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 Tim Montgomerie
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Tory MP Gary Streeter is one of Parliament's most active Christians. Earlier this year, writing in the Church of England Newspaper, he offered some advice to the soon-to-be-appointed new Archbishop of Canterbury:
You can read his full article here.
A variety of reactions are pasted in this blog. The names of those calling for some change of message, priority or operational changes are emboldened. We have also included the contributions of MPs who have not advocated substantial changes.
5.45pm A little round-up of what Tory MPs have said during the day:
David Ruffley MP advocated radical economic measures - and a withdrawal from the Coalition if Lib Dems won't back them:
"I think now with the position now where there was a Coalition Agreement two years ago but quite a few senior colleagues think that was then, this is now. We didn't think two years ago that the economy would still be flat on its back and everything now has to be directed towards getting the British economy going. And yes it does mean looking at tax again but also, a freer labour market, the hiring and firing proposals to make sure that young people aren't turned away from jobs because of the very onerous social employment protection legislation in this country, so we should say to the Liberals on things like that which they are blocking, 'Listen we are in a real hole now. We need some radical economic polices put in place and you go with it and if you don't, we how would you like a general election?'"
Peter Bone MP urged the Government to drop any "wishy-washy" policies in the Queen's Speech:
"You can see what happens when there is a Conservative Government, because there was a Conservative Government run in London by Boris and he got re-elected. He put forward Conservative policies and he got re-elected and he bucked the national trend, and that really should be a message for the Coalition. Be more conservative and be less liberal wishy-washy and I think that’s what the voters would like to see in the Queen’s speech.”
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."
Question Time in the Commons on Thursday saw a large clutch of questions about the campaign to Save General Election Night aimed at Tory MP Gary Streeter in his capacity as the MP representing the Electoral Commission.
He gave the following update of when counts are scheduled to take place:
The Electoral Commission informs me that it has asked all returning officers to provide information about their current plans for commencing the count at the next UK parliamentary general election. This information has been made available in the House of Commons Library. In summary, as of 7 January returning officers for 586 out of the 650 constituencies had provided information.
Of those, returning officers in 330 constituencies plan to start counting on polling day, a further 17 will commence counting on polling day unless the general election is combined with local authority elections, 52 have decided to count on the Friday and 187 were still undecided.
There were a number of further questions on the issue, with Tory backbencher Peter Bone being especially robust in his denunciation of those Returning Officers seeking to delay counting until the Friday:
After I launched the campaign to Save General Election Night to ensure that votes are counted and results delivered overnight at the general election, a number of spurious arguments have been offered for wanting to overturn the traditional Thursday count in favour of Friday morning counts.
One of the claims regularly made by Returning Officers wanting to delay counting until the Friday was that thousands and thousands of postal votes get handed in on polling day at polling stations and that under new regulations it would take hours to verify them, thereby making it impossible to deliver a result on the night.
Quite why you would apply for a postal vote if you do not intend posting it rather baffles me. In any case, I happen to believe that the Government has now made postal votes far too readily available, but that's an argument or another day.
The point is this: do voters really deliver postal votes to polling stations in their thousands?
And the answer, Eric Pickles has discovered, is no. In a written parliamentary question to Tory MP Gary Streeter, in his capacity representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, he asked for information on the number of postal ballot papers handed in on polling day in each of the last five by-elections.
The answer came as follows:
"The returning officers for the last five UK parliamentary by-elections have provided the following estimates of the number of postal ballot packs handed in at polling stations on polling day:
Glasgow North East (12 November 2009) - 270
Norwich North (23 July 2009) - 180
Glenrothes (6 November 2008) - 125
Glasgow East (24 July 2008) - 116
Haltemprice and Howden (10 July 2008) - 180"
And before anyone says they were all on unusually low turnouts, the figures were 33.0%, 45.8%, 52.3%, 42.2% and 34.4% respectively - all of which, apart from Haltemprice and Howden, accounted for at least two thirds of the previous general election turnout.
The case for delaying counts is weakened yet further.
The campaign to Save General Election Night gets a big boost today. After no fewer than 220 MPs signed the Early Day Motion on the matter in the last parliamentary session (making it the 20th most signed motion out of 2421), today I have news of polls of MPs and PPCs conducted by ComRes on the subject.
The latest ComRes parliamentary panel of 151 MPs found 90% in favour of counting as soon as possible after voting, with 91% of both Conservative and Labour MPs, and 82% of Lib Dems all taking that view. Click here to download the full table.
Meanwhile, a separate ComRes survey of Conservative MPs and PPCs in target seats found a total of 95% in favour of counting on the night. Click here to download that table in full.
The matter was also raised on the floor of the Commons again today at the parliamentary backwater that is questions to the MP representing the Electoral Commission, who is Conservative MP, Gary Streeter. The Deputy Conservative Chief Whip, Andrew Robathan, was keen to discover the latest position of the Electoral Commission and the various local authorities around the country which are charged with running the counts.
