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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Guido Fawkes has a list of new Conservative members of Select Committees, from Graham Brady's office. Mr Brady explains: "For the following committees I have received the same number of nominations as there are vacancies, the following are therefore elected". The appointments are:
Communities and Local Government
John Stevenson (Carlisle), replacing George Hollingbery (Meon Valley), who became PPS to Theresa May at the reshuffle.
Chris Skidmore (Kingswood), replacing Damian Hinds (East Hampshire), who became PPS to Mark Francois, the Minister of State for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans.
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole), replacing Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich), who was made the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Health Services.
By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday's debate on the Lords Reform Bill was heated, yet relatively polite. I noticed far more speakers against reform of the Lords than for - perhaps because pro-reform Tories knew, the programme motion having been withdrawn, that they would win the Second Reading vote easily (thanks to Labour votes).
Many Tories early in the debate - the initial stages took the form of Sir George Young, the Leader of the House, and his Shadow, Angela Eagle, giving statements on behalf of their leaderships - gave answers which followed the format of "Of course the current Lords is indefensible, but so is this Bill". Gareth Johnson (Dartford) did not take that line. He was proud to be in favour of the Lords' position as an unelected house:
"I have never defied the party line before, and it is something I hope not to do throughout my time in Parliament, but the Bill is fundamentally wrong. I have been a loyal supporter of both the Government and my party, but I am proud to be British, proud of our constitution and proud of our Parliament. The other place forms an essential part of our constitution, our heritage, history and culture, and once it is gone, it is gone. Seven hundred years of history will be undone if we support the Bill. I want to be able to look my children in the eye and say, “I did not forsake the British constitution. I said no.”"
"I may be in a small minority, but I am one of those people who do not become infected by the view that we must have a democratic House of Lords. I do not want a democratic House of Lords, and that is precisely why I shall vote against the Bill. I want objectivity, expertise, experience and wisdom, all the qualities that we are told so often that we do not have in this House. I do not want Members of the House of Lords to be subject to the electoral and party pressures to which we may be subject here."
In Westminster Hall yesterday, ahead of the binding Commons vote, Philip Hollobone instigated a debate on voting rights for prisoners. Mark Harper MP for the Coalition is proposing that prisoners with sentences of four year or less should get the vote. Labour will seek to amend that proposal, limiting voting rights to one year sentences or less. Unless the Coalition compromises it is likely to be defeated.
"Here is a question for hon. Members. Who said:
"Frankly, when people commit a crime and go to prison, they should lose their rights, including the right to vote"?
He also said:
"It makes me physically ill even to contemplate having to give the vote to anyone who is in prison."
The answer is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and I could not agree more with him. The vast majority of people in this country would also back him in those sentiments. One difference between the Prime Minister and myself, however, is that he is actually in a position to do something about this issue. We need some backbone-we need a hardened spine-if we are to take on the European Court of Human Rights and resist its judgment."
Dr Thérèse Coffey noted that rapists will be given the vote under the Coalition's four year limit
"On the point about limits, does my hon. Friend agree that the crimes of rape, for which a three-and-a-half year sentence was awarded in November, in a case in Warwick, and armed robbery with a knife, which has also been given a sentence of less than four years, are serious crimes, and that it is shocking that the Government even contemplate that such things should be covered?"
Matthew Offord pointed out that many other nations have not complied with the European Courts on this issue
"It may interest hon. Members to know that 13 other countries that are signatories to the European convention on human rights also have blanket bans. Why is this country being singled out for the treatment it is getting from the European Court, when blanket bans continue in other countries, such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Moldova and Slovakia, among others? Our constituents will be outraged that the UK is being singled out for special treatment."
Stewart Jackson argued that the Government's four year limit was "arbitrary"
"Is not it true that the recent case of Greens and M.T. v. the United Kingdom specifically allows the Government to proceed with a range of policy options, which, like the consultation in 2009, could be put out for public discussion? Instead the Government have gone for an arbitrary four-year limit, without any further debate or discussion in the House or with the public."
By Tim Montgomerie
Over the last 48 hours - on LeftWatch - I've been documenting the zero to 100mph rhetorical overkill of Labour MPs and left-wing commentators. The infection spread to Labour's frontbench yesterday when the always partisan Chris Bryant put this question to Nick Clegg at Deputy PM's Question Time:
"It is estimated that 200,000 people will be forced out of major metropolitan areas as a result of the Government's niggardly proposals on welfare reform, which will turn London into Paris, with the poor consigned to the outer ring. That is the equivalent of three parliamentary constituencies, according to the Deputy Prime Minister's desiccated calculating machine of a Bill. Would it not be iniquitous if, on top of being socially engineered and sociologically cleansed out of London, the poor were also disfranchised by his Bill? How does he propose to make electoral provision for those displaced people?"
"We all indulge in a bit of hyperbole, but I have to say to the hon. Gentleman quite seriously that to refer to "cleansing" will be deeply offensive to people who have witnessed ethnic cleansing in other parts of the world."
He then went on to calmly explain why Coalition changes to housing benefits policy were justifiable:
"We are saying that it is perfectly reasonable for the Government to say that they will not hand out more in housing benefit than those who go out to work, pay their taxes and play by the rules would pay when looking for housing themselves. We are simply suggesting that there should be a cap for family homes with four bedrooms of £400 a week. That is £21,000 a year. Does the hon. Gentleman really think it is wrong that the state should not subsidise people to the tune of more than £21,000, when people cannot afford to live privately in those areas? I do not think so."
