The latest poll of polls puts Labour at 276 seats and the Tories at 283, i.e. the difference between them is within the margin of error.   If the LibDems win 27 seats (a loss of 30 seats since 2010), that according to the bean counters would give the Tories a tally of 310 in...
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Lots of support for Labour in Nunhead this morning. Thanks to Councillor Barrie Hargrove and Shireen Ijoyah for joining me.

WP_20150223_050In two days people in Medway will be making a choice about who should be entrusted to represent them in the government for the next 5 years. This choice will determine how things shape up in Medway and in the country and whether life will continue to be a struggle or things will ease and whether we would see progress or stagnation.

This right to vote is not just a privilege, it is a great responsibility. There is no choice of staying at home and saying – ‘Nothing will change, so why vote.’ If you say that, you are underestimating your voice and by doing so, you forfeit the right to demand accountability from your leaders.

When you cast your vote, it is important to remember that you are voting for people not just Parties because, ultimately, it is the people and their ethos that count. You want a strong MP who will stand by you, your interests and values even if his Party may not approve it. Someone who believes that his hometown is where he belongs and remains loyal to his supporters even though placed in an ivory tower. Someone who is tried and trusted and has not belied hopes. Someone who is Mark Reckless!

We at Marlowe Park Medical Centre remember your hard work and stand by you – go for it Mark!

Dr Sanjeev Juneja, Marlowe Park Medical Centre, Strood

With polling day looming, after numerous hustings, public meetings, dawn raids on railway stations, and meeting thousands of residents, I know that both voters and candidates are pretty exhausted with the general election campaign. So, to sum up, as we enter the last 48 hours before voting, I have written a column for Conservative Homehere, on why we need a Conservative government nationally to continue building an opportunity society. Here, in Esher & Walton, there are three reasons I would ask people to consider re-electing me as their MP - whatever their political views. 

First, at a time of apathy if not cynicism about politics, I have behaved with the basic professional integrity people expect. I live and commute from Thames Ditton, so I am immersed in local community life. I had one of the lowest expenses bills in the House of Commons (in the bottom 10%). Tonight will mark the 45th local public meeting I have held since the 2010 election, to ensure that I am constantly accessible and accountable to you. I have also made clear I would not accept the proposed MP's pay rise as long as the rest of the public sector face a freeze or 1% pay cap.

Second, I have championed our local community. Let me give just a few illustrations. I have taken up the cases and causes of local businesses - from reforming the local parking regime to promote footfall, to securing the extension of the small business discount under the business rates regime. Crucially, I helped secure a doubling of the capital funding for local schools, and over £200 extra per child per year in the 'per pupil' funding - to fund the school building and extension program underway in Elmbridge. I delivered additional investment in flood defences, and campaigned successfully in Parliament for the continuing availability - through government-industry agreement - of affordable home insurance for those in high flood risk areas like ours. I am working with local clinicians to deliver more health care services - from blood tests to dementia screening - in GP practices and our community hospitals. I have supported local civic groups, from Walton Cadets to Cobham Conservation and Heritage Trust. And some of my local cases have led to successful national campaigns. To take just one, my campaign based on the murder of a local waiter from Esher led to a change in the law to make it easier to deport foreign criminals.

Third, I have stood up for what I believe in - above all free enterprise, personal liberty and meritocracy. I have consistently made the case as your national representative for the free enterprise that has delivered 2 million new jobs since 2010, through lower taxes and less intrusive regulation - for example through reports like Ease the Squeeze - Tax Cutting Priorities in an Age of Austerity. As a result, we have cut income tax for 26 million, reformed stamp duty, and - if the Conservatives win - we'll raise the threshold for the 40p tax rate. I have stood up for more meritocracy in our society to boost social mobility, and give youngsters more ladders of opportunity regardless of their background. As a result of Conservative reforms, 1 million more children attend schools deemed outstanding or good by Ofsted compared to in 2010. You can also read my Meritocrat's Manifesto here. And I have made the case for personal liberty, campaigning successfully to scrap ID cards, halve pre-charge detention, de-criminalise mere 'insults', protect trial by jury, and block the so-called Snooper's Charter, because I believe we need to cherish the principle of freedom under the law - which underpins our way of life.

Getting put through my paces by Walton Cadets
Labour Treasury Minister Liam Byrne MP's letter from 2010 "I'm afraid there is no money" is a very good reason I do not want anyone voting Labour this election. The Labour party bankrupted this country, and have opposed every effort at balancing the books these last 5 years. The security of the recovery is at stake, and The Two Eds, helped by the SNP, are not the people to be steering this country either.
Don't give the keys of the car back to the team who crashed it in the first place.

The Radio Berkshire debate yesterday morning between five of the candidates in the election (the BBC did not allow the Independent to participate) produced a range of questions on traffic, transport, road noise,  housing, the provision of school places, Wokingham’s Town Centre and style of life in Wokingham. By holding it in Wokingham Market Place we received no questions about anywhere in the West Berkshire part of the constituency.

There was little disagreement between the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats over the main local  issues. All of us want better railway services, better roads, less congestion, better access to stations with better parking, some limits on development and a flourishing Wokingham Town centre. Most of the matters debated were about decisions which will be taken by Wokingham Borough Council – or would be taken by West Berkshire if we had been asked about that area – rather than decisions to be taken by the next Parliament. The Council enjoys the planning powers to determine where to build and what to build. The Council has the budgets for local roads and the Town Centre redevelopment. The Council forecasts school place demand and makes sure there is sufficient provision.

