Return to the Falkland Islands

February 25, 2010

Ms Fernández de Kirchner, the President of Argentina, has claimed that the British rig which has begun drilling for oil off the coast of the Falklands Islands violates its sovereignty.

It is widely thought that this is a diversionary tactic to take the Argentinean public’s mind off its Government’s economic failures.

The Falkland Islands are 300 miles from the Argentine coast, giving the oil rig a wide berth of at least 100 miles before it enters Argentine waters. The people of the Falkland Islands have repeatedly expressed their desire to remain a British Overseas Territory and the last time Argentina violated the Falkland Islander’s right to self determination we had to send a Task Force to recover the Islands.

Britain’s sovereignty over these islands is, and shall remain indisputable.

Will Equitable Life be left to Conservatives to sort out?

February 24, 2010

I have just been to the meeting of the Equitable Life All Party Group to hear Minister Liam Byrne and Sir John Chadwick explaining the current situation on compensation. It was clear that the Government has been dragging its feet in making decisions to allow Sir John to consider the sort of flexible and wide-ranging scheme he envisaged. Now we are told there is to be a further consultation on a third interim report from Sir John and a final report to Government in May. Meanwhile, policy holders are dying of old age. The irony is that it may be left to a new Government to make final decisions – Labour having kicked the issue well into the long grass over such a long period. It does seem that Government and Sir John envisage that the estates of the deceased will have a claim on the compensation scheme, but that does not make it right that the policy holder has had to wait so long.

David Cameron promises to resolve the Equitable Life issue “quickly”

February 18, 2010

Today David Cameron has attacked the Government’s appalling record on its treatment of Equitable Life policy holders and promised “If we win the election, we’re going to sort out Equitable Life very early on.” Not mincing his words, David accused the Government of having a “sick” attitude to the policy holders for essentially “waiting for them to die”.

Equitable policy holders have been treated in a terrible way by the Government which has promised compensation but never delivered.

Worst of all is the callous way they have been kept hanging on; the Government took eight years to agree to award compensation and that was only after scathing judgments from the Ombudsman, yet still not a single payment has been made.

I admire the way our Ombudsman Ann Abrahams has squared up to Government over this scandal. Meanwhile the view of the victims’ representatives, the Equitable Members Action Group (EMAG) is that the Government is waiting for policy holders to die before payment. EMAG believes that 40,000 policyholders have died since 2000.

I have taken the issue up with ministers many times and have spoken on the issue in the Chamber of the House of Commons, the last time was in October 2009.

I recently met Hertfordshire victims at the House of Commons and their suffering is real. So this needs sorting out and we should not forget that whilst the victims have been waiting, the Government has found billions to bail out banks and do quantitative easing.

Immigration Rise Deliberate

February 11, 2010

Speaking to local residents of North East Herts, many (including members of minority communities) have raised concerns at the weakness and inefficiency of Britain’s immigration system and I have explained the more straightforward Conservative policy.

Knowing how inefficient this Government is, I had assumed that their failure on immigration was due to the same old incompetence that runs through their overbureaucratic, spin-driven way of going on, which has led so many of the public to despair of anything they do working properly. This is the view of the public on most doorsteps – the Government could not run anything properly and you’ve got to get rid of him (the Prime Minister), “get him out”. The rise in immigration has led UK population since 1997 to go up by about 3 million. It never occurred to me that this was what they intended.

Yet, new evidence in the form of a secret policy paper clarifies that Labour’s past policy was to open the doors to immigration and was …. deliberate …. in an ill-considered attempt to boost economic growth and to meet “social objectives”. The paper has only seen the light of day following a Freedom of Information request.

Conservatives have demanded an independent inquiry into Labour secretly overseeing a deliberate open-door ­policy on immigration to boost multi-culturalism. Migrants have been thought more likely to vote Labour. Perhaps that was a motive too.

This disclosure puts Gordon Brown’s recent “British jobs for British workers” into context as a rather desperate late u-turn as the recession led to rising unemployment.

Damian Green, shadow immigration minister, has rightly attacked this secret policy. “This shows that Labour’s open-door immigration policy was deliberate, and ministers should apologise,” he said. “This makes it all the more important that there is a proper independent inquiry in the origins of this policy and whether ministers have been deceiving people.”

It is certainly true that we need the solid dependability of an immigration system that works.

AV equals disproportional representation

February 10, 2010

We had an excellent debate here last night – although we lost the vote as usual – on the Government’s belated plan to have a referendum on the Alternative Vote system of voting to replace our current First Past The Post (FPTP) method for Westminster elections. I support FPTP and think AV the least fair and most volatile of options.There was a good deal of criticism of the Government trying to move the goal posts after a long stint in government to a system that is thought to favour their narrow Party interest.

There was also some hilarity at the position of the Lib Dems who backed the Government on AV, even though the AV system is less proportional than FPTP. I challenged David Howarth Lib Dem (Cambridge):

Mr. Heald: After all these years of going on “Question Time” and other programmes saying that the Liberal Democrats want proportional representation, does it not feel a bit odd to the hon. Gentleman to be arguing for disproportional representation? Why are the Liberal Democrats going to vote for something that Lord Jenkins and so many other commentators have described as unfair and disproportionate?

