Robert Halfon MP

1 Nov 2011 17:14:28

Robert Halfon MP's petrol prices e-petition cleared for debate by the Backbench Business Committee

By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.

Halfon in CommonsThe Backbench Business Committee - which allocates time for debates to be held at the request of backbenchers (rather than the government allocating government debating time to a backbench motion) has caused some confusion in the last few days. 

Over the weekend, Natascha Engel, the Chairman of the Committee made comments that implied Robert Halfon MP (pictured right)'s successful e-petition to debate petrol prices would not make it to the floor of the House of Commons. Engel said "Unfortunately, not enough time is given to us to schedule debates on all subjects proposed to us."

Then yesterday, appearing on the BBC's Daily Politics show, she touched on the issue of the petition, saying there is a "very, very high chance" of it getting debated in the House: 

"What I will say that is tomorrow we meet at one o’clock and tomorrow there is the e-petition on fair fuel, but there are also lots of other debates that have been brought to us. It all depends on what it is that comes before us. I would hate to say as the Chair, that I decide what gets debated. Having said that, this is such an important issue. I represent a rural constituency. As this is one of my number one postbag issues, I would say that it has a very, very high chance of being debated. ... The fair fuel campaign came to us in the form of Robert Halfon MP, to ask for time to debate the fair fuel e-petition but they wanted to have a vote. To have a vote we have to have a debate in the chamber, we can’t have a debate in Westminster Hall. We were not allocated any time in the chamber and that was why we could not allocate a debate. We as backbenchers don’t have the time or the power to say, "we want a debate in the chamber". We have to wait for the Government to allocate us that time."

Continue reading "Robert Halfon MP's petrol prices e-petition cleared for debate by the Backbench Business Committee" »

29 Oct 2011 08:59:43

It won more than 100,000 signatures but Backbench Business Committee denies a debate to Robert Halfon's petrol prices petition

By Tim Montgomerie
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Petrol prices(1)

See Monday update below. 

It's at or near the top of the list of voters' concerns but the backbench business committee has decided that it cannot find time to debate a petition calling for lower petrol prices. "Unfortunately," said committee chairman Natascha Engel, "not enough time is given to us to schedule debates on all subjects proposed to us." She said a slot might become available next month.

The Sun and motoring groups are unimpressed. Top Gear's Quentin Willson, who is a spokesman for FairFuelUK, told the newspaper: "We've demonstrated the level of public anxiety over fuel prices, amassed the necessary number of signatures, yet are being royally mucked about. This isn't how democracy is supposed to work."

The Sun Says column thunders:

"More than 100,000 people have signed a petition on the Government's website calling for a cut in petrol prices. This is the magic number supposed to guarantee a Commons debate. But campaigners have been told MPs are "too busy" to talk about an issue that is of vital importance to families across the UK. Before the election Mr Cameron boasted that his e-petitions would put voters in the driving seat. Has his vision of people power run out of fuel already?"

Petition 347 was initiated by Tory MP Robert Halfon and has been signed by more than 105,000 people. You can read the full text here. The Harlow MP commented: "The people have spoken, so it is right that this is debated in the House of Commons."

It seems that the rules governing the backbench committee are, at best, unclear. Last week's EU referendum debate was triggered by a newspaper petition, for example, rather than one of the Government's epetitions. Apparently Ms Engel's committee is at liberty to choose petitions that don't get 100,000 signatures and to refuse a debate for those that do. If voters are to have confidence in this epetitions system a little more clarity is in order.

> At the FairfuelUK website you can read their full response: Parliament is not listening to you.

Monday Update (Matthew): Natascha Engel, the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, appeared on the BBC's Daily Politics show this afternoon. She touched on the issue of the fair fuel petition, saying there is a "very, very high chance" of it getting debated in the House: 

"What I will say that is tomorrow we meet at one o’clock and tomorrow there is the e-petition on fair fuel, but there are also lots of other debates that have been brought to us. It all depends on what it is that comes before us. I would hate to say as the Chair, that I decide what gets debated. Having said that, this is such an important issue. I represent a rural constituency. As this is one of my number one postbag issues, I would say that it has a very, very high chance of being debated. ... The fair fuel campaign came to us in the form of Robert Halfon MP, to ask for time to debate the fair fuel e-petition but they wanted to have a vote. To have a vote we have to have a debate in the chamber, we can’t have a debate in Westminster Hall. We were not allocated any time in the chamber and that was why we could not allocate a debate. We as backbenchers don’t have the time or the power to say, "we want a debate in the chamber". We have to wait for the Government to allocate us that time."

