Many MPs argue that their favourite spending cut has been the decision to remove our troops from front line duties in Afghanistan and to get most of them home altogether. The withdrawal from Afghanistan is proceeding as the Afghan army and police take over the role of the running of their own country, and full credit to those involved in making that withdrawal happen.
I have repeatedly urged caution over Syria.
I receive little postbag urging us to action, and just one person - interestingly a devout Christian - has demanded we intervene to stop the bloodshed. The PM has been to see things for himself and diplomatically we are pressurising the Russians who have taken a bizarre approach. All of us are doing what we can for the refugees. But before acting we need to address a number of key questions:
- Just who are the opposition forces we wish to help?
- How can we distinguish between those opposition forces who believe in liberty and democracy, and those who wish to replace one tyranny with another?
- How could we ensure any arms supply went just to the people we can be sure have the right intentions?
- How do you stop the regime taking the weapons on or after delivery?
- How do you distinguish between the different opponents of the regime?
- How do you ensure that an apparently well intentioned opponent does not come less well intentioned should he receive arms from us?
- How do you get the arms into the country against the wishes of the Syrian government?
The local countries around Syria are trying to resolve this very Middle Eastern of problems but I am clear that I cannot see a reason for British troops to get involved. As always the most important thing is not to make matters worse by getting involved without a plan and the answers to the above questions.
The IMF sees a lot of worse cases than the UK economy. The summary of their report starts positively, recording “some improvement in economic and financial conditions.” They praise the strong private sector employment growth and forecast some increase in activity this year.
The IMF is on an ideological journey. Under its latest Euro friendly management it wishes to detach itself from the old IMF formula of cutting public spending, raising taxes, loosening money supply and devaluing for countries with large public sector and balance of payments deficits. After all, Euro member states cannot undertake the monetary expansion nor the devaluation for themselves, the two most pro growth parts of a traditional IMF package.
They want the UK to “rebalance”, to export more and invest more. The shortfall in private sector investment has several causes. Weak banks with insufficient loans available do not help. Large pension deficits created by artificially low interest rates force companies to keep more cash on their balance sheets to meet future pension costs. Falling demand in Euroland undermines one of our export markets and leads companies to wonder if more capacity is a good idea.
They praise the loose money policy being followed and ask that it continue. Indeed they want the Bank to buy more of its own bonds and promise to keep interest rates very low for longer. They want the banks to raise more capital, and want the government to sell RBS and Lloyds back to the private sector. The Chancellor in his public statements seems happy to oblige.
The IMF also favours cutting corporation tax more and paying for revenue loss by further property taxes and VAT on a wider range of items. Did they not follow pastygate? Their tax recommendations are toxic. I cannot see why people take their advice so seriously, when they seem to be all at sea in this crisis, and did not foresee any of it.
Japanese bond yields spiked this week.
"So what", you say. "Why should the return that investors get for lending the Japanese government money concern us?"
Because our own government has adopted the kind of monetary stimulus approach they've had in Japan for years. Interest rates have been kept low, zombies kept alive - and no growth. Sound familiar?
It's not just that monetary stimulus doesn't work. It has been immensely harmful, clogging up the economy with malinvestment.
Even worse, no matter how many times the government pumps more candy floss credit into the system to keep things afloat, it is unsustainable. When that moment arrives, I fear it might start in Japan and look something like this:
Japanese bond yields spike. Yields rise elsewhere as investors grow reluctant to keep taking on government IOUs.
The bond bubble bursts, and it becomes painfully clear that we've only been issuing bonds at record low rates by, in effect, rigging the market.
We then wake up one morning and find that whoever is in office faces a choice: much less money for the state-sector, or printing money and high inflation. Or both.
One day, I fear this might happen. So when Japanese bond yields rise, pay attention.
Three cheers for the courts and mental health activists, O for the politicians and the DWP. Two days ago 3 judges ruled – as we all knew, but it required the courts to make it the law of the land – that the Government’s prescriptors, regulations and guidelines used to assess whether disabled people were eligible for ESA disadvantaged people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism. What prompted this to happen? Not a change of heart by Atos Healthcare – heaven forbid – but a judicial review brought by two anonymous claimants who were victims of mental ill-health. The case revolved round how the notorious Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is undertaken to decide if someone is fit to work. At present the judgement of a professional such as a GP or social worker is generally not taken into account unless provided by the persons being assessed themselves. This means that assessments are usually based on a very short interview, often just 15 minutes, with a stranger who may have no mental health training at all and no knowledge of what your GP, psychiatrist or community psychiatric nurse might have to offer concerning your illness. This is now going to have to change.
It is unreasonable to expect people with mental health problems, learning disabilities or autism to be able to navigate the often complex processes in being assessed and getting the evidence to ensure this is done fairly and properly. The judges rightly ruled that the DWP had not done enough to make sure this crucial evidence was collected and taken into account, and therefore had failed in its duties to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010. Asking someone with severe mental illness – perhaps a psychotic episode or somebody who has been unable to leave the house for months – has been rightly compared by Rethink Mental Illness with asking someone in a wheelchair to walk to an assessment centre.
