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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Following on from the last few days' rolling blogs, I have below a final list of the MPs (and Baroness Warsi) appointed as Ministers for each department. I have put new appointments in bold.
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Department for Communities and Local Government
By Jonathan Isaby
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Tuesday this week saw a debate in Westminster Hall initiated by a Labour MP on the future of the coastguard service. The first speech from a Conservative MP came from Sheryll Murray, MP for South East Cornwall and her contribution was all the more poignant because her husband, a fisherman, was killed in an accident a sea just three months ago.
She took the opportunity in this week's debate to make a plea to the transport minister, Mike Penning, not to close local marine rescue co-ordination centres (MRCCs):
"I am pleased that we are looking at the co-ordination role of the coastguard co-ordination stations, which has not always been focused on in other debates, and at their role in overseeing incidents at sea. It is the local coastguards who pull together the emergency services during an incident and who, over many years, have built up relationships with those services. We remove that local relationship at our peril.
"I firmly believe, as did my late husband, that there should be modernisation of coastguard equipment to allow, for example, the position of vessels transmitting with the voluntary class B automatic indicator system to be identified easily, but that there should be no cull of marine rescue co-ordination centres. Because of my personal position, I have received representations from concerned sea users all over the country, but it is appropriate for me to concentrate on my own area.
"The marine rescue co-ordination centre in Brixham covers my constituency of South East Cornwall, and has built up unique experience from so many incidents over many years. The search and rescue area covered by Brixham stretches from Dodman Point halfway along the south coast of Cornwall to Exmouth in Devon, and it is essential to emphasise something I am sure the Minister will recognise and agree with— that local knowledge of topography saves lives. The care that I was afforded on 25 March by Looe RNLI crew and Brixham and Looe coastguards was beyond anything I could have expected, and I thank all those involved in the emergency services, and indeed the south-west fishing industry, for their kindness.
"This past Saturday I spent time with my local RNLI personnel and my local volunteer coastguards, who are all concerned about the Minister’s proposals. They feel that he has not had the opportunity to speak to people who operate at the sharp end, and I would like to invite the Minister to visit Looe — if his busy schedule allows it — to hear for himself their concerns."
Health questions were put in the House of Commons yesterday.
The situation at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which has been slammed by the Healthcare Commission for "appalling" emergency care at Stafford Hospital, stood out. Between 2005 and 2008 about 400 more people died there than would ordinarily have been expected.
Stone MP Bill Cash expressed his profound concern:
"Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will the Secretary of State take account of the fact that I am repeating my call for an inquiry into this whole matter under the Inquiries Act 2005? Will he also make it clear that all those in that trust who are culpable, as set out in the Healthcare Commission report—that includes other senior management besides the chairman and the chief executive at the time—must be removed and not merely suspended on full pay?
Alan Johnson: As I just said, the investigation will involve everyone who has any position of authority within that trust—the whole board and all the executive directors. It will be a proper investigation and it will be fair, and the action taken will result from that inquiry, not from any knee-jerk reaction by me or anyone else."
Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley (above right) went on the same topic:
“we should be spotting these issues much earlier and getting rid of incompetent chief executives or chairpersons who, fortunately, are in the minority, rather than waiting for a report such as this, by which time, frankly, most of the damage has been done.”—[ Official Report, 15 October 2007; Vol. 464, c. 571.]
The Secretary of State knew about the failings at Stafford in May 2008, so why did he not intervene then and there?
Alan Johnson: I ask the hon. Gentleman to look at the Healthcare Commission’s report carefully. The difference between what happened in Stafford and in Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, and the fact that the Healthcare Commission took into account those words and what others said at the time, is that as soon as commission staff went into Stafford and saw the problems—in May 2008—they immediately called the chief executive to a meeting, put their concerns to him, and started to see the process of improvement. That is the job of the Healthcare Commission while it carries out its inquiry. The staff cannot say at that stage that they have come to any conclusions, and it would be unfair, one day into an inquiry, to reach conclusions and say that heads must roll and recommendations must be made. We made that specific point to the Healthcare Commission at the time of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, so in Stafford staff immediately introduced measures to put things right, rather than wait for the end of the process and the report to be published—as I said they should do in that quote.
The House of Commons returned yesterday and got stuck into Defence questions.
Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox asked about Afghanistan:
"The general consensus on Afghanistan in the House has put the United Kingdom in a strong position in NATO. Does the Secretary of State agree that, if there is to be further British deployment in Afghanistan, four criteria must be met? First, there must be a clear and achievable political mission to support the military mission, as was the case with the surge in Iraq, but that does not currently exist in Afghanistan. Secondly, governance in Afghanistan, including widespread corruption, must be tackled because it is undermining our efforts. Thirdly, as has been said, all NATO allies should be asked to take a fairer share because too many are shamefully failing to do that. Fourthly, any increase in troop numbers must be matched by a proportionate and appropriate increase in equipment such as helicopters and armoured vehicles.
Mr. Hutton: I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman has said. We would not deploy additional forces to Afghanistan unless they had the right equipment to do their job properly. He has rightly drawn attention to the low number of helicopters that are available to support ISAF. We are working on that, as are our NATO partners and allies. The French-UK helicopter initiative is a small step in the right direction—it has yet to produce significant new assets but I hope that it will do soon.
Although I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said, I caution him about drawing too many parallels between Iraq and Afghanistan. They are two very different countries, with very different security situations.
Dr. Fox: The Secretary of State will know that, over the weekend, reports in the press gave detailed information about the life-changing injuries that some of our troops in Afghanistan have sustained. Will he take the opportunity, relatively early in his time in office, to review the way in which the Ministry of Defence publishes statistics, so that we can have a full and transparent picture of the sacrifices that are being made on our behalf? The British public, our armed forces and their families deserve no less, and are far more able to deal with unpleasant truth than with what many may perceive as half-truths and evasions.
Mr. Hutton: I agree that transparency in the figures is important. Every fortnight, we publish a series of figures, which show the extent of injuries and wounds to service personnel in active theatres. It is not therefore fair or reasonable to criticise the MOD for failing to provide an accurate scorecard on what is happening. We do not have a category of “life-changing injuries”. Neither the statisticians nor the services have identified that as a meaningful definition. However, we publish comprehensive, fortnightly data, which deal with the extent of injuries and wounds. I am happy to draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to that, if he wishes."
It was time for questions to the Health Department yesterday. Perhaps the most noteworthy question came from Mike Penning (pictured right), who spoke in light of the revelation that in 2007-08 criminal sanctions following cases of assault in the acute sector rose by thirteen per cent.
Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley asked about sport in schools:
"I welcome the announcement of the Active England strategy, but it has taken a year to get there. I am afraid that the Secretary of State has got it wrong about school sports. The Government are not meeting their commitment to ensure that all pupils get two hours of sport a week in schools. In the school sport survey last October, the number of 11 to 16-year-olds getting two hours of exercise had gone down from 88 per cent. to 83 per cent. in a year. Will the Secretary of State, with his colleagues at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, ensure that the commitment to a minimum of two hours of exercise in schools is achieved, and will he tell us when will it be achieved?
Alan Johnson: From memory, the proportion of young children getting two hours of exercise in schools was about 24 per cent. when we came into government, so a drop— [ Interruption. ] Incidentally, I am not sure about the statistics that the hon. Gentleman just quoted. If there has been a slight drop, it should be seen in that context. Sport in our schools is essential to the sort of message that we seek to deliver, which is why we have pledged not just effort and time, but a huge amount of finance to meet those targets. And we will meet the target in 2010, just as I am absolutely sure we will move on to meet the extended target in 2012."
Shadow Health Minister Mark Simmonds was concerned about access to GPs:
"In Battersea, the provision of primary care is vital to the health of the community, but according to the Royal College of General Practitioners, seeing a doctor who knows the patient and their medical condition personally is important to more than 75 per cent. of patients. Yet the Secretary of State recently said that he “could not care less” which GP he sees. That is totally out of touch with patient needs both in Battersea and elsewhere. Can the Minister confirm that continuity of care is important to the vast majority of patients, particularly those with long-term conditions? If so, why are he and the Secretary of State centrally imposing polyclinics, against patients’ needs and wishes?
Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, I am happy to confirm what the hon. Gentleman asks me to confirm. However, what he says is another of the myths that were peddled by both the Opposition and the British Medical Association, at the time, in their opposition to new GP health centres. I do not know whether he has now abandoned the Conservative party’s opposition to the centres. I suspect that the Conservatives will quietly abandon that opposition, because where the new centres are opening, they are incredibly popular, not least with local Conservative councillors and Conservative MPs who want theirs to open as quickly as possible.
Of course continuity of care is important for many patients, particularly those with long-term conditions. However, many people, such as professionals who are otherwise healthy and who are juggling work and family life, find it very difficult to see their GP, because of opening times. They warmly welcome the opportunity to see a GP, and they do not particularly mind whether it is always the same GP."
