Monday, 30 June 2014

Meeting Northern Rail Wednesday and good news on Tyne Valley line - public meeting Tuesday

The Hexham Courant reports success in the pilot project to stop late night drinkers and problem causers on the 7.25 & 9.18 Evening trains from Newcastle to Carlisle on Fridays and Saturdays. The Tyne valley rail users group and I have campaigned at length on this issue details here: http://www.hexhamcourant.co.uk/news/2.2978/police-stamp-out-drunks-on-tyne-valley-trains-1.1123842
I read in the paper this week that there is a meeting at Hexham Community Centre on Gilesgate on Tuesday at 7.15 pm, organised by the TVRUG and the Hexham Community Partnership.
This campaign started after my meeting earlier in the year with Northern and the British Transport Police after extensive complaints by locals and user group members. Delighted it is being sorted.

Denial of democracy by Northumberland Council &Europe dominate Westminster this week

I have Community and Local Government questions today at 2.30 and hope to raise with Ministers the denial of democracy that is the cancellation of the key July meeting of Northumberland County Council.
There then follows a European statement by the PM at 3.30 then a debate on welfare reform in the commons till 10.15 - of which I will blog more afterwards.
Tuesday features developments on the local banks and credit union plans we have for Tynedale as I am speaking to Sir Hector Sants, the advisor to the Archbishop of Canterbury on our plans for a church backed credit union / local bank in Tynedale.

Wednesday I am flat to the boards all day with Home Office, debate on the Syrian refugee programme, meetings with Northern Rail, Scottish questions at 11.30 in the house, and plenty of constituents coming to parliament from Jim Richardson concerning Cancer Research, to the National Parks.
Thursday and Friday are easier but all week we also have Jenna, who is doing work experience with us from Egger. At the moment we have someone in the Westminster office almost every week. As we say to everyone - this is your parliament - come and visit it, get work experience here, or in Hexham, and make sure that you claim your democracy.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

If Juncker is the answer then what is the European Question?

Is Jean Claude the man to bring reform to Europe? I fear not....
I have nothing against Jean Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg politician who is now head of the European Commission, but the reason why I support the Prime Ministers approach is simply this: this is not about the UK but about what is good for all of Europe. quite simply the PM has had the courage to say to the EU reform or struggle.

I remain strongly convinced that the PM is right to push for reforms of the European Union, to ensure greater jobs, competition and growth when battling the growing economies of India, Asia and the Far East. The EU does bring us the single market, and many benefits, but there are also drawbacks as we all know. And the fate of Europe is linked to the economies of the Southern European nations who are burdened with debt, unwilling to cut their public sector costs, uncompetitive, struggling to sell their exports and going backwards not forwards. There has been reform led by the PM- the successful change in the fishing rules and Regulations, that stopped discarding, are a good example of a reformed EU but we need to do more.
Tomorrow's statement by the PM in the commons at 3.30 will be worth watching.

Tour de France starts in Leeds next Saturday - get excited: http://letour.yorkshire.com/

Only 5 days to go until we all go Cycling Crazy! Very excited about the coming Tour. Full details here:
http://letour.yorkshire.com/
Key dates:
Saturday 5 July - Leeds to Harrogate
Sunday July 6 - York to Sheffield
Monday July 7 - Cambridge to London

Miliband will never reform welfare

Labour have opposed every reduction in welfare spending over the last 4 years. Every single one.

Indeed Miliband has made it clear that he wants welfare spending to go up, even though we are still clearing up the mess of Labour's debts, 5 million people on benefits in 2010, and the wider financial crisis. Ed has spent the last 4 years attacking every reduction in the welfare bill. There is never an alternative to how we balance the books - just criticism for us as Coalition in trying. On Monday he again proposes to criticise and hold a commons debate; at no place in that debate is he proposing an alternative; governments do not get every decision right - particularly when trying to balance the books as we have had to do but we cannot spend money we do not have any more, and that must mean welfare reform.  

Ed wishes to undermine the radical reform that is Universal Credit; he has proposed one reform himself, by tinkering around the edges of welfare policy. It will not last. Dan Hodges in the Telegraph makes the point very clearly: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danhodges/100276909/theres-no-point-trying-to-fix-ed-miliband-labour-needs-to-work-out-how-it-can-move-on-from-him/

Saturday, 28 June 2014

A Mayor for Tyne and Wear? I agree with Heseltine

Read the interview in the Journal on why Mayors are a huge boost to jobs, growth, economies and getting things done. Read the full interview here: http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/michael-heseltine-mayor-north-east-7336493

Northumberland County Council have decided to get rid of Hexham Bus Station site

The Northumberland County Council have decided to get rid of the bus station; it is being taken away from the centre of the town. This will not be a popular decision amongst locals who were keen to retain the bus station, and organsied a petition of thousands: more details here:
http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/loosing-hill-preferred-option-new-7335937

Friday, 27 June 2014

The Journal interviews the Chancellor

http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/george-osborne-reveals-hopes-north-7334013

Why Labour will never win a general election with Ed Miliband as leader - by Labour MPs and pundits

Not my words - increasingly Labour MPs are concerned, and this is further evidenced by the actions of the Labour big beasts who are so critical of their leader.