There are several implications of this victory. One is that whilst this is one important aspect of Work Capability Assessments that needs reform (and we must rigorously monitor procedures in future to ensure this is done, and done quickly), there are several other big problems with these assessments which have got to be changed, and after this first victory we should continue to use the courts to bring about these changes. Second, it has officially confirmed, what we all knew privately, that the government’s current WCA system is about cutting benefits, irrespective of the human cost, to meet their target of callously paring back the Welfare State to set up a Market State in which you either work or get little or nothing in economic support. Third, we must redouble our efforts to get the government to make more far-reaching structural changes to the WCA and Mark Hoban, the DWP Minister, has now agreed to a meeting to discuss these if we can show there is a real intention for what he calls a ‘constructive engagement’. And fourth, other whistleblowers are now emerging, such as the ATOS doctor publicly calling the WCA tests ‘cruel’ and the evidence recently given to the Scottish Parliament by an ex-ATOS nurse. Changes are now at last happening, and none too soon.
Volunteers, staff, service users, Banbury MP Sir Tony Baldry and the new town mayor Nicholas Turner all got together to celebrate and find out more about the Age UK Oxfordshire Today! campaign.
The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness, attract more volunteers and to raise £250,000 in five years to enable the charity to continue supporting the community. In his speech, Sir Tony, who is patron of the campaign, highlighted its importance and particularly raised the issue of loneliness faced by many older people.
“I hope that no one locally should ever be lonely, should feel unbefriended or that there isn’t someone they can turn to for help because if they can’t think of anyone else, they can always think of Age UK,” he said.
He also said the Banbury centre, in White Lion Walk, provides excellent services for the elderly in and around Banburyshire.
Diana Roberts, Age UK Oxfordshire chair of trustees, said: “Most important for us is making the years of later life really meaningful and my message is whatever the need there’s bound to be someone who can use and benefit from the services we have to offer.”
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A full day in the office meeting constituents to discuss a wide range of issues from social services to planning and new business start ups.
Halesowen and Rowley Regis MP James Morris is claiming success in his long-running campaign to bring shop fronts in Halesowen High Street up to scratch.
The buildings, which house businesses including The Carpet Shop and Rainbow Café, have been slammed as an “eye-sore” and “a blight on the High Street” by Halesowen shoppers.
After a long exchange of letters, emails and phone calls, the buildings’ owners Kewbridge Ltd have finally carried out maintenance work on the area above the shops.
Welcoming the news that the maintenance work had been carried out, Mr Morris said: read more »
As someone who grew up on a fruit farm, I was always very conscious of the importance of bees to life. We used to keep colonies of honey bees to pollinate the apple orchards but there were also many different types of bumble bees that lived on the farm. I also used to look after commercially cultivated hives of bumble bees on a large heated glass house nursery that I used to run and it was brilliant to watch them work. I learnt that there needs to be a diversity of bee breeds to ensure the best quality crops as well as a consistent yield. Most fruit and vegetables are pollinated by bees, as well as wildflowers enjoyed by many such as bluebells and poppies.
There has been a great deal of publicity surrounding the European Commission’s recent decision to ban Neonicotinoids for the next two years following some scientific recommendation and in response to various campaigns against them. Whilst I appreciate the argument for caution with pesticide use, I also think there are plenty of other reasons for bee decline that need to be addressed and we shouldn’t get too bogged down in one particular area. One problem is the lack of bee keepers, who as a group have declined 80% in the last 60 years. More needs to be done to attract new blood to an enjoyable and important task.
More also needs to be done in creating a better farmland environment for bees, having lost much of their natural environment to intensive agriculture. The Government have made some impressive steps in the Stewardship schemes available to farmers, and new options are available which subsidise land beneficial to pollinators. The Government is also working with beekeepers to provide them with training and the ability to respond to disease threats. They have also taken the lead in researching bumble bee decline and these studies will be extremely useful as most previous research has been solely focused on honey bees. I think these are steps in the right direction, but I also look forward to further schemes to help these great creatures.
George Eustice can be contacted at email@example.com or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.
With thousands of my constituents facing financial hardship and uncertainty caused by unemployment and changes to the benefit system, one organisation remains certain to be there in times of need.
The Citizens Advice Bureau was established in 1939 and the first 200 bureaux opened their doors on September 4 - the day after the Second World war began.
Since then, advisers have been on hand to help with anything and everything from paying household bills to debt management and immigration. If you've got a problem, you're sure to find someone who can help at the CAB.
Nationally, the CAB helped more than 2.2million people with their benefit and tax credit enquiries and they expect those figure to rise as the Government's latest changes take root.
I have met the team in Ponders End several times and can testify to their hard work, dedication and commitment. Based at Vincent house at the junction of Southbury Road, Nags Head Road, Hertford Road and High Street, the team also do outreach work elsewhere in the borough.
If you would like to get in touch, you can call the CAB on 0844 826 9712 or visit their Website at www.enfieldcab.org.uk.
I absolutely condemn the horrific actions which took place in Woolwich yesterday afternoon. Praise should go to the club scout leader Ingrid Loyau-Kennett for bravely attempting to defuse the situation before security forces arrived. The Government’s immediate reaction and the reconvention of COBRA last night shows that such actions will not be tolerated in the UK. David Cameron’s statement this morning and the actions taken by the police and security forces subsequently, reinforces this message. Our thoughts are with the family of the victim concerned.