The only national mater we discussed was the abatement of noise on the M4, a strategic highway under the control of the Department of Transport. I repeated some of the details of the work I have been doing, explained we have now won the battle for sound reducing surfacing, but still need to improve the plans  on sound barriers.

I confirmed that if elected I will resume my lobbying for fairer funding for local schools. I will work with the Council on any permissions and money needed from central government for local road and school building projects and for redevelopment schemes. I will make sure local opinion is considered by Councillors and the Chief Executive of the Council if a significant body of local opinion thinks Council plans need changing. I will continue my long correspondence and exchanges with Ministers and officials over noise reduction from the M4.

 

Published and promoted by Thomas Puddy for John Redwood, both at 30 Rose Street Wokingham RG40 1XU

Via Share The Facts: David Cameron has explained in an email: On Thursday, your friends and your family face a stark choice. Vote Conservative and they can have a strong economy and a stable government – and I will keep working through our long-term economic plan as Prime Minister. But a vote for anyone else would lead to chaos. Ed Miliband, propped up by the SNP, would wreck our economy with more borrowing, more debt and more taxes. Please vote […]
Ed Balls, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, responding to David Cameron’s latest interview on child benefit, said: “After days of weasel words and prevarication David Cameron is still failing to rule out cutting child benefit and tax credits again. “All he has said again is he won’t abolish child benefit, but he won’t deny he plans to cut [...]
When I was elected in 2010 I made delivering economic regeneration my number one priority. We have an industrial heritage to be proud of and over the last few years I have prioritised delivering major projects like the regeneration of Hayle Harbour and the Cornwall Archive at the old Redruth brewery.  

We have made a good start, but there is more to do. While unemployment has almost halved in recent years, we still have problems with a low wage economy so we need to attract new industries and better paid jobs.  Over the last few years, we have started to see new businesses setting up in industries like computer software and engineering and which have skilled jobs on offer. I will work to ensure that we continue to increase the number of well paid jobs in our economy to provide opportunities for the next generation.

To build on what we have started, we need to fight for continued investment in our transport infrastructure, we need more apprenticeships to help young people find their first job and we need to ensure we have the right support in place to help those who are out of work and have lost their self-confidence.  

We're now just one week from polls closing, and it's been a busy campaign so far!

It's been a great opportunity to spend lots of time around South Northamptonshire, and I've spoken to hundreds of people on the doorsteps, at 'meet your candidate' events, hustings, and visits to schools and businesses. With 92 parishes, the towns ofTowcester and Brackley and 4 wards of Northampton Borough, there's a lot of ground to cover, but I've thoroughly enjoyed being able to speak to so many of you.

I have also travelled the length and breadth of the country to spread the word about the strong progress towards economic recovery, and to meet some of the businesses and families who have benefitted from the rise in employment rates and the opportunities for setting up their own business.

I am hugely encouraged by the enthusiasm there is for us to finish the job of recovery that we have started, and hope I will be able to play my part in seeing our economic recovery completed under a new Conservative government.

Thanks to all those who've shared their views with me so far, and if there is anything I can help with or any questions you'd like to ask before May 7th, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

The Haringey Indepedent asked me to outline reasons why people should vote for me… Here’s my response!

“Starting with the very basic – I am local! I grew up in Haringey, went to Highgate primary, and still live in the constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green today.

“It’s so important to know the area you want to represent.

“I also have a 20 year record of working with residents and campaign groups to protect and improve our local services.

“If I had to pick the single most important campaign – it would be saving the Whittington A&E from the previous Labour Government’s closure plans. The second I got wind, I posted the information on my website (where it remains today!) and kicked off a massive campaign.

“Joining forces with local residents and campaign groups – I marched, I petitioned, I secured a debate and asked questions in Parliament, and together we were successful and Gordon Brown’s Government backed down. If we hadn’t saved it – I don’t think we’d still have a hospital.

“Nationally, I’ve fought for policies that benefit our borough. The Lib Dems in parliament have taken the lowest paid workers out of paying tax, and introduced the Pupil Premium to get extra money to schools in more disadvantaged areas.

“These measures mean that thousands of low-paid Haringey workers have be taken out of paying income tax altogether, and £13 million extra has been given to our local schools, teachers and pupils.

“In Government, I’ve used my ministerial positions to push a progressive agenda. As Equalities minister, I was the originator and architect of equal marriage. I then moved to the Department for International Development, where I announced a £35 million programme to end FGM within a generation, and protected the aid budget.

“Finally, I would like you to vote for me because there is still more that needs to be done – for all the reasons I got into politics. We need stronger public services. We need to continue to promote fairness and equality. We need to fight for a community where we take care of those less able than ourselves. I’d like to be a part of that work for the next five years.”
It was such a pleasure to be invited to formally open the new Centrality building in Meppershall last week. A big 'well done' to Mike and his team and I hope the growth will continue! This is another example of how business is booming in Mid-Beds, ...

Last night was the candidates' debate in Clacton – and it was very enjoyable.

About 350 residents came along – and the number one issue seemed to be the council's plans to allow 12,000 extra houses in our area.

I explained why I feel the council has got this wrong. Things got a little heated between some of the panellists and the audience when the panellists tried to justify extra housing.

All the other candidates came out in favour of increasing Britain's overseas aid spending to over £12,000,000,000 a year. I explained why I felt that the aid budget needed to be cut.

I also highlighted the need for more GPs - and touched on the action I have taken to recruit more locally.

There is clearly overwhelming support to keep open Clacton police station, and I am pleased that on that issue, at least, we have cross party support.

I think it is fair to say that one or two had probably decided how they were going to vote before the meeting started. The audience was certainly lively and seemed to enjoy it!

