When people talk about the modernisation of Parliament one of things flagged up for criticism is the archaic system of voting, i.e the fact we have to go through the division lobbies and each vote takes about 15 minutes so tonight, with four votes, we were there till nearly 11pm. Tonight though was a good example of why the current system works. During that time I managed to:
1. Catch up with the Immigration Minister for an update on the 50 failed asylum seekers who are being removed from Bristol to Cardiff, by the UK Borders Agency tomorrow (Weds). They're in what's known as 'section 4' NASS accommodation, which is for those who can't at this point in time be returned to their countries of origin (e.g. they're from places like Darfur, Somalia, Iran, Zimbabwe). NASS have the right to send them wherever they want, at short notice, and have decided to ship them off to Cardiff, telling them of this fact just before Christmas. OK, they're all single people, not families, and their asylum claims have failed, but it's still no way to treat people. (And actually it looks as if at least one of them may have just had his asylum claim approved). Anyway, the Minister has got his officials looking into it urgently, and I'm expecting a report back tomorrow morning.
2. Collar Hilary Benn about a Daily Mail report that the Government was secretly trying to renege on the commitment to an EU-wide ban on battery cages by 2012. I asked was it true and his immediate response was an emphatic No! The Government is absolutely committed to the ban. Some other EU countries have said they won't be ready to meet the ban, and the UK has therefore said that if that's so, we won't accept imports from those countries. That's what the behind the scenes lobbying was about. Usually we can't stop imports from another EU country under the single market, but we don't want other countries trying to wriggle out of the ban so this is a way of putting pressure on them. (I suspect the hunting lobby have a hand in this story, as I've noticed recently they've started using the line 'what about battery hens' whenever anyone says fox hunting is cruel). Anyway, Hilary apparently put the Government's position straight in a speech to farmers today.
3. Ask Ed Balls and Vernon Coaker, the Schools Minister, if they'd heard anything about Cameron's alleged statement of support for EMAs at a public meeting today... which is either a U-turn or another as the official Tory line is they can't commit to them. Also spoke to Vernon about the Children Schools and Families Bill which has its Second Reading next week. (I'm the DCSF whip).
4. Have nice chats with (a) Douglas Alexander and (b) Tom Harris about the online nonsense that has erupted again over the past couple of days.
5. Talk to Jim Knight about some South West issues.
6. Have other conversations with fellow MPs, including Doug Naysmith and Roger Berry about Bristol stuff, and with a Tory whip about how they want to handle the CSF Bill.
That's all I can remember at the moment. But still - six ministers, including several Cabinet ministers, that's not bad going for an hour's work. And voting for our Fiscal Responsibility Bill (opposed by the Tories) too.
Will be doing Radio Bristol tomorrow at about 7.35am, unless there's lots of snow, in which case they're going to be talking about the weather instead. So really ought to get to bed, just in case.