It stretches credulity to say that people are indifferent about who their GP is; Mr Simmonds is correct.
Herewith some interesting recent early day motions.
Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff put down EDM 676 to call on the Government to make business rate relief for small businesses automatic:
"That this House notes with concern that business rate relief is not taken up by over half of those small businesses eligible to claim it; further notes that as a result small businesses are losing out on saving up to £2,500 yearly; further notes that across the country around £400 million earmarked for rate relief to be paid to small businesses is returned to the Treasury; and calls on the Government to support the Small Business Rate Relief (Automatic Payment) Bill."
Mr Luff is promoting this Bill, backed by the Federation of Small Businesses. It was presented to Parliament on 21 January (there was no debate). In 2007 the Welsh Assembly made such payments automatic in Wales. This seems like a thoroughly worthwhile move.
Romford MP and Shadow Home Affairs Minister Andrew Rosindell is fan of the EDM medium. Number 705, which he tabled, refers to British relations with the Maori people:
"That this House is proud to join the people of New Zealand in celebrating Waitangi Day, their national day, on 6 February 2009, commemorating the historic signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, that marks the coming together of the Maori people and representatives of the British Crown; notes the importance of maintaining strong links between the United Kingdom and New Zealand; recognises the strong historic bond and shared heritage, longstanding trading relationships and deeply intertwined cultural, educational and military ties between the peoples of these two great allies and Commonwealth members who share Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State and Sovereign; and urges the Government to continue to foster and strengthen the special relationship that binds these two nations together."
Shadow Health Minister Mike Penning - MP for Hemel Hempstead and polymath - has posed a noteworthy written question to the Government:
"To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many problematic drugs users were estimated to be residing in London in the last year for which figures are available. 
(1) Problem drug use in this context refers to use of opiates and/or crack cocaine, including those who inject either of these drugs. It does not include the of cocaine in powder from, amphetamine, ecstasy or cannabis, or injecting by people who do not use opiates or cocaine."
Why aren't the abusers of these other drugs included? Is it because their numbers are too hard to calculate or estimate? Is it becase these drugs are considered less problematic? It seems to be a very odd approach.
(Please note that the typo in the minister's answer is not ConservativeHome's.)
In the latest copy of Hansard, several more written questions have been inadequately answered.
There will be times when the Government really can't answer a question, or when it would be undiplomatic for it to do so, or when pulling the information together would be excessively costly. But those occasions are comparatively rare.
This post is longer than normal, but with good reason. It's time to spotlight what appears to be indefensible obsfucation. If anyone can suggest good reasons why the answers below were in fact satisfactory, we'd be delighted to see them.
There are some real gems, including this one from Douglas Carswell, Tory MP for Harwich:
"Mr. Carswell: To ask the Prime Minister how much champagne was ordered by the Prime Minister’s Office for consumption at events at (a) 10 Downing Street and (b) Chequers in each of the last six months. 
If this isn't a lie, and they really don't know how much they spent on bubbly, that's actually more horrifying than trying to cover it up.
Mike Penning - raconteur, aesthete, Shadow Health Minister and MP for Hemel Hempstead - has uncovered yet another extraordinary example of Governmental ignorance. This came out in a written answer.
"Mike Penning: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many NHS dentists there are per 1,000 people in Hemel Hempstead constituency. 
The number of dentists with national health service activity during the years ending 31 March 2007 and 31 March 2008 per 100,000 population is available in Table G1 of Annex 3 of the report NHS Dental Statistics for England: 2007-08. Information is available by strategic health authority and by primary care trust. This information is based on the new dental contractual arrangements introduced on 1 April 2006.
Following a recent consultation exercise, this measure is based on a revised methodology and therefore supersedes previously published workforce figures relating to the new dental contractual arrangements. It is not comparable to the information collected under the old contractual arrangements. The revised methodology counts the number of dental performers with NHS activity recorded through FP17 claim forms in each year ending 31 March.
Complicated to calculate it may be. Impossible it would not be.
Edward Leigh MP on the foetus at 12 weeks: "We believe that an unborn child of 12 weeks has undeniable human characteristics. Her organs, muscles and nerves have begun to function. She has fingernails and toenails. To become a child, she needs nothing more than to stay for a few months in the safety of her mother’s womb. We will all take different views. Some will not share our opinion, but undeniably the view is developing in this country that what I say is more and more true of unborn children of 16, 18 or 20 weeks. We must accept that in this instance we are dealing with a human life. If we cannot deny the humanity of babies at 12 weeks, we cannot deny our duty to protect them."
