Belfast Telegraph

Friday 24 October 2014

Banning burkas, introducing ‘Thatcher Day’, privatising the BBC and reintroducing the death penalty: the Tory right-wing rebels’ ‘Alternative Queen’s Speech’

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers wore a frozen grin on her face. Indeed at one point, as diehard anti-coalition Tory Peter Bone was announcing his lethally entitled Prime Minister (Replacement) Bill, the grin morphed briefly into something akin to risus sardonicus, the facial spasm associated with strychnine poisoning.

In fact this bill, on constitutional arrangements for finding a successor if a Prime Minister is “temporarily or permanently incapacitated” was one of the more harmless of the 40 “true blue” private members bills formally presented by the Conservative Party’s delinquent ultra-awkward squad. Except that you couldn’t help wondering who would be doing the incapacitating.

Banning the burka, privatising the BBC, bringing back smoking in private clubs, having a referendum to reverse the law on gay marriage, abolishing non-criminal complaints of sexual harassment, getting out of the EU, withdrawing from the European Convention of Human Rights, were not even half of the “Alternative Queen’s Speech” unveiled by the rebels on Monday.

As the bills – including the Bone favourite, redesignating the late August Bank Holiday as “Margaret Thatcher Day” have no chance – for now – of becoming law, Bone has usefully explained that they could instead “help … poor old David Cameron” by forming a manifesto of “proper Conservative policies.

Outflanking Ukip from the right may be one way of deflecting the Faragistes. Yesterday it sounded ominously like the Tory equivalent of the 1983 Labour manifesto memorably described by Gerald Kaufman as the “longest suicide note in history.”

Even when Bone’s colleague Philip Hollobone rose to announce the first two – and relatively gentle – bills, to seize back British fishing grounds from EU control, and force schools to stay open in all weathers, there was raucous laughter. From the Opposition benches.

Heavens, you thought, they’ll want to bring back hanging next! Which is exactly what one of the bill’s would do “for certain offences.” Suddenly we realised where we were going. Back to the 1950s. One bill would bring back National Service. What next? Abolishing Sunday shopping, licensing espresso bars to curb teenage debauchery, and banning Bill Haley from entering Britain?

One of the more innocuous sounding bills would combine the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland ministries in a single department. Possibly as a preliminary to locating them in the Foreign Office, who will have much less to do once we’re safely out of the EU. For you can’t help sensing that this essentially English band of ideological guerrillas would like to offload the troublesome er...outlying territories,

Several of the bills presented by Bone were actually ones in the name of Christopher Chope, perhaps because Chope was too grand up to spend the four days at the Public Bill Office needed to get them on the Order Paper. It was somehow reminiscent of that Monty Python Oscars sketch in which Eric Idle announces that “Sadly, David Niven cannot be with us tonight, but he has sent his fridge.”

Except that wouldn’t be quite fair. For Chope is the chilling one. Bone, with his trademark references to “Mrs Bone” as the arbiter of political wisdom, is the humorous guy next door you’d be happy to borrow a lawnmower from. The man who genially spins the bill banning “face covering” as a measure to stop the English Defence League wearing balaclavas.

The acceptable face of the “swivel eyed.” All of which makes him a bit more of a worry for David Cameron, of course.

Bill of fare: The loony rating of 40 pieces of proposed legislation...

1. Face Coverings (Prohibition)

Prohibiting the wearing of certain face coverings.

Loony rating (out of 5): 4

2. National Service

The provision of national service for young persons.

Loony rating: 3

3. European Communities Act 1972 (Repeal)

To repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and related legislation.

Loony rating: 4

4. Young Offenders (Parental Responsibility)

To make the parents of young offenders legally responsible for their actions.

Loony rating: 1

5. Foreign National Offenders (Exclusion from the UK)

To exclude from re-entering the UK any foreign nationals found guilty of a criminal offence committed here.

Loony rating: 2

6. Asylum Seekers (Return to Nearest Safe Country)

To help the transfer of asylum seekers to a safe place nearest their country of origin.

Loony rating: 2

7. Prisoners (Completion of Custodial Sentences)

To make it mandatory for prisoners to serve the full custodial sentence handed down by a court.

Loony rating: 4

8. Fishing Grounds and Territorial Waters (Repatriation)

Allowing the Government to designate certain fishing grounds and territorial waters as sovereign territory outside the control of the Common Fisheries Policy.

Loony rating: 3

9. School Governing Bodies (Adverse Weather Conditions)

Requiring school governing bodies and headteachers to keep schools open during bad weather.

Loony rating: 1

10. Capital Punishment

To allow for capital punishment for certain offences.

Loony rating: 4

11. Government Departments (Amalgamation of Scotland Office, Wales Office and Northern Ireland Office)

Proposed amalgamation of the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Offices.

Loony rating: 1

12. Residential Roads (Adoption by Local Highways Authorities)

To ensure the handover of residential roads built by developers to local highways authorities within certain time periods.

Loony rating: 1

13. Equality and Diversity (Reform)

To prohibit the use of affirmative and positive action in recruitment and appointment processes; and to amend the Equality Act 2010 to remove the special provision for political parties in relation to the selection of candidates.

