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:
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:

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:

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:
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:
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:

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:

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:

- 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:

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:

My report in the Courant is here:
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-

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:

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Delighted to be part of annual Newcastle University debate on Northern Powerhouse and progress made

I was recently involved in an excellent and lively debate on the North-South, post-Brexit divide with Newcastle University and Res Publica. This is an annual Newcastle University event. The key points from the discussion were:

SME-University collaboration  
The skills gap 
Devolution and double devolution  
Transport infrastructure: HS2 and HS3 
The Northern Powerhouse  

Crucially, the conclusion of much of the discussion was that the efforts behind the Northern Powerhouse initiative is an ongoing processes rather than single events, and that silver bullets for the problem do not exist. 
There has been considerable progress since 2010: the Northern Powerhouse,cross-regional cooperation in health, tourism, transport and so on have been key levers and we are already seeing the green shoots of change. The greatest increase in the economically active population has been in the North East. The greatest increase in employment has been in the North East. 

But as the Chancellor Philip Hammond made very clear: we cannot rest on our laurels and we have a long way to go to solve the issue. There are political obstacles along the way: whilst the Greater Manchester area has embraced devolution and these forms of cooperation, integration and synergy, many other areas, including parts of the North East have so far backed off from embracing devolution. 
This is going to need cross business, government, academic, and local political cooperation and action but conversations have been and continue to be very positive. There was much optimism on this issue in the room, and I believe, quite rightly.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Thoughts on today's visit by Education Minister Justine #Greening to Prudhoe High School

Today was a special day. No new school has been built in my Northumberland constituency for decades. This stat particularly applies to a High School. The visit today by Justine Greening, the comprehensively educated Yorkshirewoman, who is the Secretary of State for Education, was the culmination of over 5 years of work that began when I first became the MP in 2010. At that time I did extensive research to identify the key needs of the Hexham constituency. It was clear that successive governments, and local authorities, had not focused on Prudhoe and its schools. I set out to change that. I organised a series of one on one meetings with the then Secretary of State of education, Michael Gove. I then brought him to Northumberland to meet the previous headteacher Iain Shaw, and then repeatedly campaigned for the rebuild in parliament. Our Tynedale "back the bid" campaign enthused the local community who backed us in writing, by letters and on my online and written petitions.
That finally resulted in my plea to the Prime Minister at Prime Ministers Questions in late 2011.

When Michael Gove stopped me in 2012 in a corridor in the House of Commons to discuss the school, the impact of any future rebuild, and our wider fairer funding campaign it was clear we were getting somewhere.
The announcement was greeted by the school and on my blog in 2012 here: That finally resulted

It has been a long journey but it is clearly worth it. And it is not just the rebuild. Yes it had a leaky roof, and a very run down building, but there was also a troubled history including an intervening special measures finding by Ofsted.
Because of the best efforts of many pupils, teachers, governors, staff and the headteacher the Prudhoe Community High School has turned around. The school is brand new. The Ofsted rating is good, and the mood has changed. It is quite clear that the way in which the pupils are both taught and challenged has changed. Not all schools really push their pupils, and their teachers. Prudhoe CHS now does that uniformly. For that, Deborah Reeman, the new headteacher, must take a lot of credit.
Anyone who listened to the school council as I did this morning, with Justine, would notice and remark upon the difference. The Hexham courant came today and their report is here:
Some pictures of the visit by Justine are below:

National Citizens Service changes teenagers for the better - David Cameron rightly extols the virtues of NCS

My former boss is rightly very proud of the National Citizen Service. I have seen locally it's wonderful effects. He has written a great article here extolling its virtues.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Good to welcome soldiers from 3RHA based at Albermarle Barracks toWestminster yesterday

The soldiers were in London and popped in briefly to the Commons. We chatted about many things after they had been round parliament first thing. It was also a good opportunity to discuss how they are settling in to the Barracks. There are many good points to being stationed in England and Northumberland is an excellent base for gunners; but, there is no doubt that the accommodation is not as good as it was in Germany, their former base, and mobile phone coverage on the base remains very poor to non existent. Broadband was non existent a couple of years ago but whilst it is now present, it is still of insufficient quality. The MOD are committed to upgrading the accommodation and we are working with them to sort the other problems. I shall be with our soldiers on Remembrance Sunday in November in Hexahm. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

American election is in 28 days - very happy to make clear my support for Clinton in this race

Polling data, early voting, money, GOTV operation, demographics all say Clinton will win. And yet .... And yet. Less than 1 month to go until American election and the concern remains that Trump could win. I hope not. I am adamant that I would far prefer Clinton as leader of the free world. 

Monday, 10 October 2016

Westminster this week - busy week in the Commons + plenty of constituents coming to parliament

Highlight of the week will be welcoming 3RHA, the regiment based at Albemarle to the House of Commons on Tuesday. I have several other constituents coming south this week, and multiple meetings at the DWP regarding credit unions and community banks, and the 80th anniversary celebration of our National Parks creation. I am also welcoming a representation Dom the association of convenience store owners on Tuesday.
In the chamber we are debating in particular the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, of which I will blog more shortly.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Does Labour now admit it wants to enter into a Coalition with the SNP? Former labour MP Tom Harris thinks so.

