
He did of course attain notoriety for his moat-related expenses claims, whilst his wife, Sarah Hogg, who was head of John Major's policy unit, already sits in the Lords in her own right as Baroness Hogg.
Full details of the procedure for the by-election - a postal ballot conducted by, ahem, Alternative Vote, is available in this House of Lords briefing paper.
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."
Defence Questions came around again yesterday. Conservative members dominated the session and exhibited excellent technical knowledge.
James Arbuthnot (MP for North-East Hampshire) chairs the Defence Select Committee. He asked about Pakistan:
"Does the Secretary of State accept that the events in Lahore today show that instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan extends far beyond the border region? While we have troops in Afghanistan, we do not have them in Pakistan. Is the Secretary of State, along with the United States, rethinking his entire strategy for the region? Will he make a statement and perhaps allow a debate and possibly even a vote in this House about that?
Mr. Hutton: Yes, we are looking very carefully at all these matters. I am sure that there will be an opportunity to have a proper debate in this place in the usual way, either on a statement or in another way. It is very important not just for the security of our operation in Afghanistan but for the security of the UK as a whole that we develop an approach that encompasses the security challenge that Afghanistan poses as well as the growing threat of instability and extremism in Pakistan. We very much welcome President Obama’s new strategy, which was published last week. It has the prospect of significantly improving the situation in that very troubled region and we stand ready to play our part."
Former Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind was also concerned:
"Is the Secretary of State aware that the Afghan Taliban have recently been successful in persuading the Pakistani Taliban to defer some of their operations in Pakistan and to join their Afghan colleagues to help to try to deal with the expected American surge? If the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban can get their act together, is it not about time that the Afghan and Pakistani Governments were also able to do so? Will the Secretary of State speak to his Pakistani colleague and impress upon him that the security of Afghanistan is crucial to the security of Pakistan itself?
Mr. Hutton: I agree very strongly with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I have already had those conversations with the Pakistani Minister of Defence, and I have had those conversations regularly with the Afghan Minister of Defence as well. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman 100 per cent., and we are focused very clearly on doing exactly what he has just said."
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith came before the House of Commons yesterday to make a statement on the Damian Green arrest. She was very much on the defensive:
"As the statement issued by Sir David Normington on 28 November made clear, he was informed by the police at about 1.45 pm on 27 November that a search was about to be conducted of the home and offices of a member of the Opposition Front Bench. Sir David was subsequently told that an arrest had been made. This was the first time that anybody in the Home Office was informed that a Member of this House was the subject of the police investigation. I have made it clear that neither I nor any other Government Minister knew until after the arrest of the hon. Member that he—or any other hon. Member—was the subject of a police investigation or was to be arrested. I hope that those who have asserted the contrary will now withdraw their claims.
Let me be clear that even if I had been informed, I believe it would have been wholly inappropriate for me to seek to intervene in the operational decisions being taken by the police. I will not do that and I should not do that."
As Quentin Letts writes in the Daily Mail, Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve was ruthlessly efficient. This page has already carried his statement. One point that the Home Secretary made in response does need highlighting:
"The hon. and learned Gentleman asserted several times that “there is not the slightest evidence”. He does not know what evidence the police have. I do not know what evidence the police have—but I do know that it is wholly appropriate that the police should use their professional judgment to follow the evidence during the course of a police investigation without fear or favour."
Unfortunately for the Government, no-one is going to give them the benefit of the doubt. If no breach of national security is uncovered, they will look very foolish.
Other Tory MPs were furious too.
Hansard has the full report of the Speaker's statement on Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green and subsequent contributions from MPs here. There will be a debate on the issue on Monday.
Some highlights from yesterday are reproduced below.
The Speaker is to be commended for one thing: offering no public comment before addressing Parliament:
"In the past few days there has been much pressure on me to make public comment about these matters, but I felt that it was right and fitting that I should make no comment until Parliament reconvenes, because it is this House and this House alone that I serve, as well as being accountable for the actions of its Officers. I should emphasise from the start that it is not for me to comment on the allegations that have been made against the hon. Member or on the disposal of those allegations in the judicial process."
After making the point that Parliament is not a "haven from the law", Speaker Martin gave an outline of events:
"On Wednesday last, the Metropolitan police informed the Serjeant at Arms that an arrest was contemplated, but did not disclose the identity of the Member. I was told in the strictest confidence by her that a Member might be arrested and charged, but no further details were given to me. I was told that they might be forthcoming the next morning.
