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 Tim Montgomerie
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Justine Greening is getting a lot of public advice at the moment. After seven years in which Tory aid policy has been shaped by Andrew Mitchell - five years in opposition, two years in government - there's a sense that the new Development Secretary might embark upon a new direction. Lord Ashcroft certainly hopes so. In an open letter published on these pages on Monday he argued that aid wasn't just expensive at a time of austerity but often counter-productive.
A second open letter arrives on Miss Greening's doormat today. This time from Sir Tony Baldry MP.
Sir Tony argues that Britain can be very proud of its world leading status in hitting the UN's target of giving 0.7% of GDP to the poorest people in the world. "It," Mr Baldry writes, "has helped reduce the number of children who die before their fifth birthday by 4 million since 1990 and the number of people receiving HIV medication has also increased tenfold as a result of aid assistance."
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 Paul Goodman
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Hansard records the exchange as follows:
Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.
The Secretary of State for Education (Michael Gove): Today is the 80th birthday of the Oxford Professor of Poetry, Professor Sir Geoffrey Hill, our greatest living poet. I am sure that the whole House would like to join me in wishing him a very happy birthday, and thanking him for the fantastic work that he has done.
Sir Geoffrey was knighted in the new year honours. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) was knighted in the recent Queen’s birthday honours, and I am sure that the whole House will also want to join me in congratulating him on his well-deserved elevation.
Sir Tony Baldry: I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his kind comments. Is he aware of the work being done by the Oxford diocesan board of education in setting up a unit to give full support to Church of England primary schools that wish to become academies, and does he share my hope that other diocesan boards of education will do likewise?
By Matthew Barrett
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Sir Tony was PPS to Lynda Chalker and John Wakeham from 1985 to 1990, both Leaders of the House of Commons, until he was made a junior Minister in the Department of Energy by Mrs Thatcher. When John Major became leader of the Party, Baldry became a junior Minister under Michael Heseltine at the Department for the Environment, until he moved to the Foreign Office for a year in 1994. In 1995, he was promoted to full Minister status at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, where he stayed until 1997. In 2010, Sir Tony was appointed Second Church Estates Commissioner - which means he answers questions in the Commons on behalf of the Church Commissioners.
Other Tory figures receiving honours included Mary Archer, wife of Jeffrey, who was made a Dame for her work for the NHS, and Jeremy Middleton, former the Chairman of the Conservative National Convention was made a CBE "for political and charitable services". I also noticed Harry Beckhough - the 96 year old activist who David Cameron singled out at the 2010 Party conference - is honoured with an MBE.
Other politicians to have been honoured in the Birthday Honours List include Malcolm Bruce, the Lib Dem MP for Gordon, Tony Cunningham, the Labour MP for Workington, George Reid, the SNP former Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, who were all given knighthoods, and Tessa Jowell, the former Labour Minister, who was made a Dame.
The full (pdf) list of honours is here. If there are any Tory politicians I've missed, let us know in the comments.
By Paul Goodman
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I would be suprised by Fleet Street's unanimous hostility to the Queen's Speech were it not, first, for Leveson (which the papers will never forgive) and, second, for the impasse between the Coalition partners on growth measures. The situation is too urgent to afford Vince Cable's lack of oomph.
Conservative backbenchers were always likely to be more measured in their contributions to the debate on yesterday's first day of the Queen's Speech. But I was struck reading Hansard this morning by the way in which the debate which Tim reported at yesterday's meeting of the 1922 Committee also spilled out on to the floor of the Commons.
It naturally did so more discreetly and decorously, and below are some extracts that may give you the flavour of the moment. Charlie Elphicke (on the economy and childcare), Priti Patel (on families, criminal justice and small business) and Chris Skidmore (on social care and health) stuck entirely to the contents of the Speech, and were none the worse for it.
By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday in Parliament - the first time the House has sat for a few weeks - Michael Gove answered Education Questions. These are probably the most enjoyable questions session in Parliament at the moment - as one would expect, given the wit Mr Gove brings to the Chamber. The first question of note concerned the serious business of the role of the Church of England in academy schools:
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to read the report, chaired by Priscilla Chadwick, on the future of Church of England schools? Does he agree that the recent changes in education introduced by the Government provide opportunities for the continuing involvement of the Church of England in education, particularly in delivering distinctive and inclusive new academies?
