Sunday, 4 December 2016

Understanding the legal decision past and future on article 50

Many constituents have asked for guidance on this. The simplest way is to read the 2 page summary of the Brexit High Court decision: it is not, as the daily mail suggests, a decision that was an attack on the people, but in reality a return of power to the people, via their parliament. Sadly the reporting of the high court decision was very inflammatory.

I will try in a sentence to sum up the reasons behind the high courts judgment: 
Parliament voted to join the EU, so parliament must vote to leave the EU
The high court is not seeking to thwart the decision of the June 23 referendum, which I for one have made clear I completely accept, as does the court; it is merely saying that we enact this decision through parliament, not by the executive power of the PM. The government is appealing this as it believes that it does not need to go back through parliament and can get on with exit via a simple decision of the PM. 

On Monday this discreet matter of the route of the exit will be decided by the Supreme Court. I utterly reject criticisms of the Supreme Court and high court justices, as orchestrated by the papers. But the key point of today's blog is to make the point that it is a slippery slope to attack our rule of law. Having been a lawyer for 20 years I am entirely satisfied that the decision is to be tried on its merits. The reality is that those seeking to exit the eu fought long and hard to ensure parliamentary democracy. And the judges agree. We will be leaving the eu. It is just a discussion of the means and way we do it that is being decided. This means of exit matters - namely by prime minister alone or by an act of parliament. 
If you want to watch the case as it unfolds you can watch it live here: https://www.supremecourt.uk/live/court-01.html

Italy and Austria both vote today - the outcomes will affect a great deal

In Austria the election is for their leader and a far right candidate is potentially going to win. This is significant but the Italian referendum on constitutional reform is very important to us in the U.K. For several reasons:
If Prime Minister Renzi loses then it is likely we will see Italian banking and finance issues. Such events always spill over to the uk. If he then has to resign then we potentially could see another Southern European country in trouble. And we suffer every time one of our neighbours economy struggles - not least because the Italians will not be buying our exports. 
The Bbc take on the story is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-38198177

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Good to visit Slate & Nature - great local business making perfect Xmas presents + a great advert for Small Business Saturday

Looking for Christmas ideas I paid a visit to Slate and Nature, a family run business and studio, in the heart of Northumberland.


The local firm, based in West Woodburn, was started five years ago by husband and wife Gerard and Jeanette Van der Veen. Having been awarded a European Development Grant to help with the build, the company is going from strength to strength - producing high quality home and garden products made from reclaimed slate.
 Slate and Nature is a great example of enterprise and entrepreneurship right here in Northumberland. Using only recycled or reclaimed slate, they are making fantastic pieces for the home and garden. All the material involved is re-used, so the business is also environmentally friendly!
It is always great to buy local, but that aside you’d struggle to find things this high quality anywhere else. I would encourage anyone who finds themselves in the area to stop by for a look around. Better still go online: http://www.slateandnature.com/

Slate and Nature was awarded the highly commended status for sustainable tourism at the North East England Tourism Awards last year. I bought a number of xmas presents! I am also proud to support them as part of Small Business Saturday


Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Crucial meeting held on flooding in our area - much progress made and updates in information as set out in this blog

On Friday 18 November, I organised the second Flood Forum Meeting in the Tyne Valley region at the Community Centre in Hexham. Invited were the key agencies and flood groups from affected areas representing local parish councils and residents. The flood groups came from as far afield as Haydon Bridge to Haltwhistle, Corbridge to Acomb. It is right to put on record the amazing work these volunteer groups are doing for their local communities. All of us understand that the biblical floods of the 5th December last year had a massive impact on the Tyne Valley and we are working very hard to get our community ready for the future and much better informed.

Keeping you informed

I asked the EA to issue area updates to specific Parish Councils – both by email and hard copy – to publicise what they are doing, and to provide contact details to enable easy communication between our communities and the Agency.

I also asked that, before Christmas, the County Council and Northumbrian Water distribute maps to each affected community (via the Parish Councils and/or Flood Groups) showing who is responsible for each individual drain, and similarly providing all their relevant contact details to enable easy communication in the event of any problems.

For the latest published update in your area, please follow the links below:

Bellingham

Corbridge

Haltwhistle

Haydon Bridge

Hexham

Lipwood

Ovingham

Ponteland

Riding Mill

Warden

I accept that Prudhoe does not feature on this list, and will double check on any key updates elsewhere and in smaller communities but, as always, simply email teamoppy@gmail.com and I will try and get you an answer.

In attendance ten days ago were key figures from the Northumberland County Council – Aaron McNeill (Flood Risk Manager) and Kris Westerby (Highways) – as well as Linzie Pendleton from Northumbrian Water, and Leila Huntington from the Environment Agency (EA).

Our real big success is getting these three key agencies working hand in glove. They did this to a degree before, but the extent of integration and co-working now is both remarkable and a real credit to all involved.

Northumberland County Council

Aaron McNeill reported on the proposed flood gate project at Tyne Green. Flooded residents have pooled Flood Resilience Grants and, as a result, the County Council will start work in the new year on a flood gate to protect properties in the future.

Aaron said that the project will need planning permission but that he does not foresee any fundamental problems with permission being granted.

The County Council will be working with the EA and building on work that Northumbrian Water have already conducted on the site. This project is an excellent example of the three individual agencies working hand in glove, co-operating to achieve tangible outcomes that genuinely make a difference.

In addition, Kris Westerby announced the brilliant news that the County Council has received significant specific funding from the central government, including the allocation of £3 million for damaged road repairs. During the evening and during the day we also tried to address a number of ongoing projects and concerns, including the Haydon Bridge to Newbrough road blockage, which I visited on site, and which NCC are leading on with Network rail, and the extra repairs in places like Bywell and Eals.

Northumbrian Water

Linzie Pendleton provided an update on the massive cleaning and repair work that Northumbrian Water has been carrying out in various towns in our constituency. In Ovingham new linings have been put in place, and a flusher has been installed at Corbridge. Cleansing work is now being carried out in these locations. In Bywell a sewer review has been carried out upstream on the Tyne, whilst in Bellingham outflows have been checked.

Environment Agency

Leila Huntington explained that all damaged assets in the floods of December 2015/January 2016 have been restored to their original condition.

Moreover, Ms Huntington and her team specifically addressed Kielder and announced key amendments to the operation of the Kielder Reservoir. Flood alleviation will now start at 80% and more water will be released in the future, resulting in at least 6-7% more storage in the reservoir. This will be an ongoing operation and will also be assessed as it is being done. The EA, Northumbrian Water and the County Council have all said that they will provide an explanation of the Kielder plan on their websites.

Gravel and vegetation

Another, of many, important issues that was discussed at this meeting was the presence of gravel and vegetation in our local rivers. As everyone knows this is a very emotive issue with strong views on many sides.