At 7 am on Thursday, police called upon the Serjeant at Arms and explained the background to the case, and disclosed to the Serjeant the identity of the Member. The Serjeant at Arms called me, told me the Member’s name and said that a search might take place of his offices in the House. I was not told that the police did not have a warrant. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Order. I have been told that the police did not explain, as they are required to do, that the Serjeant was not obliged to consent, or that a warrant could have been insisted upon. [ Interruption. ] Order. Let me make the statement. I regret that a consent form was then signed by the Serjeant at Arms, without consulting the Clerk of the House.
I must make it clear to the House— [ Interruption. ] Order. I must make it clear to the House that I was not asked the question of whether consent should be given, or whether a warrant should have been insisted on. I did not personally authorise the search. It was later that evening that I was told that the search had gone ahead only on the basis of a consent form. I further regret that I was formally told by the police only yesterday, by letter from Assistant Commissioner Robert Quick, that the hon. Member was arrested on 27 November on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in public office and on suspicion of aiding and abetting misconduct in public office."
Yesterday the Commons voted to limit annual spending on furnishings to £2,400 but Ann Widdecombe MP warned her colleagues against 'crawling on their bellies' in the face of "malicious" attacks from the media.
Ann Widdecombe: "Both Front Benches remind me of those Governments who hold referendums, and when their citizens give them an answer they do not like, hold them again. We should have faced the fact that the House made clear its view on the so-called John Lewis list, and we should have found ways of making it transparent, rather than trying to abolish it altogether. The contributions made by Members on both sides of the House today have been largely conditioned by the mischievous and malicious onslaught of the media and the public prints, not just over the past few weeks but over the past few months. Our response to that should not be to crawl on our bellies, but robustly to defend what is right. Yes, it is right that we should have better reporting and more transparency, but it is not right that we should make it impossible for hon. Members to carry out their duties... We should have had the guts to defend ourselves, just as we should have the guts to do so when the press talk about our lavish perks and include our secretaries. There have been some hon. Members for whom their secretary has been a perk, but precious few of them. Such is the view out there that Adam Boulton, who is supposed to be politically wise, actually stated on his programme as though it were a matter of fact that our secretarial allowances are paid directly into our bank accounts... I, like most hon. Members, do not benefit from one penny of my secretary’s or researcher’s salaries, or from one penny of what goes on computers, stationery and postage. We do not benefit, and to have that portrayed as a perk is ridiculous. If there is one thing that we should have done it is to abolish the word “allowance” and to substitute the word “reimbursement”, and to have that which is centrally provided not counted as our personal allowances."
"...We should stop crawling before this press onslaught. Yes, there have been abuses. Do we blame all general practitioners for Harold Shipman? Do we say that because a handful of teachers have been convicted of paedophilia, all teachers are bad, and that because more than a handful of accountants are crooks, all accountants are bad? As for lawyers, I will not even go there. The answer is no. Therefore, although there have been and always will be some people in Parliament who are not as straight as they should be, we should not allow ourselves to be tarred by that. We deserve to be paid properly, we deserve to be reimbursed for reasonable expenses incurred, and we deserve to be allowed to do our jobs properly. If we do not do that, one of two types of people will come into the House: those who can afford not to be recompensed and those whose pay is so low that to them it all looks like something very grand. The vast ranks in between—the professionals, those who are paid a reasonable but not excessive amount—will not come to this place, and the press and the media at the moment are doing their level best to ensure that Parliaments of the future will be composed of people of substantially lower quality than Parliaments of the past."
This section is also interesting, in which Douglas Hogg MP questions the Conservative Party's decision to use an Opposition Day debate for Members' Allowances:
"Historically, this matter has been for the House, not for whipped party votes. Therefore I have difficulty in understanding why it is being debated on the Supply day. Incidentally, as we do not live in unfurnished boxes, why should there be a prohibition on reimbursement for furniture and household goods? Provided that it is modest, transparent and audited, what is the objection?"
Theresa May MP: "My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned whipped votes on this issue; I merely point him to the fact that it is because the Government were unwilling to stand by the Prime Minister’s undertaking to support the Members Estimate Committee report—they failed to whip the votes—that the House is in this position today."
Simon Hughes MP, Liberal Democrat, then intervenes on Mrs May: "The thrust and direction of what the right hon. Lady is saying has warm support from the Liberal Democrat Benches. However, she must accept that we would not be in the mess that we are in today if 21 Conservative Members of Parliament had not voted against openness and transparency, rather than in favour of it. If they had voted with her, what she and I want would have gone through on 3 July."
