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 301 group is perhaps the most active and important group of backbench Tory MPs. Tim Montgomerie reported last week that three MPs - Charlie Elphicke, George Hollingbery and Priti Patel - want to organise a candidate to be elected to the 1922 Committee's executive who will give the '22 a focus on policy and campaigning. The Spectator's James Forsyth blogged that "The vote for their candidate, and his opponent, will give us the best idea yet of where the backbenches are at the moment politically. Indeed, I expect that the machinery of the 301 group, the most pro-Cameron of all the backbench groups, will be thrown behind the Elphicke-Hollingbery-Patel slate."
To organise or endorse candidates for the '22 is certainly the most power a backbench group has yet wielded in this Parliament. In this profile, I'll be looking at the origins, members, aims and plans of the group to get a sense of what the group wants to campaign for.
Origins of the group
The 301 was first organised by Kris Hopkins (Keighley), a former soldier and leader of Bradford Council, and Jessica Lee (Erewash), a former barrister, and now Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve. The group began with small meetings of a handful of MPs who were "concerned that the narrative in Parliament was not representative of the conversation" that MPs had had with the electorate while campaigning during the 2010 general election, and also dissatisfied with the fact that the mechanisms of debate amongst backbenchers, and between the back and front benches, were not conducive to trying to correct that narrative. Each of those attending brought a friend, and so on, until after three meetings the group reached 60 members.
By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday, a Private Member's Bill by Rebecca Harris, the Member for Castle Point, which sought to move British clocks forward by an hour all year round, was brought before the House.
The Government was supportive of the Bill, and there was a strong turnout with wide cross-party support for the proposal. However, a small group of Members, mostly Conservative, managed to talk the Bill out of Parliament. As a result of the Bill not being passed yesterday, the Government has decided not to allow further Parliamentary time for its consideration, and the Bill is now dead.
"[T]he Bill’s Achilles heel is that it has been redrafted in such a way that it would enable the United Kingdom Government to change the time zone in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. We know that the Scottish Parliament, and MPs representing Scottish constituencies, do not support a change that would make winter mornings in Scotland even colder and darker than they are already. ... my concern is that if this Parliament changes the time zone for the United Kingdom against the wishes of the people of Scotland, it will give extra ammunition to those people in Scotland who are campaigning for independence. We would be playing into their hands if we forced the Bill through."
Over the last few days, North East Somerset MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has called for Somerset to have its own timezone. This was part of the run-up to yesterday's debate. Mr Rees-Mogg attempted to amend the proposed Bill to make considerations for Somerset, in order to delay its passage. Although his amendment was not selected for consideration, Mr Rees-Mogg did play an active role in opposing the Bill. Mr Rees-Mogg's contributions were very varied and lengthy, but I have chosen a few of his more remarkable comments:
By Jonathan Isaby
The new MP for Wycombe, Steve Baker, secured a one-and-a-half hour adjournment debate in Westminster Hall yesterday on a topic which is of particular interest to his constituents, namely the High Speed 2 Rail link which looks set to run through Buckinghamshire, and set out his opposition to the scheme thus:
"The Chilterns AONB is a rare, precious landscape benefiting not just those who live there but the millions who visit every year from across the country, particularly, due to its proximity, from London. I have lived adjacent to the AONB for almost three years and can confirm that it is one of Britain's most beautiful and ecologically rich landscapes. The preferred route of HS 2 crosses the AONB at its widest point, in contradiction to the policy followed for HS 1. In Kent, the route of HS 1 was amended to avoid the North Downs AONB. By contrast, HS 2 appears to have been deliberately routed through the least spoilt, widest part of the Chilterns... Some 59 different protected species have been recorded within 1 km of the route of HS 2. The recommended route involves tunnelling directly through an aquifer, risking reducing the water table and exacerbating low flow in the Chess and Misbourne. It also risks possible contamination of the ground water. The environmental impact of the recommended route of HS 2 would be enormous. I am therefore calling for an official environmental impact assessment of the preferred route well in advance of the planned consultation, so that interested parties can fully digest its findings."
"There is no benefit to Buckinghamshire from accepting high-speed rail. The project would have to be bullied through against the well-grounded wishes of those affected, causing not just the environmental damage described but also infringing the property rights of large numbers of people. Doing so would thoroughly undermine the Government's commitment to increasing people's power over their own lives. From Buckinghamshire's perspective, the answer to whether HS 2 should run across the county is, of course, a resounding no. Buckinghamshire people are bound to object to a programme that would merely blight our beautiful county and trespass on local people's businesses and the quiet enjoyment of their homes. I find myself asking, "Should any area of the country be forced to accept high-speed rail?"
Iain Stewart stood for Parliament in Milton Keynes in both 2001 and 2005 before being successfully elected at his third attempt at this year's general election in the slightly-redrawn Milton Keynes South constituency.
In his maiden speech yesterday, apart from revealing that he was baptised by Gordon Brown's father, he took the opportunity during a debate on building a high-skilled economy to highlight how Milton Keynes is leading the way in promoting flexibility in the education system:
"Many hundreds of thousands of lives have been transformed by the Open University, and it has long-embodied the vital principle of lifelong learning, reskilling people as their careers evolve and giving a second chance to those who have, for whatever reason, missed out on a more traditional form of higher education. The new vice-chancellor of the Open University, Martin Bean, is making an excellent start in preparing and updating the university to meet the ever-evolving challenges that lie ahead. His appointment is significant, because as a former senior director of Microsoft, his move from a high-end private company to the world of education illustrates the vital links that must exist between the two if the UK is to sustain a high-knowledge economy.
"Milton Keynes is home to another pioneering model of higher-level learning that I believe will play a major part in the skilling of our economy—University Centre Milton Keynes, under the wise leadership of Professor Keith Straughan. When fully established, this exciting new concept will enable young people to access top-quality learning close to home and integrated with their learning at work. It is a model of partnership working and came about as a result of demand from the local community, local employers, civic partners and the voluntary and community sector."
"I have long believed that to unlock the full potential of people in the UK, we need to break down some of the barriers that sometimes exist between higher and further education, and the needs of skilled employers. To ensure that the UK can beat both our traditional economic competitors and the fast-rising challenge from emerging economies, we need much greater flexibility in our education system, and in that Milton Keynes is leading the way."