David Howarth: We will vote for amendment (b) to Government new clause 88 so that the referendum is between first past the post and a proportional system. What will we do if that is defeated? Although the new clause is a very small step in the right direction, there are two truths. First, changing the electoral system is on the political agenda, which is a big and important point for us. Secondly, AV is a preferential system, which we are in favour of. The system we support-STV-is a preferential system, but it just happens to be proportional as well.”

Despite the response, I continue to think it was out of character for modern Lib Dems to back AV. Of course, they have a long chequered record, the Liberals having been against Proportional Representation when they were a major Party of Government and then in favour when they lost power. Then briefly they flirted with AV in the 1930s. Bill Cash made this point accusing Lib Dems of cynicism:

“in the heady days long ago when Lloyd George had a big majority, he said that proportional representation was

“a device for defeating democracy…bringing faddists of all kinds into Parliament and…disintegrating parties”?

Then in 1931, Lloyd George changed his position, and in an electoral reform Bill proposed the alternative vote.”

The Alternative Vote (AV) system, which like FPTP is based upon single member constituencies, is a majoritarian system. Essentially, AV allows voters to keep a representative MP for their constituency, but also rank both their first and second choices.

AV operates in single-member constituencies. Each voter is required to rank the various candidates in an order of preference. It is possible for the first count to produce an absolute majority but, with more than two candidates, this becomes less likely. If no candidate secures an absolute majority at the first count, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. His or her second preference votes are then redistributed among the other candidates, being added to their own first preference votes. If this does not produce an absolute majority, the next lowest candidate is eliminated and his or her second preference votes redistributed, and so on until someone does reach an absolute majority.

The AV system is used in a number of elections around the world, including those for the Australian House of Representatives, the Australian Legislative Assemblies of all states and territories (bar Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory), Irish Presidential elections, By-elections to the Dáil (the lower house of the Irish Parliament), By-elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Papua New Guinea National Parliament, the Fijian House of Representatives, and numerous American Mayoral and district elections.

In December 1997, the new Labour Government, in line with its Manifesto commitment, established an Independent Commission on the Voting System, chaired by the late Lord (Roy) Jenkins of Hillhead, with a mandate to recommend the best alternative ‘system or combination of systems’ to the existing First Past the Post system of election to the Westminster Parliament.

The Commission’s central recommendation in its report of October 1998 was that the best alternative for Britain to the existing system was a two-vote mixed, described as either ‘limited AMS’ (Additional Member System) or ‘AV Top-up’. Under such a system, the majority of MPs (80 to 85 per cent) would continue to be elected on an individual constituency basis, with the remainder elected on a corrective ‘top-up’ basis which would significantly reduce the disproportionality and the geographical divisiveness which are inherent in FPTP.

The Commission further recommended that, within this mixed system, the constituency members should be elected by the Alternative Vote (AV). The Commission argued that, on its own, AV would be unacceptable, because:

“… of the danger it might increase rather than reduce disproportionality and might do so in a way which is unfair to the Conservative Party.”

Following the Commission’s report, however, it became increasingly clear that the Government was not considering reforming the Westminster electoral system with any urgency. Indeed, speaking in June 2001, Lord Jenkins suggested that the proposal had been kicked into the long grass by the Government, commenting:

“I am beginning to feel a bit sorry for the grasshoppers which must find things rather overcrowded in their territory…I thought Tony Blair was going to take my report seriously and I believe he does in a way take it seriously…”

The main argument against AV is that it can be less proportional than First-Past-the-Post – research by ICM immediately after the 1997 General Election showed that Conservatives would have won only 110 seats under AV – a wildly distorted and unfair outcome.

It also encourages dishonest use of second preferences, distorting the election if, for example, the contest will be fought between two strong candidates, supporters of one would rank third parties above the other, even if the other is technically their second choice.

My entry in the Legg report

February 4, 2010

This is what it says about my expenses in today’s Legg report (on page 75):

Mr Oliver Heald MP
North East Hertfordshire

                      Mr Heald has no issues.

Statement on Afghanistan

February 2, 2010

The Foreign Secretary announced the creation of a UN sponsored Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund for Afghanistan. The idea is to give those who are sick of the fighting, and not part of Al-Qaeda, the chance to become part of the new Afghanistan. They will create a fund to pay for members of the Taliban to come over to President Karzai’s Government forces. It is hoped that this will begin to reconcile the Pashtun people, some of whom are traditionally allied with the Taliban, with the rest of Afghan society. Our brave servicemen are winning military battles, but we also need to win the hearts and minds battle.

This is worthwhile because reconciliation has long been identified as key step towards peace in Afghanistan, something I highlighted as long ago as October 2008 in a debate I initiated in Parliament.

I said: “One long-standing problem has been that not enough Afghan Pashtun tribal leaders are involved in the process of government in Afghanistan. I welcome that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had a breakfast meeting in Mecca with the Afghan Government and with Pashtun leaders, some of whom are aligned with Taliban officials…Do the Government feel that there is some prospect of sitting down with Pashtun tribal leaders who may be aligned with the Taliban and reaching the sort of political compromise that generals have been talking about recently?”