Last month, Lib Dem London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon revealed shocking figures regarding unclaimed Oyster refunds. A whopping £53 million currently lies dormant in the system – waiting to be reclaimed.
TfL are not very good at letting people know about this. But, like Caroline, I think TfL service users should easily be able to reclaim money owed to them.
You can read the full story on Lib Dem Voice here: http://www.libdemvoice.org/caroline-pidgeon-reveals-53-million-unclaimed-refunds-on-oyster-cards-34128.html
If you have an old or unused Oyster card lying around, you should be able to claim the money back at ticket offices across the Capital.
There have, however, been problems with getting refunds at ticket offices. Transport for London have now given a phone number for people to call if they are having problems getting a refund. It is 0343 222 1234.
I posted this on February 23rd. In the past two weeks several supporters have contacted me from all corners of the UK. I have tried to reply but their e-mail addresses do not exist! What's going on?
Protests aren’t what they used to be
Pictures: Suzannah Evans
This is no way to run a protest. I was invited on Facebook to a demo on an issue close to my heart. The person who invited me did not turn up on time and no one seemed prepared to make a speech to explain the grievance.
The Newport Chartist mural was the brainchild of the Newport Council during the years 1972 to 1984 when I was a City Councillor. The artist used the faces of local officials as models for the soldiers and Chartists of 1839. I am especially fond of the one of Cefni Barnett who was the museum curator in the seventies. The mural is rightly loved by Newportonians.
In 2007 there was a threat to demolish it as part of the Modus re-development. Strong protests were made to preserve or relocate the work. The Modus plan collapsed in 2009 so the immediate threat disappeared. Exactly a year ago the Council invited suggestions for the possibility of replacing the work if threatened by new developments.
Moving it would it prohibitively expensive. It could cost four times the council’s budget. Four alternatives are suggested. The best is probably to re-create it in ceramics in a new indoor location. Few sensible arguments are possible to this practical pragmatic approach. Leaving it in place in its dark, windswept, deserted canyon is not the best idea.
Many of the people who joined the demo are familiar faces. They are respected campaigners for green and other major issues. Others are not. A number of serial anti-Council and anti-Labour protesters were there. They seemed to be out to blame Newport Council. That’s a hard argument to sustain. Speaking in John Frost Square in the shadow of Chartist Tower alongside the Chartist mural I recalled how Newport Council had long honoured the memory of the Chartists.
On November 4th every year a commemoration is held in the cemetery of Newport Cathedral. A week’s events recall the history. We annually re-dedicate ourselves to the Chartist ideals. Chartism is at the core of Newport’s DNA.
Several minutes after the time when the demo was advertised to begin there was no sign of anyone trying to speak. I asked if anyone could explain what the NEW threat is that justifies the protest. A year old press story from the BBC website seems to be the source. Fighting the bitter cold, I tried to make a few points.
No area in the whole of the UK had done more to honour the memory of the Chartists and advance their ideals than Newport. To suggest that the Council would do anything to dis-respect that memory is non-sense on stilts. As an MP I have no locus in these decisions or any power or influence over them. Those who are serious about contributing to practical alternatives should take their views to the council. I hope they do.
I gently pointed out that there are dozens of other issues worth a demo in February 2013. The cruelty of Atos? The handout of subsidies to Hinkley Power Station? The Privatisation of the NHS? The greed of the bankers? The futility of avoidable wars? The destruction of the Welfare State? The Ineptocracy that the Coalition is building. When there are so many vital issues, why invent a new grievance?
Meanwhile all my constituents are invited to discuss any parliamentary issues with me at my next public meeting at the Civic Centre, March 7th at 7.00 pm. As always I will be on hand to debate my responsibilities. Hope to see you there.
Posted on February 22, 2013 at 04:31 PM | Permalink
From: Jo Hogan
Sent: 22 May 2013 22:48
To: MCVEY, Esther
Subject: Chloe Hogan Rock N Goals!
We just want to say a big thank you for all of your support last Saturday with Chloe’s event! It meant a lot to Chloe you supporting her and she was very proud! We have some great photographs of the day in particular of the balloons being released! We will send these through very soon. We have just been really busy with work this week and Chloe has been wiped out from the Coastal walk!
Also Keely and her family would like to say a big thank you to you for donating the everton raffle tickets to them. Sadly Keely was rushed to hospital during Rock N Goals due to fitting and the family spent the weekend again in hospital! You have put a massive smile on their faces for this prize as they are big everton fans and Keely absolutely loves visiting Everton Commuunity!
Thank you again for all of your support
Jo, Andy, Chloe and Joshua HoganX
There were initially two local Cobham bids for secondary free schools in Cobham. Only one made it through to the interview stage, based on the strength of the education and business plans. For my part, I am delighted that we look set for a new secondary school in Cobham. It is fantastic news for parents and children both in Cobham and across the borough.
We have had a longstanding shortage of secondary places in Cobham and across Elmbridge, and the approval of a new secondary department to the Cobham Free School will alleviate that pressure, whilst providing parents with greater choice. There is still a lot of planning and preparation to be done - including as to the site - but I am delighted that a flagship Conservative policy is delivering for local parents and children. Along with Surrey County Council’s school expansion program we are getting to grips with the pressure on school places borough about by a recent spike in fertility rates, the flow of families into the borough and the spill-over from the independent sector since the last recession.
