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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Last night an adjournment debate was held on SAS soldier Sergeant Danny Nightingale's court martial and imprisonment after illegally bringing home a pistol given to him by grateful Iraqis. Julian Brazier, himself a former Captain in the SAS, led the debate.
"Military justice was consciously modelled on civilian criminal justice. Originally, 12 officers echoed the 12 householders of repute on a jury, although the number became more commonly five 100 years ago. In the past 20 years, under pressure from the European Court of Human Rights, the system has been turned on its head and today a judge advocate chairs the court with up to five regimental officers who are no longer allowed to ask direct questions."
Mr Brazier outlined the main complaint against the judgement against Sgt Nightingale:
"Danny Nightingale has compelling medical evidence to show that his memory was severely impaired. Do we really believe that the second half of the offence—the transfer of the kit, en masse, to military digs after he had suffered the memory damage and when he was under huge service pressures—passes the service interest test? Is this what the military covenant is about? Does this amount to paying fair regard to the particular pressures of life in special forces and their effect on a man whose memory had been impaired and who had made his way back into action?"
By Matthew Barrett
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Philip Hammond's statement to the House this afternoon announcing cuts to the Army was bound to be a challenging time for the Secretary of State for Defence. The announcement signals the beginning of a long transformation for the Army, and jobs will undoubtedly be lost as a result of the changes. Mr Hammond told the House that the 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, 2nd Battalion the Royal Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire regiment, 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment and the 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh would all be "withdrawn" or disbanded. The Secretary of State said:
"These withdrawals and mergers, unwelcome as I know they will be in the units affected, are fair and balanced, and have been carefully structure to minimise the impact of the regular manpower reduction and optimise the military effectiveness of the Army."
By Paul Goodman
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8.45pm Update by Matthew Barrett: I have now learned which candidates are being backed by the traditional organisations on the right of the Conservative Party, such as the No Turning Back group. I have highlighted these in purple.
The following have been returned unopposed:-
Posts for which elections will take place (I have marked those previously identified by Tim as members of the 301 slate in blue):
1) Secretary - the following nominations have been received for TWO posts:
NICK DE BOIS
2) Executive members - the following nominations have been received for TWELVE posts.
PRITI PATEL - Priti Patel is being backed by both the 301 group, and the right of the Party.
Finally and separately, the following nominations have been received for Conservative members of the Backbench Business Committee - four posts:
By Matthew Barrett
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My series profiling the backbench groups of Tory MPs has so far mainly featured groups founded or mostly composed of 2010 intake MPs. Last time, I looked at the Thatcherite No Turning Back group, founded in the 1980s. This week's group is somewhere between the two. The Cornerstone Group is the main group whose defining mission is to represent socially conservative Members of Parliament. The group was formed in 2005, and presented some challenges for David Cameron's leadership. In this profile, I'll see how the group is doing now.
Origins of the group
Cornerstone was founded by Edward Leigh and John Hayes, who still chair the group. Leigh has been the MP for Gainsborough since 1983, and is a former Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry, who was sacked for his opposition to Maastricht, and John Hayes, who has been the MP for South Holland and the Deepings since 1997, and the Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning since 2010.
Cornerstone admired the work done during Iain Duncan Smith's time as leader to promote a more communitarian, Burkean conservatism, and wanted to ensure IDS' work on this front was carried on.
When the group launched formally in July 2005, it released a pamphlet, which criticised Michael Howard's election campaign for being too quiet about tax cuts, public service reform and family values. Strongly condemning the personality politics and liberalism of New Labour, Leigh wrote:
"We believe that these values must be stressed: tradition, nation, family, religious ethics, free enterprise ... Emulating New Labour both lacks authenticity and is unlikely to make us popular. We must seize the centre ground and pull it kicking and screaming towards us. That is the only way to demolish the foundations of the liberal establishment and demonstrate to the electorate the fundamental flaws on which it is based."