Balls, Burnham, Chuka and Cooper are all shadow boxing for the leadership as concerns grow about Ed Miliband. Burnham and Cooper are the most obvious. The reasons are the recent polls, politicians, and pundits who are openly saying Ed Miliband is a loser - 
This is what the left leaning Huffington Post reports...
"Labour could be on course to an easy win in next year's general election if it had elected David Miliband leader, rather than his brother Ed, a new survey has suggested.
More voters believe the elder Miliband would make a good prime minister than Ed, who beat him in the race for the Labour leadership in 2010, according to the poll. The poll also suggested that a majority of voters think that the Labour leader would fail to deliver in power on a range of issues, including flagship policies like keeping energy prices down and tackling the cost of living.
After his defeat for the leadership, David Miliband was tipped for a return to frontline politics until he resigned as as a South Shields MP and relocated to live in America.
While Labour has consistently led the Conservatives in the polls over recent years, public perceptions of its leader are far more negative than those of David Cameron, prompting concerns among supporters that Ed Miliband may drag his party's vote down in 2015.
A YouGov survey for Prospect magazine found Ed Miliband trailing Cameron on the best prime minister question. The YouGov poll also showed that 60% of those questioned felt Ed Miliband was "not up to the job" of being PM, compared to 20% who said he was. By contrast, more thought Cameron was up to the job (43%) than did not (39%). Ed Miliband was judged weak by 59% and strong by just 13%.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Commemoration of WW1 Debate in the Commons today - 100 years after death of Franz Ferdinand

Around 12.15 there will be a debate on how we as a country are commerating the First World War, and also a discussion of the contriubtion o many members of local communities up and down the country.
I hope to be able to contribute to the debate but I am spending most of the afternoon opn Home Office business in Westminster Hall on the student debate.
The debate is timely as the murder of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28th 1914 is accepted by historians as the immediate cause of World War One, though serious trouble had been brewing for sometime. It is good that we as a parliament are discussing and debating the way in which we as a country are remembering the hundreds of thousdands of lost soldiers, sailors and airmen.
On June 28th 1914, the heir to the Austrian Empire, Franz Ferdinand, was visiting Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. Bosnia was in the very south-east corner of the Austrian empire and some people there wanted to be independent from Austria and set up their own state which could run itself. Franz Ferdinand had been warned that his visit could provoke trouble but he ignored this advice and visited Sarajevo regardless. As was common at the time, he travelled in an open topped car.

Franz Joseph and his wife
There had been trouble at the start of his royal tour of Sarajevo when another car in his entourage was hit by a grenade and an Austrian officer had been injured. However, Franz Ferdinand wanted to demonstrate that his family was in control of Sarajevo, and to have stopped the tour would have been seen as a sign of weakness by those who did not want Bosnia and Sarajevo ruled by the Austrians, so he directed a trip to the hospital to see the officer. Driving to the hospital his driver did not fully understand his instructions and got lost.
Stopping to check where he was, the driver attempted to reverse out on to the main street. By bad luck, he stopped right by a man called Gavrilo Princip. He was a member of the Black Hand Gang which wanted to rid Bosnia of Austrian rule. He had also been behind the grenade throwing and was now trying to disguise himself among the many people who lined the streets fearing the police might arrest him. Not believing his luck, Princip pulled out the revolver he had on him and shot Franz and his wife. Both died as a result. The slow march to world war 1 between many of the European powers, including Britain was about to begin.
War followed weeks later.

Whistle Art Stop fundraising car boot sale in Haltwhistle this Saturday 11-4

If you are in Halty this Saturday make sure that you pop by - the Whistle Art Stop is one of the best projects in the West and makes a massive difference to local children. I have helped in the past and will happily help again in the future. The picture has a backdrop of the wall painted by volunteers including local councillor Ian Hutchinson, who along with myself, ruined our clothing in a very good cause as we got covered in paint! We came back last spring to see the finished version, which was brilliant.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Campaigners lose right to die appeal in Supreme Court - but the judges say Parliament should act

My position on this issue and the need for reform is well known. I have yet to read the judgment but the BBC report is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-28016033
I will post more on this issue when I have the chance to consider the many judgments. It is interesting that the BBC interpretation of the 9 Judges decision is: "its right-to-die judgement boils down to a single phrase directed at Parliament: Sort it out, or we will."
It then adds that:
"The Supreme Court argues that MPs have ducked the issue for too long - and it is time they, as our democratically-elected representatives, find the political backbone to amend the law on assisted suicide.

Lord Neuberger, the court's president, clearly finds current guidelines, whereby prosecutors consider criminal charges after a death, to be deeply unsatisfactory.
He proposes a transparent legal channel which would allow independent assessment of a patient's application to die. Lady Hale, an international authority on law and the family, is bolder, saying the ban breaches human rights."

My question and answer with the Prime Minister today - 26 minutes 50 seconds in

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0480vdx/prime-ministers-questions-25062014

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

I am Question 9 at Prime Minister Questions Tomorrow - live at 12 noon

Church backed local banks and credit unions can change local communities

Off to breakfast summit hosted by the Bishop in the House of Lords today to discuss how church can help local banks and credit unions thrive and ensure that the unbanked, fuel poor and those at the mercy of pay day lenders can be helped by a community led banking approach.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Living Wage debate on BBC Radio Newcastle 8.05am tomorrow

Myself and Neil Foster of the TUC will be making the case for the Living Wage live on Newcastle Radio tomorrow morning and debating the issue with the BBC presenters. I will be at my desk in the House of Commons but live on the phone.
The final report of the Living Wage Commission is out tomorrow: http://livingwagecommission.org.uk/
I am going to the launch event and discussion in the afternoon in central london.

