By Paul Goodman
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Fourteen Conservative MPs voted against David Cameron's proposals on press regulation earlier this evening - or, rather, against the amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill which set out proposals for exemplary damages in relation to newspapers and websites that refuse to be regulated by the new regulator. The Hansard list isn't up yet, but I'm told that they were -
- and that the tellers were Richard Drax and Jacob Rees Mogg. I'm also told that there was only vote (on which there were rebellions, at any rate). We will see more when the whole of yesterday's Hansard is published. But we don't need to view it to laud this tiny band as heroes of free speech.
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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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 Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday saw Gerry Adams appointed Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead - an office of profit under the Crown that therefore disqualifies him from remaining an MP.
But a row has broken out over how the appointment was made.
A Sinn Fein spokesman said earlier in the week that it "couldn't give a toss" about the formal procedure required of an MP wanting to resign. And after David Cameron told the Commons at PMQs that Adams had accepted that office of profit under the Crown, the Sinn Fein President issued a denial:
“This is untrue. I simply resigned. I was not consulted nor was I asked to accept such an office. I am an Irish republican. I have had no truck whatsoever with these antiquated and quite bizarre aspects of the British parliamentary system... I have spoken to the Prime Minister's Private Secretary today and he has apologised for today’s events... The only contact I have had with the British Parliament is a letter I posted to them last Thursday."
The Speaker announced to the Commons last night:
"I can inform the House that I have received formal notification from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that Gerard Adams has been appointed to be steward and bailiff of the Manor of Northstead. Under the terms of section 4 of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, for the purposes of the provisions of this Act relating to the vacation of the seat of a Member of the House of Commons who becomes disqualified by that Act from membership of that House, the office of steward or bailiff of Her Majesty's three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham, or of the Manor of Northstead, shall be treated as included among the offices described in part III of schedule 1 to the Act. The hon. Member for Belfast West is therefore disqualified from membership of the House by virtue of section 1 of that Act."
And the Leader of the House, Sir George Young, then clarified what David Cameron said earlier:
"The Prime Minister was aware of the process to appoint Gerry Adams to be steward and bailiff of the Manor of Northstead. It might have been better for my right hon. Friend to have said "is being appointed" instead of "has accepted", and I am happy to make that clarification for the record."
The formal appointment was indeed announced by the Treasury yesterday afternoon since it is made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But if Adams did not request the appointment, could George Osborne technically disqualify MPs without their permission? This was the subject of 15 minutes of points of order last night, with Tory MP Richard Bacon concluding:
"If what appears to have happened today is confirmed as being an acceptable way forward, that would mean that the Chancellor of the Exchequer could decide whether someone should be a Member of Parliament or not, without their say-so. That is not acceptable."
By Jonathan Isaby
"That this House regrets the unnecessarily high costs and inadequacies of the systems introduced by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA); calls on the IPSA to introduce a simpler scheme of office expenses and Members’ allowances that cuts significantly the administrative costs, reduces the amount of time needed for administration by Members and their staff, does not disadvantage less well-off Members and those with family responsibilities, nor deter Members from seeking reimbursement of the costs of fulfilling their parliamentary duties; and resolves that if these objectives are not reflected in a new scheme set out by the IPSA in time for operation by 1 April 2011, the Leader of the House should make time available for the amendment of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 to do so."
The motion had been tabled by a cross-party group of MPs, but it fell to Conservative MP Adam Afriyie - who does not himself claim expenses - to move it, giving IPSA four months to change the way it handles MPs' expenses or face being reformed by new legislation.
Mr Afriyie said he wanted to highlight the way in which the current expenses system "unintentionally discriminates against MPs with family commitments and those who come from a less well-off background":
"The system seems almost designed to create a Parliament for the wealthy. If a Member does not have sufficient resources to subsidise themselves, they become ensnared in a vice-like grip designed to bring them into disrepute—they have to produce every single receipt for some sort of personal item. Wealthier Members or those with independent means, of course, can simply not claim. As I look around both sides of the Chamber, I know that probably not a single Member here has claimed everything that they are entitled to claim—first, through fear of the public and the media really having a go, or secondly, because it is too complicated and time-consuming to do so. We have to ask ourselves whether the public want such a system for their Parliament. The wealthy swan through, buy their way out of the system with no trouble at all and are treated as saints when they are nothing of the sort, and everyone else is stuck in the system."
"The current system causes inconvenience and makes things very difficult for Members with families and Members who are less well-off. It also causes problems, because Members are not making claims. Looking back at this year, and certainly over the past six months, I know that virtually every one of my colleagues—I have spoken to 350 MPs one-to-one—has not made the claims that they are entitled to make. That may be seen externally as a great success—“Look, IPSA has crushed the MPs, and they cost far less!”—but we all know that that is not the situation. We know that Members are borrowing from their parents, having to borrow cars from friends, and still sleeping on floors of offices, which they are not supposed to do, because they are not claiming what they rightfully should be able to claim. It is not a good situation.
"However, I am not moaning on behalf of existing MPs. I love all the MPs here, but I am not whingeing on their behalf. What I am concerned about is the functioning of Parliament for the next 100 years. Where will we be in 30 years’ time if we continue down this route where only the wealthy can serve? That is where we were before; I thought we had moved on. IPSA, I hope you are listening."
"The motion asks not for a system that involves looking into the individual lifestyle of every Member, but merely for a simplified system that recognises the variability in family arrangements. The motion asks not for a system that investigates the lifestyle, family arrangements and travelling habits of every MP, but for a simpler system that saves the taxpayer money, so that MPs can focus on the job at hand, whether or not they have a family."
"I am begging IPSA please to propose a scheme that sorts the problems out, and I hope that it will. It has the mandate of the House of Commons already, so it can do so. However, the motion states that if a scheme that can be put into operation by 1 April 2011 is not proposed, this place will act—not in our interests, but in the interests of our constituents and Parliament.
"I am now on the record as encouraging IPSA to come forward with a scheme, but we must be clear on timing. If a proposal is not forthcoming by, say, mid-January, it will be impossible to introduce a scheme before the beginning of the next financial year. Therefore, if the motion is carried, it is necessary for us to introduce a Bill or a statutory instrument or something, probably this side of Christmas, in case IPSA’s proposal is not the right one. Otherwise, we are trapped within the current system, and our constituents will suffer. The costs will be astronomically high for at least another year to a year and a half, and I fear that Members will begin to leave Parliament. The work of Parliament will continue to be impeded unless such changes are made."
"This is a sensitive issue and the public are understandably concerned. I am certain that tomorrow this debate will be reported as, “MPs whinge about their conditions and the independent body that controls them”, but that is not what the debate is about. The debate is about saving the taxpayer money and ensuring that MPs’ voices are heard and not hidden through fear of speaking out."
Other Conservative MPs contributing to the debate made a variety of points.
Over on his blog Douglas Carswell MP has published his motion of no confidence in the Speaker and the list of supporting MPs:
There is talk that the Commons may not even debate the motion. That would be a mistake. The issue needs to be resolved one way or the other.
The MP for South Norfolk, Richard Bacon, introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill yesterday. It seeks to improve food labelling, specifically in terms of the country of origin of a food item.
Mr Bacon told the House of Commons:
"Pork that has been imported from Denmark and then packaged in the UK may be called “Product of Britain”.
"The problem can apply to other food products, too. Butter churned in England using milk imported from Belgium should not, supposedly, be labelled “English”, but it can lawfully be described as “produced in England from milk”. Norwegian salmon that has been smoked in Scotland should not, supposedly, be called “Scottish”, but it can lawfully be described as “salmon smoked in Scotland”. Slaughtering in this country would count, so that “British lamb” could mean imported lambs slaughtered and packaged in the UK. Products can be labelled as “produced in the UK” when all the ingredients come from outside the country. There is concern that some companies have taken advantage of these slack regulations, and label their products with the Union Jack accompanied by slogans such as “traditional British food” or “great British recipe” when, in fact, they are not produced in this country.
"There is, obviously, a duty on consumers to read the labels in the first place, but there is also a need to prevent labels, presentation and other information from being misleading about the product. Country of origin is an area where there is particular potential for consumers to be misled. Clear mandatory country of origin labelling would significantly reduce the risk that consumers making a food purchasing decision would be misled, or in practice be unable to use their consumer power to support domestic producers if that is what they wish to do."
The Bill's second reading will be on 7 November. There are jokes to be had here about pork barrel politics and MPs bringing home the bacon. We will struggle manfully to avoid them.