16 Sep 2011 16:01:22

Alistair Burt refuses to be drawn on whether the Government would support a Palestinian statehood bid

By Joseph Willits 
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Burt 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.

Continue reading "Alistair Burt refuses to be drawn on whether the Government would support a Palestinian statehood bid" »

14 Sep 2011 13:57:57

Nicholas Soames and Sir Peter Bottomley are the only Tory MPs to support EDM in favour of Palestinian statehood

By Joseph Willits 
Follow Joseph on Twitter

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.

23 Aug 2011 11:47:48

E-petition launched to review the smoking ban - and the 10 most popular e-petitions so far

By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter

A new e-petition has been launched today by chef and broadcaster Anthony Worrall Thompson, calling on the government to review the smoking ban - a policy generally unpopular with ConHome readers. The text of the petition is:

"We petition the Government to review the impact of the smoking ban on pubs and clubs and consider an amendment that would give licensees the option of separate well-ventilated smoking rooms."

This is also an opportune moment to take a look at the top ten most popular e-petitions so far. They are listed below, with the figure on the right denoting the number of signatures collected:

  1. Convicted London rioters should loose all benefits - 217,921
  2. Full disclosure of all government documents relating to 1989 Hillsborough disaster - 109,482
  4. Make financial education a compulsory part of the school curriculum - 40,069
  5. Petition to retain the ban on Capital Punishment - 24,822
  6. Keep Formula 1 Free To Air in the UK - 21,301
  7. Britain wants referendum to leave EU - 21,252
  8. Restore Capital Punishment - 16,996
  9. Public & Private Pension Increases - change from RPI to CPI - 16,756 
  10. Increase policing DONT CUT IT - 9,366

> Robert Halfon MP - whose e-petition is the third most popular - wrote about his e-petition for us on Sunday

10 Apr 2011 17:00:00

Robert Halfon defeats Labour MP's bid to regulate the internet during elections

By Jonathan Isaby

Before the Commons rose for the Easter recess last week, Labour MP Mike Gapes introduced a ten-minute rule bill, the Electoral Registration, Identification and Eligibility for Voting Bill.

Whilst his main aim was to ensure that the electoral register is more accurate and to combat electoral fraud, he also wanted to "strengthen measures to control negative campaigns by third party groups and websites".

Gapes said that a variety of organisations had run negative web-based campaigns at the last election and lamented that

"Liberal Democrats or other people were elected having been beneficiaries of this negative campaigning. We should tighten up the rules to regulate what can be put on the internet."

It was this measure alone which provoked Conservative MP Robert Halfon to oppose the Bill.

Continue reading "Robert Halfon defeats Labour MP's bid to regulate the internet during elections" »

17 Mar 2011 07:16:49

Justine Greening and an array of Tory backbenchers expose Labour's hypocrisy on the cost of filling a car with petrol

By Jonathan Isaby

Petrol pump The first of yesterday's opposition day debates in the Commons saw a Labour motion demanding a reversal in January's VAT rise with respect to road fuel and asking where the fuel duty stabiliser was - all in the name of the "hard pressed motorist".

The hypocrisy of Labour's position, given its record in government, was not lost on Conservative MPs, who proceeded to harry Angela Eagle, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who was opening the debate.

Here is a selection of their interventions and her non-replies to their points: 

Greg Knight: Will the hon. Lady help the House? Over the past 13 years, in every aspect of Government policy, the Labour Government were deliberately and decisively anti-motorist. Does the motion before the House today represent a seismic shift in policy, or is it, as we suspect, a transient spat of opportunism?

Ms Eagle: I am rather sorry that I gave way so early in my remarks to that kind of comment. I do not recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s caricature of our policies for motorists. Perhaps he has been reading too much of the Daily Express.

Robert Halfon: I find the Labour motion astonishing, because over the past few years the hon. Lady’s party crucified Harlow’s motorists by putting up fuel duty by 6% a year and increasing it more than 12 times—and it was going to introduce another tax.

Ms Eagle: I will come to the details of the motion later. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will do us the honour of staying in the Chamber and listening to that.