Michael Gove: I absolutely agree. Education on both sides of the border was driven in the first instance by the vigorous missionary activity of Churches, and we praise and cherish the role of the Church of England in making sure that children have an outstanding and inclusive education. I welcome the report, and I look forward to working with Bishop John Pritchard to extend the role of the Church in the provision of schools.
By Paul Goodman
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Last year, the Prime Minister flew to Brussels amidst rumour of a leadership challenge if he didn't achieve at least a token repatriation of power.
Today, he faced the Commons not only with no such repatriation realised but with his veto - so rapturously greeted at the time by Conservative MPs - arguably valueless, since it's now clear that he won't challenge the principle of the EU institutions being used to enforce the F.U agreement.
Yet there was no mass revolt from his backbenches, and no revival to date of the leadership challenge rumours. What explains this change in the Tory atmosphere? I hope to explore the question in detail soon, but will for the moment rest with an answer I've cited before.
by Paul Goodman
This morning's reports of Andrew Lansley's Commons statement yesterday haven't missed that he was unsupported in the Chamber by the presence of senior Cabinet colleagues. (The Prime Minister was en route to Pakistan.)
What some may have missed is the strong support given to the Health Secretary by Conservative backbenchers. Some it, clearly, had been organised in an operation by the Whips - but not all. By my count, Lansley received ten questions specifically supportive of his plans -
"Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): As the Secretary of State may know, I still have a faint link with the NHS and medicine in general. The GPs I have met in my constituency and elsewhere are very much in favour of the proposals. In contrast, the complaints are circular letters that have been well organised. Does the Secretary of State agree that GPs will be devastated if there is any reversal and backtracking?
by Paul Goodman
I list below every question asked by a Conservative MP yesterday in response to the Prime Minister's Commons statement about Libya. For better or worse, I haven't cited his replies in every case, but his answers on regime change, the arms embargo and the International Criminal Court are of special interest, and are therefore quoted in full.
"Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): As one of the doubting Thomases of the past few weeks, I congratulate the Prime Minister on his success and leadership and offer him my full support. I also join him in paying tribute to Sir Mark Lyall Grant and his team at the UN for what is a remarkable diplomatic success, which hopefully will mark a turning point in the development of these issues at the UN. I am sure the Prime Minister agrees that difficult questions remain. At this moment, however, it is incumbent on all of us to stand behind the armed forces, particularly our airmen, who have to implement the resolution.
Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): Yet again, my right hon. Friend has shown a breathtaking degree of courage and leadership. I support what he has said and what he has done. Does he agree that, while regime change is not the aim of these resolutions, in practice there is little realistic chance of achieving their aims without regime change?"
Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): I join others in congratulating the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and all the others who have been involved in securing this very tough resolution, and indeed the building of a broad-based coalition to deal with Gaddafi. Does the Prime Minister agree, however, that in the weeks to come it will be important for the country to know that at the same time as trying to deal with Gaddafi, the Government are also intent on forging ahead, with our European partners, in keeping the middle east peace process revitalised and going, so that we can draw the poison from the well?
by Paul Goodman
I've glanced back at the Prime Minister's Commons statement on Monday about Libya, and found the following:
These were all fair questions. But I'm struck on reading them by one that was missing.
David Cameron did nothing to discourage speculation, raging that day, that Britain would play a part in military operations against Gaddafi - including the imposition of a no fly zone (which Labour's Mike Gapes referred to).
It's striking that not a single backbench question tried to pin down Cameron on the matter, ask how a British contribution to a no fly zone or other intervention would work; how it might be affected by the coming defence spending scaleback - and, above all, how we could avoid being further drawn in.
Today's news is that the Government's backing off military intervention, and the media's beginning to ask questions about how it would work. What can we glean from the fact that no Member of Parliament did so? (Though Tredinnick deserves a mention in dispatches for coming closest.)
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 Jonathan Isaby
He noted that "out of the historic houses open to the public, those that are privately owned, managed, and funded outnumber the total of those belonging to the National Trust and English Heritage put together", relating his comments in particular to Broughton Castle, owned by Lord and Lady Saye and Sele in his Banbury constituency.
