By Paul Goodman
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It might be assumed that the overwhelming majority of Tory MPs are adamantly opposed to prisoners voting.
Not so - at least, if yesterday's Commons statement is anything to go by.
By my count, David Davis, Gerald Howarth, Nick de Bois, Eleanor Laing, Peter Bone, James Clappison, Christopher Chope, Henry Bellingham, Roger Gale, Robert Halfon, Henry Bellingham, Roger Gale, David Ruffley, Dan Byles, Andrew Bridgen, David Nuttall, and Glyn Davies all made points either about Parliamentary sovereignty or the Court itself.
Caroline Dinenage, Philip Hollobone, Mark Menzies, James Pawsey, Neil Parish, Michael Ellis, and Justin Tomlinson all made arguments against prisoners being given the right to vote - seven MPs in total.
By contrast, I count five of their Conservative colleagues suggesting that at least some prisoners should be given the right to vote. This claim will perhaps not be believed unless their contributions are quoted in full below.
Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): Just because there may be a bipartisan consensus does not mean that it is right or rational, and it certainly does not include me. May I volunteer to serve on this Joint Committee, and may I ask those who give evidence the following? Is denying the vote to someone who has been sentenced to jail after being convicted of a crime a deterrent? It clearly is not. Is it a punishment, given that most criminals have not voted in their lives? Is it a penance? Or is it part of rehabilitation? Having discussed Strasbourg, we ought to start discussing why we are doing this to prisoners.
Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to nail the myth about the so-called blanket ban? We do not have a blanket ban in this country; remand prisoners, contemnors and fine defaulters retain the right to vote. Will he assure me that it is for this Parliament to consider a range of options, which I hope the Joint Committee will consider carefully?
Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Should we not set store by precedent? Am I right in believing that when we signed up to the convention, before the 1960s, those serving as misdemeanours for fewer than six months were allowed to vote but felons serving for more than six months could not? Of course we must be sovereign, but is that not the sort of compromise that could be reached to ensure our continued membership of the Council of Europe?
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I draw the House’s attention to my recently published book on prison reform. I have represented hundreds of people who were in prison, not one of whom ever said to my good self that they were busting for a chance to vote; I assure the Secretary of State that that was not the intention of many I represented. What is the proposal in the option for considering short sentences of a few weeks or even a few days in custody?
Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend say that he will uphold our obligations under international law. I welcome the middle option of six months or fewer as something that those of us who are not implacably opposed to prisoners having the right to vote under any circumstances could consider. Will he qualify that further and comment on whether further restrictions could be added to that option—for example, eliminating from the list of eligible people those who have a record of violence or taking into consideration their previous convictions?
By Matthew Barrett
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Robert Halfon, the Member of Parliament for Harlow, and one of the most successful campaigning MPs in Parliament, has organised a motion, backed by 60 MPs from all parties, and including 41 Tories, calling for the Office of Fair Trading to investigate allegations of price-fixing by British oil companies. The full motion is worded as follows:
"That this House urges the OFT to investigate oil firms active in the UK; calls on the Government to consider the emergency actions being taken in other G20 nations to cut fuel prices, for example President Obama strengthening Federal supervision of the U.S. oil market, and increasing penalties for “market manipulation”, and Germany and Austria setting up a new oil regulator, with orders to help stabilise the price of petrol in the country; finally urges the Office of Fair Trading to note that the Federal Cartel Office in Germany is now investigating oil firms active in the UK, after allegations of price-fixing."
By Matthew Barrett
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Earlier this week I covered some of the Budget debate contributions from backbenchers. On Thursday, other Tory MPs gave their verdicts on the Chancellor's financial plans. I have compiled the best speeches below.
"The family is the backbone of our society, and the issue of child benefit is always difficult. Fairness remains the key, and the original changes proposed caused considerable difficulty. I am pleased that the Chancellor listened to our concerns, and those of constituents, that the proposed changes were not really acceptable. By amending the proposals and tapering the benefit from an annual income of £50,000, some 90% of families will continue to benefit from financial support during these difficult financial and economic times. This Government are listening and changing policies after representations have been made, and that is to the credit of the Chancellor and the Treasury team."