Charlie Elphicke: To clear up the addling of some minds in the House regarding the history of this matter, will she confirm that in 1997 duty was 36.86p and today it is 57.19p?

Ms Eagle: One has to remember that the price of petrol at the election was £1.20 a litre, at a time when the Conservatives were promising to cut 10p off the price of a litre because petrol prices were too high. It is now £1.32 a litre.

Brandon Lewis: Will she confirm that, despite what has been said, my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) is right: there were 12 fuel duty rises under the Labour Government, and six more were set to come into force before they left office and would have done in the next few years?

Ms Eagle: As I said, we had six years when we did not even increase the price of fuel by inflation, so there were real-terms price falls. The number of increases in all sorts of duties tends to expand the more one is in government.

Andrew Bridgen: The Labour party’s apparent Damascene conversion on fuel taxes will amaze and intrigue the bulk of the electorate. Will the hon. Lady confirm whether she supported the crafty action of the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, who effectively excluded fuel from a VAT reduction in 2008 by raising duty, and then put the VAT on fuel back up to 17.5% in January 2010?

Ms Eagle: One minute Government Members say that we have no plan to deal with the deficit, and the next minute they complain that we had a plan that would have raised money. They really do try to have it both ways and are not remotely coherent.

GreeningJustine And here is how the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Justine Greening, summed it all up as she replied from the Government front bench:

"The previous Government increased fuel duty four times in their last 16 months in office... They left many tax bombshells, but perhaps that pre-planned tax increase was the tax road mine. There was a pre-planned additional per pence increase on fuel and a pre-planned year-on-year RPI increase—the so-called escalator. Ironically and utterly bizarrely, we are today debating a Labour motion that goes against the policy introduced by the previous Labour Government.

"Listening to the Opposition is stunning. The outgoing Chief Secretary’s message to the incoming Government was that there was no money left. Worse than that, the previous Government had pre-planned increases, which were due to come in now... The bottom line is that it is outrageous for the Labour party to cry crocodile tears about tax increases that it had planned—it is disingenuous in the extreme, and shows that it has no credibility and no leadership on the issues that matter to people, such as motoring, which we are debating today. The audacity of the motion is stunning."

4 Mar 2011 07:39:32

Robert Halfon MP highlights UK universities' links with oppressive Middle Eastern dictatorships

By Tim Montgomerie

HALFON-robert During Business Questions yesterday, Robert Halfon asked Sir George Young, Leader of the House of Commons, about links between British universities, the British Left and Libya:

"Has my right hon. Friend read my early-day motion 1515?

That this House expresses grave concerns about the extent of funding from Middle Eastern dictatorships for UK universities, including the donations to the London School of Economics (LSE) by the Libyan regime; notes that an estimated 75 million was given to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies by 12 Middle Eastern rulers, including King Fahd of Saudi Arabia; further notes that 8 million was given to the University of Cambridge by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, to finance a new research centre for Islamic studies in 2008, and that he gave a further 8 million to Edinburgh University for the same purpose; further notes that 9 million was given to the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at the LSE by the United Arab Emirates Foundation, and that 5.7 million was given to the LSE by the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences, to establish the Kuwait Programme on Development, Governance and Globalisation in the Gulf States in 2007; and therefore calls on the Government to establish much stricter guidelines around donations to UK universities, and to put a stop immediately to donations from oppressive Middle Eastern dictatorships with a terrible record on human rights.

My right hon. Friend may also have seen early-day motion 1486, which I tabled.

The motions condemn the extensive financial links between Colonel Gaddafi and at least two British universities, the London School of Economics and Liverpool John Moores, and the links between the progressive left and Gaddafi. Does he not agree that this scandal is akin to that of the aristocrats who appeased and sympathised with fascism in the 1930s, and will he arrange for an urgent statement on, and an independent inquiry into, the funding of British universities by middle eastern despots?

Sir George Young replied: "I understand my hon. Friend's concern, although I am not sure I would go quite as far as he did in drawing that parallel. Universities, however, are autonomous institutions. As a charity, a university must set its own standards for the acceptance of donations, subject to guidance from the Charity Commission. The LSE has expressed regret at the reputational damage caused by its association with the Gaddafi name, and has announced that the sum received will be used to finance a scholarship fund supporting students from north Africa."


Congratulations to Robert for fighting this campaign against the LSE. He has written for ConHome on the subject a number of times, including yesterday.