The group first exerted its influence during the 2005 leadership contest. A group of about twenty Cornerstone supporters interviewed David Cameron, David Davis and Liam Fox. Fox apparently put in the best performance, while David Davis was, reportedly, not able to take criticism well. This meeting, combined with David Davis' alienating stint as the Minister for Europe under Major, and Davis' reluctance to support Iain Duncan Smith's compassionate conservatism programme wholeheartedly, is thought to be why many Cornerstone supporters first voted for Fox, and then switched to Cameron.
By Tim Montgomerie
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Two weeks ago Matthew d'Ancona used his Sunday Telegraph column to wish that Christopher Hitchens was still alive to dissect the Prime Minister's speech on the King James Bible:
"As an implacable believer in the division between church and state, Hitch would have surely objected to a Prime Minister brandishing the King James Bible in the first place, and annexing it to the Government’s crusade against “the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations”. I imagine Christopher might have quoted, as he so often did, Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists of 1802, which declared that “the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions”, a principle reflected in the “wall of separation between Church & State”."
By Tim Montgomerie
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In the Commons yesterday there was a debate on immigration. Pasted below I pick out highlights of the contribution made by the MP for Canterbury, Julian Brazier.
Immigration during the Labour years was at least two million: "It is curious, looking through one’s postbag, how many of the pressing issues facing Britain today—housing shortages, congestion on roads and public transport, water shortages, pressures on public infrastructure of every kind—derive largely from a single, common factor: population growth, to which my right hon. Friend referred. We are one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with 255 people per square kilometre. During the time of the last Labour Government, immigration policies encouraged an unprecedented influx from EU and non-EU countries, which has boosted populations in some urban areas to near crisis point. Between 1997 and 2009, after deducting the number of those leaving, more than 2 million extra people were recorded as settling in the UK, a surge that is unprecedented. However, for the first time, those figures were calculated without using embarkation records, so the true figure may be much higher."
Big business benefits from mass immigration at expense of ordinary workers: "There are powerful voices that welcome continued heavy immigration. Big business benefits from the arrival of large numbers of people willing to work, since they drive down the cost of labour at the expense of the living standards of the indigenous workforce; and the wives of the better-off are able to get help in the home at a fraction of a living wage for local people, but then they and their families are not usually struggling to pay their mortgages and watching their children’s education being destroyed in schools with dozens of languages."
The impact of immigration on UK infrastucture: "Middle-income and lower middle-income Britain is hurting: with long working hours, high levels of debt and rising prices in so many sectors, people struggle to meet their mortgages and rent payments and they see their standard of living eroded. There is a severe shortage of homes, and overcrowding in many schools, hospitals and prisons, too. We are trying to cope with the strains of a growing population. Infrastructure is also desperately overstretched in so many ways, with issues of flooding, water supplies, roads and land preservation looming.
Action on immigration must be stronger: "We all recognise the huge contribution that moderate levels of immigration have made to this country in the past. I welcome the measures that Ministers and the Government have taken. I would argue, however, that the Coalition has a long way to go on this issue. The heavy criticism from big business and elements from the left must not put them off. It is time to recognise that we must take much stronger action if we want to head off the most severe social consequences and a backlash orchestrated by some unattractive people in the extremes—not just from indigenous people, but increasingly from many concerned people in our settled ethnic minority communities."
> James Clappison MP: Five steps towards proper control of immigration
By Joseph Willits
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In a Parliamentary debate on Armed Forces Personnel yesterday, Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey rather poignantly assessed the state of the military now, compared with the First and Second World Wars.
Harvey paid his respects to those killed in military combat. "Remembrance" he said, "is not a political occasion" but "about recognising that the real price of war... is a human price—a price paid not just by those who have died but by their families and by all those who have returned wounded, physically or mentally".
The armed forces today, he said "are different in many ways from those who fought on the Somme or at El Alamein", and that conscription then, was a "reflection of the existential threat facing the country at that time". Harvey stated that public awareness of the military had "declined" and was not "woven deeply into the fabric of the nation" as it once was. He suggested two reasons for the said decline; the numbers of those "who fought in the world wars or undertook national service" has dwindled, and service downgrades "since the end of the cold war." Harvey was careful to emphasise a decline in perception and awareness of the armed forces, rather than respect for them. "The people of Royal Wootton Bassett [who] chose to mark the return of the fallen is surely testament to that", he said.