The Right to Buy This announcement is yet another uncosted, unfunded and unbelievable announcement from the Tories. Having exhausted the magic money tree, they now want people to believe that they can magic up billions of pounds a year from selling off a few council homes. Last year that raised just over £100 million, while this policy costs £4.5 billion a year. The test of any Government serious

Decisions that frequently keep married couples apart from each other, partners separated, and children away from their parents.

I was contacted by a local resident because the application for her husband to stay in the UK was refused. She's a British national, he's a Canadian firefighter. They are understandably distraught at the prospect of being apart. They have a 6 month old child, and it really is devastating news for them all as a family.

       

Another warm and sunny day. Out and about all day, meeting Justice Secretary Chris Grayling in the afternoon. Several of our local candidates were there too and we all met in a pub where Mr Grayling told us about his restorative reforms, which went down very well. Lots of good feedback on the door.

This is from Table 241 from DCLG. Social Housing is important. For example families with disabled children cannot get adaptations to private rented property. Average number of completed properties. periodprivateregistered social landlordcouncil 1980-1997 (Conservative)159,49521,95324,415 1998-2010 (Labour)161,06824,800487 2011-2013 (Coalition)108,47330,2432,563 On average the coalition

Once a peacock, but now a feather duster.

That might be how Sir Tony Baldry’s wife sees him, but the House of Commons stalwart will take some time to settle into the quiet life.

The former MP for Banbury has described his 32-year-long career as MP for North Oxfordshire as “a great adventure”.

He officially stepped down from the role last Thursday when Parliament dissolved ahead of the General Election on May 7.

As MP, a post he has held continuously since 1983, he represented 90,000 people, two large towns and 50 villages. Speaking at the Whately Hall hotel, Banbury on Friday, he said: “It’s been enormous fun and a great privilege.

“The greatest challenge for me now will be being silent. Over three decades I have looked after a chunk of England and been concerned with everything happening in Banbury, Bicester and the surrounding villages.

“Now I have to hand that to my successor. It’s no longer for me to intervene or speak. As my wife kept saying, you might once have been a proud peacock – you’re now just a feather duster.”

Born in 1950, Sir Tony was educated at Leighton Park, a Quaker school in Reading.

He studied law at the University of Sussex before beginning his political career in the May 1974 General Election, as personal assistant to then-Chief Secretary of the Treasury Maurice MacMillan.

By the time a hung parliament triggered a second election in October, he was aide to Margaret Thatcher.

He said: “She was very professional. You had to get absolutely everything right, every quote, every statistic. But she was also incredibly kind.”

As leader of the opposition, Thatcher entrusted her 24-year-old assistant to be the link between herself and the Britain in Europe Campaign, and the “Yes” Campaign for the 1975 EU referendum.

He said: “It was an amazing privilege. At the time, with the arrogance of youth, I didn’t realise how daunting it was.”

Sir Tony first stood for election in 1979 in the Labour safe seat of Thurrock before being selected as a candidate for Banbury in 1981 and winning the seat in the 1983 election.

He was made a minister in the Department of Energy in 1990 and helped John Wakeham privatise the electricity industry.

At the time his son Edward, now 31, burst into tears at school.

Sir Tony said: “He told teachers: ‘The Queen has made Daddy responsible for all the electricity in the country and Mummy says he can’t even change a lightbulb.’”

Later Sir Tony moved to the Department for the Environment and in 1995 was promoted to Minister of State at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

In 2012 he was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to political and public life.

Closer to home, Sir Tony championed causes like the Keep the Horton General campaign. Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group has now guaranteed the hospital’s survival.

He said: “It’s the most significant campaign during my time as MP. The Horton has an A&E department, consultant-led maternity and children’s services. There are many nearby towns that don’t have any of those.”

Overall, he said, North Oxfordshire is thriving, with the once “slightly scruffy” Banbury now boasting one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and Bicester redeveloped with the ‘market town’ feel retained.

He believes the new issue will be how to retain the Cherwell countryside and accommodate an increasing population.

Despite the recent rise of smaller parties, Sir Tony was unconvinced any real change to parliament’s make-up would take place this May.

He said: “It will end up as a straightforward race between Cameron and Miliband. People vote for parties such as UKIP or the Greens between elections but I think we’ll see those votes dissipating.

“I am wholly confident David Cameron will be PM after the election.”

He added that he was certain his successor as Conservative candidate for the area Victoria Prentis would be “outstanding”, but it would be surreal not to see his own name on the ballot paper.

Sir Tony plans to remain in Bloxham with wife Pippa, and continue as a practising barrister in London. He has been volunteering with the Royal Voluntary Service and will shortly become a patron of Katharine House Hospice in Banbury.

He said: “I’ll have quite a bit of spare time now. I think my life will be just as active, but with different things.”

Grown-up children Ed, who lives in Bristol, and Honor, 29, in Leeds, are both creative souls working as an illustrator and in digital marketing respectively, he said.

Neither expressed any desire to follow in their father’s footsteps, but took his achievements in their stride. Sir Tony recalled that when he was knighted in 2012, they renamed him Sir Cumference Hippo.

Sir Tony said: “Ed did a spoof coat of arms, featuring a hippo and the motto ‘Circum et Felix’ – round and happy. I’m quite happy with that as a motto.”

Am I the only one who has found that the rise and rise of twitter (and to an extent) facebook has eaten their blog? Despite the best of my intentions, I have ended up posting minute by minute stuff on Facebook and Twitter. Does this say something about our ever diminishing attention-spans as a society? Or just about me not being very good at managing the blogger app on my iphone...?   Who knows.  But be warned - this blog may not be updated as much as it should be. A big blue bird came and ate it up.