The exchange is as below and Gary Streeter's defence of the Commission's refusal to take a view on the matter is less than impressive. He repeats the mantra being used to defend the switching of counts to Friday, ie that we need to be sure that the count is accurate and that voters have confidence in the result. Is anyone suggesting that overnight counts held at elections for decades have been inaccurate?! And will there not in fact be a number of voters who have less confidence in a result where the ballot papers have been snaffled away and stored overnight somewhere pending a Friday count?
Here's the exchange from this morning:
It's nice that New Labour haven't scrapped the splendid title Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Yesterday saw questions to the Chancellor and the Cabinet Office.
Shadow Deputy Secretary of State for Wales David Jones asked about the impact of the recession on charity:
"The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Kevin Brennan): The Charity Commission recently published its second economic survey of charities, which showed that just over half of the charities surveyed are feeling the impact of the downturn. While 30 per cent. of those surveyed have seen their incomes decrease, 32 per cent. say that they have already taken steps to combat the impact of the downturn. The full results of the survey are available in the Library of the House.
Mr. Jones: As the Minister has indicated, the economic survey revealed that charities were feeling the impact of the downturn, but 20 per cent. of them reported that they were experiencing increasing demand for the services that they offer. Given the increasing importance of the third sector in delivering what are often core services, can he say what the Government are doing to help ensure that those services are maintained in the downturn?
Kevin Brennan: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question. Although the survey showed that 5 per cent. of charities reported that they had had to cut services or were holding off new services as a result of the downturn, only 2 per cent. reported that they had had to reduce staff during the recession. We have introduced our “Real Help Now” recession action plan to meet the demands of organisations in the third sector, as they have made it clear that they are worried about the increase in demand at a time when it is possible that their income will fall. The package includes a modernisation fund to help charities meet the challenges of the recession and a fund to help charities in the front line that are working in the most deprived areas, as well as schemes to increase social enterprise and volunteering."
Former Shadow Cabinet member Nigel Evans (right) posed a question on AIDS in Africa. This issue has been given prominence recently following the Pope's assertion that condoms could make the AIDS crisis worse.
Mr Evans asked:
"Antiretroviral drugs are rightly being made more affordable and generally more available, thanks to the support of the United Kingdom, the United States of America and organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Education is vital important, and we should be focusing some of our attention on prevention. What discussions has the Minister held with his opposite numbers about ensuring that education is made available so that the message about how people can avoid getting HIV in the first place can be communicated, and particularly about trucking routes in some countries, such as India, and in Africa?
Mr. Lewis: The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. The new American Administration’s recent announcement about removing some of the ideological and philosophical barriers that prevented us from engaging internationally on prevention and education presents an opportunity for the world community to come together and make a greater impact. We have announced an unprecedented commitment of £1 billion for the global fund and £6 billion to strengthen health systems, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must look innovatively and imaginatively—perhaps through community leaders, faith group networks, informal networks and peer influence—at educating populations in every country. We have to use all the tools at our disposal to ensure that we get across the strongest conceivable message about HIV/AIDS. I also believe that the South Africans’ change in policy will significantly help us in Africa."
Gary Streeter has held the International Development brief in the past. He asked a bold question on the same subject:
"The Minister, to his credit, is known for his outspokenness. Will he make sure that his international counterparts recognise that confronting the dreadful disease that is HIV/AIDS is not just about access to drugs and condoms, important though those things are? If we are to tackle this disease, we must confront, head-on, the true cause: men behaving in a sexually promiscuous manner in too many countries throughout Africa and elsewhere. Will he impress upon his counterparts the fact that issues of public awareness and education are vital if we are to get under the skin of this disease?
The hon. Gentleman rightly raises the important issue of the role of women in society, and highlights the fact that the way in which men in many developing countries see relationships is a major part of the problem. In that sense, we need strong political leadership to make clear the appropriate role of women in society and to empower women in local communities. We must make it clear that we give them the opportunity to fight for their rights. We also need a very clear zero-tolerance approach to violence against women to be enshrined in developing countries’ legislation."
Gary Streeter, South West Devon MP and a former Shadow Cabinet member who has consistently supported human rights, posed the initial question:
"What recent discussions he has had with the Government of Belarus on human rights in that country. 
The Minister for Europe (Caroline Flint): I met the Prime Minister of Belarus in London on 17 November. I urged the Government to make tangible human rights progress in a number of areas, including greater freedom of the media, engagement with civil society and political opponents of the regime.
Mr. Streeter: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. She will know that, since 1994, that country has been run by an autocratic Soviet-style president, who keeps himself in office by locking up political opponents and rigging elections— [ Interruption. ] —nothing like this country whatsoever. Given that we are talking about a European country—a country in the centre of Europe—surely the UK and EU can do more to support the movements for change and the opposition in Belarus, and to bring about a peaceable, transforming, democratic revolution in that country.
Caroline Flint: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I know that he plays an important role in human rights issues. I reaffirm to the House that, although the EU, with the UK’s support, has opened up some opportunities, there is a six-month window: come March this year, Foreign Ministers will take a decision on whether some of the opening up and reduction of restrictions should continue. Although some small progress has been made in the past few months in relation to the media and political prisoners, a lot more could be done. It is up to those who run Belarus to make the effort. We shall continue to press, as we have for many years through our mission in Belarus, to support those who want more democratic engagement and freedom of expression."