By Joseph Willits
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In an over-subscribed Urgent Question debate in the Commons yesterday, on the Palestinian statehood bid, foreign office minister Alistair Burt (standing in for Hague who was in Libya) refused to be drawn on whether the government would officially support a Palestinian bid for UN membership.
On Tuesday, ConservativeHome reported that only 2 Tory MPs, Nicholas Soames and Sir Peter Bottomley had signed an Early Day Motion in favour of a Palestinian state. Upon writing this, the number had increased to four Tory MPs, with Julian Brazier and Eleanor Laing adding their signatures.
The hesitancy with which Tory MPs are having putting their name to the EDM, bears resemblance to the government's caution, because of fears that the bid could ruin the peace process. Alistair Burt stated that it would be "premature to speculate on what the Government’s response might be" before any proposal for membership had been published. Burt also stressed it was "vital that any action in the UN does nothing to endanger the prospect of talks".
Following on from the Arab Spring "the world can no longer claim that change in the Middle East will come slowly and incrementally, or allow the middle east peace process to limp along indefinitely, as it has done", said Burt. Any resolution made between the Israelis and Palestinians, he said, is seemingly "more significant" in relation to events of the Arab Spring.
By Tim Montgomerie
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In the late 1990s the Tories became the anti-€uro party but in the Commons yesterday a Tory Treasury minister would not echo Boris Johnson's comments and say that it was time for Greece to leave the single currency and pursue an export-led recovery. The frontbench's reluctance contrasted with the anger of Jack Straw and a host of Tory backbenchers, who all called for Greece to quit the currency zone.
It was the Eurosceptic Labour MP, Gisela Stewart, who yesterday forced an emergency statement from the Treasury. Ms Stewart wanted to know what were the Treasury’s contingency plans in the event of a Greek default.
George Osborne was attending a finance ministers meeting and it was left to Mark Hoban, the Financial Secretary, to answer on behalf of the Treasury. He declined to detail any contingency plans but did assure the House that the UK would not participate in any European bailout of Greece:
"We did not participate directly in the May 2010 package of support for Greece, and there has been no formal suggestion of UK bilateral loans or use of the EFSM, which is backed by the EU budget. The UK participated in the May 2010 package for Greece only through its membership of the IMF. So the burden of providing finance to Greece is shared between the IMF and euro area member states, and we fully expect this to continue. Our position on that is well understood across the euro area."
Jack Straw, the former Foreign Secretary, was unimpressed by Mr Hoban's reticence and, enjoying his own backbench freedom, urged the Government to declare that the €uro was dead in its current form (video here):
"Will the Minister not recognise that there is now a mood change in Europe? Der Spiegel, the German magazine has had a cover story [image on right declaring "Sudden and Unexpected"] contemplating the end of the euro as we now know it, and Mr Charles Grant, the well known europhile, has done the same in The Times today. Instead of sheltering behind complacent language and weasel words that we should not speculate, the Government should recognise that this eurozone cannot last. It is the responsibility of the British Government to be open with the British people now about the alternative prospects. Since the euro in its current form is going to collapse, is it not better that that happens quickly rather than it dying a slow death?"
Mr Hoban responded by noting that Mr Straw once wanted to take Britain into the €uro but refused to join him in stating that the current arrangement was over. "We have a strong interest, though, in the continued stability of the eurozone, as it is our major trading partner," said Mr Hoban, "Continued instability in the eurozone could be a factor in holding back the recovery of the British economy."
By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday the Commons used the time allocated by the Backbench Business Committee to debate the issue of immigration. Here is a selection of excerpts from the contributions of Conservative backbenchers...
"People have been afraid to discuss this crucial issue, which, happily, we are now beginning to address. Why is that? It is because people have been concerned about being viewed as intolerant-as bigots, even-if they raise the issue of immigration publicly. We all know that Britain is not a bigoted nation. The British people are not and have never been bigots.
"It is not bigoted to be genuinely concerned about how our local schools might cope with increasing school rolls or about how teachers can keep discipline with several different languages being spoken in the classroom. It is not bigoted to be genuinely concerned about the pressures being placed on the NHS by population expansion and how local hospital services will cope with the increased demands placed on them. Nor is it bigoted to be genuinely concerned about how all our local services-our infrastructure-might be able to cope with an increased population."