Leila Huntington, from the EA, spoke at length on the issues of the vegetation in Corbridge which has been addressed, and the extent of the remaining gravel in Haydon Bridge and Warden and the extent to which this increases or affects flood risk.

Some Haydon Bridge residents have expressed that they feel the EA and the County Council are putting obstacles in the way of them removing gravel from under the bridge. The EA denied this, and there was discussion both at the meeting and afterwards by local parish council members and the EA. I have made the case, both in public and private, that we need to be fully supportive of the efforts of the Haydon Bridge PC to address this serious concern. On the opposite side of the argument there are some planning restrictions that are legitimate and the timing of ongoing extraction has to be managed by the EA. We are trying hard to get action and compliance.

Concerns over gravel accumulations at Wark Bridge and Chollerford Bridge were also brought up, as too were fears about gravel and vegetation upstream at Ovingham and down-river at Corbridge.

The EA will be carrying out a dredging impact assessment over the winter, and are reporting back to the flood groups.

Any specific problems I have missed, then please get in touch by email.

The Guardian hails Corbridge as the place in the North for a winterbreak

"With its ancient stone houses, market cross, shops, pubs and banks, this Northumberland village, should surely be reclassified as a town.... "The article then goes on to emphasis the quality of shops, food, hiking, attractions and places to stay.
Full article here:

Monday, 28 November 2016

Better trains, more services, guards and upgrades to the Tyne Valley line

Really positive meeting last week at Hexham station. A great job done by the Community Rail Partnership who organised the meeting. They do a great job to organise, cajole and make the case for real change - which we all agree we need.

So it was that we heard from Northern, Network Rail, the providers of train security, and the British Transport Police themselves. A few words to explain the updates given and to laud the efforts of everyone involved.

Pete Myers made a passionate case on behalf of Northern as to the plans since April 2016 for new trains with wifi, better seating, better engines and a better timetable. He talked of station improvements, and the mantra of 4 big changes over 44 months. Subsequently, we also had a really positive discussion about Gilsland Station and our long term plans there. Pete's enthusiasm and pride in his network was palpable.

Network Rail gave us the full lowdown on the massive reconstruction job they performed at Farnley after the landslip of 50,000 tons of earth and trees on to the line.

And we heard from the team of crime reduction officers on the line. Many remember the difficulties encountered on Friday and Saturday nights when there were staffing and rota issues, and simply a lack of staff. Where previously there were barely 20 officers covering the whole of Northern's network, there will now be 55, and quite clearly there is a better working relationship between the police in both Newcastle and Carlisle and the crime reduction officers.

You could not fail to leave without feeling much more optimistic about our local train system.


Westminster this week - busy week of debates

Today we debate remaining stages of the Digital Economy Bill until 10pm; tomorrow is the commonwealth development corporation bill, and Wednesday will see an opposition day debate of the SNP after Prime Ministers Questions.
I am in the commons on Thursday and not returning to Northumberland until Friday.
I have a number of constituents in Westminster this week, and a meeting with Defra ministers to try and resolve specific cases where there have been RPA delays.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Thank you for your generosity! Great result for our Christmas appeal

I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone has donated to our Christmas Toy Appeal so far this year. I am extremely humbled by your generosity.


I carry out this charitable appeal every year, and have witnessed it going from strength to strength over the last five years. This year, however, more people than ever have donated in our sixth appeal, and I could not be more grateful.

The Salvation Army will distribute the many wonderful toys we have collected to children who would otherwise not receive presents for Christmas this year. I thank you all for your enthusiasm and willingness to ensure that some of the least fortunate children in our region can enjoy a happy Christmas.

I know I say this every year, but the kindness of the people of Northumberland truly never ceases to amaze me. Thank you very much indeed.

Gifts and toys can still be dropped off until Thursday 1 December, at either of my constituency offices: 1 Meal Market, Hexham, or Office 2, Horton Park, Ponteland.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Hexham Farmers Market, and plenty of Christmas events this weekend

Hexham Farmers Market is on today - as always back your your local farmers and producers. We are lucky to have farmers markets locally and they need your support. And you buy great local food!
Separately there are a plethora of Christmas events from Witley Chapel to many of the other local villages.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Haltwhistle late night Christmas shopping tonight, and civilised Corbridge are the Black Friday antidote

There is late night shopping with a special Christmas theme in Corbridge tonight till 8
At the same time Corbridge is deliberately laying on the antidote to Black Friday with civilised Corbridge Friday! Pop along to both and support our local shops

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Great to visit innovative Allendale business First Square

Last Friday I was pleased to meet the team behind First Square - an innovative export business showing that small start ups can cut it with the big boys

Flood alerts from the Environment Agency

Parts of the north of England are warned to be prepared for possible flooding and disruption today.

The Environment Agency currently has 2 flood alerts still in place for the local area. These alerts have been issued due to heavy rainfall on Monday and overnight, which is easing, although showers are expected to continue throughout Tuesday. There may be flooding to low lying land and roads.

·         Levels on the River Rede are expected to continue rising into Tuesday.

·         Levels on the River Pont, particularly at Ponteland, are expected to continue rising and to remain high.

Widespread heavy rain and showers on Monday and Tuesday may cause river and surface water flooding, particularly in areas that have seen heavy rain over the weekend. As a result there could be some property flooding and disruption to travel with a number of road closures.

Environment Agency teams are closely monitoring river levels and are working to reduce flood risk by checking and maintaining flood defences, clearing blockages in watercourses, and continuously monitoring water levels. Temporary defences are ready to be deployed where necessary.

Clare Dinnis, National Flood Duty Manager at the Environment Agency, has said: “Environment Agency teams are working hard to reduce the risk of flooding, but we want to remind people not to take unnecessary risks and avoid driving through flood water or walking near swollen rivers. People should also take care if walking by the coast as there is a risk of large waves caused by strong and gale force winds.”

The Environment Agency’s Incident Room is currently open. The organisation continues to monitor river levels closely, and these can be viewed on the Environment Agency’s website. They currently do not expect to escalate either of the 2 remaining alerts in our area to “Flood Warnings”. Nevertheless, the Environment Agency are issuing the follow advice:

Flooding is possible; be prepared. Please stay alert and check the Environment Agency website for the latest information, or call Floodline for advice on 0345 988 1188.

You can also use the online tool to find out if your postcode is at risk of flooding, by visiting the following website: https://flood-warning-information.service.gov.uk/.

>> 

Latest update from the North-East branch of the Environment Agency:

“The situation is now improving across the North East. We have had no reports of property flooding.

Although the worst of the rain has passed, there is still persistent rainfall passing through Northumberland. However we expect this to ease through today.

Whilst our incident room remains open and staffed, the focus of our efforts is shifting from incident response to recovery.  However we will continue to monitor rainfall and the corresponding impact on river levels.

