(Sadiq's letter in the Wandsworth Guardian, 19th December 2014).

There are just a few days to go until the holiday begins and I’ve signed a small mountain of cards. This year’s card was designed by Rachael Colbeck, a year 6 pupil at Stanley St Peters. Rachael’s design was really striking with Father Christmas and a snowman against the night sky. Thousands of copies of her design are now winging their way across the country to brighten mantelpieces around the world, including the Prime Minister’s. Big thanks to Rachael!
Great work by the team from the Forestry Commission in Northumberland. Full story here:

The government announced the money for our local NHS yesterday for next year. Wokingham CCG received an increase of 7.29%, taking the total available for local health services to £160 million. The Thames Valley as a whole got an increase of 6.6%, taking the total to £2195 million.

These are large sums of money which I hope will enable the local NHS to provide a good service and cope with increased demand. The sums reflect the government’s decisions to allocate an extra £2bn to the NHS in 2015-16, and their wish to give larger increases in money to the worst funded parts of the country. All CCGs in England received an increase ahead of inflation, but those with lowest per capita funding and with the worst demand pressures were given higher real increases.

In a general election a great number of things will be said, but only a few or even one really matters and that will determine who wins.   This 2015 election is in effect a referendum on Thatcherite ideology.    Here is what Labour should be saying, but isn’t. Point 1:  For 35 years since...
Read more »

The post Is Thatcherite ideology working? appeared first on Michael Meacher MP.


With the mother-in-law over from Norway, Christmas has started! But I was not prevented from heading out into the park first thing and then into the Commons. There was a fair bit to do to follow up on my visit to Alexander Blackman, not least speak to the Justice Secretary and Lord Burnett. PMQs came round at midday horribly fast and with Question 2 in my name I needed to seated and ready. The Prime Minister was in flying form, armed with the latest unemployment figures and full of bounce.

read more


Westminster, 18 November 2014

David Jones MP has today welcomed new figures showing 673 fewer people in Clwyd West are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance compared to April 2010 – a 42.30% per cent fall. This means more people with the security and satisfaction of a good job and a regular pay packet.

Overall there are now a record 30.80 million people in work, with 1.75 million more people in work since 2010. Over 95% of the rise in employment over the past year have been full-time.

Towns in the area have seen a rise in spending, tourism figures were up throughout the summer months and there has been a significant increase in investment from multinational companies.

David Jones MP said:

‘It is excellent news that there has been a 42.30% decrease in the number of people who are relying on Jobseeker’s Allowance in Clwyd West.

‘This is clear evidence that people in this area are finding it easier to find and maintain work.

‘This is a clear sign that the Conservatives’ long-term economic plan is working – helping people to get into work and giving them the security of a pay packet’

The new figures come after Colwyn Bay was awarded winner of the ‘Coastal Category’ in High Street of the Year competition, another indication that the area is bouncing back after the recession.

I am contacted often about local health services.  Almost everyone thinks that Wycombe Hospital should be at the centre of our local health provision and should be used to the maximum benefit. Rightly or wrongly, they have reassurance from healthcare being delivered in a hospital setting: they have an expectation their health needs can be met there.  They want an easy to understand system of receiving care, as local to home as possible. Given that the PFI at Wycombe Hospital will be […]

For thousands of people in Southwark, Christmas Day will not be about feasting and having presents, it will be a struggle to put food on the table. The Southwark Food Bank in Peckham, run by Pecan, has helped over 3,000 people this year and half of these are families with children. Pecan is also giving 100 families a Christmas meal they can cook at home, providing some welcome cheer at this festive time of year.

I really pay tribute to all the people who donate food to food banks and all the volunteers who run food banks. But in this day and age, to have so many people in Southwark – in one of the richest cities in the world - having to turn to a food bank to go and get free food is shocking and totally unacceptable.

The problem is not the fault of the people who go to the food bank. The problem is the fault of a system which leaves people at the end of the week, let alone at the end of the month, with not enough money to live on. 

Many of the people who go to food banks are working. One in five of people who go out to work don’t earn enough to live on in Britain. And low pay comes at a huge cost. Working in a job that pays low wages is forcing people to make impossible choices such as between buying food and paying the rent. The consequence of not paying the rent is eviction which is why so many people choose to go without food and end up having to go to a food bank.

A recent Parliamentary report on food banks showed that more than half the demand at food banks was caused by problems in the benefits system. At Southwark Food Bank, 40% of people seeking assistance do so because of benefit changes or delays.