The London Living Wage is £8.80

The UK Living Wage is £7.65

At the event we held in Newcastle on March 28th the number of companies paying the Living Wage in the North East was below 30 but the figure is growing month on month as we sell the message that this is good for business, and good for jobs as well as good for employees.
If you have not read it my article for the New Statesman on the Living Wage is here:
http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/08/guy-opperman-conservative-case-living-wage

Further investment in Northern infrastructure with HS3 is a good thing

I welcome the Chancellors efforts to create a Northern powerhouse by linking the cities either side of the Pennines. I have long admired the efforts of Manchester: it has embraced the idea of a Mayor, and Manchester clearly punches well above their weight. For example Greater Manchester did their entire local plan in 18 months finishing it many years ago. Northumberland which is a fraction of the size will not finish ours until well into 2015 at best. Would that we had such leadership.
Also, I have long made the point that it is vital that we have the ability of the various local cities to work together and put aside past rivalries - Leeds v Manchester has plenty of history but are working together on the Northern Powerhouse project - gives us much to learn in the North East. The LA7 - whereby the 7 local authorities work together has taken a long time to come to fruition but it is a very good start. It is a key part of the Adonis plan to rebuild the north east. Fuller story here:  
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-27969885

Northumberland Council Shut Down: Labour responds - and you won't believe their reply

As regular readers will know Labour Councillors in Northumberland have came under fire for cancelling the July meeting of the Full Council to avoid scrutiny and debate on their plans to scrap free Post 16 transport, and a host of other key local issues.

Just after Labour leaders at Northumberland County Council were criticised for imposing the £600 "teenage tax" on students in post-16 education they announced the cancellation of the next meeting - at which some parents had planned a protest - citing a lack of business!

Full Council is the key meeting of the Council and happens just once a month. It is the democratic chance to hold the Council to account, debate key issues, and allow the public to make their case. With an August break there now won't be another meeting until September if Labour get their way. It's like the Prime Minister cancelling Prime Ministers Question Time.

Given the big issues going on at the moment, from the future of Hexham Bus Station to the collapse of the Council's greenbelt protections, citing a lack of business looked like Labour running scared, you wondered whether Northumberland Labour really was avoiding scrutiny and quite frankly lost the plot, just read their response to the criticism:

"I appreciate that not everyone will be happy with decisions that have been taken. There has been plenty of time for scrutiny and challenge. Arranging meetings with the sole purpose of creating opportunities for haranguing and maligning the legitimate actions of an elected body does nothing to build the reputation of the council as a responsible body taking difficult decisions.

"Where five councillors or more demand that a meeting takes place, we will have to hold one. But time would be better spent getting on with the business of managing challenging finances, as we must do, than criticising those who are doing their best in the worst of circumstances.”

Pretty shocking stuff. Northumberland's Labour Council would do well remember we are all servants to the public, not the other way round.

Westminster this week

Credit Unions, Local banking, the living wage and apprenticeships dominate the week in Westminster. I am speaking at the local banking and credit union conference organised at 8.15 in the House of Lords, by the Church of England's Bishop of Birmingham on Tuesday, where we will be discussing how we can expand local credit unions and local banks to combat pay day lending and help poverty and fuel poverty generally.
We have debates on the Deregulation Bill, the Wales Bill and an opposition day debate on Wednesday afternoon, subject to be announced. I also have meetings with local constituents and work at the Home Office, along with an Immigration debate on Thursday, and the Subsea UK reception on Wednesday, with Osbit Power and PDL - both brilliant local companies based out of Riding Mill and Hexham.
There are several other debates I will also try and get in to but the diary is genuinely packed this week.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Sunday Read: Jane Austen, our greenbelt, and a buck passing exercise of the highest order

This week I called out Northumberland County Council on it's failure to produce a local development plan which enshrines the safeguards of our greenbelt. 

Without a local plan in place hungry housing developers are able to submit speculative planning applications wherever they like - including on our greenbelt. Northumberland is in the bottom 20% of Councils who have yet to even complete stage one of the plan (there are five stages in total.)

Just 78 out of 357 Councils have yet to submit a plan. Northumberland is (of course) one of them. 

Here is what I said: "The facts have been very clear from day one. If an authority does not have a plan in place, it runs the risk of speculative planning applications from developers and of its decisions being overturned on appeal. The only way a Council can protect the greenbelt is by having a up to date local plan. I now worry deeply that in Northumberland, several years after the process was started, and many months after other Council's completed their own Local Plans, we here in Northumberland are still left with no local plan."

Shamefully the Council have now admitted the plan will not even be finished before the General Election - in May 2015. I also said last week: "I have tried hard not to blame the staff at County Hall. Nor can anyone blame the squeeze on Council budgets, as almost 279 Council's are managing to deliver their Local Plans. I am afraid, as I have said from day one, here in Northumberland, under this increasingly troubled Labour administration we have suffered from poor organisation, poor management and fundamentally poor leadership."

The Labour leader of the Council Mr Grant Davey, in a buck passing exercise of the highest order, has tried to suggest I am blaming the Council's hard working staff for his Administration's failures. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact I'm of the belief that many of them deserve a medal for working away under Labour's failing leadership of this County Council. 

We have been told one of the key reasons that the plan is being delayed is that new ONS figures show the Council's growth, and therefore housing figures were inflated and not in line with the latest offical estimates. 

That is something I and others have been telling the Council's Administration since the day they took office. However, officials have repeatedly told me it wasn't an error, just a policy decision: Mr Davey wanted more houses and boy was he determined to have them. 2000 of them on our Greenbelt. His argument was always one rooted more in fantasy than reality.

The Councils projections were based on what they call a "dwelling led scenario" as opposed to a "Trend scenario."

A trend scenario would have plotted a growth projection, and then allocated the number of houses we need, based on historical trends, data predictions and long term Office of National Statistics demographic indicators.

Instead, the Council's leadership chose to ignore all of those factors and works backwards, coming up with the number of houses it would like to build - then saying that is how much the area will grow by - if that number of houses are built. If your lost at this point I don't blame you.

The latest data from the ONS shows the Councils predictions are, well, fantasy. So here we are, several years later, and back at the drawing board. 