"One of the most remarkable things about the Opposition’s response to this Budget is that we have not heard a single pledge to reverse any of the changes being proposed. We have heard a lot of carping and that they are going to vote against some of the measures on Monday, but they are not actually going to change them should they ever come back to power. When they do carp, they seem to be carping on behalf of some rather strange interests. They want the top 10% of households to keep their child benefit. They want the better-off pensioners to keep their age-related allowances. Indeed, they want the super-rich to go on enjoying some £65 million-worth of evasion of stamp duty and abuse of tax reliefs. That seems to me an extraordinary position for the Opposition to get into."
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 Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday in the Commons, the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 was debated. The 2009 Act created IPSA, the body responsible for regulating the current expenses regime for MPs. Its workings are deeply resented by many MPs - some of whom dislike it in principle. Adam Afriyie, the Chair of the Members' Expenses Committee, led the debate, following the publication of a report into the workings of IPSA. The main motion of yesterday's debate was:
That this House approves the recommendations of the First Report from the Members’ Expenses Committee on the Operation of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009
By Joseph Willits
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Proposals to give Parliament the power to take action on ministers who leak announcements to the media, before informing the Commons, have failed. The motion tabled by Phillip Hollobone MP (Kettering), aimed to be as "non-partisan as possible", was defeated by 228 votes to 119. Hollobone accused all three major parties of mistreating the House of Commons:
"All Governments, whether this Government, the previous Government or the one before that, have leaked information, and that is not how our great House of Commons ought to be treated".
On Sunday, Tim outlined the Speaker's exasperation, after last week's Autumn Statement was the latest example of policy being leaked to the press beforehand. Naturally, Hollobone expressed the same sentiment as the Speaker, saying that Parliament "should be the first place to hear of major new Government policy initiatives". He continued:
"Should it be “The Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday, the “Today” programme on Radio 4 in the morning or ITV’s “Daybreak”; or should it be the Chamber of the House of Commons?"
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 Joseph Willits
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Nicholas Soames and Sir Peter Bottomley are the only Tory MPs who have signed an Early Day Motion supporting Palestinian membership of the United Nations. The EDM, tabled by Labour MP Ann Clywd on 5th September, has gained 79 signatures, mostly from within the Labour Party.
The premise of the EDM, supporting Palestinian statehood is that:
"the way forward is to recognise an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel and support its admission to the UN because this will be the most effective guarantor of a resumption of negotiations and will also be the best protector of the rights not only of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, but also of Palestinians living in Israel and of Palestinian refugees abroad"
Former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has also added his name to the list - only the second time he has signed an EDM since leaving government, and his first this year.
Another Conservative MP, Robert Halfon, proposed an amendment to the EDM on the 7th September, calling for a "clear distinction" to "be drawn between moderate Palestinians such as those in the West Bank who are seeking a peaceful two state solution and terrorist groups in Gaza such as Hamas."
The amendment was proposed in light of comments by Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas in the Gaza strip, condemning the killing of Osama bin Laden, who he described as an "Arab holy warrior". Halfon's proposal states that only those areas of Palestine which "renounce terrorism, should be considered for statehood. Another Tory MP, David Amess, has signed in favour of such an amendment.
You can read the full details of the Early Day Motion, and list of signatures here.
By Paul Goodman
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In February, Kris Hopkins and Lord Janner, the co-Chairman of the putative group, resigned in protest at the proposed engagement of IEngage as its secretariat.
A few days later, a motion proposed at a meeting of the group to drop IEngage failed by a single vote. Instead, its co-Chairmen - Sir Peter Bottomley, Simon Hughes and Jack Straw - were tasked with commissioning a report into IEngage.
Yesterday evening, the group met again, and the Parliamentarians present voted to dispense with the services of IEngage by the whomping majority of some 60 votes to 2.