Sadiq has been contacted by a number of local residents who have raised their concerns about Britain's bee population.
With 47 bee species in the UK deemed vulnerable or endangered and with a 53% decline in managed honey-bee colonies between 1985 and 2005, Sadiq is supporting Friends of the Earth's ‘Bee Cause' campaign to reverse the decline of UK bees. The campaign is calling on the Prime Minister to commit to a Bee Action Plan to tackle all major causes of bee decline. It's also supporting individuals to make change in their gardens and communities to help bees.
Would you like to join my office as an apprentice caseworker for a year?
What you'll gain...
The main role of an apprentice caseworker is to help me communicate fluently with my constituents, drafting letters and helping with correspondence, as well as organising advice surgeries and making sure that our records are kept in order. In return, this unique opportunity offers first class training in dealing with correspondence, an exceptional insight into the day to day workings of Parliament, as well as that wonderful feeling of knowing, in certain cases, that you have made a positive difference to someone's life.
What you'll need...
Compassion – As part of this role you will be dealing directly with constituents, listening to problems and lending a sympathetic ear.
Organisation – Being a caseworker involves managing a large amount of correspondence, prioritising the urgent cases and replying in a timely fashion.
Good Communication Skills – You will be drafting letters and working as part of my team so good writing skills and other communication skills are vital.
This position is ideally suited to someone just about to leave school. If you think you have what it takes and would like some more information, please let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org and remember to attach a copy of your CV.
(Photos show Andrea with current apprentice, Daisy Peck and with the whole team)
Karen visited HMP Hewell with BBC reporter Cath Mackie to receive an update on the current status of the prison reforms in light of a recent report which was critical of the prison. Karen met with the new senior management team and discussed various cases relating to the prison.
Karen said “The report was very damaging to HMP Hewell and I know served as a wake-up call that the current performance is not good enough and cannot continue. As with my previous visits to the prison, I found the staff at HMP Hewell to be hard working and committed. Therefore, it is vital that the new management work with staff to rapidly improve performance and I am confident from my initial discussions that this will be the case.”
Anyway there are two dev'ts worth reporting on. Firstly some encouraging news. In a letter to my close colleague, Chris Heaton Harris MP. the Rt Hon Eric Pickles, Sec. of State with reposibility for planning wrote;
"I note your concerns about the impact of wind turbines. The National Planning Policy Framework, published last year makes clear that the adverse impact of renewable energy developments, including cumulative landscape and visual impact should be addressed satisfactorily. Applications for wind farms should only be approved if they are, or can be made acceptable".
New planning guidelines are expected by the summer. I knew they were coming and had hoped they would be published already. What I'm expecting, and desperately hoping, for is 'guidance' that stops well argued local objection being 'trumped' by national policy - completely dismissing the local voice. We need it now. But perhaps there is hope after all.
The second item it very disturbing - shocking even. Earlier this week, I tweeted that bailiffs acting for National Grid in Montgomeryshire had delivered a notice of forced access, and when challenged for ID, had told my constituent to "Fu** Off" - upsetting his wife in the process. Now another constituent has emailed me to tell me of other similar incidents, including seriously upsetting his 86yr old female neighbour. She has now been advised to cooperate for her own welfare by my constituent. And there have been other examples of similar activity as well. I have advised him to go public tomorrow on this. His name is Digby Davies, and he lives in Llansanffraid. I believe he will. This shameful behaviour, done on behalf of National Grid, and within arrangements approved by Gov't is scarcely believable. But when it comes to forcing onshore wind onto reluctant communities its been a case of anything goes. Its important that people know what is being done on their behalf.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): It is appropriate that I should follow the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen), as he made an important point about the economic aspects of the Queen’s Speech, and that serves to remind us that health is not just a matter of hospitals, doctors, nurses and medicine—important though all that is—but it is also affected by Government policies in other areas. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman in this respect, as I am very concerned that many of this Government’s policies are, directly or indirectly, having a damaging effect on the health of many millions of people in this country.
The first of those effects is illustrated by the growth in real poverty, which has led to the mushrooming number of food banks throughout the UK. I now have two food banks operating in my constituency, along with other sources of free food for those in need, and that situation is replicated in every constituency across the land. The food provided through the food banks is healthy food that is beneficial to the diets of those who receive it. In most cases food is provided only for a limited period, however, which suggests that at other times those who depend on food banks do not get decent meals and a decent diet, and often go hungry. Evidence from the Trussell Trust suggests that about one third of the people who are dependent on food banks are children, and we all know that those who have a bad diet at the beginning of their life can face serious lifelong consequences.
I acknowledge that the reasons why people go to food banks are complex. There is a world economic crisis and increases in food prices at a worldwide level, so I do not pin all the blame on this Government’s policies. No doubt in the current global circumstances we would have seen an increase in food banks under any Government. I would, however, have liked to have heard some mention in the Queen’s Speech about policies that would serve to tackle child poverty and the scandal of so many in our society being dependent on food banks.
We might have reversed policies such as the 1% cut* in many benefits that passed through Parliament not long ago. Another broader area that has a direct impact on health is poor-quality housing and lack of housing provision. The situation has been exacerbated by the bedroom tax. There cannot be a single MP on either side of the House who has not been contacted by constituents who are suffering directly as a result of the introduction of the bedroom tax. I shall not comment on the tragic case recently reported in the media and which was mentioned earlier, but I know of plenty of cases in my constituency where people’s lives have been turned upside down by the bedroom tax. It often has a serious effect on their mental health and sometimes takes away their ability to work, which in turn affects their ability to feed themselves and their family and to meet their energy bills. So, too, does the fact that the bedroom tax leads to people losing benefits, but there was not a word in the Queen’s Speech to amend a policy that has increasingly been shown to be indefensible.
The housing problem is not just about homes being under-occupied. Many of us know from our own constituencies about the problems of poor-quality housing, overcrowded housing and lack of affordable housing. The Queen’s Speech did not give sufficient priority to addressing that. Yes, there were policies designed to support the housing market, some of which will have benefits as regards affordable housing, and I welcome that. However, the Government still seem desperately keen to promote a housing boom at the higher end of the market, because houses worth up to £600,000 will be eligible for their programme. Again, that is an example of the wrong priorities when the real priority should have been to tackle poor-quality housing, and not to force people into the terrible situation in which many find themselves because of the bedroom tax.
Another area where wider policies have a direct impact on health is employment. We all know that health and being in a job go together. In many cases, being unable to work or being in insecure employment is likely to be extremely damaging to health. I was taken by the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) about workers on zero-hours contracts in the health service. That is not only bad for the health service but for the workers whose health may be directly affected by the insecurity of being in such a situation.
No matter what the official employment figures say, and they are bad enough, the reality of unemployment, low employment and under-employment is underestimated. In all our constituencies, people are working part-time when they do not want to and being forced to take large wage cuts. We have the spectre of people working on zero-hours contracts, returning to a day-labourer system where people do not know from day to day whether they will be in employment. If anyone thinks that that does not have direct effects on people’s health and well-being, they are deluding themselves. If we do not tackle these issues, there will be increasing health problems for many people in our society. That is why Labour’s job-creation programmes, which we will discuss in later debates on the Queen’s Speech, are so important. We also need international action, with a change in direction to get away from the austerity programmes that are causing so many problems and so much unhappiness not only in our country but throughout the rest of Europe.
Toby Perkins: The link between health and unemployment was addressed very well, under the previous model of the NHS, by Derbyshire primary care trust, which supported and funded programmes to get the long-term unemployed into work. This does not seem to be happening as much in the restructured NHS. Will my hon. Friend expand on the importance of getting the long-term unemployed into work and the impact that joblessness has on their health?
Mark Lazarowicz: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Measures to address long-term unemployment and child poverty, to tackle housing inequality and poor housing provision, and to provide more security in jobs and housing and in other ways are some of the biggest things that could have been done to promote health throughout our country.
I wish that Conservative Members who have spoken in the debate on the Queen’s Speech and the debates leading up to it had shown as much concern and passion about these issues as they have with the in-fighting on European issues that has taken up so much of the internal debate within their party. I accept that in the past few hours we have heard mainly constructive and thoughtful speeches on health issues by Conservative Members, but I suspect that that is simply because the ones who are doing the plotting and the in-fighting are doing it elsewhere. It is a pity that more Conservative Members have not paid attention to the issues that the people in our country want addressed—health, employment and housing. In those areas we need a significant change in direction from the Government which the Queen’s Speech did not give us.
(* NOTE: The 1% increase in many benefits represented a cut in real terms)
This afternoon I stood in a packed House of Commons for the most nerve racking speech of my career so far. After the pomp and pageantry of the Queen’s Speech (for which I had a bird’s eye view from the Lords Gallery) MPs debate the speech over several days. By tradition, the debate is initiated by two backbench MPs, formally presenting a “Humble Address” of thanks to Her Majesty. I was one of the MPs to be given that honour today.
While I am well used to speaking in the Commons, the Humble Address is a major Commons event for which the chamber is packed. The speech is meant to be a mixture of the serious and light hearted. The Commons has been described as the most formidable theatre of debate in the world. On this occasion most MPs across all parties wish you well but you are aware of the schadenfreude that might be felt if you crash and burn. It’s also an extremely rare occasion when all the party leaders are listening and the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader refer to you in their own speeches. So the stakes were high!
Anyway I managed to turn my back of an envelope notes scribbled on the train yesterday into a ten minute speech. To my huge relief, it seemed to go well and colleagues from all parties have been making kind comments all afternoon.
Here’s the Hansard official record of what I said, following Conservative MP Peter Luff, who mentioned his hero was Brunel:
It is an honour to second the motion on the Humble Address and a particular pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff). I guess that that might be the first of several valedictory speeches we will hear from him over the next two years. When he does reach retirement after the next general election, the third age of life, I invite him to visit my constituency, where he will see the greatest concentration of Brunel heritage assets anywhere, including the Clifton suspension bridge, Bristol Temple Meads station and SS Great Britain. He will be most welcome.
I am sure that most of us, whether we saw it in person or watched it on television, will have enjoyed the pageantry of the state opening of Parliament. My first experience of royal London was as a school boy, when I stayed with my grandmother’s sisters in north London in the late 1970s and early 1980s. My Aunty Eve and Aunty Edith lived in Finchley. I was somewhat surprised, when walking down the high street, to see framed photographs of the local Member of Parliament at the time, Mrs Thatcher. It was something of a culture shock for a valleys boy from the mining village of Abercynon in south Wales. I do not know, Mr Speaker, whether there are such framed photographs of you or, indeed, whether there are framed photographs of the current Prime Minister in his constituency, but I remember at the Liberal Democrat spring conference in Sheffield a couple of years ago being somewhat startled to be confronted by enormous billboards paid for by Unite—an organisation which, if I may say so, funds quite a lot of mischief around the country—that were adorned with a curious image of a creature called Cleggzilla who was trampling public services before him. [Interruption.] Mischief, as I said.
Mrs Thatcher—this will not surprise you, Mr Speaker, or anyone else—is certainly not my political hero. My political hero is one of the other contenders for the greatest Prime Minister of the 20th century: Lloyd George. I first saw a statue of Lloyd George by Caernarfon castle and I visited the library and museum about him at Llanystumdwy—another boyhood holiday destination, Butlins in Pwllheli in north Wales, which is perhaps not quite so familiar to most members of the Cabinet. Lloyd George and Asquith laid the foundations of the welfare state, including the old age pension. I am therefore delighted that one of the key announcements in today’s Queen’s Speech is a further radical reform of the state pension that will correct an injustice that has been within the system for many decades for those who stay at home to look after their children. I am also delighted that the single-tier state pension is to be taken through Parliament by my Greater Bristol parliamentary colleague, the pensions Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb).
Lloyd George headed a Liberal-Conservative coalition that broke up 81 years ago. I understand that our current coalition colleagues recently celebrated the anniversary of their 1922 committee, but I am sure that rumours of a new 2015 committee are unfounded. I have heard the Prime Minister say that he has a better relationship with the 1922 committee than some of his predecessors. The Prime Minister and I were born within 48 hours of each other. For the avoidance of doubt, he is the older of the two, but I can see from this vantage point that genetics have been kinder to him than they have to me, particularly in the tonsorial department, both in colour and cover. While our family and school circumstances were quite different, we must have had similar cultural reference points and experiences during the 1970s and ’80s. I believe that he was a fan of The Smiths—though I understand that the feeling is not entirely mutual—while I preferred Duran Duran and ABBA, with my favourite song being “Dancing Queen”, which will not come as much of a surprise to many of my colleagues.
That leads me, almost neatly, into one of the great social reforms of this Parliament, and that is of course gay marriage. The right of same-sex couples to demonstrate their love and commitment to each other before their family and friends will be a lasting social reform of this Parliament. The legislation is brought forward by this coalition Government but supported by Members from all parties around the House. Bristol West has three Quaker meeting houses, a Unitarian chapel and a reform synagogue, so the country’s first same-sex marriage may well be in my own constituency—but, personally, I am still waiting for my own Prince Charming so that I may be able to take advantage of this new legal right.
Whatever the background of my constituents, my Lib Dem colleagues and I want to build for them a stronger economy and a fairer society where everyone is able to get on in life. We already know that by the end of this tax year the amount of pay that people can take home free of income tax will have been raised to £10,000. It was announced today in the Queen’s Speech that there will be a national insurance contributions Bill giving employers a £2,000 national insurance credit, enabling them to take on take on new employees. That means that a business could take on four adults on the national minimum wage and pay no national insurance. Moreover, 450,000 small businesses will have their national insurance bills eliminated completely. We have cut taxes for people in work and we are also cutting national insurance and reforming child care to enable people to enter or stay in employment.
In Bristol, the new enterprise zone around Bristol Temple Meads station will become a hub for media businesses. Bristol already has a worldwide reputation for film making, with Aardman Animations perhaps the most famous, especially for its cartoon characters, Wallace and Gromit. This summer, Bristol will be adorned with 80 statues of its most famous animated dog, and they will be sold at a “Gromit Unleashed” auction in order to raise money for the Bristol children’s hospital. Before that auction takes place, I would like to invite the Leader of the Opposition to come to Bristol to pose next to a statue of Gromit—I am sure the cartoonists would be delighted.
I came into politics to tackle the social inequality—particularly in education and health—that I found in the village where I grew up and in the city where I have lived all my adult life. Bristol has some schools where almost everyone achieves high grades and proceeds to university, but there are also some schools in the city where expectations historically have been the opposite. I am delighted that the Lib Dem policy of the pupil premium, brought into life by this coalition Government, is already giving extra resources for each child on free school meals and will make a huge difference to their life chances.
Health inequalities are also stark in Bristol. The biggest cause of early death is, of course, smoking. If I am allowed on this occasion to express one disappointment with the Queen’s Speech, it is with the lack of new measures to reduce the number of children taking up smoking. The regulation of lobbyists was also absent from the Queen’s Speech. I am sure that some will conclude that tobacco lobbyists will celebrate that as a double victory.
Many of us will be pondering the lessons and meanings of last week’s local election results. Perhaps, as Disraeli said,
“England does not love coalitions.”—[Official Report, 16 December 1852; Vol. 123, c. 1,666.]
I do not think so. All three main parties should be concerned about why people are turning to what might be thought of as marginal parties. Robert Kennedy, when trying to understand the appeal of Governor Wallace of Alabama, said:
“About one-fifth of the people are against everything all of the time.”