Mrs May: "I note the hon. Gentleman’s support for the general thrust of what I am saying, but I merely say this to him. The House would not be in this position today if the 29 Liberal Democrat Members who stayed away had turned up to vote on 3 July. They included the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), who, significantly, failed to show leadership on the MEC report."
Questions from four Conservative MPs regarding Zimbabwe in Parliament yesterday.
A ROLE FOR THE SAS?
Gerald Howarth MP: "Many people find it morally repugnant that the international community has fiddled so ineffectively as Zimbabwe has literally burned. Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House how many British subjects there are in Zimbabwe, and what sort of plans are in place in the event of civil war, which many correspondents are now suggesting might happen? What contingency plans are there to remove those British citizens to safety? I say to the Foreign Secretary that the Almighty is not the only person who could remove Mr. Mugabe; the Special Air Service could also do a pretty good job."
David Miliband, Foreign Secretary: "Whatever the degree of frustration that the hon. Gentleman feels, I do not think that he really wants me to pursue the latter part of his question. The best thing to say about British nationals is to refer back to my earlier statement on the issue, which recorded that there are 12,000 British nationals in Zimbabwe, many of whom are elderly, and there is no evidence of them being subject to intimidation or attack thus far. They are supported by a well-developed wardens network, and by some very brave non-governmental organisations. The best thing to say is that they remain the subject of continued engagement, and if the hon. Gentleman wants to have a word with me afterwards, I could say a bit more to him about that."
SOUTH AFRICA'S ROLE
Nicholas Soames MP: "Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House to what he attributes Mr. Mbeki’s pathetically inadequate response to this terrible tragedy?"
David Miliband: "In respect of the first question, I do not want to put myself into the mind of the leader of South Africa. As I said earlier, the burden borne by South Africa from the 2 million-plus refugees from Zimbabwe who are there is reason enough for any country—from self-interest, never mind moral interest—to speak out on the issue. We have debated before the role of President Mbeki in securing the rounds of the election. Obviously, however, the fact that those elections have not been able to take place in anything other than grotesque circumstances has rendered that null and void."
Iain Duncan Smith MP: "Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), I served in Rhodesia, as it was called in those days, in 1979 in order to bring universal suffrage to that country. I was proud of our position then, but I am not particularly proud of ours or Europe’s right now. Does not the secret to providing a solution lie in Pretoria and Beijing? Is it not time that we said in no uncertain terms to the Chinese that if they wish to be accepted as a decent nation, they should stop supporting violent regimes such as Mugabe’s? If we also said to President Mbeki, who is almost alone in South Africa in supporting that man, that if he pulled out the stops, made Zimbabwe a pariah state, cut off all support and said to Mugabe, “Go or we will finish you”, he would be gone in a week."
The Prime Minister: "I understand the knowledge of the situation that the right hon. Gentleman has given that he was in the country many years ago. I have to say to him that the UN Security Council will meet this afternoon and I believe that there will be a presidential statement. That will require the countries that are part of the UN Security Council and that play a part in its affairs, including the ones he has mentioned, to be able to support that statement. I hope that they will support a statement that says in the strongest terms that the violence is unacceptable. What has led to the opposition leader pulling out of the election is perfectly understandable and a way forward has to be found for the Zimbabwean people, but that will be discussed by the UN Security Council later this afternoon. I talked to President Mbeki before I came to the House this afternoon and urged it upon him that there had to be a solution and a way forward found, but he, too, will in my view join the statement that will be made by the UN later this afternoon, which shows that South Africa, too, wants an end to the violence and a solution to the problems we face."
THE UN AND ZIMBABWE
Douglas Hogg MP: "The right hon. Gentleman said that the full force of international law should be felt. Does that mean to say that as a matter of principle he accepts that the International Criminal Court should have jurisdiction over what is going on in Zimbabwe? If that is his position, and it is mine, will he start taking action within the Security Council to mobilise support for a resolution that would subject Mr. Mugabe and his immediate supporters to the full rigour of the International Criminal Court?"
David Miliband: "When I said “the full force of international law” earlier, I did not say it lightly but because I believe it. However, we have been trying to mobilise support to get Zimbabwe on to the Security Council agenda. That has been the blockage, and I would fail in my duty if I pretended to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we were at a stage yet when we could start mobilising support for something greater than a standing item on the agenda. However, I assure him that, from my two conversations with our permanent representative at the UN yesterday and previous conversations, there is no lack of clarity on the part of all members of the Security Council about the importance of the issue. Its discussion last week and the fact that Burkina Faso became the ninth country to support its debate at the Security Council is significant. I hope that we can build on that—it is certainly our priority."