Following the success of the inaugural Waverley Para Games event last April, Jeremy Hunt, MP for South West Surrey and Sport Minister Helen Grant MP visited the Games, which took place at Charterhouse Club on 26th March 2015.



 

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 It was extraordinary day in the Commons. Treachery, chicanery, deep emotional upset and betrayal and ultimately the triumph of virtue. Never before had a party attempted to win a vote on a vital matter by a grubby trick. Many of the truly honourable Tories and LibDems MP voted with Labour so that the Tory attempt to bully by majority did not work. Early on I told the Leader of the House to withdraw his motion or face humiliation in the lobbies. He should have taken my advice.

Paul Flynn:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. There are pressing reasons why this point of order has to be taken now; it is one I raise with great reluctance. I overheard, as did several others, an hon. Member saying that he had been instructed by a Deputy Speaker on speaking in the later procedure debate, including on what kind of speech to make. May we ask that whoever is due to chair that debate is asked whether there is any truth in the claim made by the hon. Member, in order to ensure that the impartiality of the Chair is preserved?

Mr Speaker:

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I am not aware of those matters beyond what he has just said. Suffice it to say that I am in the Chair, and I am intending to remain in the Chair [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]—today and, I hope, subsequently. I hope the hon. Gentleman, whom I greatly esteem, will not doubt my competence or fairness in chairing such proceedings of the House as take place today. I am not going anywhere.

  

Paul Flynn:

It will be said of the present Leader of the House that nothing demeaned him as much as the manner of his leaving, with a mean, spiteful kick at the best reforming Speaker we have had for 30 years. The task of this Parliament after the nightmare of the expenses scandal was to restore the public’s faith, but we leave with a House that is unreformed. It is still possible to buy a peerage and to buy access to Ministers, and the revolving door is still spinning, making it possible for former Ministers to prostitute their insider knowledge for the best job. Is not the Leader of the House ashamed of himself?

Mr Hague:

The hon. Gentleman goes a little wide of the question. The obvious retort is that it is still possible to buy a party, which is what trade unions do with the Labour party. That is what really needs reform in our political system.

 

Paul Flynn:

I believe that the Leader of the House has a choice in front him: withdrawal of this motion or humiliation in the Division Lobbies. It is clear from all those hon. Members who have spoken from all corners of the House that what is happening is entirely unacceptable to us.

When hon. Members left in 2010, we did so at the worst time for Parliament. We were being pilloried in the press—sometimes fairly, sometimes grossly unfairly, and I wrote a book about an hon. Member who I believe died prematurely because he was unfairly accused in the expenses scandal. This was the then hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire, David Taylor. Much of what happened then—the great screaming nightmare of the expenses scandal—was unjustified, but sadly a lot of it was justified and our reputation was in the gutter. Our main task in this Parliament was to restore confidence in this House and in democracy. The person who has done most to achieve that is Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker has stood up to the Government in a better way than any of the previous Speakers over the last 30 years. To the best of my knowledge, all were bullied at some time by the Government. Mr Speaker never has been. He has liberated Back Benchers and given us the time to name our debates at peak time when maximum attendance by Members is evident and the attention of the country is focused on us. He is the great success of this Parliament.

If we are looking to reform our Parliament—we remain greatly unreformed—there are at least a dozen other issues to take into account. If some Members have this latter-day devotion to democracy, why can we not do something about the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments when Members retire? This is a shameful institution—not the rottweiler it should be in controlling Members and stopping them using their insider knowledge to sell to the highest bidder. It should be stopping the corruption of Members in office, Ministers, civil servants, generals and so forth; it should prevent them from being tempted in their deliberations as they look for retirement jobs. We have done nothing about the scandal of the buying of peerages, and nothing about the buying of access to Ministers. All those scandals should have been addressed, but we have addressed none of them.

I believe that the Government will stand demeaned and shamed by this final act. They will be exposed as the nasty party, devoted not to the honour of the House—which has served us well down the centuries—but to spite and malice.

 

 

 

Zero-hours Contracts

10.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab):

If he will ensure that employees working on zero-hours contracts who are in practice working regular hours over an extended period have the right to a fixed-term contract.[908342]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson):

All employees on a zero-hours contract can already, after 26 weeks, request a move to a fixed-hours contract. That flexible working legislation measure was implemented on 30 June 2014. In the Small Business, Employment and Enterprise Bill, we will ban the unfair use of exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts, and the employment status review is looking further at the employment rights that zero-hours workers have.

Paul Flynn:

May I take the Minister forward to the morning of 8 May, when she will be in her kitchen having a moment of kitchen candour over her muesli, liberated from control by the thought police of the Tory nomenklatura, and she will be making a judgment on her Department’s legacy on the question of the most vulnerable of workers, those on low pay and on zero-hours contracts? Would that verdict not be, “Nothing achieved, much lost”?

Jo Swinson:

I wholeheartedly disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I am proud that we are taking forward measures in that Bill to protect workers on zero-hours contracts. I am very proud of the work we have done to enforce the national minimum wage, which of course is one of the key protections for workers on low pay. Of course we always need to keep employment law under review, and the employment status review I mentioned is a really useful piece of work that will make sure that the next Parliament can consider these issues further. In terms of modernising workplaces, shared parental leave, flexible working, and increasing the national minimum wage and enforcing it better, we have a very strong record to be proud of.