We’ll be out through the day today checking screens and defences for damage and carrying out any repairs where needed. We will also be out checking river levels.”

Monday, 21 November 2016

Westminster this week - Autumn statement dominates

At 12:30 on Wednesday the new chancellor sets out his statement on the finances of the country.
Before then I have multiple meetings this week, along with debates on higher education, general education and the NHS. On Tuesday I hope to be meeting BT and EE to discuss improvements of the broadband and mobile rollout. On Wednesday I will be heading north for Northumberland.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Next May's election in France holds the key to so much of the future for Europe

France puts 2 candidates through to their final run off next May. Whoever wins the centre right part of the ticket in all probability wins the French election next year. In theory. There are three big challengers to the left. Le Pen, who is France's Farage, Sarkozy, and Alan Juppe, the former mayor of Bordeaux. Juppe is ahead, but do not underestimate Le Pen. 2 top candidates from any wing go through to the final decider.
Hollande will probably not stand given his present dire poll ratings, so if a left of centre takes on a right of centre candidate the right of centre will win. The key to the whole election is therefore who takes that right of centre slot. Juppe is still favourite,  but Le pen is close. Very close, as the spectator explains. It is worth a read.
http://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/10/marine-le-pen-wont-be-president-this-time-shes-still-winning/

My guess is that the final two will be Le pen and Juppe. Given that Juppe is closer to the middle ground he ought to win such a contest. And yet they said the same about Clinton ....

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Christmas card signing x 1000 has begun! Pleased to be supporting #Minerva + the #Hextol Foundation this year - but 1000 cards is a lot tosign!

I have to start early on the Christmas card signing as with a 1000 or so to do it takes a long time! I have help labelling and stuffing. But pleased to shop locally, with a nice picture of Corbridge and to support two great local charities both of which I know well, have visited many times and who do great work.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Busy day in the south and west of Northumberland today

Very full day of constituency meetings, surgeries and events today in the far west and in Allendale, followed by meeting of the flood group and finishing with a late meeting of the board of the Tynedale Community Bank.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Making the case for constituents at the Boundary Commission Hearings

I was making my case to the North East independent boundary commission hearings. They affect the Hexham constituency and wider Northumberland a lot, and I was at the Darlington evidence session today. I was making the case that the proposed changes, in particular the partitioning of Ponteland, and the surrounding villages of Ogle, Whalton and Stannington are very wrong. The division generally of Northumberland seems wrong. More details on the proposed national changes are here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32695546
To make representations and see more locally go here: https://www.bce2018.org.uk/?gclid=CMSp4sWtptACFcIV0wodRJ4Bxw
If you want to have your say you have 3 more weeks.

The 2010-2016 years for employment growth is a big boost for DavidCameron

I have just come across this graph on job creation, courtesy of the Spectator. It makes the case that David Cameron will go down in history as one of the best Prime Ministers for job creation. His record beats all comers save Blair into a corner. And the Tony Blair years were most definitely not mid recession.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Palestine / Israel exhibition in Hexham Abbey

On Saturday I attended the Hexham Abbey exhibition about the history of Palestine and Israel dating back to the Balfour declaration, of 1917. My broad views on the Middle East, and it's many countries, conflicts and complications are well known from many blog posts down the last 8 years, and the 2015 public meeting held in another church in Hexham. If you get the chance to see the Hexam Abbey exhibition it is on till next Sunday.


Monday, 14 November 2016

2016 Boundary Review: Proposed Changes to the Hexham Constituency


As I am sure you are aware, the Boundary Commission for England have proposed some revised boundaries for parliamentary constituencies. The public hearings began today with Ponteland East Councillor Eileen Armstrong among those making representation. These changes would see part of the Ponteland area moved from the Hexham constituency to a new constituency called Newcastle upon Tyne North West. The ward of Ponteland East is the only area that would be removed from the Hexham constituency and placed in the new one. A number of other wards would be added to the Hexham constituency including the whole of Morpeth, Rothbury, and Longhorsley. These changes would take effect in 2018.

The Boundary Commission are proposing the following:  

1. That the wards of Bellingham, Bywell, Corbridge, Ponteland South with Heddon, Ponteland West, Ponteland North, Humshaugh, Hexham Central with Acomb, Hexham West, Hexham East, Haydon & Hadrian, Stocksfield & Broomhaugh, South Tynedale, Haltwhistle, Prudhoe South and Prudhoe North remain in the Hexham constituency. Please support this.

2. That the ward of Ponteland East and Stannington is moved out of the Hexham Constituency into a new constituency, splitting Ponteland. Please oppose this.

3. That the Hexham Constituency adds in the wards of Longhorsley and Rothbury from the Berwick Constituency. Please oppose this.
The Boundary Commission is inviting local people to tell them whether or not they agree with the revised boundaries. Both myself as your MP and the County Councillor for Ponteland East and Stannington, Eileen Armstrong, together with the North East Conservative Party oppose these proposals as they stand.

We believe that the proposals should be modified on the grounds that:
There are significant inconveniences which would result from the proposed changes. The proposed constituency of Hexham & Morpeth would be one of the largest geographically in England.

Ponteland East, Stannington, and Whalton are primarily rural areas. Whalton, Ogle, and Belsay do not connect to any of the Newcastle boundary lines and if the Ponteland East & Stannington ward is removed from the Hexham constituency these areas would be represented by a primarily urban, Newcastle based MP.

Important local ties would be broken by the proposed changes. For example, the town of Ponteland would literally be split; meaning the High School, Middle School, Leisure Centre, Golf Club and some of the town centre would be represented by a different MP to the MP representing most of the residents. The dividing line would also mean a Northumberland MP represented one half of Eastern Way and a Newcastle MP the other side! 

We have together agreed an alternative set of proposals which I hope you will support. Our proposals, drawn up locally, see the Hexham constituency maintain all of the existing wards (including Ponteland East & Stannington) and expand to take on some areas of Cramlington. The Berwick upon Tweed constituency would then take on Morpeth.

The above proposals fit within the Boundary Commission’s requirements on equal voter numbers, and we believe that they make much more sense from a geographical, cultural, economic and historic perspective, taking into account local ties.

I hope that you will write to the Boundary Commission as I would not want to allow anything to change unopposed at this stage, that may result ultimately in Ponteland East & Stannington, together with Whalton, becoming part of Newcastle City Council in the future. These wards need to stay as part of the Hexham constituency with a Northumberland MP that understands rural issues. Thank you.


We have provided some guidelines to writing your response to the Boundary Commission:
Should you OBJECT to the Boundary Commission’s proposals to remove Ponteland East & Stannington from the Hexham constituency, please write to the Boundary Commission for England outlining your concerns. The most effective objections will contain concerns about:

Geography, including size, shape, and accessibility
Boundaries of the existing constituency
Any local ties that would be broken
Inconveniences attendant on the changes

Please make it clear that whilst accepting the need to expand in some way to reach the new electorate quotas, you support our proposals to maintain the current Hexham Constituency as it stands with Ponteland East & Stannington.