For the avoidance of doubt no one should blame the Council's hardworking staff. With limited resources they have produced the figures and the plan Mr Davey's Labour Administration demanded. 

I'm not keen on personal attacks in politics. I've met Mr Davey - he's a nice enough bloke and seems to be a good Councillor for the good people of Blyth. But this Labour Administration at County Hall which he leads is truly woeful. 

Jane Austen once famously said "I blame Mr Darcy for my high expectations"; in the case of this particular shambles I'm afraid, I blame Mr Davey. 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Report of Hotspur Awards at the Northumbrian Assocation Annual Dinner in the House of Commons

Every year Northumbria Water host a dinner for the Northumbrian Association in the House of Commons. It is a special event attended by many people from different walks of life in the North East [on Wednesday I sat between North Durham Labour MP in Kevan Jones, my local Northumbria Water troubleshooter, Kevin McGuire of the Mirror, an NHS chief and a one of the leaders of Northumbria University]. It is always an interesting evening.

The Association has many purposes but, as Keith Bartlett made clear, "without the campaigning of the Northumbrian Association we would not have had the Lindisfarne Gospels in  Durham last year".
Many people spoke and old friends were remembered, notably John Danby. We opened with words from our sponsor and supporter, Heidi Mottram of Northumbria Water, who set out what her company is trying to do - outlining that that NW had been made Utility of the Year and won a Queens Award for Sustainability. I used the evening to discuss Tynedale flooding and NW reaction to it locally - I know they are trying very hard and investing heavily to increase resilience.

Then we heard from Keith Bartlett, who told the tale of last year's successful visit of the Gospels. His passion and excitement for the Gospels impact was obvious to everyone present and the campaign is now on to get the Gospels back in 2020, and possibly for good ....one day. Certain stats stuck out from his talk - such that the Gospels had 100,000 visitors from at least 58 countries, that 70% of all visitors stayed on for a meal and shopping in the town, an £8 million impact on the local economy and a 99.7% satisfaction rating from attendees [anything more would have been North Korean!].

Judith and Marion and others then spoke of the next campaigns for the Northumbrian Association before John Mowbray and Johnathan Blackie made the case that "culture gives us a sense of who we are and where we are from": they could have been speaking from the Adonis report as they stressed that we need to retain our graduates in the north east post university, both to build on our culture, but also to create the future jobs and businesses. Then Margaret Fay [aka the Queen Mother of the North East] awarded the Hotspur Awards to Ray Spencer and the British Army in the North East - an award jointly accepted very movingly by James Percy and James Ramsbotham. Finally, a memorable evening was rounded off by John  Mowbray's epic "poem" that made the case for the Lindisfarne Gospels returning back to the North East for good. That is a goal worth striving for.
More details of the Northumbrian Association here:  http://www.northumbrianassociation.com/

Campaigning, Riding Mill Show, then Pimm's in the Northumbrian sunshine?

This morning I will be out with the team knocking on doors and talking to local residents in Stocksfield, before heading to several shows and events.

Later on I shall be looking forward to a hopefully lovely sunny evening with Conservative members at our now famous summer Pimms party, hosted by our excellent Bardon Mill branch.

Here's hoping for a long evening of sunshine!

If you would like more information on becoming a member of Hexham Conservatives, or joining my campaign team please visit http://www.hexhamconservatives.co.uk/ for more information.

Friday, 20 June 2014

More pothole funding

Northumberland has been given another £2.9million for road repairs, more than any other county in the North East.
The Government has outlined plans to help fill more than three million potholes as part of a massive investment in the country’s local and major roads.
Councils across England have been allocated £168million of funding from a dedicated Pothole Repair Fund. As a condition of receiving the money local authorities are required to publish monthly progress updates on how many potholes have been repaired.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “Potholes are the bane of all our lives and the funding announced today is an important step in ridding our roads of this menace. But it is only one part of a massive programme of investment to get our country up to speed as part of this Government’s long term economic plan. By building, repairing and renewing our key infrastructure we will ensure the future growth and prosperity of this country.”
Northumberland has already received £2.7million from the £183.5million that the Government made available to help repair local roads damaged by severe weather.
This was an emergency payment to help with road repairs following the wettest winter on record and should pay for the repair of 3.3million potholes nationwide. The North East as a whole was awarded £6,298,272, with more than a third – £2,736,241 – allocated to Northumberland.
In today’s announcement, the North East was awarded just under £8million with nearly £3million for Northumberland. It means that in total, the county has received an extra £5,638,148 additional funding in 2014.

Labour Council "Shut Down" to avoid democracy

Labour Councillors who have came under fire for axing of free transport for students in Northumberland have quite unbelievably cancelled the next meeting of the Full Council to avoid scrutiny.

Labour leaders at Northumberland County Council have been criticised for imposing a £600 "teenage tax" for students in post-16 education. They have now announced the cancellation of their next meeting - at which some parents had planned a protest - citing a lack of business!

Protesters and Northumberland Conservatives have rightly accused the administration of seeking to avoid public criticism. The background is this:

All of Northumberland's 67 Councillors gather once per month to discuss the Council's business and hear from members of the public. However, earlier this month Councillor's received a letter from the Council's Business Manager Cllr Scott Dickinson informing them the meeting would be "cancelled due to insufficient business." See the letter below.

In my four years in this job not much Labour does shocks me anymore, but this attempt to shut down debate and scrutiny of their actions really does take the biscuit.

The amount of important decisions the Council is taking of late is huge including,
  • controversial plans for Hexham's bus station,
  • implementing a £600 teenage tax,
  • and the apparent collapse of our Local Development Plan.
  • To suggest there is insufficient business to be discussed is, at best, a head in the sand mentality and, at worst, it is downright Stalinist - the prevention of all opposition, and debate, by any means necessary.
Given the Council traditionally has a break in August, cancelling the July Full Council Meeting would mean the Council would not meet again until September. Labour might say that such a gap in democratic accountability is very helpful. I disagree. I have made inquiries to see if this is even legal.