 

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab):

Like most of us here with a lifelong trust in the integrity of the police and security services, I had the very disturbing experience a few weeks’ ago, with the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, of reading the report on Operation Tiberius. We were not allowed to have cameras or phones with us. The information in that document is deeply shocking. It is a story of decades of conspiracies between the police and criminal gangs. Knowing the case of Daniel Morgan from Llanfrechfa, who was murdered while he was investigating police corruption 28 years ago, and the failure of the security services to identify the way that Sir Cyril Smith and Sir Jimmy Savile were destroying lives, is there not a case for publishing the report on Operation Tiberius so the whole country can know the depth of corruption that has taken place in the Metropolitan police?

Mike Penning:

I would like to pay tribute to the work of the Home Affairs Committee—I know the Chair of the Committee is not in his place—not only on Operation Tiberius but on other inquiries in this Parliament. I do not know why the file was not released, for instance when it was viewed, but I will find out and write to the hon. Gentleman.

It’s good to hear news that, during the February half-term, 220 young people participated in the National Citizen Service with Youth Connexions Hertfordshire. As a strong supporter of the NCS, seeing that these young people have spent 6,600 hours volunteering on social action projects to help their local areas is very encouraging. The NCS aims to provide 16- and 17-year-olds with the skills needed for work, life, and the transition to adulthood, and I’m delighted that so many young people are taking full advantage of it.

The NCS’s programmes with Youth Connexions Hertfordshire continue throughout 2015 with opportunities for another 1,000 young people. I urge young people across North East Hertfordshire to get involved with this excellent scheme.

http://www.oliverheald.com


100 days on from the publication of Feeding Britain across-party group of MPs and Peers reveals that more than one third of its proposals to abolish hunger in this country have been put into action.
This will be my final column for the Adver before the start of ‘purdah’ – the period before an election when there are legal restrictions on what can be published.  I have always been careful not to use this weekly article to indulge in Punch & Judy politics. I’ve regarded it as a privilege to have the space to discuss ... Read More

Earlier today Redditch MP Karen Lumley travelled to the Department of Education's offices in Coventry to meet with the Regional Schools Commissioner for the West Midlands, Pank Patel and officials from the Educational Funding Authority to discuss proposed age range changes.

The Regional Schools Commissioner for the West Midlands is responsible for making decisions about the academies and free schools in local authorities.

Karen voiced her own concerns, as well as those of her constituents, in an open and frank discussion with the Commissioner. She made clear the strength of feeling on the issue in Redditch and the need for explanation.

She was pleased that he agreed to visit Redditch after the General Election on Friday 15th May when he will talk to Headteachers, Governors and other local stakeholders in the hope that he is able to alleviate their concerns.

Karen said: "I came away happy from my meeting with the Commissioner satisfied that he had what's best for Redditch schools and their pupils at heart. He was left in no doubt as to how seriously I view this issue and the strength of feeling amongst my constituents.

I explained to him that the timing of this, with the uncertainty that a General Election brings anyway, is the worst it could be. He said that this was the only time a change could have been announced in order to coincide with admissions policies and not risk wreaking havoc with pupil allocation.

I have said all along that local people must be consulted and that a collaborative approach is absolutely required. That's why I so vocally opposed these changes the last time around and why I organised the pyramid meetings to have all views aired.

I made quite clear to the Commissioner that an explanation on school places was needed quickly to give clarity to parents. I will be ensuring that the guarantees we need are made in the coming days.

I am pleased that he will be coming to meet with all those involved to discuss these issues at the earliest opportunity. Whenever issues arise we can all shout from the side-lines, calling for this and calling for that, but we know from experience that what actually works is getting around a table, speaking to decision makers and concerned parties, finding out what matters to them, establishing the full facts and doing what is best for all of us."

MP SUPPORTS ALZHEIMER’S SOCIETY’S GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN

Westminster, 24 March 2015

David Jones, MP for Clwyd West, joined over 200 other MPs along with representatives from Alzheimer’s Society in Westminster to meet people with dementia and commit to support those affected by the condition.

David Jones MP supported the Alzheimer’s Society’s general election campaign which calls for more to be done to ensure dementia is accurately diagnosed and given sufficient support once diagnosed.

David Jones said:

‘I am very pleased to support such an important cause and to meet people who deal with the day to day struggle of living with dementia.

‘There are an estimated 1,452 people in Clwyd West who live with the dementia and I think it is extremely important that people are made aware so that those suffering from the condition can be supported throughout their communities.

‘Alzheimer’s Society are doing a fantastic job of raising awareness and encouraging this kind of holistic support.’

Dementia affects 1 in 3 people in the UK and can cause memory loss, mood changes and confusion. To find out more about dementia, please visit the UK’s leading research and support charity for people with dementia at www.alzheimers.org.uk.

On Thursday 19 March 2015, Tracey joined over 45 guests and staff from mhs homes to celebrate the launch of Theatre Quarter, built on the site of the historic Theatre Royal auditorium.

 

On Thursday 19 March 2015, Tracey joined over 45 guests and staff from mhs homes to celebrate the launch of Theatre Quarter, built on the site of the historic Theatre Royal auditorium.

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Dominic Grieve gives the second Palliser Lecture

INTRODUCTION

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Both Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw deny being involved in a ‘cash for access’ scandal.

Straw has accepted suspension from the Labour party, both men have referred themselves to the parliamentary standards committee. They deny wrongdoing. Whether they have breached any rules will be assessed over the next few weeks.

The incident reminded me of a security briefing when a Defence Minister. “If a beautiful Russian or Chinese woman seeks your company in a bar Minister, it is unlikely to be because of your devilish good looks”. I’ve never forgotten it.

For the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) to discuss working for a bogus Chinese company is very odd indeed. To be frank, I can’t believe ISC members are allowed outside interests. They see more sensitive information than most government ministers.