2 Mar 2011 07:23:14

Why did no-one ask how military intervention in Libya would work?

by Paul Goodman

I've glanced back at the Prime Minister's Commons statement on Monday about Libya, and found the following:

  • Richard Ottoway asked whether defence co-operation with Gaddafi was misjudged.
  • Edward Leigh demanded no further cuts in the Royal Navy.
  • James Arbuthnot asked about Hamas's refusal to hold elections in Gaza.
  • John Baron inquired what effect support for democracy would have on our autocratic allies in the region.
  • Tobias Ellwood asked about mercenaries sent by African governments to support Gaddafi.
  • David Tredinnick wanted to know about planning for regime change.
  • Tony Baldry said that Gaddafi should be referred to the International Criminal Court.
  • Bill Cash urged arming the resistance.
  • Robert Halfon attacked the LSE for taking Gaddafi's money.
  • James Gray said that contractors should make better plans for evacuations.

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.)

1 Mar 2011 18:27:43

Conservative MPs give their takes on the Big Society in the first parliamentary debate on the matter

By Jonathan Isaby

Yesterday saw MPs debating the merits of the Big Society on a backbench motion moved by Dover's Tory MP, Charlie Elphicke, which stated its support for the Big Society, "seeking stronger communities where power is decentralised and social action is encouraged."

"The big society has been "much discussed in the media", yet this was, Elphicke asserted, "practically the first proper occasion on which it has been discussed on the Floor of this Chamber."

His motion had been co-signed by a number of Conservative MPs, as well as Labour's Jon Cruddas and Tristram Hunt and Lib Dem Bob Russell.

Here are some excerpts from a variety of the 24 speeches delivered by backbench Tory MPs - who, interestingly enough, were all members of the 2010 intake.

Charlie Elphicke
Charlie Elphicke Commons What I want to talk about is the sense of annoyance that everyone has when an individual feels put off from simply sweeping the snow from the pavement outside their house for fear that they will be sued, or when they are scared to jump into a pond and rescue a drowning child.

How have we got to the situation where individuals do not feel that they can take responsibility, and that rules and procedures stop them doing so? It is important to encourage people to take more action and more responsibility for their own lives and for their communities. People in communities are frustrated, such as the head teacher who cannot decide which children are in his school and feels that he is being told what to do by diktat, and the hospital worker who wants to take responsibility for his area, but who has to follow detailed rules and procedures.

Communities as a whole-big communities such as mine in Dover-want a greater sense of being able to chart their own destiny and future direction, but feel hampered by central Government saying, "No, these are the rules. This is how it is going to be. It is all going to be top-down and what you say doesn't count for much." It is that sense of annoyance and frustration, which stalks the land up and down the country, that the big society aims to counteract.

Continue reading "Conservative MPs give their takes on the Big Society in the first parliamentary debate on the matter " »

17 Feb 2011 12:50:48

Caroline Spelman formally cancels the forest sell-off consultation: "I am sorry. We got this one wrong."

Picture 26
By Jonathan Isaby

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Caroline Spelman has just made a difficult statement to the Commons, making a full U-turn on the Government's proposals to sell off some state-owned forests. She announced

  1. The forestry clauses will be removed from the public bodies bill;
  2. The consultation on the forest sell-off - due to have been going on until later in April - has been called off after two weeks, owing to the sheer volume of opposition from the public and MPs;
  3. An independent panel will be set up to consider future forestry policy for England.

Mrs Spelman said that she takes "full responsibility" for the situation and in particular takes the message from this experience that people cherish the forests and woodlands and the benefits they bring. She concluded:

"I am sorry. We got his one wrong. We have listend to people's concerns."

Later on I will try and include some of the reaction from Tory backbenchers.

In the meantime, do read my post from last Friday: Lessons for the Government to learn from the forests fiasco.

5.30pm update:

Nick Watt from the Guardian has already blogged to commend Caroline Spelman's execution of the U-turn and to criticise Labour's spokesman, Mary Creagh, for a laboured and ineffective performance.

He rightly observes that Creagh managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by speakng for far too long and claiming that Labour was the party of the countryside, which prompted Tory MPs all the more to go into bat for Spelman and aid her in attacking Labour's hypocrisy on the issue of forests.