The deadline for the Commission receiving your comments is 5 December, 2016 and we urge you to act as soon as you can. The consultation on the initial proposals will run for 12 weeks between 13 September and 5 December 2016, following the publication of initial proposals. All comments from this consultation will be published in early 2017 as part of the secondary consultation.

The Boundary Commission’s address is 35 Great Smith Street, London, SW1P 3BQ. Alternatively, feedback can be submitted on their website where you will also find further information about the changes www.bce2018.org.uk.


Westminster / Northumberland this week - boundary reviews, second reading of the technical and further education bill, and more

I am in Westminster for 3 days this week, with debates on the FE Bill, constituents coming to Westminster, discussions on northern transport policy, PMQs, and more. All this week are the North East independent boundary commission hearings. They affect the Hexham constituency and wider Northumberland a lot, and I am hoping to be at the Darlington evidence session on Thursday. I will be making the case that the proposed changes, in particular the partitioning of Ponteland, and the surrounding villages of Ogle, Whalton and Stannington are very wrong. More details on the proposed national changes are here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32695546
To make representations and see more locally go here: https://www.bce2018.org.uk/?gclid=CMSp4sWtptACFcIV0wodRJ4Bxw

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Ponteland meeting about the library site, access to the town and NCCplanning at Henderson Court

Last Friday I was delighted to bring together the residents of Henderson Court so that they had a chance to have their concerns addressed. Quite clearly the many residents who attended the meeting do not want Northumberland County Council to demolish the library building, get rid of the community green space around the library and then build residential property next door to Henderson Court. Councillor Richard Dodd and I will continue to listen and help them make their case. If a planning application goes in then the residents will have a chance to object formally, and Richard will help them do so. We listened to the way in which the NCC developers / Arch have altered their proposed plans by agreeing to reduce the height of any proposed building, whilst preserving the present access area to the town, rather than making the residents go around via the dangerous main roa, as was originally proposed. Parking will now no longer be underground; and I have asked for the revised plans to be sent to the individual residents so that they are kept fully informed. After the meeting I chatted to many of the residents. The strength of opposition is very clear.


Friday, 11 November 2016

Remembrance Day today and on Sunday - I shall be in Hexham on Sunday + then in the Abbey afterwards

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."
From "For the Fallen" by Laurence Binyon

Thursday, 10 November 2016

One year on from the launch of the Tynedale Community Bank - worth reviewing the Mail on Sunday from 1 year ago

This is money is the key column in the mail on Sunday and their piece on the TCB is worth a read:
http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/comment/article-3308395/JEFF-PRESTRIDGE-Tynedale-bank-really-serve-community.html
We know that the bank is going from strength to strength
You can join here: http://www.tcb.org.uk/

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Prisons White Paper - if you are passionate about prison reform then have a read + comment

The Secretary of State for justice launched this last week and it is worth a read: it sets out a platform for prison reform
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/prison-safety-and-reform

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Trump wins + congratulations to him. My guesstimate on the America election had Clinton winning but go that wrong

My call as the polls closed
Thought Clinton would win: predictions on the key swing states is as follows:
Clinton to win Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin,
Trump to win Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio,
Many front pages in the states make interesting reading at this time but probably the best is this by the Miami Herald: http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/editorials/article113192908.html

Update: well clearly I / all the other watchers on TVs got that wrong. Trump wins very strongly and congratulations to him. We will make the uk / USA relationship work, as the PM has just outlined.
The BBC analysis of why he won - with the benefit of hindsight - is here: http://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2016-37918303

Meeting with a remarkable School Council + why Ponteland Middle is a great school now and in the future

With the amazing school council pupils, and their headteacher, at Ponteland Middle School. Full report of my recent visit and Q+A below.

On any interpretation Ponteland Middle is a special school. But don't take my word, or the word of Ofsted or the parents or teachers. Talk to the pupils. I sat down with the school council for almost an hour last month and was genuinely dazzled by them. 

This is not to denigrate any other schools, or to praise Pont Middle unnecessarily. So let me put this piece into context. I visit a lot of schools. I have over 40 in my area. I control none of them (this is the duty of the Northumberland County Council, albeit a school that opts out of the county council by becoming an academy, like Hexham Or Prudhoe Adderlane, has just done, takes control of its own destiny).
I have been to every one of my schools from Kielder,  Greenhead and Whitfield in the west to Stannington in the east, Otterburn in the north and Whittonstall and Whitley Chapel in the south. 
I have visited some of them many times. I normally go to a school around once a fortnight, albeit parliamentary hours are very difficult at the moment. I constantly receive feedback, advice, input, suggestions and sometimes criticism from pupils, parents, teachers, governors and headteachers. Long may this continue. I am seeing several other schools / teachers / governors this week. 
But it is in the discussions with school councils that I tend to get the best assessment of how the school is doing. They often tell you more than Ofsted, the teachers or the pupils in a supervised class. I try to do these discussions on my own, unscripted. So it was that recently I sat down with the Pont Middle school school council. 
I normally ask one key questions: in a word or a phrase why do the pupils like / or what do they think of the school? 
The answers or key word I noted down from this group (with each child only allowed to come up with a phrase not previously mentioned) were: 
"It works. Inspiring! I enjoy it. It's big! There are opportunities to shine. It is open to everyone. Outstanding! Successful. Lessons are fun. Designed well. I can talk to the teachers about everything. Eco team is amazing. Atmosphere is great."
But perhaps the most interesting answer was -"the teachers really stretch you"
On the tricky issue of key stage 3 testing the pupils all agreed they liked the testing and wanted more. 
Their adoration of learning was palpable and very heartwarming. 
Massive credit to the team of teachers and governors led by Carloine Pryor. 

As to the future there is no doubt that all the pupils I spoke to want to stay at Pont Middle. I am certain that the school will be continuing in the near and long term future. I support all the schools in my area, and all those in the Ponteland catchment area,  but I will continue to fight to ensure that a school like Pont Middle -  that is outstanding in every way - continues in our area. 

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Visiting Wecan in Hexham - a great local organisation

A few months ago I got the chance to meet the parents, organisers, children and helpers who make the Hexham based organisation Wecan so very special. I already knew several of the mums and dads involved from other work or issues in Northumberland, but it was also good to meet, have a coffee and talk to them at the wentworth centre on a Saturday in the late summer. I am often asked to recommend organisations, fundraise and help raise funds for local charities and organisations but I am particularly happy to recommend Wecan for support. All the team do a great job, are always looking for help and support, and are an organisation that we should be very proud of.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Banking is changing - and the Tynedale Community Bank is leading the way

One year ago we launched the Tynedale Community Bank. As the Courant reports this week, it has been a massive success: http://www.hexham-courant.co.uk/news/First-year-of-success-for-Tynedale-Community-Bank-913768ce-06bc-4cc5-ab84-84f0dbc6ceed-ds

My recent article on community banks - http://www.policynorth.com/social-justice/

Hexham Farmers Market is on today - shop local and support our local farmers and producers: use it or lose it.