If anything positive can come from these revelations it should be that ISC members are prohibited from having outside interests. Members of the committee should be subject to the same disclosure rules as government ministers. I hope the PM will put this right before Parliament rises for the election.

Hello all, Don’t worry, I haven’t stop posting, I have a new website! Please head to www.johnleech.org.uk for all the latest and where I will continue to post my blog. […]
Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the occasion of the Bill’s return from the House of Lords in much improved form, if I may say so. In general, I welcome the Bill although I am concerned about some elements. Perhaps it is a Welsh trait that we can never completely agree on things, and I want to touch on one issue where I am not in agreement.

What I welcome in particular is the new reality of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition shaping the process and future of devolution and driving forward, leaving—if I may say so to the shadow Secretary of State—Labour languishing in its wake. He may describe that as a U-turn, but that is the reality today. I want to make just one important point, which is very much a personal view. I disagree with one specific aspect of the Bill, but I would like to emphasise my overall support: it is a very good and welcome Bill.

I would like to put my point in context by painting some background to my personal journey in the devolution debate. I was not in favour of the form of devolution on offer in the referendum on 18 September 1997. It seemed to me to be creating a permanently unstable constitutional settlement. A settlement is the last thing it was. I attended the count in Llandrindod Wells leisure centre, watching the TV coverage as the decision of the voters of Wales came through and they decided in favour of establishing a national assembly for Wales. I drove home knowing that there was no going back. The people had spoken, albeit by a tiny margin of 0.6%. We were now facing an entirely new question: how would devolution work in practice? I concluded immediately that the new Welsh Assembly would eventually become a law-making, tax-raising Parliament based in Wales. That has influenced my thinking on the issue ever since. I did not want to be dragged, kicking and screaming, and trying to refight the 1997 devolution referendum. I preferred to get ahead of the curve and identify where we were going to get to, and move towards that in a positive and smooth way. That was not a change of mind, but a recognition of a new reality.

Jonathan Evans (Cardiff North)

My hon. Friend, through his service in the Assembly, has been one of the individuals who has encapsulated the position adopted by the Conservative party. Although the party battled against establishing the Assembly in the first place, and although the margin was only 4,000 in a million, nobody could claim other than that my hon. Friend and the party in Wales have since not been dragged back to the previous debate, but have moved forward and sought to make a success of the devolution settlement.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire)

Nowhere has that been more obvious than in the contribution from those on the Front Bench when we started today’s debate.

The Government of Wales Act 2006, introduced by the Labour party, moved things forward quite a lot, as did the 2011 referendum in relation to tax-raising powers. The Wales Bill takes us further down the road to what I consider to be the inevitable conclusion, but not far enough for me on tax levying responsibility. I will be blunt about my view: it is a mistake that the Bill requires a referendum before devolving responsibility for levying part of income tax collection to the Welsh Government. That is properly an issue for a general election. The Welsh Government are not financially accountable to the people of Wales until they are responsible for levying a degree of income tax. It is also my personal view that financial accountability through responsibility for income tax is so fundamental to a proper, grown-up National Assembly for Wales and Welsh Government that we should not devolve extra responsibility until this principle is accepted—no financial accountability, no new powers.

The First Minister, and perhaps Labour Members here on the Opposition Benches, do not want financial accountability. How convenient it is to bask in the credit of every spend that the people of Wales approve of and blame the UK Government for every difficult decision needed to bring order to the United Kingdom’s finances. We see the First Minister in Wales scrabbling around for any reason he can come up with to avoid committing to a referendum. First, it was lockstep, which is removed by the Bill. Then it was the Barnett deficit, until it became clear that it is a rather smaller Barnett deficit than we thought. I hear now that air passenger duty might be another reason, and if that is resolved, there will be another one. The reality is that Welsh Labour in Cardiff is desperate to avoid financial accountability. It does not want to be properly financially accountable to the Welsh people.

Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd)

I am following the hon. Gentleman’s argument and thinking about what the Labour spokesman said. When the Silk proposals were being discussed, the First Minister of Wales was adamant he did not want air passenger duty devolved, but suddenly he has woken up and is desperately keen on it. It depends what day of the week we are in.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire)

I would be more encouraged if I thought the day of the week was the reason. I think it is a desperate attempt to find one more hurdle to prevent us from moving towards financial accountability.

During the passage of the Bill, I accepted it would include a commitment to a referendum on devolution of income tax levying powers. It was a recommendation of the all-party Silk commission, and in 1997 there was a referendum on this issue in Scotland. In my view, however, the Silk commission was wrong, and weak in its recommendation on this point. Devolving income tax powers is not as big a change as is being made out, and it is entirely appropriate that it be decided at a general election; it does not need a referendum. If a Welsh Labour Government acted irresponsibility, which they might well do, they would quickly be turfed out of office. It is much easier to sit in blissful impotence, complaining.

I would like to see manifesto commitments by my party, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru to revisit this issue, perhaps in a Wales Bill early next Parliament

and before the Assembly elections in 2016, and to devolve income tax. We should put an end to Labour’s easy ride in Wales and make the Welsh Government properly fiscally accountable to the Welsh people. Only then will devolution grow up and reach its inevitable, logical conclusion.

 

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Throughout our time in government Liberal Democrats have been committed to supporting our elderly population. Lib Dem policies that have been delivered since 2010 provide stability for pensioners, as well as those coming up to retirement .They will be able to better plan their futures knowing that they will no longer be faced with the insecurity of unpredictable state pension rises.