"The lesson that all three parties learned from the general election was that the issue needed to be debated. Happily, it was debated at the end of the general election, although it should have been brought forward sooner. It is clear to me that it is only right and responsible for us to act now to protect our public services and local infrastructure. It is clear that we can no longer go on as we were, with a policy of uncontrolled immigration and net migration reaching almost 200,000."
In a statement to the Commons, William Hague says it is vital for there to be "unfettered" access to Gaza. Hamas, he says, continues to pursue an ideology of violence. Hamas must cease their attacks immediately and back The Quartet principles. The only long-term hope is a Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure Israel.
Shadow Foreign Secretary David Miliband calls Israel's attack on the flotilla "self-defeating". The blockade does nothing to weaken the grip of Hamas - in fact Hamas benefits from taxes on smuggling.
Responding to Miliband, Hague says support for the people of Gaza is "bipartisan" in the Commons. He agrees that Israel's policy on the blockade "tightens" Hamas' grip on Gaza.
William Hague responds to a request from Ming Campbell that Hamas be brought into the circle of talks. Addressing "his honourable friend" the Foreign Secretary says Hamas must first recognise Israel, honour past agreements and abandon violence.
Labour MP Louise Ellman becomes first MP to speak in sympathy with Israel. She invites William Hague to understand how Israel can be assured that its security won't be compromised if the blockade is lifted. Two questions later Sammy Wilson (DUP) invites the Foreign Secretary to say how Israel's security can be guaranteed - and arms shipments avoided - if the blockade is lifted. Hague replies that the international community must provide Israel with such assurance without saying 'how'.
Sir Nicholas Soames calls the blockade "cruel" and invites William Hague to agree that it is illegal. William Hague says that he think the blockade is unwise and the challenge is to persuade Israel that it is not in its interest. Anne Main attacks what she describes as Israel's use of "selective footage" of the flotilla incident in the media. Another Tory MP Julian Brazier describes the blockade as "brutal". He says that smuggling tunnels into Gaza can now accommodate 4x4 vehicles.
Robert Halfon invites the Foreign Secretary to acknowledge that Israel is allowing millions of tonnes of humanitarian aid into Gaza and there is a risk that Iranian-supplied weapons could reach Hamas if the blockade is lifted. The Foreign Secretary says the comments bring balance to the discussion so far.
Ann Clywd calls on William Hague to adopt a hobnailed boot policy towards Israel. End the pussy footing she said and end the illegal settlements. William Hague replies that he still has faith in Israeli democracy and that the nation can be persuaded to change course.
Julian Brazier, the Conservative MP and chairman of the of the all-party group on Adventure and Recreation in Society, has joined calls for a ban on an organised lobby of Parliament by one hundred cub scouts to be lifted.
The scouts had planned a trip to Parliament and a room had been booked for them off Westminster Hall in order that they could lobby MPs to oppose a rise in water charges for voluntary groups.
However, the Commons authorities have cancelled the room booking on the grounds that the scouts are "not yet eligible to vote".
But Mr Brazier, along with Labour MPs Martin Salter and Stephen Pound, has written to the Speaker seeking his intervention to overturn the "unacceptable" decision on the grounds that "all constituents, regardless of age, should be free to lobby their MPs".
The BBC has more.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): For what reasons she decided to prevent Michael Savage from entering the UK; and if she will make a statement.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): Michael Savage was excluded for engaging in unacceptable behaviour by seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts and by fostering hatred that might lead to inter-community violence. The exclusion is in line with the strengthened policy on exclusions that I announced to the House on 28 October last year. In his radio broadcasts, Mr. Savage has spoken about killing 100 million Muslims, and he has spoken in violent terms about homosexuals. Coming to the UK is a privilege. I refuse to extend that privilege to individuals who abuse our standards and values to undermine our way of life.