Benefits sanctions - cutting people off from their benefits, often at very short notice, for example for missing an appointment - means people having to wait a long time before they can get back into the system and receive the benefits they are entitled to.

Really long Government delays in administering Personal Independence Payments has created unnecessary uncertainty, stress and financial costs for sick and disabled people and their families. And the Bedroom Tax has made 3,500 families in Southwark worse off and put many of them in debt and rent arrears for the first time.

The people who go to food banks are not on a budget; they’re people who’ve run out of money to buy food because rent and energy bills are going up, or their benefits have been stopped because of problems with the system. That’s why the next Labour government will help reduce the demand for food banks by tackling the problem of low pay and the cost of living crisis. We will raise the Minimum Wage, introduce a Living Wage, end the abuse of zero-hours contracts, freeze energy bills, and abolish the unfair Bedroom Tax.

*The print version of this article is slightly shorter.

The Scottish referendum result in September has well and truly pushed Humpty Dumpty off the constitutional wall, where he has been precariously perched since the Scotland Act of 1998. And, as in that

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I hope that every Member will read the all-party report entitled “Feeding Britain”, which has 77 recommendations, all of which seem eminently practical. I think everyone would agree that we should collectively seek to ensure that benefits can be paid as quickly as possible. I was not sure whether the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) was giving an undertaking that, if a Labour Government were elected next spring, benefits could be paid within five days. We would all want to ensure that benefits are paid as quickly as possible.

I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announcing earlier this week that the Government were

“looking to new measures committing the Department to raising much more awareness, as was asked for, of the short-term benefit advances. We are doing that through websites, on posters and by providing information in jobcentres…hoping to roll it out at the beginning of the new year”

ensuring that advisers

“constantly advise those at risk of the availability, should they need it, of interim payments.”—[Official Report, 8 December 2014; Vol. 589, c. 633.]

We should all agree on that.

On sanctions, the report suggests the introduction of a yellow card system. No one has spoken about it as yet, but it seems an eminently sensible idea. We all know as constituency MPs that constituents sometimes get into circumstances where there is not necessarily a fair or black-or-white situation, so introducing some sort of yellow card system might be much fairer.

I caution the Opposition against trying to give the impression that there is some huge new fund of money that can be given for this purpose. Every party, so far as I can recall from when I was in the Division Lobby, voted for the welfare cap, and if the leaders of both parties are also ring-fencing payments to pensioners, it means that benefit payments to working families and so forth are inevitably going to get squeezed. I fully support encouraging employers to pay the living wage and, if we can, to raise the minimum wage, but we are all working within tight conditions.

The report makes recommendations not just to the Government, but to the food industry. Tackling food waste is an important issue, and I was slightly surprised that some Opposition Members would discount it. I was glad that, in Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, Ministers acknowledged that and said that they would meet industry representatives to see how better to deal with food waste. The waste and resources action programme, which is based in my constituency, is already taking a lead on this.

As to the suggestion or implication that the debate is entirely about benefit delays and sanctions, may I read in my remaining time a short extract from the Bishop of Truro’s article in last week’s Church Times?This is just one quote to show the complexity:

“The other force at work is the addiction that many individuals and families have, but which particularly sharply affects the budgeting of low-income families. A family earning £21,000 a year, for example, where both parents smoke 20 cigarettes a day will spend a quarter of their income on tobacco.”

He went on to talk about the need to address the

“circle of addiction fed by debt, at the expense of being able to put food on the table.”

These are complex issues, and I suggest that pre-election soundbites are not worthy of them. It is a pity that this evening’s debate has sometimes degenerated into a pre-election soundbite debate.

This really is a hard-hearted, callous, nasty policy and on top of that it doesn’t work.  It seeks to cut state support to people who desperately need it, whilst dressing this up as a response to the housing crisis. It isn’t washing because it isn’t working


IF THERE were a competition for the most nasty, ineffective, counterproductive and unjust of the Government’s policies, it would be a close run thing.  It would be a safe bet however, that the Bedroom tax would be up there as a front runner.


Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North, has welcomed new figures showing 33% fewer people in Norwich North claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance compared to last November. This means more people with the...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]
There's a lot of football supporters in Haslingden and Hyndburn and I thought this may be of interest. Sent on behalf of Kevin Miles, Chief Executive, the Football Supporters' Federation:It has been brought to my attention that Ofcom have recently written to all MPs and members of the House of Lords in relation to their investigation into the FA Premier League's joint-selling arrangements for

Tracey is warning residents of a telephone scam that has been reported in the Aylesford area and is targeting the bank accounts of elderly residents.