Thanks to our flagship “triple lock” guarantee policy, the basic state pension has risen in each year of this parliament. The rise has been by the higher factor out of price inflation, wage inflation or 2.5%. This has meant that the state pension will be £440 higher per year in 2014-15 than if it had increased in line with earnings from the start of this Parliament, with the actual cash increase worth £800 a year more in total.

The triple lock was one of our key demands in Coalition negotiations. I am delighted that my fellow Greater Bristol MP and Lib Dem Pensions Minister Steve Webb has ensured that the Government is giving today’s pensioners a fair deal.

The Coalition has also given people greater choice about how to access their  workplace  pension savings that have been paid into defined contribution pension pots. From April 2015, individuals aged 55 or over will be able to withdraw these savings as they wish, subject to their marginal rate of income tax and their scheme rules. Instead of being forced to buy an annuity, they will be able to invest their savings in another financial product, property, or even in short term assets and spending, if that is the judgement they make about their savings. We have given pensioners more control over how they use their own money accumulated while in work.  This is a classic liberal measure, trusting people to make the right decisions.

Finally, a new Single-tier State Pension will combine the Basic State Pension and the State Second Pension. This pension will be set above the basic level of means-tested support (£145.40 per week for a single pensioner in 2013/14). The new Single-tier pension will also support the introduction of auto-enrolment into workplace pensions which we introduced in October 2012. Auto-enrolment helps people save for their retirement by matching contributions (4% employee contribution, matched by 3% from the employer and 1% from government).

The Single-tier pension is an important development, as when we entered government 11 million people were simply not saving enough for their private pensions. The existing system relied heavily on means-testing, which discouraged saving because people who saved could end up with just a few pounds a week more than someone who saved nothing. Our reforms will reduce means-testing and promote private pension saving.

Alongside these changes, we are taking measures to ensure that by April 2015 everyone approaching retirement receives free and impartial face-to-face guidance on their available choices. Pensions are not always straight forward and we want to ensure that people are making informed decisions about their future.

Looking forwards, Liberal Democrats announced earlier this year that pensioners would be guaranteed to earn at least an extra £790 per year by the end of the next parliament under our manifesto plans. These changes mean the state pension will be worth at least £131-a-week by 2020, up from just £97.65 four years ago. In total, pensioners who receive the full state pension would get at least £6,800 in 2020: the plans are expected to benefit 55, 872 pensioners in Bristol alone.

While in government the Liberal Democrats have boosted pensioner incomes – a stark contrast to the increases linked to prices that led Gordon Brown to award a 75 pence increase in Labour’s first term! We’ve also protected the winter fuel payments, free TV licences and the bus pass.  I am particularly proud of the free bus pass, I’ve seen what a big difference it makes to my own mother, enabling her to go out every day.  The bus pass is good for the environment and also for the mental and physical well being of older people.

I have always believed that how a society treats its elderly people is a measure of its decency. I and my Lib Dem colleagues in government, have undoubtedly held true to this principle and put policy into practice for the benefit of millions of elderly people.


Just by way of an update to Monday’s post… Another invite has arrived. WWF are the culprits again!

PRASEG & WWF-UK Event – The economics of climate change policy: what are the overall costs and benefits of the UK meeting its carbon budgets?
Wednesday 10 September 2014, 17:00 – 19:00, Committee Room 6, House of Commons

 Chair:
• Dr Alan Whitehead MP, Labour MP for Southampton Test and PRASEG Chair.

Panel:
• The Rt Hon Ed Davey MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
• Professor Paul Ekins, University College London
• Matthew Knight, Director of Strategy and Government Affairs, Siemens Energy
• Steven Heath, Director – Public Affairs and Strategy, Knauf Insulation
• Trevor Maynard, Head of Exposure Management & Reinsurance Team, Lloyds Bank

 

 

 


So, avid readers will notice that I've been a little absent in the blogging world over the past few months.  I've been busy, which isn't an excuse as we are all busy, I know, but writing a blog can't be top on the list of my priorities so posts on here have fallen by the wayside a little bit, sorry.

Summer recess, however, is a great opportunity to catch up, take stock, and get on top of things as best as possible, so here I am again with a new (Parliamentary) year resolution to get back to blogging.

I hope I still have at least one reader left!

First published by The Observer Parliament talks ceaselessly of “the next generation”. But, in Cumbria, where I’m an MP, voluntary activity and politics are generally driven by people over the age of 55. Every village seems to have a retired engineer attempting to build a community fibre-optic cable network and baffling the most confident civil servant […]

The post Our culture excludes the old when they have so much to contribute appeared first on Rory Stewart.

One of the welcome features of the new expenses system is that constituents can see all expenses claims online here, including everything from claims for rent on the constituency office, office phone bills or standard class rail tickets to Wesminster.

In addition, the subject of MPs' accommodation arrangements in London continues to be the focus of some attention, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to provide an update on my own arrangements.

When first elected in 1997 I rented a room for a short period but it quickly became apparent that in the longer-term it would be cheaper to have a mortgage and claim the interest.  Over the years I have stayed overnight and claimed mortgage interest on a bedsit or one-bedroom flat in Westminster. 

Under the rules of the scheme, I would be entitled to retain any profit made from increases in the value of such property prior to the 2010 General Election.  But I have made it clear that in my view the purpose of the scheme is simply to give MPs somewhere to live whilst in London and not to provide a profit.   I have therefore said for some years that when I no longer owned a property in Westminster I would return any profit to the taxpayer.  I am now making arrangements to do this.

In October this year I sold my London flat and am now renting (and ceased claiming for mortgage interest in July).    I estimate that I made a profit, net of capital gains tax and legal fees etc. of around £22,000 through increases in the value of the properties on which I have claimed.  I have therefore written to IPSA confirming that I wish to return this sum and asking for details of how I can return this amount to the taxpayer.
Shadow Fisheries Minister Tom Harris has welcomed a campaign by representatives of the smaller fishing industry to win a fairer share of UK fishing quotas.

