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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After last week's reshuffle of the Secretaries and Ministers of State, and this week's reshuffle of Parliamentary Private Secretaries, it's possible to investigate the state of a dying breed: the backbenchers who've always been loyal. The list below features the Conservative MPs who meet the following criteria:
By Matthew Barrett
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We know that 91 Tories voted against the Lords Reform Bill last night. That's the big, headline grabbing figure - the biggest rebellion in this Parliament.
By Tim Montgomerie
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Yesterday on ConservativeHome Ruth Lea questioned the continuation of UK aid to India. Her sceptical position is shared by most Britons. By 60% to 14% voters told YouGov that aid spending should be switched to countries with greater needs.
In a letter to The Telegraph Tory MPs Bob Blackman, William Cash, Stephen Hammond, Richard Harrington, Pauline Latham and Jeremy Lefroy have come to its defence (my emphasis):
"SIR – In the debate about British aid to India, we believe our programme in India is helping to rebuild lives and is also in Britain’s long-term interest. While it is true that India is a growing economic force, it is also home to a third of the world’s very poorest people. It is right for Britain to work with the Indian government to help tackle this dire poverty.
It is also right to ensure that our aid is targeted effectively. We welcome the Coalition Government’s radical overhaul of the Department for International Development’s aid programme to India: freezing the amount spent and targeting it at three of the poorest states. India is a vital strategic ally with whom we share extensive connections; more than 1.6 million British Indians live here. With India we share democracy, the English language and trade links that amount to billions of pounds. India will be an essential partner if we are to rebalance our economy and improve human rights around the globe.
Providing short-term support to ensure people in India can eat and live should not be contentious. We do not believe our aid programme should continue indefinitely, but now isn’t the time to turn our backs."
I certainly agree. DFID notes that "a third of the world's poorest people (living on less than 80p a day) live in India – more than in sub-Saharan Africa". Just because the Indian government has the wrong spending priorities, the poor citizens of its country should not suffer.
Other signatories include a number of business people plus Lord Popat of Conservative Friends of India and Baroness Jenkin of Conservative Friends of International Development.
By Jonathan Isaby
Two Conservative backenchers raised the case of the Lockerbie bomber, al-Megrahi, at Foreign Office Questions yesterday, in the wake of the leak of documents suggesting that the Labour ministers had secretly advised Libya how to secure release of Lockerbie bomber.
Pauline Latham and Rober Halfon both pressed the Foreign Secretary to comment on the latest revelations, but he opted to keep his counsel in advance of the Cabinet Secretary's report into the matter, as the exchanges below demonstrate:
Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire): Following the premature release of al-Megrahi, do the Government have any plans to send more NHS cancer patients to Libya, given the better survival rate there? How does the Secretary of State feel this disgraceful leak will affect our relationship with the United States of America?
WIlliam Hague: I detect from my hon. Friend's question that she did not agree with the release of Mr Megrahi. Nether did I, and nor did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, it was a decision taken by the Scottish Executive. On the question of relations with the United States, the Prime Minister undertook to have the Cabinet Secretary look at past papers on this case, and his report will be published shortly.
Robert Halfon (Harlow): Following the Secretary of State's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) on the release of the Lockerbie bomber, does he not agree that the previous Government hid behind the fig leaf of devolution in order to release a mass terrorist on dubious commercial grounds? Will he take steps to ensure that such a thing never happens again?
Mr Hague: As I have said, the Cabinet Secretary's report on that will be published in the not-too-distant future, so it would be wise to wait for that, rather than trying to anticipate it.
Meanwhile, Robert Halfon has also tabled the following early day motion (EDM 1387) on the issue:
That this House sincerely regrets the decision of the Foreign Office under the last administration, when it reportedly wrote to Libyan officials offering them detailed legal advice on how to use Abdelbaset al-Megrahi's cancer diagnosis to ensure that he was released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds; notes thatit has been reported in the Daily Telegraph that the Libyans closely followed this advice from the Foreign Office, only a few months after this letter, and that this led to the controversial release of al-Megrahi, the terrorist and Lockerbie bomber, who was convicted by a British court in 2001 for the murder of 270 innocent passengers on Pan Am flight 103; and concludes that this new information seriously undermines the last Labour administration's claims that there was no double-dealing in the release of al-Megrahi and that the decision was solely the responsibility of the devolved Scottish Executive.