Tracey is warning residents of a telephone scam that has been reported in the Aylesford area and is targeting the bank accounts of elderly residents.

read more

In the run-up to Christmas there are a great many wonderfully uplifting events to attend.  The best, of course, involve children and young people.  As Advent began, I was delighted to take part in the Swindon Special Schools’ Concert at…

In making this submission, I invite the Governance of the House Committee to consider the case for a separation of the Chief Executive role from that of the Chief Clerk. I am aware that the Committee’s brief is wider than this single issue; however, it is on this particular point that I make representation.

I believe that there is an urgent and compelling case for this for both procedural and administrative reasons.

It is by no means certain what the outcome of the next General Election will be. However, the consensus is that we will be moving into an era where Parliament will face unprecedented challenges in terms of the UK’s relationship with Europe and the new constitutional settlement with Scotland, amongst other issues that will require the full attention of the clerks as the procedural and legal experts on such matters.

It is because Parliament will require more of the Chief Clerk’s time in this regard – rather than less – that I am arguing that this Committee has a once in a lifetime opportunity to reform the way in which the role operates in order to enhance Parliament’s democratic functions, and ensure that the long-standing problems related to its infrastructure are seriously tackled.

In the early autumn, I was moved to write an article for the Labour List website on what I perceived the real issues behind the appointment of a new Chief Clerk were. While the media focused on the elements that would allow them to write a headline with the word “row” in it, I felt that what was not addressed were the concerns that there are maintenance and heritage issues – currently the responsibility of the Chief Clerk – that have been persistently ignored.

I raised Portcullis House, where I have my office, as a case in point. Commissioned in 1993 for £165 million and opened in 2001 for £235 million, we were told it would last two hundred years. However, a mere thirteen years later, the glass roof over the atrium is cracked – I am told that some glass has actually fallen out of the roof and shattered on the public area below – and that a permanent solution to its repair is yet to be found. Media reports suggest that this fault alone has cost the taxpayer £36,000 in five years, and yet the ongoing “temporary” solution appears to be nothing more than putting faith in what looks like red double-sided sticky tape and the power of prayer.

Leaving aside the massive overspend, the rats clogging up the water feature, and the fact that the House blew £150,000 per tree on the decorative foliage, it is a miracle that nobody has yet been killed.

And that is just one small part of the estate, and the modern one at that. The rodent problem is out of control, and mice can frequently be seen in the Members’ Tea Room, as well as other outlets that serve food. Tales abound of raw sewerage pouring into colleagues’ offices owing to substandard plumbing, and the ancient electricity generator in the main Palace has to pose some sort of fire hazard. At the very least, all this must constitute a breach of health and safety requirements which, as a place of work, Parliament is required, by laws that it itself passed, to meet. Are the members of the Committee confident that, in the event of an independent inspection, the current arrangements would be deemed up to scratch?

It is also worth noting that it is not merely politicians and staff that are inconvenienced at best, and endangered at worst, by this state of affairs. The Houses of Parliament are a World Heritage Site, an international tourist destination, and visited by 45,000 school children every year. These figures are set to double once the new Education Centre is up and running. By not addressing these matters, we are actively putting members of the public, many of them children, in harm’s way.

The original building, hailing from the mid-nineteenth century, requires the entirety of its basic fabric renewing. This will be the biggest heritage project the country will see in years, costing hundreds of millions of pounds. It will also be the responsibility of the same people who commissioned Portcullis House.

At the same time the Chief Clerk will be entrusted with far more procedural burdens, particularly with any future negotiations for a new constitutional settlement, on top of his already onerous duties and spending a proportion of each day sitting in the Commons Chamber.

None of this, I would like to stress, should be taken as a criticism of the clerks, who I have always found to be courteous, highly intelligent, and always helpful. They are constitutional technicians who lubricate the wheels of our democracy.

They are not, however, managers. And, just as the traditional role will become more crucial in the coming months and years, so will the Chief Executive element, for the reasons outlined above. When a junior clerk starts their career, I do not think it is with the intention of mending the glass in Portcullis House. I cannot begin to imagine the ennui a leaned constitutional expert must feel when it comes discussing the education programme for school kids visiting the education centre.