Speaking on the day that Greenpeace and NUTFA (the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association) launched their Manifesto For Fair Fisheries, Tom called on the government to take the lead in supporting small fishing communities. He said the case had now been made for a “radical overhaul” of the way fishing quotas are allocated within the UK.

Smaller “inland” fishing vessels make up three quarters of the UK’s fishing fleet and employ nearly two thirds of all full-time workers. But they are restricted from catching more than four per cent of the UK fishing quota, with 96 per cent being allocated to the larger industrial fleet.
 
Tom added: “Labour wants reform that tackles vested interests and rewards those who fish more sustainably and selectively, with less impact on the environment. It is unacceptable that fleets representing the smaller, sustainable end of the industry, and which employ nearly two thirds of full-time workers, should have to survive on just four per cent of the UK fishing quota.
 
“The Government should be taking a lead in supporting our small fishing communities that are the lifeblood of many coastal areas.

“The case has now been made for a radical overhaul of the way fishing quotas are allocated within the UK. The Government needs to issue a definitive list of who exactly owns the rights to UK quota, and begin urgent talks on significantly increasing the percentage quota allocated to the Under Ten fleet.”
I recently organised a meeting with a number of local residents about the upkeep and maintenance of Kew Bridge Railway Station. I met with representatives from Strand on the Green Association, St George's, Kew Green, The Kew Bridge Society, Express Tavern, West Thames River Group, a disability interest group, Friends of Stile Hall Gardens, Brentford Community Council and Network Rail.
Prior to the meeting, I had already been in touch with Network Rail, to strongly urge them to deal with some of the key issues around the station. Network Rail confirmed at the meeting that, as a result of my request, they had immediate plans in place now to paint the station, address the rodent problem, board up unused windows and clear graffiti They had also requested additional litter bins from Hounslow Council. At the meeting, St George's highlighted the work they had been doing too to clear up graffiti in the local area.
I am very pleased that Network Rail responded so well and are giving Kew Bridge Station a 'facelift,' which will help local residents. It will make the station seem cleaner and safer and I welcome their efforts to improve it for passengers. As a group, we are also in discussion regarding the future of the station building at Kew Bridge. As it is a Listed Building, it is obviously of architectural importance. It would be excellent if it could be restored to its former glory and put to good use.
The group is going to meet again within the next month to review progress and discuss next steps.
Maria Miller, MP for Basingstoke, has welcomed the Localism Bill published by the Government on 13 December. The Bill will give individuals, groups, and their local councils a much greater say in decisions affecting their local communities.

 

Maria said: “This new legislation will make a real difference to how local matters are decided. The Community Rights measures, for example, will give new rights to local community and voluntary groups to protect, improve and even run important frontline services that might otherwise close down, such as local shops, pubs and libraries,.”

 

Maria added: “This Bill offers great opportunities for Basingstoke. Among other things, it will radically reform the planning system so that local people have a greater say and influence over what Basingstoke looks like in the future. Giving local people the opportunity to shape the development of the communities in which they live is something that I have long campaigned for, and I am delighted to see it being enshrined in law.

 

“The Borough Council’s current consultation on the number of new homes needed in Basingstoke is part of this process of taking local people’s views into consideration in developing a vision for the future. I would urge all residents to let the Council have their views on this before the end of the consultation on 14 January.”

 

Starting with a Bang

The long parliamentary recess has started - weeks without time being spent in the weekly grindingly boring train ride to London and back. Mind you its a hectic pace back at Southport but you can control your agenda better.

Yesterday I found a little time for light exercise the odd game of table tennis and a workout with heavy weights.
I've done the latter all my adult life and it has a slight addictive quality. If you don't do it for a while you actually feel muscle cramps only relieved by putting the old system under pressure.
Constraints of time often mean I forego all the warm ups and warm downs etc. So there I was on Tuesday doing a few front squats in excess of 300lb. I finished, replacing the barbell on the shoulder-high squat stand or so I thought. The stand was not aligned right .It tilted sideways as I released the weight and as the weight crashed to the floor the stand was pulled rapidly down by it pausing on its way to hit the stooping me on the head and catching me on the hand.
If you wanted to dramatise it , it might be compared to being hit on the head by a 20 stone man with an iron bar from a short distance. I thought I'd better take a break. We've had enough by- elections recently
When the family saw me with a lump as though a tennis ball had been buried in my scalp I was advised to pop into A&E. So clutching a plastic bag filled with ice cubes to my temple and bleeding from my finger I was run there and tested by some very nice jolly staff who established so far as we could tell that there was no skull or brain damage.At any rate I could still recall who the Prime Minister and reigning monarch was. I left a wiser man with a determination to avoid photo opportunities for a few days.
Desperate to prove they are doing something about the rising toll of deaths from guns and knives the government have resorted to the old idea of an "amnesty." This will enable a few aging war veterans who collected a "souvenir" and some farmers who forgot to renew their shotgun licenses to hand over guns that would never have been used for any kind of crime. Some of the younger "wannabe" gansters may also find that their weapons, usually replicas, are handed in by angry mothers.

This will be enough for the amnesty to achieve its real objective - photos of a smiling Minister in front of an impressive looking array of guns claiming that the government have "taken action".

But make no mistake the serious criminals will continue to roam the streets without any fear of being stopped and searched, (human rights) and knowing that even if by some chance they are found in poossession of a gun or knife the sentence will be minimal.

The toll of death will continue to rise.