This week Members of Parliament debated the use of armed forces chapels for same-sex marriage ceremonies. On Tuesday 25 February, defence junior minister Anna Soubry MP presented a draft order-in-council allowing for same-sex marriage ceremonies to take place in certain armed forces chapels. Sir Gerald Howarth MP (Con.-Aldershot) and Sir Edward Leigh MP (Con.-Gainsborough) raised concerns over the freedom of church bodies to refuse to perform or host same-sex ceremonies.
“I have in mind not only the interest of the Royal Garrison church in Aldershot,” Sir Gerald told the Committee, “but the Roman Catholic cathedral in Aldershot and the Church of Scotland church in Aldershot—three military churches. I want her to make it crystal clear that none of those are affected by the proposals and that they do not fall within the definition of ‘chapels’.”
Sir Gerald, an Anglican, was joined in raising his concerns by Sir Edward Leigh MP, a Catholic: “We do take such matters seriously because we are talking about what are for us holy places. People who attach enormous importance to their religious beliefs—whether they are Roman Catholic or anything else—use the chapels as holy places. [...] Does the Minister understand that we are worried about that issue, which is important to us?”
Defence minister Anna Soubry MP dismissed the MPs’ worries as “the stuff of fantasy”. She did, however, clarify that military personnel would not be forced into any action: “I am pleased to be able to make it absolutely clear that nobody will ever be forced to do anything that is against their conscience.” Read the rest of this entry »
29 January 2014, Sixth Sitting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe:
Syrian refugees: how to organise and support international assistance?
Sir Edward LEIGH (United Kingdom) – It is a bit of a cliché to say it but I am afraid that we must recognise that Syria’s dreadful war can be solved only by the Syrians. It took us a bit of time to get into that space. When we last had this debate in the autumn, you may remember that just a month before we – the West – had been in imminent danger of bombing Syria, which would have been a disastrous policy. We have at least moved away from this and despite all the criticism that has been made of our Russian friends, there has now been a degree of co-operation between America, Russia and other players in getting rid of chemical weapons.
It is not going to solve the civil war but I honestly think that the best we can do is to concentrate our efforts on humanitarian aid. I am very proud that the United Kingdom has given £600 million in humanitarian aid. We are actually the second biggest donor in the world; 320 000 people have been helped with food aid and 300 000 people have been helped with medical consultations. I do not believe that sending more weapons into a society already awash with weapons is going to solve the problem; nor can we solve it by thinking that we can accept a huge number of refugees. There is no appetite for that. It is only a token response. There are 2.5 million people displaced: the United Kingdom is taking several hundred; France is taking several hundred. We can do a little bit to take the people who are most abused and traumatised.
The real solution, if there is one, is to concentrate our efforts on humanitarian aid. Like Mr Mignon, we may feel angry that refugees and refugee camps still exist in the 21st century but we have to be realistic and raise the efforts of everybody in Europe to the level of the best in terms of humanitarian assistance. By all means, let Mr Obama put pressure on Mr Assad about creating humanitarian corridors – by all means use pressure – but we must realise that we in Europe are only spectators in this. All we can do, with our limited resources, is to help those most in need.
[link to official report of the full debate]
29 January 2014, Fifth Sitting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe: Address by Mr Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, followed by Questions
Sir Edward LEIGH (United Kingdom) – Herr Schulz, do you understand the desire of a great part of the British people and the British Government to have a fundamental change in our relationship with the European Union? Will you in the European Parliament therefore facilitate renegotiation so we get a real result, or would you rather that the United Kingdom left the European Union?
Mr SCHULZ (President of the European Parliament) – Let me answer Sir Edward Leigh in clear terms. I am often surprised when I hear this expression “relationship of the United Kingdom with the European Union”. It sounds as if the European Union is a foreign force. You are a member of the European Union, and you are negotiating about the relationship with yourselves. This is wonderful, and I am strongly interested in seeing the result.
You asked me about my view on the United Kingdom. Let me say in clear terms that I want to see the United Kingdom as a fully fledged member of the European Union, participating in all policies. That would strengthen the Union and would strengthen the United Kingdom.
[link to official report of the full debate]
The news that there are now more Britons in employment than ever before in the history of our country is encouraging. We have also experienced the highest quarterly fall in unemployment since 1997, with the number of those claiming the jobseekers allowance having fallen for fourteen months in a row.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s economic policy has not been one of headline-grabbing cure-alls: he’s pursued a pragmatic approach in putting our economy back on track. These recently announced figures give us hope that his line of attack is working. While we’re not in the clear yet, Britain is turning a corner, and this is testament to the difficult decisions which this government is making.
Apart from the slow but steady economic turnaround, I hope that the most important and long-lasting legacies of this government will be localism. Subsidiarity – the idea that power should be located as close as possible to the people affected by it – is one of the most important political principles to remember. Over the past few decades far too many decisions affecting us in Lincolnshire have been made arbitrarily by unfamiliar bureaucrats in Whitehall or – even worse – Brussels.