It appears to me that there is little interest in this aspect of the job. When it was suggested that an Australian woman with actual CEO experience should be appointed to the role, she was sneeringly referred to in the Daily Mail as the “Canberra caterer”. It is not for me to speculate from where this insulting nickname originated. However, if we dismiss the CEO element of the job as “catering” then we demonstrate either a lack of understanding of the CEO role, an active contempt for it, or a combination of both.

It is for this reason – and for the sake of both procedural integrity, and the future of Parliament’s infrastructure as well as the safety of its inhabitants – that I recommend a complete split: that the Chief Clerk remains in charge of procedural matters, and that a CEO is appointed who is qualified to oversee the management of the building itself. Both should report to the House of Commons Commission as the main supervisory committee.

There is a suggestion that a far more preferable solution would be the creation of a Chief Operating Officer, reporting to the Clerk, thus preserving the existing power structure. This is ducking the issue and would merely perpetuate the current problems. Unless this Committee is satisfied that the clerks are qualified to identify, appoint and manage a properly qualified COO (and I would argue that, on all the evidence, they are not), I consider this a solution that would work well if all was at stake for the future of the building was, say, catering, rather than the largest restoration project since the old Palace burned down in 1834. In short, there is no effective substitute for a CEO with appropriate autonomy and clearly delineated responsibilities.

In conclusion, I would ask this question: would the current state of affairs be seen as adequate and, at worst, only needing minor tinkering if one of our constituents came to us complaining that the company at which they worked was slowing falling apart, posed a danger to life, served food in areas that were infested with mice, and where urine pouring into offices was considered par for the course?

Of course not. As their elected representatives, we would be banging on the Chief Executive’s desk demanding that they got a grip of the situation.

It is time that we put our own House in order.

Tom Watson
Member of Parliament for West Bromwich East

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.


The UK’s major energy suppliers – British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON, Npower, SSE, and Scottish Power – have launched a nationwide campaign to help reunite customers with money owed to them by their former energy supplier. The ‘My Energy Credit’ campaign aims to hand back repayments of around £50 to approximately 3 million energy consumers. The credit has typically been left behind by customers who have moved address, switched supplier, or left unclaimed credit when closing the estate of a relative who has passed away.

Energy UK, the trade association for the energy industry, is coordinating the public awareness campaign that targets energy consumers across the country. It aims to spread awareness about money that might be owed to them by their previous energy supplier, and makes it easier for consumers to check whether they are owed money or not. Customers can apply for their credit repayment regardless of when the account was closed as long as there is proof that they were a former customer. Running in parallel to the ‘My Energy Credit’ campaign, the member companies are stepping up their own efforts to reunite customers with their cash by reviewing their records and employing search agencies.

Customers can claim credit repayments by telephone (0370 737 7770), post (Freepost RTHL-ZYBU-KBCC, My Energy Credit, 47 Aylesbury Road, Thame, OX9 3PG ), or the www.myenergycredit.com website.


Karen Lumley MP has visited Royal Mail's Redditch delivery office to pass on Christmas wishes and encouragement to postmen and women at their busiest time of year.

Karen was shown around the office by Delivery Office Manager, Mark Harber, and was introduced to the postmen and women who are working hard sorting and delivering mail in the run-up to Christmas.

Karen said: "It was great to meet postmen and women at Royal Mail's Redditch delivery office and see first-hand just how much effort they put into delivering for people at this time of year.

Our postal workers do such an important job at this time of year and help to deliver Christmas for many people and families in our area. I would like to thank them for their efforts and wish them all the best over the busy festive period."

Mark Harber, Royal Mail Delivery Office Manager at Redditch, commented: "Our postmen and women are working extremely hard to deliver Christmas cards, letters and parcels to people across Redditch. We are grateful that Karen visited the office to see our operation and to support the team during our busiest time of year.

We'd like to remind our customers to post early so that friends and family have longer to enjoy their Christmas greetings."

The last recommend posting dates for Christmas are:

Second Class – Thursday 18th December

First Class – Saturday 20th December

Special Delivery – Tuesday 23rd December

Customers can also help Royal Mail ensure that all their letters, cards and parcels are delivered as quickly and efficiently as possible by taking a few easy steps:

• Post early – Avoid disappointment by posting your cards and parcels early.

• Use a postcode – A clearly addressed card or parcel, with a postcode, and return address on the back of the envelope, will ensure quick and efficient delivery.

• Use Special Delivery – For valuable packages and parcels guarantee delivery with Royal Mail's Special Delivery, which means your gift is tracked, traced and insured against loss.