By Jonathan Isaby
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Sir Peter Bottomley has a thing about Early Day Motions - the virtually never debated motions which are akin to petitions which MPs sign to make their feelings know about all kinds of issues.
Whilst some dismiss them as "parliamentary grafitti" and don't bother signing them and others do so very sparingly, the Worthing West MP often signs dozens a day.
In fact, he has already managed to sign 1,042 of the 1,995 EDMs tabled during this parliamentary session (sixth equal among all MPs in the House, with the next Tory in the list only having backed a mere 202).
He has only tabled 16 of his own EDMs, though, and these include EDM 1888 recommending that people read the Archbishop of Canterbury's writings (no one else has signed it) and EDM 1437 opposing the blanket ban on prisoners voting.
This week Sir Peter has tabled EDM 1946 marking the life of Brian Haw, the anti-war protester who died last weekend after spending most of the last decade living in a tent on Parliament Square - and attracting an increasing large number of others to settle there too.
Bottomley's motion notes "the range of views on Brian Haw's cause and his methods" and suggests "it could be appropriate for a memorial service in Westminster to mark his passing".
He goes on to express his hope that "to mark his life the unsightly camp of hangers-on in Parliament Square ends and a plaque be set in the pavement."
The motion has attracted one other signature - that of North Wilsthire Conservative MP, James Gray.
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."
by Paul Goodman
That, in effect, is the question being put to Parliament by Robert Halfon, the MP for Harlow. Last week, I reported Halfon's Commons exchanges with Sir George Young, the Leader of the Commons, about Engage - the proposed secretariat to an All-Party Group on Islamophobia. Sir George told Halfon that he'd have a chance to raise the matter during yesterday evening's debate on All-Party Groups, which the latter duly did.
Or rather, attempted to, because there was a Parliamentary dance about whether the subject was wide of the motion being discussed. However, Halfon and others had a chance to make some points. The essence of his case was that Engage is -
"...an extremist group that seeks to influence Government and discredit moderate Muslims. It has been appointed secretariat to the new APPG for Islamophobia. It defends mosques that host terrorist preachers, schools that teach anti-Semitism and homophobia, individuals such as Daud Abdullah who have pressed for terrorist attacks on the British Navy, and the invitation of hate preachers to Britain. When those revelations emerged, the elected chair of the APPG, my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), and the vice-chair Lord Janner, stood down in protest"
- and therefore unsuitable to act as a secretariat. Peter Bottomley, who intervened on Halfon twice, didn't agree with him -
"I am sorry to trouble my hon. Friend, but perhaps I can give him notice that I will make a passing comment on that matter if you call me to speak later in the debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. There may be more than one side to this."
Iain Duncan Smith, Peter Bottomley and others have joined Edward Leigh to call for the Speaker to take on the powers currently held by the Leader of the Commons.
This is the Early Day Motion initiated by Mr Leigh:
Former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell has tabled an Early Day Motion on Damian Green. It has been signed by Michael Howard, Bill Cash, Peter Bottomley, Bernard Jenkin and David Davis.
Herewith the text of EDM 1307:
"That this House notes the statement of the Director of Public Prosecutions on 16 April 2009 announcing his decision that no charges would be brought against the hon. Member for Ashford in relation to the documents leaked and stating that, `Mr Green's purpose in using the documents was apparently to hold the Government to account'; and calls for the House to be given the opportunity to debate a motion to refer the matter to the Committee on Standards and Privileges."
Update: Alan Duncan and Bernard Jenkin both raised this matter at Business Questions today - and got a rise out of Harriet Harman.
Mr Duncan said:
"Most of us in the House will be pleased that the case of the arrest of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) has now been satisfactorily resolved. Even though the issue became rather heated, surely we should now stand back and study the implications of what happened. May I therefore ask the Leader of the House to reflect on early-day motion 1307?