He argued that heritage maintenance funds need to be made more workable, before making the case for reducing the regulatory burden and red tape on historic houses:
"Five areas have been highlighted in which action would be relatively simple to take at little or no cost to the Exchequer, and which would bring worthwhile benefits not only to those promoting historic houses and tourism, but to the wider economy. The first is licensing and the implementation of the 2006 Elton review recommendations, which called for changes to the fee structures for larger events; permission for historic rural venues to host occasional events; and for a de minimis approach when the licence or activity is small in relation to the overall activity taking place.
"The second area is tourism signage and the hope that it would be possible to develop a policy to encourage the use of brown signs not just to manage traffic, but to promote tourism. Even under the current policy, there are inconsistencies in Highways Agency and local authority interpretation, resulting in some historic houses not being allowed tourism signs, or even losing their signs.
"Thirdly, on planning, we need to promote a more flexible approach to the way in which planning applications for temporary structures, such as marquees, are handled. Marquees house special events that can significantly enrich the experience of visitors to historic places without compromising the historic value of the site. Indeed, the Palace of Westminster has had temporary permanent marquees on the Terrace for as long as I can recall, but they are, by definition, temporary and reversible. For some reason, some local authorities treat marquees as though they are permanent developments.
"The fourth area is the application of fire safety rules to listed bed and breakfast accommodation. While recognising that fire safety is, of course, paramount, one needs to ensure that the application of fire safety regulations recognises the peculiarities and realities of historic buildings. Finally, we need to rethink the application of health and safety regulations in circumstances involving natural hazards, because, at present, it is undermining voluntary efforts to open the countryside for public access.
"Historic houses are not just stone and mortar. They should be living places. The soul of a historic house is the family who live there. Those families are the most committed, responsible and, dare I say, cheapest curators of these parts of our national heritage. May I therefore urge the Minister to note that modest changes to heritage maintenance funds can bring long-term benefits at a relatively tiny annual cost to the Exchequer? Moreover, will his Department please do what it can to tackle excessive regulation?"
In replying to the debate, tourism minister John Penrose applauded the work of the Historic Houses Association and praised the "incredibly careful and committed stewards of the properties" who look after them "for themselves and for future generations of not only their own family but the communities in which their houses are located and the wider public in general."
by Paul Goodman
I'm fascinated by dogs that don't bark in the Chamber - in other words, subjects that aren't raised or points which aren't made: indications that there are matters MPs want to avoid, or truths that they don't want to face up to (a characteristic that they share with the rest of us).
No less compelling is the profile of points which are made. The Commons can be a barometer of national opinion, however unsteadily. An issue which at one time doesn't show up at all can come forward quite prominently, as circumstances or fashion change.
Here's an example yesterday from Church Commissioners' questions, which will attract less attention from the sketchwriters today than Nick Clegg doing his regular stint a bit earlier.
"Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): What representations the Church Commissioners have made in support of Christians in Pakistan.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Tony Baldry): It is a sad and terrible fact that Christian minorities who have lived peacefully in Muslim countries for generations are finding themselves subject to increasingly violent persecution. Churches have recently been attacked in Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria, and the assassination in Pakistan of Salmaan Taseer for defending a Christian woman who had been sentenced to death was particularly horrible. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Bishop of Lahore and, indeed, the Christian community as a whole in Pakistan are working hard to foster inter-faith collaboration in Pakistan during this time of difficulty.
Rehman Chishti: Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the former assassinated Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, for the work that he did on this particular issue? Will my hon. Friend ensure that representations are made to the Government of Pakistan to ensure that the excellent work of Governor Taseer can continue?
"you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship".
What I suspect every Member of this House hopes for is that there shall be freedom of religion throughout the world, and I am sure that, as a Chamber, we will continue to campaign for that wherever we have the opportunity."
A one-off? No, here we are a moment later -
Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to help support Christians in Sudan. 
Tony Baldry: The Church of England supports the Episcopal Church of Sudan. The dioceses of Bradford and Salisbury have diocesan links to Sudan and have done great work in the region to support the Christian community, as has Christian Aid.
Fiona Bruce: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. It looks as though there will be a new state of Southern Sudan, but it will face enormous challenges. Meanwhile, Christian minorities in the north of Sudan will face continued persecution, as organisations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide have highlighted during many years of work across Sudan. Will the Church of England do what it can to support and protect Christians and other minorities in the north of Sudan, while also helping, where appropriate, in Southern Sudan?