We need to think about how to counter this new, curious alliance of Nigels, who both advocate withdrawal from Europe and deny the human contribution to climate change.
On the European Union, Europhiles, such as me and many of my colleagues, and Euro-pragmatists in the Government need to make the case for Britain’s participation in Europe, and we need to do so with some urgency. On the EU, immigration and climate change, I believe that leadership, not followership, is required.
Finally, my most illustrious predecessor as MP for the historic city of Bristol was Edmund Burke. He had much to say on that matter and wrote to his constituents:
“it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents.”
He concluded his address to the electors of Bristol:
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
That is all very well, but I am afraid that in 1780 the electors of Bristol showed Mr Burke the door. In 2013 we have to listen as well as lead. I am not sure what Edmund Burke would have made of 38 Degrees.
I would like to thank all of my constituents in Bristol West for the hundreds of letters and e-mails they send me every month, and I am sure there will be plenty on this Queen’s Speech. It is with them uppermost in my mind and on behalf of my 92,000 electors in Bristol West that I say that it has been a pleasure and a privilege to second this Humble Address to Her Majesty, thanking her for her Gracious Speech today.
But I spent many hours at Easton swimming pool at silly o' clock in the morning ( breakfast in the car, drying my hair on the car heater-fan, and I kept a sleeping bag in the corner of my classroom where I'd grab a crafty few minutes of kip if I got into school early enough...) and many evenings at the old red brick Barton Hill Pool ( badly run and managed, and filthy towards latter years - with an array of nasty things spotted drifting along the bottom of the pool where Olympians were training. )
I swum first for Thornbury Swimming Club, then Southwold in Yate, then City of Bristol, with a truly brilliant swimming coach, Eric Henderson (who was APPALLINGLY treated by Bristol City Council in the mid-90s as an archive newspaper search will reveal.)
I have always said that my club swimming experience is one of the things that formed my identity as I was growing up, and has contributed so much to my life,taught me so much and given me so many lasting friends.
That is why I am so outraged and concerned that Bristol City Council is currently forcing clubs who are providing excellent beginners swimming lessons to give them up, in order that the council's private provider, SLM, can have a monopoly over beginners swimming.
I am campaigning with Portway Swimming Club to end this disastrous policy - which is bad for children, communities -and ultimately our Olympic Legacy.
Please sign our national petition
and please make sure you also sign the link to Portway's own petition, which is linked-to on the site.
And yes, I couldn't resist getting back in the water with Portway's wonderful young swimmers! Please keep their swimming lessons in-club, for them!
Dominic Grieve met on Monday 4th March with officials and Education minister Lord Nash.
Dominic Grieve met on Monday with officials and Education minister Lord Nash which allowed a full discussion of the issues to take place.
Amnesty have launched a new action today to keep the campaign for a comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty in the political spotlight as we enter a crucial phase in the negotiations. Last July I attended the first couple of days of the month-long UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty in New York: a frustrating couple of days in which very little progress was made, but useful in that it gave me a real insight into the complexities of trying to bring countries with very different agendas to a state of consensus.
I met David Grimason on that trip, who lost his two year old son to a stray bullet when a gunfight broke out in a Turkish cafe nearly ten years ago. Since then David has campaigned for arms controls, and particularly for tougher controls on small arms, which are responsible for many deaths and maiming, and also for the sexual assaults and rapes at gunpoint to which women and girls across the world are being subjected in ever increasing numbers.
On returning to the UK I kept a close eye on what was going on in New York, with regular updates from Amnesty and others from the global Control Arms campaign. At times things looked to be moving in the right direction, with real hope of progress being made. But at the final hurdle the talks collapsed.
We are now 21 days away from the talks resuming. The UK Government is in theory committed to securing a comprehensive ATT, but that is not enough. The idea of an ATT was first floated by senior figures during the last Labour Government, and over those years a real sense of momentum developed as other countries signed up in spirit to the concept. It now needs real political will and strong leadership from the current UK Government to seal the deal, and get as many countries as possible to commit not just in spirit but with their actual signatures on the treaty.
Amnesty’s action is designed to show William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, and Alistair Burt, the FCO Minister with direct responsibility for the ATT, that the public wants and expects them to show leadership in March. It’s not enough for the UK to turn up to the talks as spectators, or semi-engaged participants. Now is not the time for a half-hearted approach. This could be an historic moment, which will benefit millions of people across the globe by protecting them from the devastating impact of living in countries where arms are freely available and gun violence is a part of everyday life.
I would urge all of you to sign up to Amnesty’s action, and to watch their video – and get your MP to watch it too!
Local MP Jeremy Hunt met the Secretary of State for Transport today (14 February) at the Department of Transport in London to discuss Network Rail’s plans for a multi storey car park at Haslemere station.
Local MP Jeremy Hunt met the Secretary of State for Transport today (14 February) at the Department of Transport in London to discuss Network Rail’s plans for a multi storey car park at Haslemere station. He was joined by Haslemere Councillor, Stephen Mulliner and representatives from Network Rail. There have long been calls for additional parking at the station as overspill commuter parking dominates the town’s roads causing difficulties for local residents.
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.
Should Harlow Talking Newspaper be one of the 12 UK charities to benefit from£70,000 worth of technology grants from TalkTalk it will spend its grant on new digital recording equipment.