During DPMQs Mr Clegg also confirmed the Coalition's intention to deliver equally-sized seats:
Tory MP Gareth Johnson asked: "Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that it is vital to have constituencies in which all votes carry equal weight, in order to restore public trust in our democratic process?"
Nick Clegg replied, taunting Labour with the history of the Chartists: "I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. It is one of the founding principles of any democracy that votes should be valued in the same way, wherever they are cast. Over the years, all sorts of anomalies have developed, such that different people's votes are simply not worth the same in elections to this place. That surely cannot be right, and it is worth reminding those Opposition Members who object to the rationale that it was one of the founding tenets of the Chartists-one of the predecessor movements to the Labour party-that all votes should be of equal value."
Mr Clegg also defended his party's u-turn on tuition fees from a Glasgow Labour MP:
Anas Sarwar: "During the election campaign, the Deputy Prime Minister said: "We will resist, vote against, campaign against, any lifting of that cap" on tuition fees. Will he take this opportunity to apologise to the hundreds of thousands of students and families whom he has betrayed since becoming a Tory?"
The Deputy Prime Minister: "Of course I regret - who would not regret? - making a promise and signing a pledge, as happened in this case, that we have now found that we are unable to keep. Of course I wish that the proposal for a graduate tax put forward now by the hon. Gentleman's leader, which comes from a party that introduced tuition fees having previously said that it would not do so, would work and that it was an alternative that we could implement. We looked at it very carefully-it has also been proposed by the National Union of Students-but it is not workable and it is not fair. What we will be doing shortly, when we come forward with our response to the Browne report, is install new measures that will ensure that the way in which students go to university is fairer and less punitive on those who are disadvantaged than the system that we inherited from the Labour party."
Further to Andrew Bridgen’s speech, which I noted earlier, there were four more maiden speeches which addressed the European issue in last Thursday’s debate.
“I was keen to speak in this debate on Europe because I feel that we can learn many positive things from our European partners, including lessons from Sweden on school provision. I am frequently asked where I stand on the issue of Europe, and my answer is that I am neither a Europhile nor a Europhobe, but a Euro-realist: I feel that we are where we are on Europe. As someone newly elected to Parliament, I deplore the creeping nature of legislation that comes not from this place but from Brussels. I welcome the coalition's proposed referendum lock, and I will always stand firm against joining the euro.
“When I consider whether we should be in or out of Europe, my first instinct is to examine how it will affect the people of Wyre Forest, and whether my constituency would be better off if we came out of Europe. I remain open-minded and could be persuaded otherwise, but my instinct is that Wyre Forest's economy stands a far better chance in the future if we stay in Europe, taking advantage of the trading opportunities available, which we talked about earlier.”
Julian Sturdy, who won the newly drawn York Outer constituency addressed the Commons for the first time on his 39th birthday. Noting that his father, Robert, is a serving Conservative MEP, he lambasted the previous Labour Government for breaking its pledge ot hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty:
“The previous Administration's decision to deny the people of this country such a vote was, frankly, a devastating blow to those who care passionately about the sovereignty of this House. Indeed, I feel the decision not to fulfil the promise of a referendum further damaged public trust in our politics and politicians. I therefore welcome the new Government's determination to improve political accountability, openness and transparency. Europe has always been a contentious issue and I am sure that will continue to be the case here in Westminster. However, I can assure the House that, back in York Outer, a sizeable majority of my constituents seem to share my concerns about the recent transfer of power from Westminster to Brussels. To put it simply, I firmly believe that we cannot allow any further erosion of powers from this Parliament without allowing the public to directly express their will on such important constitutional amendments.
“As such, I welcome the European Union Bill that was set out in the Queen's Speech last week. The Prime Minister is right to ensure that the people of this country are granted a referendum before any future treaties that hand over powers to the European Union are approved by Government. The Government should seek to be a proactive, positive and friendly partner in Europe, particularly when it comes to promoting British business and trade. In other key areas, too, the EU has the potential to be a force for good as we tackle global poverty and the rise in global competitiveness, and get to grips with global climate change.
“Britain should play a full role in ensuring that the EU's voice is heard loud and clear on an increasingly diverse global stage. However, we will not be able to play such a role unless the boundaries and limitations of the EU are clearly drawn. The public need to believe in the worth of the EU and, in my view, that will happen only when we strengthen and protect further our own democracy here in Westminster.”
“I agree not only that Britain can benefit from its membership of the European Union, but that Europe benefits from Britain's membership of the union. We should resist unnecessary interference from the European Union, which should not seek to interfere with every facet of our lives. We need individuals to have greater freedoms over their lives and for this House to have the freedom to operate without further subservience to the European Union.”
“My constituency is also the home of Ebbsfleet International train station, which lies on the new high-speed rail line between London and Paris. These increased transportation links - rather than increased political links - with the European Union represent the direction in which I believe we should be moving.”
“Brighton Kemptown, as we know, is very close to Europe, and I have to tell the House that in 1514 the French invaded the town of Brighton at the time and razed it to the ground. I am not surprised that even 500 years later, many of my constituents are still suspicious of our relationship with Europe… My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) mentioned the Domesday Book; Brighton appears in it, and there is a fantastic Norman church in the village of Ovingdean. I have mentioned the French invaders, so we will move on.”