The wonderful Hexham Farmers Market is on today. As always with farmers produce and local producers the adage is use it or lose it. Such markets only survive if you support them. Each of us makes a choice if we supermarket shop.
Same point applies to independent bookshops. It's them or amazon. I know who I support.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

With his rivals going off to mayoral campaigns or select committees there is no doubt Corbyn is more secure as labour leader than ever before

Jeremy Corbyn is more secure as Labour leader than he has ever been. His opponents have done two things - gone off to run select committees like Yvette Cooper or Hilary Benn. Or gone off to run mayoral campaigns in their own areas like Sadiq Khan or Andy Burnham. Many lesser labour MPs have effectively given up. Corbyns re-election with an increased majority has cemented his position. It is now hard to see how he can be removed before 2020. He has managed to put together a shadow cabinet and front bench team that is far closer to him politically than his original one. Within the shadow cabinet, he is trying to freeze out the deputy leader Tom Watson, the only other person in the Parliamentary Labour Party with a direct mandate from the membership. Watson has been kept off the key shadow cabinet policymaking committees. Where is the future for her majesty's opposition? I have knocked on many doors these last few months and I am finding even traditional labour voters dismayed by the far left approach of Corbyn. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Egger Open Day tomorrow - worth going along to!


Sunday Politics Show now on Iplayer if you missed it

37 minutes in is the BBC regional version includes our discussions on Brexit, Nissan, Lynx reintroduction and more
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07z8dy2/sunday-politics-north-east-and-cumbria-30102016

Monday, 31 October 2016

Westminster this coming week - debates on Cultural Properties in armed conflicts, PMQs and more

The Cultural Properties in armed conflicts bill is the long waited for implementation of The Hague convention.
Fuller details are here: https://historicengland.org.uk/whats-new/statements/cultural-property-armed-conflicts-bill/
It is a very worthy and proper bill which I support wholeheartedly
There are also debates on pharmacies, the usual Wednesday PMQs, and various Westminster hall debates, notably the 2 petitions debates on grouse shooting, one for and one against.
This week is also living wage week, with various celebrations of the increase of wages that have have taken place over the last 6 years. I have several constituents visiting in Westminster and a variety of other meetings.

It's Living wage week! It's a game changer: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/08/guy-opperman-conservative-case-living-wage


Sunday, 30 October 2016

American election - 10 days to go. 5 -7 swing states hold the key

States like Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia have the power to swing the election. So far, neither Trump nor Clinton has a significant lead in these states. Full report in the most important election here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/us-election-2016-polls-and-odds-tracker-latest-forecast-and-maps1/

Monday's debate in Westminster Hall for and against grouse shooting

Monday there is a 3 hour consideration and debate on grouse shooting in the second chamber in parliament, which is called Westminster hall.
Full details about the debate and the effect of backbench debates are here:
https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/petitions-committee/news-parliament-2015/petition-debate-grouse-shooting/
There are 2 grouse petitions to be debated - one in favour of grouse shooting, one against. The debate will not change law but will inform the debate, just like many of the dozens of back bench business debates we hold in parliament. We debate around 3 of these a week normally. The link above goes to the evidence session which was held previously. For reasons that I explain below I am strongly supportive of all field sports, whether it is fishing, or in this case shooting.

The background to the debate on grouse is here:
http://www.countryside-alliance.org/parliamentary-debate-grouse-shooting/
As is usual with 95% of all parliamentary debates there are constituents on both side of the argument, whether on the petitions themselves or in correspondence to me or representations made by lobby groups and wider local groups.
There are many environmental and other arguments, which you can see addressed on both sides of the argument, but the moorlands association has commissioned a number of reports like the one here:
http://www.moorlandassociation.org/2015/04/grouse-shooting-hailed-in-major-uplands-study/

There is no doubt that the work that goes into the support of the moorlands helps sustain lapwings, plovers and curlews. The moors need the support and maintenance that the shoots provide with their team of keepers.
The benefit to the pubs, like the Elks Head in Whitfield and the Lord Crewe in Blanchland, and the many local b and bs, and the incoming tourism that comes from the shooting, the visiting guests and their local spend is massive.

But the overwhelming issue for me is the massive number of jobs and economic impact the many shoots in Northumberland have. In particular, the areas of south Tynedale, notably Knarsdale, Blanchland, Allenheads, Muggleswick, Whitfield, and further afield like Kirkwhelpington, Otterburn, and many places in between, would be lost without the number of direct and indirect jobs that the shoots provide. Those communities have been very vocal in their support for shooting to continue. The direct and indirect jobs the shoots provide is well in excess of a 1000. Without fishing, shooting and other field sports Northumberland's economy would really struggle. I am not speaking in the debate as it is a backbench debate and therefore confined to backbenchers, but will watch it, and send a copy to all constituents in the usual way.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Prime Minister’s statement on last week’s European Council - full speech and analysis

The Prime Minister Theresa May spoke and did a Q+A in the House of Commons on last week's European Council that she attended in Brussels.

In her statement, Mrs May touched upon the discussions she had engaged in with her 27 European counterparts. She began by noting the agreed requirement for a robust European stance in the face of Russian aggression, Russia’s “indiscriminate” bombing of civilians in Aleppo, and the additional atrocities that are occurring in Syria which she described as “utterly horrific”. The Prime Minister also spoke about how the leaders at the European Council agreed that addressing the root causes of mass migration and a focus on championing free trade around the world were the key mutual priorities for our nations.

At the end as Mrs May discussed what she had told the European Council when updating her counterparts on our position on Brexit:

“I made clear at last week’s European Council that my aim is to cement Britain as a close partner of the EU once we have left. I want the deal we negotiate to reflect the kind of mature, co-operative relationship that close friends and allies enjoy.

A deal that will give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate in the European market – and allow European businesses to do the same here. A deal that will deliver the deepest possible co-operation to ensure our national security and the security of our allies. A deal that is in Britain’s interests – and the interests of all our European partners. But it will also be a deal that means we are a fully independent, sovereign nation – able to do what sovereign nations do, which means we will, for example, be free to decide for ourselves how we control immigration.

It will mean our laws are made not in Brussels but here in this Parliament. And that the judges interpreting those laws will sit not in Luxembourg but in courts right here in Britain.”