Michael Fabricant: Notwithstanding the Home Secretary’s answer, she will be aware that the things of which she accuses Mike Savage are also illegal in the United States of America, and he has not faced prosecution there. Does she realise how ludicrous her ban is and the disrepute into which she has put this country in the eyes of many right-seeing—and, indeed, left-seeing—people in the United States? Does she also plan to ban Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh and other middle-aged, white, ordinary, American radio presenters?
Jacqui Smith: I subscribe to the view, as expressed by another Member of this House, that “It’s clear for reasons of our security that we must expel or refuse entry to those who preach hate, pit one faith against another and divide our society.” Those were the words of the Leader of the Opposition, and I think he was right. Frankly, if the hon. Gentleman believes that it is appropriate for somebody to use words about Muslims such as, “I said so kill 100 million of them, then there would be 900 million of them. I mean would you rather us die than them?”, then he has a very different set of values than I have, and I want to ensure that those are implemented in the decisions that we make about who we do and do not allow into this country.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): The Home Office’s production of a “name and shame” list was a self-evident gimmick and demeaning to Government, and it has led to a completely avoidable legal action that is producing splendid publicity for Michael Savage. Does the Home Secretary think, on reflection, that that was a mistake and the wrong way for the Government to behave?
Jacqui Smith: No, I do not, because I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s party leader that we need to be clear about who we will and will not accept into this country. We need to be clear about the values that we have. Where someone preaches hate and foments hatred in the way that has happened in this case, where they provoke others to serious violence, and where they use phrases such as, in relation to somebody who said on his radio programme that he was gay, “You should only get AIDS and die, you pig!”, then it is right that we express our view about that. We recognise that coming to this country is a privilege, and we will express our values in terms of those we exclude.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): If it is an even-handed approach, could the Home Secretary explain why we have welcomed back to this country from Guantanamo Bay two UK residents, but not citizens, who are not only suspected terrorists in Afghanistan but wanted on murder charges in Spain?
Jacqui Smith: We have, for some period of time, taken a position of wanting to see Guantanamo Bay closed. In order to help to facilitate that, we have accepted back, and in fact sought the return to this country, of those who are nationals and have previously been resident in the UK. I think that President Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo Bay is the right one, not solely because of the individuals there but because of the ability that that gives us internationally to take forward the sort of values that we hold, and the US holds, in fighting and tackling terrorism.
The Equitable Life scandal was rightly prioritised by Conservative members, who leapt on Economic Secretary to the Treasury Ian Pearson, who had this to say:
"I am very disappointed that the Public Administration Committee should choose to obscure the real help that it accepts the Government’s payments scheme will deliver under extreme headlines, seemingly driven by an uncritical acceptance of the findings of the ombudsman’s report and by its unjustifiable and irresponsible characterisation of the manner of the Government’s response. [ Interruption. ] As a Government, we do not depart lightly from any of the ombudsman’s findings, but— [ Interruption. ]
Ian Pearson: The Government do not depart lightly from any of the ombudsman’s findings, but in such an important and complex case we have a clear duty to the taxpayer to ensure that our response is informed by a proper and comprehensive consideration of her report. That is what we have done and, as I have indicated previously, we want to move forward with an ex gratia payment scheme just as quickly as possible. We are talking to Sir John Chadwick about the advice that he is providing."
South Staffordshire's Sir Patrick Cormack (above right) was appalled:
"Is the Minister aware that he has just made one of the most shameful statements to have been made from that Dispatch Box in many years? He has rubbished a Committee presided over by one of his own greatly respected colleagues, and discounted the unprecedented second letter from the ombudsman that we all received this week. He has had no support from the Benches behind him, as not a single Labour Member has risen to echo his words. He should be deeply ashamed of himself, because he is bringing the Government and the whole system into disrepute.
Ian Pearson: I have a lot of respect for the hon. Gentleman, who has a very long track record of upholding standards in this House, but we have departed from the ombudsman’s findings only where we have clear and cogent reasons for doing so. We have applied scrupulously the terms of the Parliamentary Commissioners Act 1967, as interpreted by the Court of Appeal in the Bradley judgment. For no other reasons have we departed from those findings. I have to say that I remain very disappointed indeed that the PAC does not appear to have understood some of the arguments that we have made to it."
(The Public Administration Committee is chaired by Dr Tony Wright.)