It’s heartening, then, to witness local people taking the future in their own hands and influencing the decision-making process. The planning committee of West Lindsey District Council has been admirably and commendably responsive to the protests raised by local residents (including myself) to the plague of wind turbines which certain energy companies have sought to blight our landscape with. One of them sneakily made an application just before Christmas, no doubt hoping we would all be distracted by the holiday season. The hue and cry was raised, however, and I understand the application has been withdrawn, thus adding Waddingham to the long list of villages and towns which have seen off the wind farm menace – so far.
Overdevelopment is a continual concern, and we need to be very cautious when thinking about approving the construction of large sets of houses which may alter the order and tranquillity of our villages and towns. The Prime Minister’s recent announcement of shale gas incentives mean we have yet another concern to address. As I’ve written before, I’m not opposed to “fracking” in principle. It has the potential to unlock a massive energy resource for the nation, with the hope of significantly reducing monthly bills. Nevertheless, we must consider the specifics not the generalities. The companies which seek to extract shale gas here in our part of the country must make their case to us directly.
It is only right that we be concerned for the potential environmental impact of both construction and operation of shale gas extraction through fracking. If they fail to convince local residents, then planning committees must respond to our concerns and refuse the applications. No development – whether fracking or housing or wind turbines – should be approved over the wishes of the people who will have to put up with its consequences: local democracy must come first.
From the official record of the debate on 21 January 2014
Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I broadly support what the Home Secretary is trying to achieve on TPIMs. As far as the public outside will be concerned, the debate has been rather skewed, because for most of it a Conservative Home Secretary has been attacked by the Labour party on a civil liberties issue. The House should not indulge in party political attacks but should reflect what our constituents want, which is to feel that they are safe. They want our Home Secretary to do whatever is necessary for that.
Before I deal with the issue of whether TPIMs or control orders are right, I point out that as far as most Back Benchers and most members of the public are concerned, TPIMs are simply control orders-lite. There is not a huge difference between them. I will deal with the issue of relocation in a moment, but first I wish to support both the Labour Government and the current Conservative Government in having such orders at all, because they are under attack from the civil liberties lobby. If there is a choice for me, as a father, between my daughters being blown up on a London tube, or our constituents being attacked by people who detest everything we stand for and all our liberal values, and there being some minor infringement of those people’s civil liberties, I know what choice I will make. I suspect that 90% of the population would make the same choice.
It is said that such orders are a gross infringement of civil liberties. I am on record as being an advocate of our jury system, I have never wanted to give the police extra powers and I recognise all the ancient arguments for our civil liberties. However, given the danger that some people pose and the views that they hold, what is the gross infringement on their civil liberties that we are talking about? Read the rest of this entry »
Edward Leigh, the Member of Parliament for Gainsborough, condemned the lack of support for marriage from government and institutions in a recent Commons debate on strengthening couple relationships.
“The effects of marital breakdown on society are enormous,” Edward Leigh said. “It is a modern plague and it is causing not just expense but misery.”
The MP went on to claim there was a virtual “conspiracy of silence” about marriage despite research showing that children raised in marriage score better on almost every matrix social scientists have investigated.
“Over the past fifty years, a view has grown in our permissive society that people are happiest if they are completely liberated and can do what they want and say, ‘It is about me.’ The Churches, successive Governments, schools, the BBC, national newspapers and we as Members of Parliament are all complicit in that permissive view of society, which has left a trail of despair in its wake.”
“The decline of traditional marriage has been an unalloyed disaster,” he continued. “People in government, in schools and in Churches are frightened of speaking out about this issue. They think that if they say they support traditional marriage, they are somehow criticising people who are not married or who, for all sorts of reasons that are not their fault, are no longer married, but that is not the case. Surely we can value everyone in society and how they live, while speaking out for what is right in society, which is marriage and people setting out to stay married if they want to bring up children.”
Edward Leigh elaborated that it was not a matter of high-society marriages gone wrong but rather “it is the people at the bottom of the heap who suffer the most”.
“Marriage works. It is best for children. Every statistic proves it. Why are not the Churches, schools and Government crying that out from the roof tops?”
Edward Leigh, the Member of Parliament for Gainsborough, has written to Lincolnshire County Council protesting the closure of Hawthorn Road as a through road between Reepham and Lincoln. The new Eastern Bypass is set to cut the road in two, and the two sections of the road will be linked by a foot bridge rather than a road bridge.
“The most logical solution would be for a road bridge crossing over the Bypass, but I understand this has been turned town in favour of a non-vehicular bridge,” the MP said in his letter to Tony McArdle, the Chief Executive of Lincolnshire County Council. “This is both illogical and objectionable.”
Edward Leigh, the former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee which investigates government waste, pointed out the strenuous opposition of residents meant that building a cheaper foot bridge was a false economy.
“Residents are dead-set against this proposal, and if we spend the money on a non-vehicular bridge now, an increase in local pressure is likely to build up, and we will almost certainly be forced to give in eventually and build a road bridge to restore the use of Hawthorn Road.”