Friday, 28 October 2016

Please donate to our annual Christmas Toy Appeal! For 6 years we have helped local children + the Salvation Army

This week sees the launch of my sixth successive ‘Christmas Toy Appeal’ to collect gifts and toys for the Salvation Army to distribute to children in the area who would not otherwise receive presents this Christmas.
For the last five years the generosity and community spirit of the people of Tynedale and Ponteland has been amazing, with hundreds of new toys and games being donated by residents keen to ensure that some of the poorest children in the region enjoy a happy Christmas, and hopefully this year will be no different. 
The kindness of the people of Northumberland never ceases to amaze me and I am hoping that once again this year we can collect as many gifts as possible to distribute to local children.  From cuddly toys to Lego, from colouring books to footballs, all donations will be gratefully received both by myself and the children who will receive them.
Gifts can be dropped off between now and 1st December 2016 at my 2 constituency offices at 1 Meal Market, Hexham or at Office 2, Horton Park, Ponteland NE13 6BU.

Recording the Sunday Politics today on the north east prospects post Brexit + why I back Heathrow

The Sunday politics north east and Cumbria is recorded live on Friday afternoons. I will be on at 11:30 on Sunday after Andrew Neil starts the main show. The positive impact of the recent Nissan announcement is bound to feature. I back the expansion of Heathrow.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

GDP up, exports doing well with a low pound,

Big vote of confidence as Britain’s economy expanded by 0.5 per cent in the three months following the EU referendum. 
Today's announcement by Nissan is a major boost to our economy.

Nissan give a big boost to Brexit Britain - great news about the announcement on car Manufacturing

Nissan’s announcement that it will build the new Qashqai in Sunderland is a boost to Brexit Britain. If the decision had gone the other way, critics would have been quick to claim this was proof that Brexit was going to total the British car industry and that the people of Sunderland had self-harmed when they voted to leave. But Nissan has decided to not only build the new Qashqai in Sunderland but also the X-Tail SUV.
Theresa May has been straight out of the traps to hail the decision as a ‘vote of confidence’ that ‘shows Britain is an outward looking, world leading nation’. This is probably the most important industrial announcement post Brexit as it secures the future of a plant that produces more cars than the whole of Italy.
Full story here:
http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/10/nissans-boost-brexit-britain/

Would you want a large, 4 foot long 2 foot high wild cat released on your doorstep? 90% of my local Kielder residents say No thanks in my Lynx survey

This summer a "rewilding" organisation called Lynx UK announced they wished to reintroduce the Lynx to the Kielder area. It has not been on these shores for many hundreds of years.
It is fair to say three things:
- their first attempt at consultation with locals did not go well: http://www.hexham-courant.co.uk/news/bellingham/Chaos-erupts-at-lynx-meeting-45677f1c-956b-414b-8cb0-8dd0e426a85b-ds

- I have yet to meet a single farmer who is in favour; and the NFU are very very clear in their stance. I have met delegations from both. The County Councillor John Riddle opposes the plan very robustly. This may be based on the fact that the lynx eats everything from deer to sheep; no one has been able to say whether it would take cats and dogs, but given its wild nature - if hungry - I suspect it would.
To my surprise the Northumberland National Park have not taken a view. That is their choice but I am surprised. Nor have the Northumberland County Council expressed a view although they are the local authority.

- as a result I have decided to survey the local people in a simple yes or no survey as to whether they want this to happen. The assertion is that this introduction would boost tourism. I will analyse and publish the results of the survey shortly, but several hundred Q+A have gone out specifically to kielder and surrounding residents to get a fair assessment of the situation. I will meet Lynx UK, and their London lawyers, when all the replies are in, and I have better answers to some of the unanswered questions. It is fair to say that around 90% oppose this plan so far, but not all results are in. The results are not North Korean in return but 90% is a very high degree of opposition.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

I am a strong supporter of the Heathrow expansion - very good news for Newcastle Airport too

I have long campaigned for the expansion of airport capacity in the South East and Heathrow is clearly the right choice, following on from the unanimous recommendations of the independent Davies commission. It is also very good news for Newcastle Airport, and our prospects of increased trade, exporters and jobs in the north east. It is good that the first place the Transport Minister is visiting today will be to Newcastle Airport, where he will meet some of my constituents, and the Airport team as a whole. The BBC take in the issue is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-37642814

Monday, 24 October 2016

Westminster this week - lots of constituents in Westminster, multiple debates and more in a busy week

Every say this week I am hosting constituents in parliament, and we have debates on the Health Services Medical Supplies Bill, the Criminal Finances Bill and debates on Wednesday on Yemen, in particular. I am heading north on Thursday and will be filming the Sunday politics live on Friday at the BBC in Newcastle.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Labour plan to bring lynx to kielder is genuinely mad - do Northumberland County Council agree with their London MPs?

Why do labour politicians in London (in this case Hammersmith) want to bring back the Lynx to Kielder in our area? I would be curious if the local labour Northumberland county council agrees that the return of a wild cat that eats all the deer and lambs it can is a a good thing for our farmers, hikers, cyclists, tourists or locals. It is certainly not a good thing for the deer or the lambs.
The Q and A in the House of Commons has only just been noticed but labour MP Andy Slaughters parliamentary question is here:
https://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2016-09-02.44204.h&s=speaker%3A11559#g44204.q0

My report in the Courant is here: http://hexham-courant.alfa-cloud.net/farming/MP-brands-lynx-introduction-bid-lunacy-5f8b71e4-3ecc-4c4a-b5b1-a6786bedd844-ds
I strongly oppose this crazy idea but have written to affected locals to get their feedback.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The election of Hilary Benn + Yvette Cooper to key select committees shows where key labour figures are going

Yesterday there were 4 contested select committees chosen. It was by secret ballot of all the House of Commons. My congratulations to the conservative winners Damian Collins, for culture, media and sport + Stephen Metcalfe on science and technology. Both are experts on the key subjects, good colleagues of mine, and will be superb in the job. 
But the labour selections were the really interesting ones: why? Because they show where the party is going and the view the Labour Party and Corbyn innner circle have of each other. 
- at the Home Affairs Select Committee, several former Labour heavyweights entered into the race to succeed him. Chuka Umunna had widely been tipped as the favourite,  it he flattered to deceive. In a sign of his limited popularity in the House he came a distant third, with the chairmanship going to Yvette Cooper, the former shadow home secretary. 
- Meanwhile, Hilary Benn — the former shadow foreign secretary — has been elected chair of the new Brexit select committee, winning by 330 to 209 over Leave campaigner Kate Hoey, who was clearly the Corbyn Choice - as she had backers from JCs inner circle like Ian Lavery and Clive Lewis. Put simply it appears that Corbyn did not want his nemesis Hilary Benn to win. Benn of course previously defied Corbyn over Syria and is the man who really should be leading the Labour Party.
The two appointments are significant because these 2 capable politicians would usually be expected to be a part of Labour’s shadow cabinet. While neither Benn or Cooper are the flavour of the month with the Corbyn regime, their election today serves as a reminder that his MPs can — and will — get by without him. 