Will the Leader of the House support the motion that was originally tabled on the Order Paper before the Easter recess to ensure that the House can refer this matter to the Committee on Standards and Privileges as soon as possible? Now is the best time to learn the lessons of this affair so that all the confusion can be cleared up for the future. It is no good her saying that the Attorney-General’s opinion was that there was no confusion, because there was. There is a perfectly good process available to us, and we should invoke it; will she confirm that she will co-operate in doing so?"
The Leader of the House of Commons replied:
"Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman asked about the arrest of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and the issues of parliamentary privilege that arose from it. The House has already made a resolution to refer the matter to a Committee of the Speaker, and I do not think that it would be a good idea to set up a twin-track approach. All the issues about entry on to the premises of Parliament, the searching of parliamentary offices and constituency correspondence and what is, or should be, available to the court can be considered by the Speaker’s Committee, which the House agreed should start its work after the criminal proceedings had come to a conclusion. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should set up a twin-track approach and a separate inquiry into the same issues via the Standards and Privileges Committee.
Alan Duncan: Different issues.
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman says that, but he would need to explain why the Speaker’s Committee could not consider the issues that he is concerned about and believes need to be looked into. I am obviously keen for the House to be able to have all the issues that it wants resolved looked into, and I have no vested interest in the House not looking into them and coming to a satisfactory conclusion. I just do not want there to be a twin-track proposal or for us to undermine a resolution that the House has already made at your request, Mr. Speaker, that there should be a Speaker’s Committee to look into the matter."
Oral questions on Women and Equality also took place in the Commons yesterday.
Shadow Justice Minister David Burrowes stuck up for the rights of Christians:
"Does the Minister share my concern that equality legislation is in danger of being brought into disrepute by cases such as that of nurse Caroline Petrie, who was disciplined for offering to pray for her patients. Do we not need to tackle the concern of many with religious beliefs, and of Christians in particular, who themselves say that they are facing increased discrimination?
The Solicitor-General: I do not think that that question was about the equality legislation that we are bringing into force. Clearly, everybody has to behave in a balanced and sensible way, and the whole point of the legislation is to promote good cultural relations and good relations among people of all kinds and all faiths. We will drive on with that purpose."
(The Solicitor-General is Vera Baird.)
Worthing West MP Peter Bottomley also had a question about Christian matters:
"As well as doing what the law requires, will the Minister use her good offices to interview any Church of England bishop who says that he will not appoint a suffragan who is prepared to ordain women?
Maria Eagle: I have to be careful about getting too involved in the internal affairs of the established Church, but I will pass on the hon. Gentleman’s remarks to the appropriate people. He will no doubt be aware that the Second Church Estates Commissioner has questions on 19 March."
Norfolk South West MP Christopher Fraser made a very good point about the funding structure for rape crisis centres, which is an ongoing problem:
"What recent assessment she has made of the adequacy of funding arrangements for rape crisis centres. 
The Minister for Women and Equality (Ms Harriet Harman): This financial year—in addition to local authority funding and £1.25 million from the victims fund—the Government have paid out £900,000 from a £1.1 million special fund for rape crisis centres. Since the special fund was announced in March 2008, no rape crisis centre has closed. My officials have been working closely with Rape Crisis England and Wales and the Survivors Trust to shape how this year’s special fund will work. We will announce details of the fund shortly.
Christopher Fraser: Many local authorities do not receive the funding that they need to establish rape crisis centres. Will the Minister commit to instituting a three-year funding cycle for rape crisis centres in all local authorities?
Ms Harman: As I have said, we have increased the funding to local authorities and through special funds. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that it is important that he and all hon. Members look at what their own local authorities are doing and whether they are providing the services for which they have been financed. I would also say that the money and the investment in those much-needed services come from the Department for Communities and Local Government budget and the Home Office budget. Those are two budgets on which his party has not offered to match the funding that we are promising to put in. We want more funds to go in, but Opposition Members express concerns while not even being prepared to match our spending. I think that that lacks conviction."