Northumberland Conservatives Leader Peter Jackson has submitted an emergency motion calling for an extraordinary meeting of the County Council at the time the original meeting was scheduled. Cllr Jackson
said "This is the worst kind of one party state politics Labour in South East Northumberland are used to, but we will not stand for it. They must take scrutiny of the decisions they are imposing on our County."

You can see below the letter the Labour Administration sent to Councillors and also the Conservatives motion calling for the meeting to go ahead.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Tynedale Plans tomorrow

Heddon First School first thing, followed by surgeries in Corbridge and Ovingham, a trip to Allendale Post Office, and meetings this evening in Hexham. Also trying to pop in to a couple of care homes to meet and thank staff on National Care Home Open Day.

Ed Miliband and The Sun - Harriet Harman now helping (not)

She tells LBC that Ed ‘was right to pose with the Sun and right to apologise for it afterwards’. You could not make this up.




Christians abroad and Meriam Ibrahim need our support even more

I have received back the reply from the Foreign Office to my request for further information on the case of Meriam Ibrahim, and the cause of Christians persecuted abroad for their faith. The fair point is made that although this individual case is horrifying and significant the plight of all Christians abroad is a real issue for the Church of England, myself and many many MPs in the House of Commons.

Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he is taking to raise the plight of persecuted Christians abroad; and what steps he is taking to raise the case of Meriam Ibrahim with his Sudanese counterpart.
Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 11 June 2014, c210W)

Mark Simmonds (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs; Boston and Skegness, Conservative)
"I am appalled at the death sentence given to Meriam Ibrahim, and her continued imprisonment. Immediately following her trial, I issued a statement describing her conviction as barbaric and calling upon the Government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion or belief and international human rights laws as enshrined in its own constitution. The chargĂ© d’affaires of the Sudanese embassy in London was summoned to the Foreign Office on 19 May at the request of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague). The Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend Lynne Featherstone, reiterated our demand with the Sudanese Foreign Minister when she met him on 20 May. Our embassy in Khartoum, that attended her trial, continues to press the Sudanese authorities for Meriam Ibrahim's release, and is in close contact with the defence team.

This is a priority human rights area for us. We speak out regularly against violence perpetrated against Christians. The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi), gave a speech in Washington in November last year on the need for unity in confronting the intolerance and sectarianism that leads to minority communities being persecuted. We also lobby for changes in discriminatory laws and practices that affect religious minorities, including Christians, and support UN resolutions on the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief."

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Energy Debate in the Commons this afternoon - trying to get in to speak

Around 4.15 there will be an energy debate. There is much to discuss. Clearly the biggest concern for residents in Northumberland is the increase in the oil price due to Middle Eastern instability - this will mean more costly fuel, gas and heating oil for locals.
Fuiller details of the worsening situation in Iraq is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-27897648

Paxman rides off into the sunset with Boris

I love this picture! Two remarkable middle aged men riding off into the distance....
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/bbc/10907254/Jeremy-Paxmans-final-Newsnight-pedalling-into-the-sunset-with-Boris-Johnson.html
The story tells the full tale but a couple of the classics are:
Boris to Paxo:
In 2009, Johnson poked fun at Paxman’s “elephantine” salary and asked him: “Why don’t you get yourself a proper job instead of just sitting around telling politicians what to do all the time?”

In 2011, the pair locked horns again.

Paxman introduced Johnson as “Mayor of London, cyclist and hairdressers’ despair” before attempting to get the better of him in a grilling about his political ambitions.
"What’s the difference between you and David Cameron?” Paxman asked.
"Well, I’m Mayor of London and he’s Prime Minister. I’m older than him and considerably heavier."

The honest truth is that Newsmnight will not be the same without Paxo - he is the iconic TV journalist of his generation. Boris is just Boris.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Growth is increasingly spreading out from the capital to the north

See the article below. Last month, the north east of England saw the strongest expansion in the UK, according to Lloyds’ Bank figures. The region had a PMI score of 63.5, the highest the survey has ever recorded. Full story here:
http://www.cityam.com/article/1402287370/north-east-takes-top-spot-may-growth-survey

Monday, 16 June 2014

Westminster this week

Mega busy day with Education Questions, Home Office meetings and the Hague Satement on Iraq and ending rape in conflict and Consumer Rights Bill - only just finished. Also met the CQC, and others. Heading home now but in early first thing. We have the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill tomorrow and a meeting with the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group. Wednesday we have school visits, PMQs, debates in the House on Energy and Home Office matters and lots more. Thursday is easier but I am here till 7 then sprinting for the late train home.

F40 - will it be fair?

Education Question 2 today at 2.30 - I am hoping to ask the SOS for guidance on whether all schools will be fairly treated so that all schools receive a leg up not just the chosen few, as decided by the County Council.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Guest Post: Scottish Independence - A view from our Edinburgh University work experience student

I've spent most of my life in Newcastle, save for four wonderful years spent at the University of Edinburgh.

I know at first hand the hoops of steel that bind our two nations together. In the North East, our proximity to the border means that our two cultures have, over the centuries, mixed together to create our distinctive regional heritage. We are not distinct peoples; instead, our respective roots are so closely entwined that to erect such an artificial political boundary between us would not only be tragic but incredibly damaging.

As a single, unified nation, there are currently no economic barriers between Scotland and the North East. But this could not continue under an independent Scottish government. The new government would need to create new trade agreements and new tax rates – this will inevitably have an impact on businesses and jobs both in Scotland and the North East.

Every year, countless Scottish tourists come to the North East to visit our spectacular landscapes and award-winning tourist venues, not to mention our world-renowned warmth and hospitality. With an independent Scotland north of the border, our vibrant tourist industry could be under threat, putting jobs in the North East at risk.

It’s not just businesses in the North East that are worrying about the future. Edinburgh-based Standard Life recently stated that businesses in an independent Scotland would face “significant challenges”. If there was a word to sum up the mood of the nation’s business community, it would have to be “uncertainty”.

But instead of reassurance from the SNP, Alex Salmond has ignored these palpable concerns, exchanging economic common sense for mere petty nationalism. We have yet to receive answers to vital questions about the future of Scotland and the rest of Britain. What, for instance, would Scotland’s position in the EU really be? What about Scotland’s currency? How would interest rates be managed? How about the vital issues of tax policy and pensions? We have only had vague, half-hearted answers to these questions. The futures of the people of Scotland, the North East and Britain should not be in the hands of a party that deals in uncertainty.

When it comes to the EU, we see the most poignant example of Salmond’s obfuscation. The single market is a hive of economic activity with 500 million people generating £10 trillion in economic activity. 3.5 million jobs in this country are said to be linked to our membership of this trading organisation – but will Scotland remain a part of the EU at all? We have yet to receive a definitive answer to this question. The SNP has not given the people of Scotland the straightforward answer they deserve – as a result, the future of these islands may indeed be sacrificed by uncertainty.

Because that is what the SNP are offering – uncertainty; a gamble in which the stakes – the futures of Scotland, the North East and the rest of the country – are far too high to risk. An independent Scotland would be a step in the wrong direction if we are to build a resilient economy across the United Kingdom.

Of course, our shared history is also a firm reminder that we are better together. Scottish regiments have served alongside those from the rest of Britain, from Waterloo to D-Day. Our army is a tangible reminder of this fact, with our patchwork of regiments mirroring our shared history over countless centuries. It was Scottish airbases that provided Britain’s defence to the Soviet menace and it is submarine bases in the Clyde that keep our nation safe in an increasingly uncertain world. The arrangements of our national security clearly demonstrate our combined strength in tackling today’s global issues.

I would like to end this piece with an interesting reminder from history. As Edward I campaigned against Robert the Bruce and John Balliol north of the border, he was not fighting purely Scottish adversaries. Robert the Bruce owned lands across England, most prominently in Yorkshire, whilst the Balliol family had founded the college that bears their name at Oxford. There was not then, as there is not now, a definitive boundary between our two nations and there never can be.

We have countless centuries of shared tradition on these islands, a history which has developed one of the most successful partnerships in world history: the United Kingdom. For the future of Scotland, the North East and the rest of Britain, let us with common sense and common spirit remind ourselves that we are better together. 

Mark Loughridge is currently on work experience in my constituency office and studied Ancient History at Edinburgh University. 

Friday, 13 June 2014

Health Select Committee elections force a radical evaluation of our NHS

Select Committee elections for Health force us to evaluate quality of service. Frontrunners for NHS Chairman are good friends of mine - and both are doctors: Dr Philip Lee, and Dr Sarah Wollaston are Conservative MPs and GPs of 20 year experience.

The full runners and riders to replace Stephen Dorrell include NHS reformer Charlotte Leslie, Dr Philip Lee, Dr Sarah Wollaston and long standing MP David Tredinnick.
Philip has written an interesting assessment of where the NHS is at. I do not agree with everything he writes but his assessment is good, and we in Northumbria are already doing a lot of the changes he talks of:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/10891843/The-NHS-is-collapsing-under-the-weight-of-demand.html

Thursday, 12 June 2014

World Cup starts today - Come on England

The three key dates are
- Saturday at 11pm v Italy
- Thursday June 20 at v Uruguay at 8pm
and Tuesday 24th v Costa Rica at 5pm
Full details here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/world-cup/2014/schedule/group-stage

Bless JK Rowling - she believes we are Better Together!

Author JK Rowling has made a £1m donation to help fund the campaign against Scottish independence.

The writer of the Harry Potter books, who lives in Edinburgh, has publicly backed the Better Together campaign.
Explaining her decision on her website, Ms Rowling said there was a "denial of risks" within the "Yes" campaign.

She also said there was a "fringe of nationalists who like to demonise anyone who is not blindly and unquestionably pro-independence".
She added: "My hesitance at embracing independence has nothing to do with lack of belief in Scotland's remarkable people or its achievements. The simple truth is that Scotland is subject to the same 21st century pressures as the rest of the world. It must compete in the same global markets, defend itself from the same threats and navigate what still feels like a fragile economic recovery."

"The more I listen to the 'Yes' campaign, the more I worry about its minimisation and even denial of risks. Whenever the big issues are raised - our heavy reliance on oil revenue if we become independent, what currency we'll use, whether we'll get back into the EU - reasonable questions are drowned out by accusations of 'scaremongering'".

Full story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-27793967

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

"overall the rise in employment shows the region is growing its economy"

The Journal's words not mine. Before you doubt the recovery read Adrian Pearson's excellent article in todays paper on the North East economy
http://www.thejournal.co.uk/business/how-north-east-hit-back-7250509

Whittonstall open cast coal mine application withdrawn - notified just now by email

I have returned from PMQs to receive the following email sent to local councillors:

Dear Sir/Madam

Please note that the above meeting [on 19/6/14] which was scheduled to consider the proposed Hoodsclose Surface Mine, Newlands, Stocksfield, Northumberland has been cancelled as the applicant has withdrawn the application.
Regards

Lesley Little,
Democratic Services Officer

I have asked for urgent clarification as to whether this is a permanent withdrawal or yet another false dawn / delay by the applicant. The results of the public meeting held in Snods Edge, that I went to and spoke at, the many meetings I have held with local people and the respective parish councils since 2009, and the representations I have received, shows that the local community is resolutely opposed to this Open Cast Coal Mine.
Update: I have received this from the wonderful Kay FitzGibbon who has done so much to fight and make this campaign what it was:
"we can only surmise that they [UK Coal] withdrew because they believe the planning application would be refused by the councillors, which suggests the planning officers report was very clearly recommending refusal. We have not seen the officers recommendation, and never will now, so can only speculate as to its content. We won't get 'our day in court' but are confident that all our efforts in laying out a clear case against the application contributed to the outcome we all wanted to see."

Update 2: I am also told second hand that there is no way for this application to be reinstated now. A new planning application would be required.

Fastest rise in jobs on record. Long Term Economic Plan is working.

Number of people out of work in UK fell by 161,000 to 2.16 million in three months to April, figures show.
Employment grew by 345,000 over the quarter - that's the strongest growth in quarterly employment on record. Most of the growth was in full time jobs. More detail from BBC here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27791749
Don't throw it away by giving the keys back 2 Labour

The Northumberland County Council promises to eliminate potholes by June - how is it in your area?

For 5 years we have been trying to persuade the Local Authority to get serious about potholes, which are the bane of our lives in south and west Northumberland. To be fair they are beginning to do something about it: the County Council leader promised that he would "eliminate potholes by June 2014". However, it is important that any potholes are reported to the Council, your councillors or to my office. We will judge the Council on their actions by the end of June, but please let me know of problems. I am aware that parts of Haltwhistle, South Tynedale, Bellingham, Corbridge and areas to the west of Ponteland are particularly bad but all identification and help gratefully appreciated and it will be passed on. Full story of the Council listening to our claims of a pothole disaster zone here in the south and west and what they are doing about it are set out below:
http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/council-claims-target-clear-pothole-7247535

Monday, 9 June 2014

Better Together - dozens of Scots I spoke to last week agree but only 100 days to go

Both sides in the Scottish independence debate are marking the milestone of 100 days to go until the referendum. It is increasingly clear that Salmond and the nationalists are running out of time. The voters I met last week agreed we are better together - about which I will blog in detail over the next few days. 
The referendum will be held on 18 September, with voters asked the Yes/No question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
Opinion polls show a decent majority favour the Better Together pro union campaign but we still have many people still to make up their minds either way. Last week it was clear that neither America nor Europe want Scotland to go independent. More details here: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tomgallagher/100275242/why-europe-and-america-dont-want-an-independent-scotland-run-by-shape-shifting-alex-salmond/

Westminster this week

The nations Air Ambulances are in the House of Commons today as we welcome them for their annual reception and the chance to meet and make the case to their respective MPs. We have long campaigned and won the argument on vat on fuel and are now addressing the state of the nations helipads at trauma centres. Some are literally a drive from the hospitals themselves.
I have meetings today in the Home Office and Number 10, and am meeting this week with the Secretary of State for transport concerning our dual the A69 campaign.
I have two evenings this week coaching Women to Win and will be in the chamber Tuesday for the queens speech debate in the afternoon.
Finally we have several constituents coming to the House this week. Harriet Barrett is interning with us and we will be welcoming many who are visiting the House of Commons or number 10 as well.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

We need to plant more forests

Last week I went once more to Egger and met with the team there, including Simon Hart of Egger Forestry Management. We discussed at length the need for more forests in the UK. My position on this is clear - I am big supporter of more forestry. The question is whether local people would be in favour of, for example, another significant forest being planted in North Northumberland? And the second issue is whether a forest would be the type that is commercial and there to be planted, cut down and replanted as Kielder is? I would welcome constituents thoughts and opinions  

Saturday, 7 June 2014

This weekend do not forget to thank our D Day veterans in some way

At church tomorrow like many I will take time to remember those who served so that we are free. I am just back from a 3 day trip making the case for Better Together, and the Union with Scotland; the fact that we fought Hitler together and won together as a team of Scots, Welsh, Irish And English is a great unifying force. The great military commander, and true Scot, Lovat is fondly remembered for his action on the Longest Day in 1944 and beyond.

But so is his piper Bill Millin who played the bagpipes on the Normandy beaches and all across France. The Spectator has done a great remberance of Lovat, and particularly Bill Millin, the indestructible bagpiper. Read, watch and enjoy:
http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2014/06/d-day-70-tribute-to-bill-millin-lord-piper/

Ponteland Party in the Park tomorrow

I shall be at the party, which goes on all afternoon and is the highlight of the Ponteland year. It is very well organised and fun for all the family. Come along if you can. Starts just after lunch at around 1.30.

Friday, 6 June 2014

June-August Advice Centres

Twice a month my caseworker and I hold advice surgeries in order to meet constituents and discuss with you any issues you may have. I see this as a key part of my role as your local MP in order to try and be as accessible as possible.

The dates and times of these surgeries in the next few weeks are:


Alternatively you can call me on: 01434 601 420
Email me at: guy.opperman.mp@parliament.uk
Or write to me at: 1 Meal Market, Hexham, NE46 1NF

Details:
Ponteland Memorial Hall – Darras Road, Ponteland, NE20 9NX
Prudhoe Spetchells Centre – 58 Front Street, Prudhoe, NE42 5AA
Hexham Office, 1 Meal Market, NE46 1NF
Bellingham Town Hall – Bellingham, NE48 2AA
Haltwhistle Library – Westgate, Haltwhistle, NE49 0AX

Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Queen's Speech


Yesterday's Queen's Speech will really help strengthen the recovery and help families here in the North East.  Our region was hit hardest by Labour's recession and this Queen's speech will help build our private sector led recovery.