Mark Pritchard MP explains his support for a 16 week time limit: "Scientific evidence increasingly suggests that unborn children feel pain at 16 weeks. That is not simply a stress response; it is a physiological response, perhaps not the same as in a fully grown adult, but a physical and even emotional response beyond the norms of passive reflex. Pain is felt, which is why specialist, gifted surgeons who perform surgery on babies in the womb use anaesthetic. Now, 4D imaging reveals that 16-week-old unborn babies are very much alive and kicking, although their limbs are too small to be felt by the mothers. Those who have had children know that they are likely to feel kicking at around 17 weeks in the case of a second baby and 19 weeks in the case of a first baby. However, just because the mother does not feel kicking, it does not mean that there is no leg kicking. Sixteen-week-old unborn babies are very small human beings, but they have many of the faculties of newborn babies."
Mike Penning MP highlights the scale of abortion in Britain: "5.5 million pregnancies in this country have been terminated. As we heard earlier, the latest available figures show that nearly 200,000 were terminated in 2006. The figure has risen dramatically since 1969, when 5.2 women in 1,000 had an abortion. The figure is now 18.3 per 1,000, which is a huge amount. I believe that everyone in the House would like to see a massive reduction in the number of abortions taking place in this country. This is not about choice; I want everybody to have a choice, but surely, in a compassionate society such as ours, we would all want to see fewer terminations taking place."
Mike Penning also urges more reflection before an abortion: "I had a vasectomy on the national health. I went to see my GP, who said, “I want to speak to your wife.” My wife and I both sat there and agreed that a vasectomy was the way forward for us as our own personal form of contraception. The GP then sent us away for three or four days, after which my wife and I both saw the consultant, and again we both agreed that a vasectomy was the way forward. I entirely agree with the hon. Lady that if that time for thought is right for a man having a vasectomy—which, by the way, can be reversed, albeit painfully—there must be a provision for more time to think and consult when it comes to such a serious decision as having an abortion."
Nadine Dorries MP recounts her gruesome experience as a nurse, assisting with a late term abortion: "I first became concerned about and interested in the issue of abortion when I worked as a nurse. I worked for nine months on a gynaecology ward, and assisted in many terminations and late terminations. I also went to witness a late surgical abortion six weeks ago. I became interested in abortion when it became apparent to me, as a nurse, that far more botched late abortions were taking place than should. The first one that I witnessed was a prostaglandin termination. A little boy was aborted into a cardboard bedpan, which was thrust into my arms. When I looked into the cardboard bedpan, the little boy was gasping for breath through the mucus and amniotic fluid. I stood by the sluice with him in my arms, in the bedpan, for seven minutes while he gasped for breath. A botched abortion became a live birth, and then, seven minutes later, a death. I knew when I stood with that little boy in my arms that one day I would have the opportunity to defend babies such as him. I thought that we committed murder that day. I cannot think of another word for a nurse or doctor present at the birth not attempting to resuscitate a baby who was an abortion but became a live birth."
Nadine Dorries MP on how NHS doctors do not want to conduct late term abortions: "It is a fact that doctors do not like to perform late abortions. In the NHS, hardly any abortions over 16 weeks take place. We have a Government policy of 24 weeks, and an NHS that does not want to carry that policy out. We have a private abortion industry that has mushroomed around the NHS in order to carry out late terminations that doctors and nurses in the NHS do not want to do."
John Bercow and Ann Widdecombe clash:
John Bercow MP: "She is concerned about humanity; so are other right hon. and hon. Members. Does she not accept that if there is a two-week reduction, very, very frightened and vulnerable women will unquestionably suffer? We should stick with the status quo."
Ann Widdecombe MP: I cannot believe the way my hon. Friend has simply dismissed the humanity of the child. Because of the 24-week limit, that situation already arises. What limits the period to 24 weeks? The humanity of the child; the ability to feel pain, on which there is now a vast body of scientific evidence; the ability to feel distress. I ask again, why is it that we need to give a lethal injection to a child if it is not living in the womb? It may not be living outside the womb, but it is living in the womb. Those who believe in preserving life acknowledge the life of what is living, even though we cannot see it. If we could see the children that are being taken for abortion, there would be a national outcry.
All attempts to lower the abortion limit were defeated.