Tony Baldry: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about this. Minority groups in northern Sudan have faced persecution, which is one of the many problems facing people in the region. Most southern Sudanese live on less than $1 a day, the country has almost no infrastructure-there are just 38 miles of tarmacked road in an area the size of France-and people are traumatised by years of rape and killings. I am sure that the Church of England and non-governmental organisations such as Christian Aid and Christian Solidarity Worldwide will give the people of Southern Sudan all possible support. Indeed, it behoves all of us to do what we can to support what may soon be the newest member of the United Nations as it sets out on the challenging road of nationhood.
My sense is that there's an emerging awareness of the plight of Christians abroad, which until very recently has largely been confined to the Churches.
The terms of traffic between Christians and Muslims aren't all one way - read Peter Oborne's report from Nigeria. But religious freedom for Christians in Muslim-majority countries is clearly a growing concern.
At one time, Church Commissioner questions were restricted to enquiries about the sale of ecclestiastical property or the status of women priests.
By Jonathan Isaby
East Yorkshire MP and Procedure Committee chairman Greg Knight was keen to know what progress there was to report on the electronic petitioning of Parliament:
"Is he aware that as long ago as 2008, this House was promised a debate in Government time on the electronic petitioning of Parliament? It is now nearly 2011 and we are still waiting. When, oh when, can we debate e-petitions?"
Sir George Young indicated that the Government was keen on making this happen:
"He will know that there is a commitment in the coalition agreement to take the issue forward. I hope that my office will be in touch with his Select Committee shortly to indicate how we plan to bridge the gap between House and country by taking forward the agenda of petitions. The commitment is that when a petition reaches 100,000, it will become eligible for a debate in this House. I am anxious to make progress on that agenda."
So before too long, all you'll need is 99,999 friends to agree on an issue and you'll be able to get it debated in Parliament.
Other issues raised at Business Questions by Tory MPs today included:
Lib Dem Collective Responsibility
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a clear statement to be made on ministerial collective responsibility? I appreciate that established conventions might need to be varied to accommodate a coalition Government, with the coalition partners voting differently in certain circumstances, but it surely cannot be right for Ministers, including the Chief Secretary to the Treasury today, to agonise publicly in newspapers about whether they are going to support the Government in the Division Lobby.
Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. It is within his memory and mine that when we had a single-party Government in the 1970s collective responsibility was suspended during the referendum on whether we should stay in the European Community, so there are precedents within single-party Governments for suspending collective responsibility. We have a coalition Government, so some of the normal conventions are not strictly applicable. I draw his attention to section 21 of the coalition agreement, which says in respect of the incident to which I think he is referring, that “arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote.”
Protesters camping out in central London
David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Further to questions about the situation in Parliament square, is my right hon. Friend aware that there are now tents on the pavement outside at least one Government Department? Does he not think that that reflects very badly on the Government, the Greater London authority and the Metropolitan police? Why is this part of Westminster the only area in the whole United Kingdom where people can pitch a tent and not be moved on by the police immediately?
Sir George Young: The short answer is that that is because of a somewhat surprising decision—which, of course, one cannot criticise—made by a magistrate, who decided that that pavement was not a pavement because very few people used it. The good news for my hon. Friend is that we have now published the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which deals specifically with encampments on Parliament square. The measures include a power to allow local authorities to attach a power of seizure to byelaws, to allow them to deal promptly and effectively with the nuisances to which my hon. Friend has just referred.
Labour MP supporting student occupations
Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con): Staying on the subject of higher education, may we also have a debate about Members of the House who are supporting direct action by students? Earlier, I notified the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) that I would be raising this matter. His Twitter feed this morning said: “Support Support The Occupations!....To all the student occupations I send a message of my support and solidarity.” Will my right hon. Friend join me in agreeing that we should be democratically debating the measures rather than taking part in the disruption of our higher education institutions?
Sir George Young: I entirely agree. All hon. Members should act responsibly and should not do anything that encourages unlawful action. I think I read that the hon. Member to whom my hon. Friend refers was going to have a conversation with the Opposition Chief Whip; his future can be safely dealt with by those authoritative hands.