The measures put forward by the Government such as the Small Business Bill will help support small business and get the banks lending, creating a future based on growth and jobs – rather than debt.

This is the next step in a clear long term plan which will boost business and jobs, support families, and help pensioners across our region.

Here's what the Government has put forward:

Helping families:
Finding affordable childcare is one of the biggest challenges for parents and guardians. So we’re going to help working families with their childcare costs - with tax-free support of up to £2,000 a year for each child.

We’re also increasing the personal tax allowance to £10,500, cutting income tax for over 25 million people (find out how much you’ll save here) and fuel duty is being frozen for the rest of this Parliament.

Giving you more security in retirement:
If you’ve worked hard and saved for your pension pot, you should be free to decide what to do with your money. So we’re giving people with defined contribution pensions complete control over how they access their pension:

  • Those who want an annuity will still be able to purchase one
  • Those who want greater control of their finances in the short term can take a greater amount as a lump sum
  • Those who don’t want either an annuity or to withdraw everything in one go will be able to keep their pension invested and access it over time
We’re also making important changes to workplace pensions to give employees more certainty about their income in retirement.

Protecting workers:
We’re banning “zero hours” contracts where they prevent workers taking jobs elsewhere - and raising the maximum fine to £2,000 per employee for employers who pay less than the minimum wage.

Backing small business and enterprise to create more jobs:
Because we have taken difficult, long-term decisions, we are able to put extra investment into our roads and railways to improve our infrastructure and help businesses grow and create jobs.

This includes the biggest investment in roads since the 1970s - and in rail since Victorian times.

We’re also making it easier for small businesses to start, grow and employ people.

These measures build on what our long-term economic plan has delivered so far: the deficit down by over a third; income tax cut for 25 million people by an average £705; 1.5 million more jobs; a welfare system that ensures work pays; 1.7 million more apprentices and better schools for young people.

There is still a long way to go - but only by sticking to our plan will we secure a better and brighter future for Britain.

70 years ago our veterans were preparing for Tomorrow's D Day

We must never forget their sacrifice: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-27700479

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

In Scotland on a long planned trip to help Better Together campaign

I am in Scotland today helping the Better Together campaign team across Scotland as part of a short 3 day trip making the case that we are better together. My normal campaigning ground is over the Border in and around Jedburgh and Galashiels, but on this occasion I have been helping and knocking on doors and helping making the case for Better Together in Aberdeenshire, Perthshire and Fife.
My views are well known but I set them out below in brief:
http://guyopperman.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/six-months-until-scottish-independence.html

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Commonwealth Games Baton relay back in UK, and coming to North East June 13

Anticipation is building. The scale of the baton's journey is truly phenomenal as it has made its way around the world on everything from boats galore to an elephant!
The baton comes to Newcastle and Gateshead on June 13, with Brendan Foster and Jonathan Edwards doing the honours. It then makes its way to Alnwick where I shall be there to see it between
13.00 – 14.30

Alnwick Castle activities will include hockey, netball, archery, boxing, athletics, quiddich and shooting.
Full details here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-27041021

Monday, 2 June 2014

PM rightly makes the case for continued humanitarian support for those affected by Syrian crisis

I have seen the difference we are making to Syrian refugees. The PM took questions from the House of Commons Liaison Committee before the House rose and addressed the issue of support for Syria refugees, and said:
"I think the British public back this sort of humanitarian aid action where you are saving lives, you're providing food and shelter, you're preventing people dying from exposure to diseases," he told MPs.

"I think they back it and so we should keep it up. We should use our leadership to leverage in money and resources from others."

The Prime Minister also urged young British people to stay away from the country, warning that those who went to there to help were at risk of radicalisation.

"I think some people think, 'Even if I go with a legitimate, or semi-legitimate sort of aid convoy, that that's okay'. But some of these are effectively being run by people who then get radicalised. So the best advice is to contribute to a legitimate charity rather than to travel there yourself," he said.

As someone who has met these refugees at the Nizip 2 Camp on the Euphrates River [in the picture behind me] I am certain we are doing the right thing.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

A Tynedale Sunday

Prudhoe Fair, Haydon P2P, Kirkharle Country Market and some surgeries. Now off to the pub. Busy day in Tynedale tomorrow.

FGM - It is happening and what can we do to stop it

There can be few more gruesome or horrible crimes than the mutilation of a woman - the tragedy is that this crime is carried out primarily often by parents due to a belief that this is the right thing to do.
The practice is an ethnic marker, rooted in gender inequality, ideas about purity, modesty and aesthetics, and attempts to control women's sexuality. It is supported by both women and men in countries that practise it; it is practised as a cultural ritual by groups in 27 countries in sub Saharan Africa and North East Africa, notably Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia, and parts of the Middle East including Yemen and Iraq.

Crucially for us in the UK it is still carried out by some of the immigrant communities living here. We do not know the numbers but it is still happening.

The health effects depend on the procedure but can include recurrent infections, chronic pain, cysts, an inability to get pregnant, complications during childbirth and fatal bleeding.
FGM has long been outlawed in most of the countries in which it occurs, but the laws are poorly enforced. There has been some effort since the 1970s to eradicate the practice but in 2012 the UN voted unanimously to take all necessary steps to end it. This strongly led by the British, and I am very proud of the UK governments role.

My speech on the issue in the House sets out my approach in detail: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2014-03-10a.1.0&s=%28FGM%29+speaker%3A24962#g3.2

I am pleased to say that the Home Affairs Select Committee plan to follow my advice as set out the in the speech. I look forward to the day when this abhorrent crime is no longer happening across the world or even in the UK