Jenny Lushington, a volunteer at Harlow Talking Newspaper for the blind and partially sighted, is up against two other regional finalists to be named the East of England’s Digital Hero after being nominated by Harlow MP Robert Halfon.
Harlow Talking Newspaper does such great work in the local community and it would be marvellous if they could receive enough support to be awarded the £5,000 grant.
I have twice volunteered at Harlow Talking Newspapers during my Social Action Week and have been amazed at the efforts that go into producing the weekly recordings which are circulated to many people in the local area.
To vote for Harlow Talking Newspaper go to http://www.talktalk.co.uk/digitalheroes/ and follow the links to the regional entries.
Eleven of the Digital Heroes winners will win £5,000 to put towards enhancing their digital project while one overall winner, determined by a judging panel, will receive a grand prize of £10,000.
All 12 winners also get free broadband from TalkTalk for 12 months.
Jenny has been a volunteer at Harlow Talking Newspaper for the blind and partially sighted since the first edition in 1979, and is now vice chairperson.
She organises rotas of volunteers and still reads out stories from the local newspapers, onto memory sticks which are distributed every Friday morning.
Jenny said: "The Harlow Talking Newspaper runs as an efficient team each person contributing to the whole, so in voting for me you would in reality be voting for the whole team of volunteers who regularly give up a few hours of their time year in and year out to provide a sound recording for the blind and partially sighted people of Harlow."
Voting is open until Sunday, November 18.
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.”
Yesterday, the Prime Minister launched the Government’s Challenge on Dementia – a new initiative to tackle one of Britain’s most serious health concerns. As Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia, I believe that our approach to dementia care in Britain is unsustainable, with the figure of 800,000 people who currently live in the UK projected to rise to 1 million within a decade and 1.7 million by 2051.
Aside from the obvious human tragedy of the condition, which affects one in three people over the age of 65, there are serious financial consequences of dementia. Through increased healthcare costs and other expenses, the condition costs the economy £23bn, compared to £12bn for cancer and £8bn for heart disease which, per patient, means that a single dementia patient will cost the economy £27,000 – four times higher than a cancer patient and five times higher than someone with heart disease.
Despite this, research into the condition receives significantly less funding than research into other diseases. The Government’s announcement that it will double dementia research funding to £66m by 2015 is therefore extremely welcome and represents not only a fantastic opportunity for greater research into the cause, cure, care and prevention of dementia, but a greater recognition from Government that this is an issue that must be addressed.
The Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday was timely as APPG is investigating how to improve the rate of dementia diagnosis. The Group has heard from a range of people involved in the condition, including clinicians, social workers, those with the condition and those working to support them. The Government’s additional commitment to funding an additional £54m to help increase early diagnoses of the condition represents a fundamental appreciation of the importance that early identification of the disease plays in transforming dementia care.
There are important benefits to diagnosing dementia as early as possible and early diagnosis is key to living well with the condition. It means that GPs can work together with patients from an early stage to help plan their care and start treatment to slow down the progression of the disease. This can help to lower the risk of dementia-related accidents and complications, reducing both the probability that a patient will need to go into residential care as well as the overall cost of dementia to the health service.
Despite this, only between thirty and forty percent of those with dementia are diagnosed, with huge variations in diagnosis rates not just across the UK but within counties themselves. In Medway, for example, 44% of those with dementia are diagnosed compared to just 38% in West Kent. Additionally, only five to ten percent of diagnoses are made at an early stage of dementia, meaning that many of the benefits of its early identification are lost.
Some of the evidence that the Group heard suggests that a huge barrier to people coming forward for assessment is that stigma associated with dementia and it is essential that the media plays a role in helping to change the perception of those with the condition. The image of people with dementia on television is one of invalidity and ineptitude while it is often the case that a patient diagnosed early enough can live independently and with a high quality of life for many years. As with many medical conditions in the past, changing the image of dementia in the media to show it in a more realistic light is essential in getting people to visit their GP if they have concerns.
It is also therefore essential that clinicians are appropriately trained in recognising the symptoms of dementia and knowing which services are available to refer patients to. Amazingly, a quarter of GPs say that they do not receive enough training on dementia and it is therefore unsurprising that so many people with dementia slip through the net and get misdiagnosed with other conditions such as depression.
However, we cannot just rely on patients going to see the GP to get diagnosed because they are concerned about symptoms; professionals across a range of fields must work to actively recognise symptoms of dementia when interacting with older people. One of the doctors giving evidence to the Group pointed out that if a patient went into a hospital for an unrelated medical condition, it would be inconceivable for health care professional to notice potential symptoms of cancer and not follow it up, but that is not the case if they spot some early symptoms of dementia. It is only through this kind of proactive approach that we will significantly increase the rate of diagnosis.
While I look forward to the Group’s publication of the report in the summer, it is clear that we must take action to raise awareness about how important early diagnosis is and remove the stigma that stops people going for assessments while ensuring that all our healthcare professionals are properly trained to spot the early signs of dementia. The Prime Minister’s challenge to tackle dementia and improve both diagnoses and care for the condition is extremely welcome and, I hope, represents the turning point in the fight to end the unsustainable dementia status quo.
There are many groups and charities in Kent which can provide support for those with dementia and their carers. For more information, contact my office on 020 7219 2828.
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 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.”
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.
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.