The Member of Parliament concluded “it would be much wiser to address this problem effectively now rather than to waste money on an unwanted, undesirable, and ineffective non-solution.”
Edward Leigh, the Member of Parliament for Gainsborough, today welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement of new incentives for communities that allow shale gas extraction in their area. David Cameron’s speech in Beckingham came as French energy firm Total made it known they intend to invest £12 million into shale gas extraction in Lincolnshire.
“So long as local planning committees have the final authority on whether to allow them or not, I am in favour of shale gas extraction,” Edward Leigh said. “Luckily most of the kinks of fracking have been worked out abroad, where the procedure has been used for over sixty years. The incentives the Prime Minister announced here in Lincolnshire this week will allow local authorities to keep all business rates incurred through fracking, which should provide a welcome boost to local coffers.
“We have an opportunity to release a massive new energy resource for Britain, to reduce people’s monthly costs and help balance the books a little,” the MP continued. “We’d be foolish not to explore it further, but ultimately it’s local residents who must have the final word on whether they go through.”
Sir Edward Leigh MP has welcomed the Lords’ rejection of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. “The House of Lords yesterday has sent a very clear message to the Government that their plans to outlaw annoying and nuisance behaviour are unclear, represent muddled thinking and could have a chilling effect on free speech.
“As Lord MacDonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions pointed out in a legal opinion, the legislation could be used to stop street preachers, political protestors, and even buskers, as they are all capable of causing a nuisance or annoyance to someone at some point.
“This is why 306 peers, including 89 out of 91 Crossbenchers, 25 Conservatives, and 16 Lib Dems, agreed that the wording of this Bill was draconian, illiberal and had to be changed.”
Sir Edward continued: “It was interesting to note that despite repeated questions, the Government side failed to give a single example of thuggish and loutish behaviour that would not be caught by the existing ASBO wording – not one!
“And the size of the majority against their proposals, which seems to have caught them by surprise, puts huge pressure on the Minister to accept these changes to the legislation.
“I hope that Mr Baker accepts the amendments from Lord Dear’s as they strengthen the Bill rather than weaken it, which is why these changes are backed by a range of civil liberty groups, the police, and many of his own colleagues.”
Edward Leigh, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Gainsborough, has intervened on behalf of West Bank residents who will be cut off from Saxilby during rail improvement works. Network Rail plans to upgrade the level crossing at West Bank, cutting the road off from Saxilby and the rest of the world for two weeks over the Christmas holiday.
Writing to the chief executive of Network Rail, Edward Leigh asserted that “This situation is completely unacceptable and cannot be allowed. Network Rail proposes to cut these residents off from the rest of the world at the height of the Christmas season. While I understand that plans have been made for ambulance access, it nonetheless presents a very real danger if any incident requiring the emergency services should take place.”
“More than fifty people live in West Bank,” the MP continued, “and it is simply intolerable for them to be out through these laborious restrictions, even more so at what is normally a festive time of year. I urge you strenuously to reconsider Network Rail’s plans and present an alternative that will be acceptable to the residents of West Bank.”
Edward Leigh, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Gainsborough, has raised the issue of poor capacity on Market Rasen services with East Midlands Trains and the Department for Transport.
“It is regularly the case that scheduled trains serving Market Rasen do not have sufficient rolling stock,” Mr Leigh pointed out in his letter to the Transport Minister, Stephen Hammond. “There is frequent overcrowding on the trains, and people who need this service are being left on the platform. I have even heard of a lady on crutches who was not able to make a vital doctor’s appointment in Newark because of the undersupply of rolling stock on this route.”
Speaking later, the MP asserted that rail users in the constituency were “victims” of East Midlands Trains’ decision to prioritise capacity on the Nottingham to Liverpool route.
“East Midlands Trains blames poor capacity on their contract with the Department for Transport, but the Department claims each Train Operating Company is responsible for capacity themselves. We in this part of Lincolnshire are clearly seen as an acceptable sacrifice for increased capacity on the Nottingham to Liverpool route. This is not acceptable.”
We have had a very thorough-going debate on the European Union (Referendum) Bill. The bill seeks to give voters a say over the relationship this country has with Europe and specifically over our membership of the European Union. We in the Conservative Party are now committed to giving people that referendum, which would be our first on the subject since 1975. The other parties are saying they are in favour of a referendum if any more significant transfers of power from Britain to Brussels occur, though they never do define what they mean by significant.
In the debate, I intervened to point out that it is clear that we want to be able to control our own borders, fishing, agriculture, and courts, and we want to stop small businesses being hit by ever more regulation. I kept goading the Labour members opposite, trying to find out if they would support even just the idea of giving voters a referendum on membership. From every Labour MP I asked, the answer I received was a model of evasion, avoiding the question and dodging the issue. “Of course, we are in favour of a referendum in principle…” But if we in Parliament do not translate principles into practice, we risk further deepening of the divide between the government and the people. Read the rest of this entry »