• For more information about Royal Mail's last recommended posting dates, please visit: www.royalmail.com or call 03457 740 740.



This Government vowed to avoid excessively high salaries. The top was measured as that of the Prime Minister i.e. about £145,000. Now we learn that Mr Deakin supremo at  NATS will trouser more than a £million this year.

A stranger writes: "

 I think you have spotted his responsibility - this piece of software was a fundamental component in the efficient operation of his enterprise - thus it was his responsibility to have ensured at the time of adoption that it was signed off as "fit for purpose" and that it was regularly maintained in that state. If this came down to some ordinary techie in an office or workshop then I'm sure that Deakin and his apologists would be quick to tell us how they have disciplined the person responsible, but given that this was a key enterprise "solution" it lands squarely on the man's plate. Will the man be big enough to admit it ? He should walk with minimal compensation." 


I won't hold my breath. Is there a point when bosses are salaried and promoted beyond the zone of responsibility?


As part of my ongoing commitment to the residents of Rochester and Strood to represent you in Westminster, I would be grateful if you could two minutes of your time to complete my online NHS survey. Your views are really important to me and may help to formulate and guide my Party’s ongoing commitment to our NHS.


Last week I met the Friends of St Michael's Hospital to discuss their plans for the future. There have been rumours circulating for some months now that the hospital is going to be closed which has been unsettling and unfair to the dedicated staff working there.  As the Cornishman reported last week, this has spilled over into concern among local residents.

When the rumours first surfaced this summer I met with Lezli Boswell, the then Chief Executive of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust which runs St Michael’s, to discuss these rumours and ask if there was anything I could do to help.  She made clear there are no plans whatsoever to close the hospital and that they would actually like to do more work there.

I have also had discussions with the Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group which is the body that commissions local NHS services.  They explained that when deciding how to configure NHS services, one of their criteria is to make things more local and encourage joint working within the NHS. I think that's important for Cornwall because we are on a peninsula and have always had a culture of working together. The NHS is no different.

An election is just a few months away and the political atmosphere is charged, but I strongly disagree with those people who keep saying St Michael's will have to be closed down.  We should not undermine confidence in our local NHS.  Instead we should support and strengthen it. According to the Friends of St Michael’s, the hospital delivers over 95 percent of all breast cancer operations in Cornwall, about 1200 operations a year which is an extraordinary feat.  St Michael's is the only hospital in Cornwall where there is the capacity to do this work and it's the reason why it should have confidence in its future.

The Friends team are also looking at the area of orthopaedic surgery which is the other key area covered by St Michael's.  They tell me all three orthopaedic operating theatres are working fully during the five day working week and are aiming to secure additional operations.

Some people have said St Michael's will need to close because there are often empty beds but this is a very old fashioned way to measure performance in the NHS.  As the Friends explained to me, modern surgery means patients are kept in hospital for far shorter periods and that some of the procedures at St Michael’s now require a two-night stay rather than six-day stay. In fact some operations have now become day cases.

Like any big organisation, the NHS will always have challenges to deal with but I think we should help them deal with those challenges, not talk them down.

Women and men should be paid the same if they do the same job. It sounds obvious, but in reality it doesn’t happen. In 1997, when records began, the difference was a very alarming 17.4%.

Since entering government my Lib Dem colleagues and I have worked hard to reduce the gender pay gap to the lowest ever level (9.4%). This is welcome, but there is much more to do.

The Lib Dems want to close the gap completely, just as we have eliminated other inequalities between men and women.

Our introduction of Shared Parental Leave has made it easier for parents to care for their children. Older men and women will receive the same basic state pension from 2016. There are now many more women on company boards. All Lib Dem commitments, all delivered.

We want to go further – our manifesto for next year includes a roadmap to ending pay inequality completely.

We will make it a legal requirement for companies employing more than 250 people to publish their average pay for male and female workers.

With this simple change, staff will be able to see whether they are treated the same as their colleagues. Shoppers will know whether a company has a pay bias against women.

The pressure from both sides will force employers to account for, and abolish, any gender pay gap. Equal work should mean equal pay.

Click here to watch the interview...
On Friday, I popped by Claygate Primary School, where headmaster Darryl Taylor introduced me to the FA Skills initiative on display.

FA Coach Roxanne Bennett was showing an energetic group of boys and girls a number of drills to sharpen up their footy skills. It is part of a program to help strengthen grassroots football through schools, but also to help primary schools teach the technical side of the game better. The youngsters were getting a lot out of the coaching - so it's clearly working - and the program covers all levels of skill and ability.