Loony rating: 4

14. Sentencing Escalator

To ensure that a criminal convicted of an offence on a second or further occasion receives a longer sentence than for the first such offence.

Loony rating: 1

15. Leasehold Reform (Amendment)

Amending the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act (1993) in relation to the permitted signatories of notices; and for connected purposes.

Loony rating: 1

16. BBC Licence Fee (Civil Debt)

To decriminalise non-payment of the BBC licence fee.

Loony rating: 5

17. Smoking (Private  Members’ Clubs)

To allow smoking in a separate ventilated room in a private members’ club if a majority of club members approve.

Loony rating: 4

18. Margaret Thatcher Day

For the annual Bank Holiday Monday in late August be known as Margaret Thatcher Day.

Loony rating: 5

19. Department of Energy and Climate Change (Abolition)

To abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change and for its functions to be absorbed into the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Loony rating: 4

20. Married Couples  (Tax Allowance)

To provide for a tax allowance for married couples.

Loony rating: 4

21. Foreign Aid Ring-Fencing (Abolition)

To ensure foreign aid and development is not linked to a specific percentage of Gross National Income, but to be set yearly, by Parliament, in relation to need.

Loony rating: 3

22. Charitable Status for Religious Institutions

To establish a presumption that religious institutions meet the public benefit test for charitable status.

Loony rating: 1

23. Same Sex Marriage (Referendum)

To call a referendum on whether same sex marriage should be allowed.

Loony rating: 5

24. Wind Farm Subsidies (Abolition)

To end subsidies for the development of wind farms.

Loony rating: 5

25. Withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights and Removal of Alleged Terrorists

Making an application to the Council of Europe to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights and to deport alleged terrorists subject to approval by the British courts.

Loony rating: 4

26. Romanian and Bulgarian Accession (Labour Restriction)

Restrictions on the residence in the UK of Bulgarian and Romanian nationals would continue.

Loony rating: 3

27. BBC Privatisation

Privatising the BBC by providing shares in the Corporation to all licence fee payers.

Loony rating: 4

28. Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Abolition)

To abolish the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and its responsibilities to be allocated to other Departments of State.

Loony rating: 4

29. Prime Minister (Replacement)

Rules for the appointment of a temporary or new Prime Minister in the event that a serving PM is temporarily or permanently incapacitated.

Loony rating: 5

30. United Kingdom (Withdrawal from the European Union)

To allow the Government to give notice of EU withdrawal under Article 50 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Loony rating: 4

31. Asylum (Time Limit)

To require that asylum  claims in the UK be lodged within three months of the claimant’s arrival in the country; and that persons who have already entered the UK and must apply for asylum within three months of the passing of this Act.

Loony rating: 2

32. Benefit Entitlement (Restriction)

Restricting the entitlement of non-UK citizens from the European Union and the European Economic Area to taxpayer-funded benefits.

Loony rating: 3

33. Illegal Immigrants (Criminal Sanctions)

Making it a criminal offence to enter the UK illegally or to remain here without legal approval.

Loony rating: 2

34. Sexual Impropriety in Employment

Requiring that claims by employees alleging sexual impropriety be limited to cases where the alleged misconduct is contrary to the criminal law and has been reported to the police.

Loony rating: 5

35. Collection of Nationality Data

Making it mandatory to collect and publish information about the nationality of those in receipt of benefits and of those to whom national insurance numbers are issued.

Loony rating: 4

36. Foreign Nationals (Access to Public Services)

To restrict access by foreign nationals to public services for which no charge is made.

Loony rating: 4

37. House of Lords (Maximum Membership)

Providing a maximum limit on the number of Peers entitled to vote in the Lords, and for a moratorium on new appointments.

Loony rating: 1

38. Control of Offshore Wind Turbines

To restrict the height, number, location and subsidies of wind turbines situated offshore within 20 miles of the coast.

Loony rating: 5

39. Employment Opportunities

To introduce more freedom, flexibility and opportunity for those seeking employment in the public and private sectors.

Loony rating: 4

40. EU Membership (Audit of Costs and Benefits)

Establish an independent audit of the benefits and costs of UK membership of the EU.

Loony rating: 2

...and the MPs behind them

Philip Hollobone

An Oxford contemporary of David Cameron, he is the most prolific rebel on the Tory benches, voting against his leadership 129 times in three years. Ukip did not stand against him at the last election. He introduced a Bill in 2010 to restrict the wearing of the burka in public.

Peter Bone

An outspoken right-winger who has denounced plans to legalise same-sex marriage as “completely nuts”, argued for the abortion limit to be cut to 12 weeks and called for Britain’s international aid contributions to be frozen. Frequently refers to his wife as a barometer of public opinion.

Christopher Chope

A veteran Thatcherite former minister who steered through the poll tax legislation. Lost his seat in 1992, but returned five years later as a scourge of what he sees as state interference in everyday life. Has called for the minimum wage to be scrapped and workers’ rights to be diluted.

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