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Britain in Bloom: Lots of local success for our Northumberland towns + villages-Corbridge one of many celebrated for their efforts

Huge congratulations to the many towns and villages who have been successful. Having driven through Corbridge a lot recently I can certainly testify to the hard work that has gone in there. Full report here-
http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/corbridge-overcomes-adversity-devastating-floods-12027409

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Select Committee elections tomorrow - decisions on select committees on Home Office, CMS, Science + Tec and Exiting EU

The 4 select committee elections are tomorrow. These are divided on party lines. Thus the science and Tec and the culture, media and sport select committees are a choice between different conservatives. Exiting the EU is a straight fight between Hilary Benn and Kate Hoey for labour. But the Home Office is the really interesting fight. Multiple applications have been made by 3 big beasts of the labour tribe who all seek to run the Home Affairs Select Committee.
These are Yvette Cooper, Caroline Flint, and Chuka Umana, with the octogenarian Paul Flynn as a maverick labour outsider. 
The decisions will be made by all MPs tomorrow in a secret ballot, and announced later tomorrow. 

21 days to go until USA election + it depends on 3 key swing states of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania - final TV Debate tomorrow

Trump appears to have stopped fighting really hard in Virginia - that is a big deal, given its Republican traditions. Acceptance of a loss there is a disaster for him.
However, Latest local polls show Clinton ahead in Pennsylvania and Florida. If Trump also loses Ohio and Iowa then he is in desperate trouble. Certainly if that's how it is on the night, Trump has no chance, and will be beaten out of sight.

Monday, 17 October 2016

A weaker pound is not necessarily to be feared: this rebalancing is long overdue + our exporters / tourism loves it

The pound has dropped in value. What does this mean and is it a good or bad thing, in the short medium and long term? 
There are both benefits and burdens to Brexit, but what is undeniable is that it is a shock and it causes a reassessment of our currency as compared to other currencies. This has caused a devaluation of the pound as compared to the dollar, the euro and other currencies. This has consequences. Some are not good. For example, imported goods like overseas fuel or non British food stuffs get more expensive. This is the origin of the Marmitegate crisis last week - and we will see some foodstuffs get more expensive in the shops if those shops are importing the produce. 

If you are trying to export your manufactured goods you love the depreciation in the pound. Suddenly your goods are that much cheaper and more competitive. 
Similarly look at tourism: if you run a home grown bed and breakfast or a hotel then the devaluation of the pound as compared to the dollar or the euro is wonderful news. Your product - the great British holiday - is now a lot more attractive to overseas visitors. 
But if you are going on a European or American mini break then your pound buys less dollars or euros. Your holiday abroad got more expensive. Which means many families, I predict, will choose to staycation in the uk next year. Which boosts our uk tourism, hotel, pub and b + b

But don't take my word for it. The guardian is no friend of Brexit, but yesterday it did this assessment of why the pounds devaluation is not to be feared: it is a view. But whilst the jury is out in the future that Brexit holds the reports from business of the consequential devaluation of the pound is that fundamentally it is a good thing. 

A weaker pound works by making exports cheaper and imports dearer. The effect, as after all the other devaluations and depreciations of the past 100 years – 1931 to 1976, 1992 and 2007 – will make the economy less dependent on consumers and more reliant on producers. Lord Mervyn King, a former governor of the Bank of England, thinks the latest fall in sterling is a good thing and he is right.
Put the Brexit vote to one side for a second and ask yourself the following questions: 
- is the economy currently unbalanced? 
- Is growth too dependent on consumer spending and asset price bubbles? 
- Is the productive base of the economy too small? 
- Is it a problem that the UK is running a balance of payments deficit worth 6% of GDP, bigger than ever before in peacetime?
If your answer to these four questions is yes – as it should be – then you need to accept that there is an upside to the falling pound. Indeed, many of those who are now talking about a sterling crisis were last year bemoaning the fact that Greece – trapped as it was inside the eurozone – did not have the benefit of a floating currency and so had to use a brutal internal devaluation involving wage cuts, pension reductions and welfare retrenchment to restore its competitiveness.
The current account deficit will shrink as a result of stronger exports from the manufacturing and service sectors, the boost provided to the tourism industry, and because cheaper domestic goods and services will be substituted for more expensive imports. To say that dearer imports will make life more difficult for consumers is to miss the point. That’s how rebalancing works.

Westminster this week - busy 5 days ahead, with many local businesses in Westminster

Biggest event this week is probably a meeting with the CBI North East in Westminster on Tuesday, involving a Q+A with local business leaders.
Various bills are also to be debated in parliament notably the Savings Bill until 10pm on Monday night. We have a debate on the BBC on Tuesday from 12:30-7 whilst I have a variety of statutory instruments and delegated legislation in committees.
Away from the main chamber I have meetings with a local Prudhoe company Pure Products who are in Westminster on Thursday. Earlier in the week I am meeting Highways England, having a discussion about the Tynedale community bank with All party group in credit unions, and meetings with NCS graduates, and other local constituents who are down in Westminster. I am on duty all week so will be in parliament until Friday afternoon, as the house is sitting once again for private members business on Fridays.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Analysis of the Debate on Aleppo in Parliament this week - no easy options but plenty of resolve

This weeks debate on Aleppo highlighted some stark truths about the current conflict in Syria. The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson MP, captured the main points extremely well:

"Let me spell out some of the consequences. At this moment, the 275,000 inhabitants of eastern Aleppo are under siege. They are isolated from the outside world, subjected to constant bombardment, and prevented from receiving humanitarian aid. Their power and water supplies have been cut off in what has become a signature tactic of the Assad killing machine: the besieging of civilian populations. What we are now seeing in eastern Aleppo is the biggest and, potentially, the deadliest siege since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war more than five years ago.

Last week the United Nations special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, warned that eastern Aleppo might be “totally destroyed” by the end of the year. In the past two weeks, at least 376 people—half of them children—have been killed, and another 1,266 have been injured. Every hospital in eastern Aleppo is believed to have been bombed, some more than once, and several have been put out of action. Hospitals have been targeted with such frequency and precision that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this must be deliberate policy. As the House will know, intentionally attacking a hospital amounts to a war crime.

It is time, I think, for all these incidents to be properly and fully investigated with a view to assembling the necessary evidence and ensuring that justice is done—and, yes, I say in answer to questions that have been raised by several Members today that we do think that there could be advantage in the procedures of the International Criminal Court. I remind the House that in recent history, war criminals have been successfully prosecuted decades after their offences.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield spoke of the will of the House. I am afraid that that was absent three years ago when, as several Members pointed out, we took an historic decision not to intervene. I hope that we will show a different measure of resolve this afternoon. Those who are conducting this bombing and who are, in my view, culpable of these crimes should realise that the mills of justice grind slowly, but they grind small.