Here's a selection of the contributions from the Conservative backbenches in response to her statement:  

Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford): The Secretary of State has had the honesty and guts to come here to say that she presented ideas to the British public, but the British public did not much like them, so she said sorry and came up with a new approach. Is it not instructive that that is in such amazing contrast to the behaviour of that lot on the Opposition Benches who, no matter how many acres of woodland they sold and no matter how much gold they sold and at what price, nevertheless ran our economy into the ditch, from which we are trying to dig it out?

Continue reading "Caroline Spelman formally cancels the forest sell-off consultation: "I am sorry. We got this one wrong."" »

8 Feb 2011 15:58:51

Is it ever right to restrict the activities of an All-Party Parliamentary Group?

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 -

" 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."

Continue reading "Is it ever right to restrict the activities of an All-Party Parliamentary Group?" »

4 Feb 2011 07:25:42

Robert Halfon raises Engage case in Commons

by Paul Goodman

Robert Halfon raised the matter of Engage and the proposed All-Party Group on Islamophobia yesterday -

"Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Will the Leader of the House find time for an urgent statement on iEngage, the secretariat of the newly formed all-party parliamentary group on Islamophobia? iEngage has a track record of being aggressively anti-Semitic and homophobic, and has extensive links with terrorism in Tunisia and the middle east. In its capacity as the secretariat, it now has access to the parliamentary estate. Will the Leader of the House raise the issue with the Serjeant at Arms as soon as possible?

Sir George Young: The Serjeant at Arms will have heard what my hon. Friend has said. As he knows, I announced a few moments ago that there would be debate on all-party parliamentary groups on Monday evening, and it will provide an appropriate forum for him to develop his case."

I've previously written at length about the project on this site, setting out in detail why an alternative arrangement should be made.  Both the proposed Chairman and Vice-Chairman took a similar view, and have quit the enterprise.  I can't remember an occasion when an all-party group - usually the most uncontroversial of vehicles - has caused such contension and division.

2 Feb 2011 15:44:48

Pauline Latham and Robert Halfon press the Government for answers over the release of the Lockerbie bomber

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.

22 Jan 2011 06:33:44

Tory MPs condemn BBC slur against Norris McWhirter at Culture Questions

By Jonathan Isaby

Just before Christmas, Alex Deane used this piece on ConHome to highlight the outrageous attack on Norris McWhirter and the Freedom Association by David Baddiel and Alan Davies on a BBC radio programme, who linked them with fascism.

At Culture Questions in the Commons on Thursday, several Tory MPs took the opportunity to raise the matter on the floor of the Commons.

Robert Halfon Commons Harlow MP Robert Halfon asked Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt:

"When considering the governance of the BBC, will he also examine BBC impartiality? On "The Alan Davies Show" last year, BBC employees likened the Freedom Association to the British National party and its founder, the late second world war hero Norris McWhirter, to one of Mosley's brownshirts. When I wrote to the BBC I received a ridiculous letter from Mark Thompson refusing to apologise. Will my right hon. Friend demand that the BBC starts to live up to the obligation in its own charter?"

The Culture Secretary replied:

"I agree that impartiality at the BBC is paramount and that the particular comments to which my hon. Friend refers were totally inappropriate. I can understand why many people found them offensive. By way of reassurance, I say to him that in the selection process for the new chairman of the BBC Trust, which is responsible for impartiality, we have said that all candidates must show commitment to improving governance at the BBC. I hope that these issues will continue to be addressed."

Julian Lewis square Julian Lewis from New Forest East also spoke passionately in defence of Norris McWhirter:

"I thank the Secretary of State, from the bottom of my heart, for what he said about the disgraceful attack on the reputation of Norris McWhirter, whom the BBC was delighted to have as one of its star celebrities for decade after decade. May I tell him that I worked with Norris McWhirter for many years in politics, and one could never find a more dedicated opponent of totalitarianism? That is hardly surprising given that at the age of 17, he volunteered for the Royal Navy and took part in one of the most successful anti-U-boat organisations in the battle of the Atlantic. It was a particular disgrace that someone-David Baddiel-who, like me, is from a Jewish background, should denounce that admirable man as a fascist or a Nazi sympathiser simply because he disagreed with him politically."

Jeremy Hunt replied thus:

"I echo what I said about the importance of impartiality, and say simply to my hon. Friend that given his sustained interest in that, many people at the BBC are gutted that he did not put his name forward for the chairmanship of the BBC Trust."