There are three full-time coaches working with primary schools across Surrey. It's funded by the FA and Sport England, so there's no extra cost for schools. 

UKIP will be triggering their first ever House of Commons debate this week.

Our Westminster Hall debate this Wednesday won't be on Europe or immigration. Instead we will be discussing something of immediate concern to thousands of people up and down the country: energy bills.

With the colder weather, people have had to turn up the heating, and many are discovering quite how costly energy bills have become. According to consumer group Which? household energy bills rose by over half between 2003 and 2012, from £790 to £1,200 a year.

Rising energy bills, you might think, are just a fact of life. More people plus more industry – of course the costs of energy go up.

Except there's nothing inevitable about higher prices, and certainly nothing inevitable about higher energy prices.

If you stop and think about it, the relative cost of many things keeps falling. Air travel is cheaper today than it was a couple of decades ago. In relative terms, mobile phones, clothing, cars and computers all cost less now than they did in 2003. Where ever capital and innovation are able to meet freely, costs for the consumer tend to fall. So why not with energy?

Actually that is precisely what has happened over in North America. The solar and shale gas revolutions across the Atlantic are pushing down the price of energy, and triggering an industrial revival. While households in Essex, England paid over 50 per cent more to heat and light their home this year compared to 2003, households in Essex, Massachusetts pay relatively less.

It is not that the laws of physics are any different over here. The problem are the rules that govern the energy market.

Instead of an honest energy market, where producers compete to supply customers, UK energy producers have to generate energy to comply with quotas. Government officials have decided the best way to generate energy, and in order
to meet renewable targets they have insisted that companies generate energy using supposedly sustainable sources. It is far from clear how sustainable wind turbines would be without the massive cross subsidies.

The established parties in Westminster both agree on the need to impose renewable targets. They both colluded to pass the laws that are now pricing people out of being able to heat their own homes. It is Ukip that is challenging the cosy little consensus on energy in Westminster.

Jeremy Hunt MP  hears from  Waverley Infrastructure Resilience Group members about their Winter Plans for Godalming and South West Surrey 

The significant progress made by Waverley Borough Council to reduce the impact of severe weather on local residents and businesses and provide a coherent and co-ordinated response  by leading agencies is the subject of a report presented to  Waverley’s Infrastructure Resilience Group on Friday 14 November.

The  report, Winter Readiness 2014-15, details flood defence works and months of work by councils, the Environment Agency and utility providers for any repeat of the severe weather that affected the borough last year.

read more

Make sure you stay up to date with all of James’s news by liking his Facebook page!


I am pleased with the judgment issued today from the court of appeal.  My concern is to stop people being imprisoned in secret.  This judgment is an important step towards that objective.  There are three key things Firstly, it recognises that a lot of people are still locked up without proper public scrutiny. Secondly, it adds to guidance and reinforces guidance to stop this happening.

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.

As residents of Chorlton will know only too well, the glorious Hough End Hall has fallen on hard times and is under threat. Currently owned by Royal Bank of Scotland, […]

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

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

• 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




On Saturday 13 September 2014, after an interval of four years, I will be taking part in the sponsored cycle ride to raise money for the Buckinghamshire Historic Churches Trust.

On Saturday 13 September 2014, after an interval of four years, I will be taking part in the sponsored cycle ride to raise money for the Buckinghamshire Historic Churches Trust.

This is an excellent charity under the patronage of the Lord Lieutenant, Sir Henry Aubrey-Fletcher and the Bishop of Buckingham, designed to help the maintenance of churches of all denominations throughout the county.

read more

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!
In politics you get very used to promises and pledges; there's always a lot of talk and if something goes wrong, the emergency response is often to have yet another meeting or 'write a report '. It always reminds me of a certain scene in The Life of Brian ( fans will know which one I mean). Recently the national papers exposed not just my thighs in a picture of me in my old work outfit of a red swimming cozzy, but the fact I used to work on Cornish beaches as a surf life guard. In that line of work, talk cannot replace Action. So it is especially good to see actual physical action happening in re-opening the Lamplighters Pub. In a welcome break from paperwork, Cllr Wayne Harvey and I rolled up our sleeves and got busy in renovating the pub. Still a long way to go, but great to see Kathie and Dominic Gundry-White actually getting something done and bringing our pub back to life! 

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.