By Paul Goodman
"Since 2000 we have seen the breadbasket of Africa turn into the basket case of Africa. The commercial farming sector and the economy have collapsed, even though Zimbabwe used to export produce all over the world, and to neighbouring countries, as well as feed all its people. It is a tragedy that that situation is not returning at the moment. The lack of food resulted in the spread of chronic poverty, with about 2 million Zimbabweans depending on food aid. At poverty's highest point, more than 80% of the Zimbabwean population were living on less than $1 a day. With cholera, malaria and HIV/AIDS at the worst level of any country in Africa and on the rise, and with Zimbabwe's infrastructure on a sharp decline, the country fell into dictatorial despair."
- Looking at trends in the delivery of aid -
"It is not how much money we spend, but how it is spent, that will make a difference. The Secretary of State has said that a lot since taking office. Between 2004-05 and 2008-09 the balance of DFID bilateral aid to Zimbabwe shifted. At the beginning of the period, most aid was delivered by NGOs, but at the end, most was delivered via multilaterals...Although I recognise the importance of the co-ordination that multilaterals such as the UN offer, I agree with critics who cite inefficiencies at ground level. I hope that as NGOs move back into Zimbabwe, we will see the role of multilaterals change from humanitarian to crisis management to overall strategic country growth. It is not often that I agree with the TUC, but I concede that as Zimbabwe's economy grows and the need for humanitarian relief declines, DFID should look to move away from humanitarian relief and towards core development-oriented interventions."
- And pointing to the indispensability of land reform and political change -
"One of the two most important ways in which DFID can help with the redevelopment of Zimbabwe is helping to fund the land audit. The GNU Finance Minister has allocated $30 million for a future audit, but previous Zimbabwe Government land audit findings have not been released, and I am sceptical that without the international community's involvement, the findings will be unfair. It is not for me to suggest what conditions the international community should impose on funding for the land audit, but as the DFID Minister at the time of the International Development Committee report stated, a land audit would be the first step towards reform, but it cannot be carried with the current President and his cronies blocking international efforts.
Finally, DFID has a role in developing the political system. I understand the view that the inclusive Zimbabwe Government is not yet the partner that we require to sustain a full development relationship. The global political agreement and the resulting GNU are steps in the right direction, but unfortunately, as Tsvangirai pointed out, things have not radically altered, and Mugabe continues to act without consulting other GNU members. As a result, I believe that DFID's strategy on providing technical assistance and policy support will strengthen the political process in Zimbabwe. I hope that the desired outcome of political change will take place, but if the recent Act concerning white-owned businesses is anything to go by, we have some way to go, as we heard from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon."
Pauline Latham is the newly-elected MP for the new constituency of Mid Derbyshire. In her maiden speech this week, she explained that a "spiteful" decision by Labour-controlled Derbyshire County Council politicised her in the 1980s, as well as explaining how she has started a social action project in Uganda:
"I am fortunate to have known my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales [Patrick McLoughlin] since just after his narrow by-election win in 1986, when the then Labour Derbyshire county council decided to abolish, not for educational reasons but from political spite, the sixth form at the school that my children attended. As chairman of the school parent teacher association, it was left to me to lead the campaign to save the sixth form of what was, and is, the most successful comprehensive in the county. We even had an Adjournment debate in this place. It did not start until after 3 o’clock in the morning but it was attended by more than 150 parents, staff and children. The campaign was successful and the sixth form was saved.
"Since those times my interest in international development has grown through starting a project in Uganda with students from two of the four secondary schools in Mid Derbyshire. We have been to Uganda to see what it is like for children to be brought up in a developing poor country. The project links very well with my interest in education, because we help schools over there. The students pay most of the cost of the trip, but we all fundraise to pay for the rest and for the aid that we take to the two schools that we support. Last year, £12,000 was shared between the schools. It is a good way for students from relatively comfortable backgrounds to see that others can be as successful as them. Just because the Ugandan students are poor does not mean that they cannot succeed.
"Students from Ecclesbourne school in Duffield and Woodlands school in Allestree spend many of their weekends fundraising, which has included bag-packing in supermarkets, washing cars, running stalls at fairs and baking cakes for sale. The students have learned to speak in public, either at school to inspire other students to help or in local churches to explain why we have a cake stall after the service. They have also learned that fundraising is hard work.
"Those young people see students in Uganda who have nothing but who are getting on with a good education without books or equipment. They study the same syllabus but without a textbook in sight, relying only on the teacher’s knowledge to learn, often by rote, from the blackboard. Their schools are in poor rural communities and it has been useful for our students to realise that from an early age Ugandan students have to fetch water from the well before walking up to seven miles to school. They do not have iPods, computers, mobile phones or the internet—luxuries that our students take for granted. The fundraising has transformed the life chances of the children we have helped in Uganda, as well as giving our students an insight into what real poverty is. I have also been to Rwanda with a Conservative party project, so I am delighted that we are committed to work towards our 0.7% international development goal."