The same penalties should apply to those involved in deliberate attacks on humanitarian convoys. As many Members have pointed out, on 19 September a UN aid convoy was destroyed near Aleppo and at least 20 people were killed. The vehicles were clearly marked, and the convoy had official permission from the Assad regime to deliver those desperately needed supplies. Satellite photographs that are in the public domain leave no doubt that the convoy was struck from the air. The incident took place after dark; by Russia’s own account, the war planes of Syria’s regime cannot strike targets after dark, and—also by Russia's own account—its aircraft were in the vicinity at the time. All the available evidence therefore points to Russian responsibility for the atrocity.

I trust that the UN board of inquiry will establish exactly what happened, and we in the United Kingdom Government stand ready to help. I emphasise that it is the UK which, week after week, is taking the lead—together with our allies in America and France, and all like-minded nations—in highlighting what is happening in Syria to a world in which, I fear, the wells of outrage are becoming exhausted.

I listened to the passionate speeches from the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), the co-chair of the all-party friends of Syria group, who is carrying on the tradition of Jo Cox, whom we mourn. I listened to all the speeches that made the point that there is no commensurate horror among some of the anti-war protest groups, and I agree with the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley: I would certainly like to see demonstrations outside the Russian embassy. Where is the Stop the War coalition at the moment?
It is up to us in the Government to show a lead, and week after week in the UN we are indeed doing what we can to point out what the Russians are up to and to build an international understanding of what is going on in Syria. I believe that we are having some effect. As Members have pointed out, the Russians have now been driven to mount a veto in the Security Council to protect their own position five times. This is not some anti-Russian campaign; we are not doing this out of any particular hostility towards Russia. Indeed, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, did his utmost to negotiate an agreement with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that would at least have reduced the killing. Anyone who has studied the Lavrov-Kerry talks will know that John Kerry threw himself into that task in a Herculean way. However, on 3 October, he was driven to abandon his efforts by the attack on the aid convoy and the pounding of Aleppo, which destroyed all hopes of a ceasefire. The US Secretary of State has concluded, I think rightly, that Russia was determined to help Assad’s onslaught against the women, children and families of Aleppo regardless of any agreement
We are in constant touch with our French colleagues about this proposal. 

I must say bluntly to the House that if Russia continues on its current path, that great country is in danger of becoming a pariah nation. If President Putin’s strategy is to restore the greatness and glory of Russia, I believe that he risks seeing his ambition turn to ashes in the face of international contempt for what is happening in Syria. Russia tries to justify its onslaught on Aleppo by saying that its sole aim is to drive out Jabhat al-Nusra, or Fatah al-Sham as it now calls itself, which is the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. No one questions that these people are terrorists, but their presence in that city cannot justify an assault on 275,000 innocent people, still less the imposition of a siege, which is, by its very nature, a wholly indiscriminate tactic. I agree with the phrase of Staffan de Mistura who said that the Russians should not be able to use the presence of Jabhat al-Nusra as an alibi.

I will come to the way forward for Aleppo in a minute. Let me remind the House of all the ways in which the UK is trying to be of use and trying to salve the situation. Like other Members, I pay tribute to the White Helmets, who rescue men, women and children from the rubble of bomb sites. Many Members have met them. Funded partly by the UK Government, they are doing an heroic job. Of the 3,000 volunteers, 142 have been killed in the line of duty and 400 have been wounded.
Britain is at the forefront of this humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis. We have pledged £2.3 billion—our largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis—which makes us the second largest donor after the US. We can be proud in this country of the help that we are giving to hundreds of thousands of people. Britain has done a huge amount to mobilise the international community.In February, we co-hosted a conference and secured pledges of more than $12 billion, which is the largest amount ever raised in a one-day conference.

Let me answer the question about whether we are taking enough refugees asked by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg). Yes, of course we should take our share, and we are doing so, but Members will agree that the overwhelming priority is to help those nearest the centres of conflict in the berm and elsewhere and to keep them as near to their communities as we can.

Others have spoken about no-fly zones, or no-bombing zones. I have every sympathy with those ideas and the motives behind them. We must work through all those types of options with our allies, especially as this House is not committed to putting boots on the ground. As my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) said, we cannot commit to a no-fly zone unless we are prepared to shoot down planes or helicopters that violate that zone. We need to think very carefully about the consequences.

We must consult on this as widely as possible, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield suggested, I will certainly be talking to everybody involved in the 1991 effort to provide no-fly zones over northern Iraq. We must ensure that we have innovative ways of getting aid into Aleppo and, as several Members have said, we must step up the pressure on Assad’s regime and on the Russians through sanctions. I listened carefully to what was said. The House will accept that there is a certain friability in the European resolve to impose sanctions on Russia, given the large dependency of many European countries on Russian gas. It is vital that our country remains at the forefront of keeping that resolve from crumbling, which is what we are doing.

In the long term the only realistic solution is to persuade both sides to agree to a ceasefire and then to work towards a political solution. It is of course true that that process has been stopped since April, when the ceasefire was destroyed. That does not mean that the process is dead, and it must not mean that the process is dead. On the contrary, this country and this Government have worked to keep that flame of hope alive and have worked for a settlement. On 7 September we hosted a session in London with the high negotiations committee of the Syrian opposition, which set out a detailed and progressive vision for how to achieve a transition in Syria towards a democratic, pluralist administration in which the rights of all communities in that country would be respected, but would also preserve the stability and institutions of the Syrian state while getting rid of the Assad regime.
We  cannot get rid of the jihadi fighters from eastern Aleppo as long as the population of Aleppo is being bombed in a ruthless aerial bombardment that is driving people into a position in which they will do anything to fight and resist the Assad regime. Our best hope is to persuade the Russians that it is profoundly in their interests to take the initiative, to win the acclaim of the international community, to do the right thing in Syria, to call off their puppets in the Assad regime, to stop the bombing, to bring peace to Aleppo and to have a genuine ceasefire. That is the way; that is the prelude. I am perfectly prepared to look at Staffan de Mistura’s proposals for leading out al-Nusra and all the rest of it, and perhaps to bring in a UN contingent—that all sounds eminently sensible—but a ceasefire and the end of the Russian bombardment has to come first. 

I think that millions of people in Syria are yearning for that outcome and for a return to talks. I hope that they will hear the passion of this afternoon’s debate. They will recognise that, of course, there are no easy solutions and no pat answers to this. They also know that this House and our constituents are disgusted by the behaviour of Assad and his regime. I hope that in Moscow and Damascus they will hear the message from British MPs that we are willing to consider anything honestly and practically that can be done to bring peace and hope back to Syria. I am grateful to all Members who have spoken so passionately this afternoon."

The full debate on the situation in Aleppo can be found here: