Stewart Jackson: Why is a Tory Government risking criminalising professionals – and the health of young people too?

21 Feb

Stewart Jackson is a former Conservative MP and Special Adviser, and is the Founder and Director of UK Political Insight.

Given the precarious position that the Prime Minister finds himself in, one has to rank the Government’s commitment to legislate for the so-called Conversion Therapy Bill “in spring 2022” as particularly brave, foolhardy or tin-eared.

The need to engineer a rapprochement with the Conservative Parliamentary Party is inconsistent with such a divisive and unnecessary measure.

It appears to be driven by a desire to placate the shrill zealotry of Stonewall – now discredited by its absolutist stance on trans rights, and estranged from many former LGBT supporters with whom, along with other critics, it seems unwilling to engage.

Indeed, the Bill seems to be a solution looking for a problem. In a meeting with religious leaders, the Government Equalities Office, which is sponsoring the Bill, failed even to identify what the legal definition of “conversion therapy” actually is, according to one of those present.

Those advocating the changes are desperate to avoid scrutiny and rush through the legislation. Nonetheless, the Government extended the consultation on the Bill until earlier this month after threats of judicial review.  It takes a unique talent to unite the fractious Tory tribes against these proposals.

Those concerned by aspects of the Bill reportedly include Damian Green, Chairman of the Conservative One Nation Group; other former Ministers, such as Jackie Doyle-Price; such middle ground stalwarts as Pauline Latham and Sir Robert Syms; and social conservatives such as Miriam Cates, Sally-Ann Hart, and Tim Loughton. Not to mention peers, faith groups, charities, the Economist and, most recently, the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The ECHR has rightly highlighted  the need for proper pre-legislative scrutiny, and has warned against the unintended consequences of rushed legislation.  Supporters of the measure have also failed to take into account evolving research from the United States on paediatric and youth gender dysphoria, and that fact that the Government’s own Cass Review on gender identity services for children and young people will not be published until this summer.

In a nutshell, there is concern that rushed and poorly drafted legislation will threaten the basic tenets of fairness, freedom of speech, religious belief and tolerance, and the professionalism and autonomy of a number of caring sectors – such medicine, nursing, therapy, pastoral care and youth work and education.  Not to mention parents and guardians, all of whom risk being criminalised by poor legislation and activists with a narrow and extreme agenda.

For there is a real possibility that certain types of private consensual and routine conversations regarding sexual orientation and gender identity will become subject to criminal sanction.  And that it will not be possible for those charged with helping children and young people in particular to have open and explorative discussions about sexual identity and gender issues.

Thus, in the case of gender dysphoria, legitimate alternatives to radical and life changing pharmaceutical and surgical interventions could effectively become illegal. Do we want primary legislation that prevents clinicians from offering their patients the best treatment for their unique medical issues? As Baroness Jenkin has said: “when a child is suffering, it is crucial that they are allowed time, space and supportive therapy to discover why they feel the way they do.”

Such a bar would impact on young people with mental health problems and suicide ideation. Some of the alternatives would be irreversible. Government pledges of a “common sense” approach will count for very little if the legislation enacted is interpreted in a draconian manner.

These deeply flawed proposals arose from the well-meaning intentions of the May Government, and are now driven by a small claque of social liberals in 10 Downing Street – irrespective of the fact that there is already, and rightly, widespread opposition to physical and mental coercion based on both sexual orientation and gender identity, and tough legislation in place to combat it. In this respect, the UK has always been a pathfinder internationally. Who wouldn’t want to protect vulnerable people from bullying and coercion?

There is also real possibility that the Bill will fall foul of the European Convention on Human Rights in regards to Article 8 (Respect for Private and Family Life) and Article 9 (Freedom of Thought, Belief and Religion).  And that the Government may find itself liable for punitive damages in future litigation arising from the practices sanctioned by the Bill.

Like other May Government landmines – think Stop and Search, Windrush and the Northern Ireland Protocol – ideas touted as common sense and the right thing to do can obscure intractable issues and bring about unintended consequences.

All in all, there is no compelling case for this new legislation, or even persuasive evidence that it is actually required.  And the Government’s failure to outline a proper case for it hasn’t helped to dispel fears of a fait accomplis, with MPs being railroaded to an arbitrary deadline.

The Prime Minister has enough on his plate already. He needs the courage to reject this proposal, and face down a tiny minority, most of whom would never vote for him and his party, not least for the health of his battered administration.

Andrew Mitchell: Asylum seekers. As matters stand, it would be irresponsible to vote for these new deportation measures.

6 Dec

Andrew Mitchell was International Development Secretary from 2010 to 2012, and is MP for Sutton Coldfield.

No one should be surprised that people want to come to Britain. We’re a great country – but we can’t just blame the French or kid ourselves that the Australians have the answer to immigration. Bashing the French has long been our national sport, but bashing the British is just as much a favoured French pastime.

We need an immigration policy that is firm but fair. I strongly support Priti Patel in her effort to deliver just that, but she has to play off a sticky wicket. There is no single silver bullet. But there are a series of sensible measures that would help her get back onto the front foot.

The UK’s former Ambassador to Washington, David Manning, rightly wrote this weekend that we can’t pretend to be an Indo-Pacific power while ignoring the continent to which we belong. Brexit hasn’t changed geography: China is 5,000 miles from Britain, while France is just 20. He proposes a new bilateral treaty and a new framework for foreign and defence collaboration with the EU. These are sensible olive branches for us to offer.

The deployment of wave machines and jet skis – under the so called ‘push back’ powers – would lead to catastrophic calamity and diminish our standing on the world stage.

So, too, would proposals for a ‘fantasy island’ to deposit asylum seekers where human rights could not be guaranteed. We cannot challenge abuses in China, Russia and elsewhere if drones are bring flown over a UK offshore detention centre and footage being broadcast around the world. David Davis has rightly raised the spectre of such a place becoming a “British Guantanamo Bay”.

We need to remember what makes our country a global leader. We need to use the final weeks of our presidency of the G7 and our standing at the UN to start a meaningful convening and updating of the 1951 UN refugee convention.

The world is a dangerous place, and one in which climate change and conflict will continue to drive the movement of people from the developing to the developed world for the foreseeable future. We are talking about literally millions of them being on the move.

Where once Britain led as a development superpower, this year we have withdrawn. British development policy was designed to make life at least tolerable over there so that they didn’t come over here.

We are now reaping what we have sown, but it is not too late to change course. We should be gradually returning to our 0.7 per cent commitment on aid and the genuine international leadership that gave us – not leaving it until 2024.

As well as our obligations to those fleeing Taliban persecution in Afghanistan and Chinese repression in Hong Kong, we also have a responsibility to accept our fair share of Christians from Iran, Kurds from Iraq and those fleeing war in Syria and Ethiopia.

The Home Office have full control of refugees asylum claims, but we should no longer require people to set foot on a British beach, or be fished out of British waters, to consider their claim. Pauline Latham made such a very sensible suggestion this weekend.

France received three times as many applications for asylum as we did last year. The Germans have taken the lion’s share of refugees into Europe over the last decade. We are fortunate that the channel represents the backdoor to the EU and that we are not on the frontline in the Mediterranean. We should accept our fair share. No more, no less.

Whether you can afford to pay a people smuggler should not be an entry requirement. You should not have to risk your life in a small boat. You should be able to apply at a British embassy and arrive on a plane, met by an organised local authority. And those local councils should have time to plan, resources to help and an orderly and managed system to integrate new arrivals sustainably into welcoming communities. This might sound Utopian, but it is well within our capacity to absorb just a few families into each of our constituencies each year.

I’m no bleeding heart lefty. I’m a hard-headed civil libertarian. You should always be wary of trusting “the state”, and you can’t solve international problems without countries working together. These are two fundamental Conservative principles that many of us hold dear and they are the ones that will guide my consideration of the proposals in the Nationality and Borders Bill.

Through the Bill, the Government seeks the power to deport asylum seekers before their claims are processed, many of whom will indeed qualify for asylum in Britain . But they haven’t told us where this processing will take place. One of my colleagues comically suggested the Falkland Islands, while the Albanian Foreign Minister denounced reports that they would be sent to Tirana as “fake news”. Until the Government can explain how and where they will use these powers, it is irresponsible for Parliament to grant them.

There is much to commend in this Bill, and we all want Priti Patel to succeed and get it right. But I see no end in sight to the numbers risking their lives to cross the channel until we re-establish the humanitarian resettlement routes which Britain has previously offered. Their lives and our global reputation depend on it.

Richard Holden: It’s time for the Government to make more of Tory MPs’ achievements and fewer errors itself

23 Nov

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

BBC Studios, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

Everyone gets that it’s the job of the Her Majesty’s Opposition is to oppose, but its leader seems to have taken this to another level in recent weeks.

Not long ago, Keir Starmer was calling for HS2 to be scrapped. Now he’s saying it’s not going far enough. Captain Hindsight is probably wishing that he’d had a touch more foresight on this one.

At the same time, Labour deride the £96 billion investment in new rail infrastructure in the midlands and north as a ‘betrayal’. They conveniently skirt the markedly different records of the main political parties: Labour in 13 years managed 63 miles of new and electrified track. The Conservatives have managed over 1,000 miles, with hundreds of miles more of new and electrified track on the way.

All the above is important – but to my constituents feels too often like political knock-about. I endured it on BBC Politics North East this weekend up against Labour’s Ian Lavery. The record is useful for highlighting Labour’s duplicity, but not much else. And I can’t quite understand how the Government ended up wrong-footed on some of the biggest investment in the big picture in decades.

Drill down a little, and what my constituents are after is regional connectivity. Trains connecting major cities – the spine of the network – are great, but if you’d can’t plug into one of those hubs then who, in an area with no trains and a limited bus service, cares if it’s happening?

That’s the message from so many parts of the country who are interested in what’s happening to the ribs off the spine: they want to see some meat on them. For my constituents, it’s the real test on public transport delivery in our local areas – particularly in relation to buses, which the Government is doing so much work on – not the Westminster dance that the media obsess over.

This week, the Bubble has turned its collective attention towards Health and Care Bill – which delivers on another of our commitments, of the kind that governments of all shades have dodged for decades.

For this MP, the Bill also contains some important measures that I’ve been campaigning on for over a year that you won’t see splashed broadly across the mainstream media.

The Department of Health has taken up the mantle of my private members bill from the last session, and is going to ban so called virginity testing not just in England and Wales, but across our United Kingdom.

I cannot tell you what this means to campaigners from IKWRO Women’s Rights Organisation, Karna Nirvana and MEWSO – and their supporters – who have been banging the drum for change for years on women’s rights in this respect for years.

Too often, we think that issues around women’s rights have been solved, but it’s clear that there are major areas in which that just isn’t true. Banning the pseudo-science of so-called virginity testing is a good step in this area, and I have received assurances from Ministers that we’ll see hymenoplasty banned, too, in this piece of legislation – with amendments to be introduced in the Lords along the lines of my probing ones that have been backed by many MPs in the Commons.

Sajid Javid has been a true champion in this field, too, and picked up the mantle of ending under-18 marriage while on the backbenches . My colleague Pauline Latham has taken this on following Javid’s move back to the Department of Health and Social Care, and the initiative looks likely to progress soon.

With so much of the social policy debate space being taken up by arguments around trans rights in recent years, we too often forget that there are major issues around the rights of women and girls that need to be sorted out, too.

Another prime example is the campaign being led by Alex Stafford and Nick Fletcher down in the Rother Valley and Don Valley – demanding action in response widespread allegations of grooming gangs and child sexual exploitation in their towns and villages. The local Labour authorities have been, yet again, slow to act.

Time and again, when it comes to the rights of women and girls, it’s Conservative MPs leading on these battles. Fights that have been abandoned by Labour MPs (with some notable exemptions) who, long ago, became sadly too frit to take on the most socially conservative elements of British society.

On the ground in our constituencies and in Parliament, it’s backbench Conservatives leading the charge in so many areas – from levelling-up and fighting for better connectivity to the rights of women and girls.

At a national level, it feels like the Government is missing chances to highlight the good work that such Conservative MPs are doing. And that it is making a few too many unforced errors – especially when it comes to selling the positive changes we’re making for the country.

We got Brexit done. We’ve delivered the fastest and one of the most comprehensive vaccine programmes of any developed nation, and supported jobs and business through the pandemic. Employment is now higher than pre-pandemic, and we’ve got record vacancies in the economy. We are now delivering record investment in our transport infrastructure, our NHS and, at the same time, have a clear plan to get waiting lists, debt and taxes falling in the medium term. Conservative MPs are leading the way on major issues of social policy on the national level and in their communities – working day and night to deliver the investment they need.

The Opposition hate it and are led by a central London lawyer who does not understand, never mind connect with decent working Britain. And the media are, naturally, interested in the people rather than the policy. But we’ve got a great story to tell. No one will do it for us. It’s time to regain the initiative, and relentlessly make the case for conservatism.

Stanley Johnson and Eduardo Goncalves: The ban on trophy hunting must happen – and the legislation be fit for purpose

1 Jul

Stanley Johnson is a writer, environmental campaigner and former MEP. He is International Ambassador for the Conservative Environment Network. Eduardo Goncalves is founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting. His latest book Undercover Trophy Hunter is published today.

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the shooting of Cecil the lion by Walter Palmer, an American trophy hunter and dentist.  It was an event that not only shocked many people around the world: it prompted the Government to briefly consider banning British hunters from bringing home trophies of their lion hunts.

The plan was quietly dropped, and British hunters are among those to have continued killing lions and other threatened species for trophies. Since 2015, the year Cecil was shot, hundreds of lions have been killed by trophy hunters from around the world, among them Britons who brought home no fewer than 89 trophies of lions. Many of the lions had been shot on ‘canned hunting’ estates, where animals are bred in captivity, and the hunter can then ‘hunt’ them within a fenced-in enclosure.

Indeed, since Cecil’s death British trophy hunters have brought home almost a thousand bodies and body parts of species classed by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) as being at risk of extinction.

More than 200 of them came from elephants. The items kept by UK hunters as souvenirs of their elephant hunts included tusks, ears, feet and tails. Other animals that are listed as protected by international conventions, but which have been shot by British trophy hunters in recent years, include polar bears, leopards, giraffes, zebras, hippos, and various species of monkey.

In the past few years, the issue has come to the fore once again, partly due to a series of investigations by the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting – a non-profit group supported by many Conservatives – which have revealed the shocking behaviour of some British hunters. The revelations have made the front pages and prompted a string of editorials in newspapers. A number of Conservative backbenchers have initiated Westminster Hall debates, and tabled Early Day Motions calling for a ban on trophy imports.

In its 2019 general election manifesto, the Conservative Party pledged to ban trophy imports of endangered species. The pledge was also included in the previous Queen’s Speech and was reaffirmed at Prime Minister’s Questions in February 2020 in response to a question from Pauline Latham. A public consultation has been held by Defra and the policy reaffirmed following this year’s Queen’s Speech.

However, recent media reports have raised questions as to whether the proposed legislation is fit for purpose. For example: the scope of the ban that is under consideration will, curiously, cover some zebra species, but not others. A number of other species classed as vulnerable to extinction currently find themselves excluded. These include the reindeer, an animal which trophy hunters can book a hunt for online for as little as £1,386.

The reindeer is one of several animals that IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature) says are under threat at least in partly due to hunting, but which won’t be covered by the ban proposed by the government. Others include the striped hyena, the African civet cat and the honey badger. George Eustice told NGOs in January that the honey badger – as well as all zebras – should be included in the ban, but it currently sits outside the bill’s proposed scope.

The Government runs the very serious risk of under-estimating the strength of feeling among Conservative voters on this issue. An opinion poll by Survation conducted in March this year showed that 89 per cent of Conservative supporters want a total ban on all trophies being brought back into Britain. The figure is higher than that for supporters of the Labour Party. The same proportion of Conservatives polled by Survation said they believed such a ban should be implemented “as soon as possible”.

Moreover, there has been little talk so far of how such legislation will be enforced, or of the punitive measures under consideration. A new Early Day Motion tabled by Sir David Amess presses the government to clarify its position on this issue, and to ensure that law-breakers can expect to receive a custodial sentence.

Undercover Trophy Hunter reveals that British hunters are looking at ways to evade or even ignore the Government’s legislation. The trophies of most of the animals killed by the leading British hunters profiled in the book can still legally be imported after the proposed ban is implemented, if its scope remains unchanged.

Limiting the trophy ban only to endangered species, as the Government seems to be proposing, makes it seem that the primary purpose of the legislation is conservation. Conservation may indeed be an issue, and current listings under international conventions such as CITES are – as noted above – sometimes woefully inadequate in the protection they provide.

But the proposed legislation needs to reflect a far wider point: namely, that in in this day and age, there is no place for ‘pleasure-killing’ in any shape or form, and that must mean taking steps to prohibit trophy imports from non-listed species as well as from currently listed species.

In short, the legislation needs to reflect unambiguously the moral, as well as the conservation, case against trophy hunting. Or as the Prime Minister said in 2019 in a tweet alongside a picture of Cecil the lion: “We must end this barbaric practice”. Trophy hunting is cruel, barbaric and fundamentally un-Conservative. The government should follow the lead of both its leader and its followers and help bring an end to this terrible trade – starting with a comprehensive and rigorously-enforced ban on imports of all hunting trophies.

The 33 Conservative MPs who rebelled over the Genocide Amendment

19 Jan
  • Ahmad Khan, Imran
  • Amess, David
  • Blackman, Bob
  • Blunt, Crispin
  • Bridgen, Andrew

 

  • Crouch, Tracey
  • Davis, David
  • Djanogly, Jonathan
  • Duncan Smith, Iain
  • Ellwood, Tobias

 

  • Francois, Mark
  • Ghani, Nusrat
  • Gillan, Cheryl
  • Gray, James
  • Green, Damian

 

  • Hart, Sally-Anne (pictured)
  • Hoare, Simon
  • Hollobone, Philip
  • Jenkin, Bernard
  • Latham, Pauline

 

  • Lewer, Andrew
  • Lewis, Julian
  • Loughton, Tim
  • Mackinlay, Craig
  • Nokes, Caroline

 

  • Richards, Nicola
  • Rossindell, Andrew
  • Seely, Bob
  • Tugendhat, Tom
  • Wakeford, Christian

 

  • Walker, Charles
  • Warburton, David
  • Wragg, William

Today’s genocide amendment had no relation whatsoever to recent votes on Covid – or other major rebellions that this site has been chronicling.

But there is considerable overlap between the rebels on those lists and on this one.  And even newcomers to our records such as Sally-Ann Hart and Nicola Richards have voted against the Government previously (though rarely).

Regardless of the merits or otherwise of the amendment, lists of those defying the whips now have a certain predictability.

The forty-two Conservative MPs who voted against the Government on the 10pm curfew

13 Oct
  • Ahmad Khan, Imran
  • Amess, David
  • Baker, Steve
  • Baldwin, Harriett
  • Blackman, Bob

 

  • Blunt, Crispin
  • Bone, Peter
  • Brady, Graham
  • Chope, Christopher
  • Clifton-Brown, Sir Geoffrey

 

  • Daly, James
  • Davies, Philip
  • Davis, David
  • Davison, Dehenna
  • Doyle-Price, Jackie

 

  • Drax, Richard
  • Fysh, Marcus
  • Ghani, Nusrat
  • Green, Chris (pictured)
  • Hunt, Tom

 

  • Latham, Mrs Pauline
  • Loder, Chris
  • Loughton, Tim
  • Mangnall, Anthony
  • McCartney, Karl

 

  • McVey, Esther
  • Merriman, Huw
  • Morris, Anne Marie
  • Redwood, rh John
  • Rosindell, Andrew

 

  • Sambrook, Gary
  • Seely, Bob
  • Smith, Henry
  • Swayne, rh Sir Desmond
  • Syms, Sir Robert

 

  • Thomas, Derek
  • Tracey, Craig
  • Vickers, Matt
  • Wakeford, Christian
  • Walker, Sir Charles

 

  • Watling, Giles
  • Wragg, William

Plus two tellers – Philip Hollobone and Craig Mackinlay.

– – –

  • Seven Tory MPs voted against the Government on renewing the Coronavirus Act.
  • Twelve voted against the Government over the rule of six.
  • Now we have 42 this evening – enough to imperil the Government’s majority in the event of all opposition parties that attend Westminster voting against it too.
  • Fifty-six signed the Brady amendment, but it was never voted on, and wasn’t a measure related directly to Government policy on the virus.
  • We wrote last week that Conservative backbench protests would gain “volume and velocity”, and so it is proving.
  • There’s a strong though not total overlap between these lockdown sceptics and Eurosceptics.
  • We count eight members from the 2019 intake – and a big tranche from pre-2010 intakes.
  • Chris Green resigned as a PPS to vote against the measure.
  • He’s a Bolton MP and there’s clearly unhappiness there about these latest restrictions.

Opposition to new national lockdowns is growing on the Conservative backbenches

22 Sep

Boris Johnson will speak to the Commons this afternoon and to the nation this evening about the Government’s latest Coronavirus measures.  We wait to see exactly what he will announce, but the thrust of his proposals seems clear enough. Essentially, he wants to separate work and home life.

The Prime Minister aims to keep work going in as normal a way as possible – with face covers, hand-washing and social distancing in place to help make this possible.  This is government “putting its arms” around the economy, to borrow a phrase he likes to use.  It is the part of the policy aimed at protecting livelihoods.

Meanwhile, home life and leisure will take the strain of reducing the growth in Covid-19 cases.  There is a rule of six.  Pubs and restaurants will shut at 10pm.  There will be marshalls as well as fines.  Not to mention lockdowns – like those currently now in place in Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Birmingham and elsewhere. This is the half of the policy intended to save lives.

Whether this scheme will last long is doubtful.  We’ve explained previously on this site why many schools may not stay open fully, or may close altogether.  That will have a knock-on effect on the economy, since parents with younger children will often have no alternative but to stay at home, and provide the childcare themselves.

Furthermore, the division between work, home and leisure isn’t always clear.  The first and third meet in retail: some shopping is leisure; all staffing is work.  As the debate within government over the new 10pm closing time for pubs, restaurants and outlets indicates, non-essential shopping is vulnerable to new closures.  And Ministers are already backing off the push to get workers to return to offices (since they will be more relucant to use public transport).

It looks as though we’re on the way to another national lockdown – in effect, if most cities are locked down; or formally, if the Government eventually declares one.  Tomorrow, in the wake of the Prime Minister’s broadcast, we will return to the big questions.

Such as: what’s the fundamental aim of the policy?  If it is no longer to protect the NHS, is it to suppress the virus?  If so, are the healthcare trade-offs that would arise from such a policy worthwhile – let alone the wider economic ones?  Why isn’t testing and tracing, rather than lockdowns, taking the strain of reducing the disease, as intended?  For today, we want to probe what happened yesterday during Matt Hancock’s Commons statement.

Chris Grayling, Greg Clark, Harriet Baldwin, Simon Fell, Simon Clarke, Alec Shelbrooke, Anthony Browne, Graham Brady, Andrew Percy, Jason McCartney, Shaun Bailey, Marco Longhi, Edward Leigh, Pauline Latham, Bernard Jenkin, Duncan Baker, James Davies, William Wragg, Steve Brine, and Anne-Marie Trevelyan spoke.

Of these, Grayling, Clarke, Brady, Leigh, Latham, Baker, Wragg and Brine were all, to varying degrees, hostile to another national lockdown.  Browne’s question was perhaps in broadly the same camp.  We are beginning to see resistence to new national shutdowns intensify on the Conservative backbenches.