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 Matthew Barrett
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In the Commons yesterday, a debate was held on whether to suspend Sunday trading restrictions for the period of the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer. The Bill passed through the House, with only extremely minor rebellion from the Tory benches. This was surprising because there was some consternation felt by some sections of the backbenches about the proposals, with the suspicion that the period was simply softening the public up for a full scrapping of Sunday trading laws.
"Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Will my hon. Friend reassure a significant number of Harlow residents who have written to me that the Bill is just a temporary Bill for the Olympics, and that there are no plans to extend Sunday trading per se?
Mr Prisk: I am happy to give that assurance. I do not want to test the patience of the Deputy Speaker. The motion is about the proceedings of the House, but I want to make it crystal clear that the Bill will come off the statute book immediately after 9 September."
The first vote, which was merely a procedural vote concerning the passage of the BIll, was agreed to with 281 ayes, and 112 noes. The only two Tory noes on that vote were Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone, who voted with the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party and many Labour MPs.
"Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. He is being extremely generous very early on in his remarks. Will he give me some reassurance? What protection will be in place for, say, volunteer sports coaches or church workers with commitments on Sundays, if their volunteer commitments are threatened by having to work extra hours?
Vince Cable: Of course, they could opt out of the commitments, as is already provided for under existing legislation, which means that they will receive all the protections subject to unfair dismissal legislation."
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.
Reading East MP Rob Wilson secured a Westminster Hall debate for today, on the subject of Fibromyalgia. North Thanet MP Roger Gale was in the chair.
Highlights from Mr Wilson's speech follow. It is clear that this is another area where the data that ministers gather is inadequate - a theme I wrote about recently.
"I should take this opportunity to give a brief introduction to fibromyalgia, as there is little knowledge of the condition. Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition of widespread pain and profound fatigue. Its name is made up of “fibro” for fibrous tissues such as tendons and ligaments, “my” indicating muscles and “algia” meaning pain. A patient can experience widespread muscular pain, stiffness, constant fatigue and non-refreshing sleep. The pain tends to be felt as an aching or burning, and is often described as being felt from head to toe. It can change location and can be worse at some times than others. Because it can come and go, sufferers can feel suddenly drained of energy, as if someone has just pulled the plug on them.
Fibromyalgia has been shown to have more impact on patients’ lives than many other forms of widespread pain and chronic illness. I believe that the sheer scale of the illness and the suffering that results from it mean that it is high time fibromyalgia was taken seriously as an issue.
Many people do not know that fibromyalgia is a very common illness. It is in fact as common as rheumatoid arthritis and can be even more painful. It is a condition with no age limits. It affects mainly women, from children to the elderly, and the mean age is 49. A staggering 2.7 million people in the UK suffer from the illness. People with mild to moderate cases of fibromyalgia are usually able to live a normal life, given the appropriate treatment. However, if the symptoms are severe, they may not be able to hold down a paying job or enjoy much of a social life.
Even those GPs who know about the condition—and there are too few of those—who are looking for specialist help within the NHS cannot always refer patients directly to consultants with an interest in and knowledge of fibromyalgia. One of the immediate actions that the Minister could take today is to rectify the situation. Those clinics could be added to the choose and book system, and the NHS could build and provide an extensive list of accepted specialist NHS services around the country.
I also know that the Minister’s heart is in the right place, and that she is anxious for the NHS to help. However, recent parliamentary questions from hon. Members throughout the House have had a less than encouraging response. In June 2008, the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) asked what plans the Department of Health had to improve treatment for people with fibromyalgia. The answer came:
“There are no specific plans to improve the treatment for those living with fibromyalgia.”—[Official Report, 30 June 2008; Vol. 478, c. 655W.]
Another hon. Member asked how people were diagnosed in his constituency, the region and nationwide since 1997. The answer was:
“Information on the number of people diagnosed with fibromyalgia is not collected.”—[Official Report, 21 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 998W.]
The end of half-term brings with it a new edition of Hansard and written answers. Herewith some that grabbed my attention.
The answer that leapt out at me was to Shadow Home Affairs Minister David Ruffley. Staggeringly, the Government doesn't seem to know by how many police officers the country is short:
"Mr. Ruffley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many police officer vacancies at all ranks there were in (a) the Metropolitan Police Force and (b) all other forces in 2007-08. 
I suppose now that Eric Pickles is Party Chairman he won't table so many questions. That's a shame. He asked a good one about The Man's power to rifle through our bins:
"To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what powers waste collection authorities have to enter premises in relation to suspected breaches of waste regulations; and what powers they have to (a) measure and (b) photograph household waste; 
Jane Kennedy: Section 92A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA) gives local authorities powers to serve a litter clearing notice on any open land, requiring the occupier, or failing that, the owner, to clear litter from that land. If the notice is not complied with, they can enter the land, clean up and then reclaim their costs.
Section 59 of the EPA allows waste regulation authorities and waste collection authorities to serve a notice on the occupier or owner of land to require the removal of controlled waste unlawfully and knowingly deposited. Where a person fails to meet these requirements, the local authority or the Environment Agency may clear the waste and seek to recover the costs.
It is intended that joint waste authorities should have the same powers as are currently available to local authorities when they are carrying out those functions which joint waste authorities may take over."