North and south of the border, Labour is taking an equivocal approach to Scotland and the constitutional integrity of the UK. The ultimate irony in all of this is that none of it really matters. Decisions, whether at a UK or a Scottish level are taken without reference to Labour because it has contrived in its own collapse into irrelevance.
But Scottish voters who support the Union and English voters suspicious of Scottish nationalism will take note. And vote accordingly, just like last time. This take is from former labour MP Tom Harris and is worth a read. 
Full article here:

Friday, 7 October 2016

My i/v with the Chronicle: Why have 4 NE LAs backed out when labour led authorities everywhere else embrace devolution+ more power?

I met with Chronicle / Journal journalists this week and discussed my sadness that the 4 local authorities south of the Tyne have backed out of a devolution deal that would have given them power over everything from transport, to skills, to business development and more ability to grow jobs and growth in their area.
This is not a Labour / Conservative thing: why? Because the labour led authorities in Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Teesside, and 3 the labour led local authorities north of the Tyne have all pressed ahead with devolution, power, money and growth. They have embraced devolution. I wish the 4 local authorities south of the Tyne had not decided to walk away. But it is their decision. If I was partisan for Northumberland only, as a local MP, I would see this as an opportunity for residents North of the Tyne to get an advantage over those who live and work south of the Tyne.
I am certain this will happen in any event.
But it is a matter of sorrow that we cannot work together for the greater good.
But be under no illusion - this is very good news for Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside.
My interview is here:

Thursday, 6 October 2016

It's #NationalPoetryDay - Frost, Dickinson +Whitman lift the soul

1. “These woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.” – Robert Frost

2. “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.” – Emily Dickinson

3. “Re-examine all that you have been told… dismiss that which insults your soul.” – Walt Whitman

Read #RuthDavidsons speech from this week + you will see why she is so admired

Friends, five years ago I came to this conference, seeking to win the leadership of our party in Scotland. We’d just had our worst ever Scottish election result on the back of two decades of decline. As career moves went, the omens didn’t look exactly ideal. We were being kicked around by our opponents. And the media was calling us a corpse that wouldn’t twitch. And that was on a good day. But conference, you always kept the faith. When I argued we could win again as Conservatives, you granted me the privilege of allowing me to lead. We weren’t being credited with much in the way of prospects but we had our values, we had heart and we had belief. And five years on, I’m here to give you the good news – the Scottish Conservatives are back as a fighting force once again.
More than double our number of MSPs. Leapfrogging Labour and consigning them to 3rd for the first time in six decades. Standing up to the SNP. Being the strong opposition Scotland so desperately needs. From the Borders to Banff, we are showing that there is another way. A better way. One which seeks not to stoke divisions or split our country, but one which knuckles down and gets on with the job.
And we are not done yet. Not by a long shot. Next year every council seat in Scotland is up for grabs and we will deliver the best Conservative result since devolution. We won’t be satisfied until we have a Conservative in and working hard on the ground in every community in Scotland. It’s not leaders that turn results around; it’s teams. And the team we’re building in Scotland makes me so proud to lead it. The torch is being passed to the next generation. In parliament we’ve now got everyone from Olympic athletes to university professors, soldiers, farmers, teachers and third sector workers and we want that same spread – from every walk of life – in our town halls, too. We’re not hiding any more, conference.
We’re out and proud. We are winning support from all parts of Scotland. So I say to those who believe in service, in community, in country; let the Scottish Conservative party be your home.
I am aware how Scottish politics can sometimes look. You see Nicola Sturgeon on the TV most weeks telling you how Scotland is up in arms – again.…threatening the break-up of Britain. Asserting independence is closer now than ever before. Declaring separation is somehow inevitable. Today, speaking to people here from across the UK, I want to make this clear. Don’t believe a word of it. There is nothing inevitable about the break-up of this great nation…and I for one will fight it every inch and so will thousands with me. The SNP doesn’t speak for all of Scotland. And nor does it have the right to. Every nation is bigger than any one party – bigger than any one person. And Scotland is bigger, more varied, more complex than the nation the SNP would like to pretend. So, next time you see Nicola Sturgeon picking a fight, or trying to claim the United Kingdom is over – Remember, she does not speak for the country. And, when she threatens to put yet another divisive referendum back on the table, the nation is not behind her. She’s not speaking for the majority. Because the majority of us want to move on.
The majority have no wish to return to the divisions of the past – we want to seize the opportunities of the future. Most Scots have had enough. And they are telling her – for pity’s sake, First Minister, let – this – go.
The problem, of course, is that the SNP isn’t listening. Instead, they’re determined to keep the divisions over the last few years alive. Now, I’m often accused by those same opponents –those ardent separatists – that I bang on about independence and the Union as much as they do. Well, for so long as the SNP keeps this alive – then so be it. Because the Union matters so much. It matters for the economic stability and jobs that our partnership brings. It matters for the defence and security of our country. It matters because of the common bonds we share right across this United Kingdom. And it matters perhaps even more so now that we are leaving the European Union. Now, you all know where I stood in the referendum in June. But I tell you this: I did not vote Remain to see my vote co-opted into a fresh SNP independence drive. And I can tell you something else: whatever questions Brexit raises, none of them – not a single one – is answered destroying our own union of nations…To read the full speech on the Union, Ruths drive and amazing leadership click below:

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Full transcript of the speech of the Prime Minister today - standing up for the many not the few

Passionate, patriotic, a supporter of the state, + clearly on the centre ground, championing the many not the few-this was a great speech Theresa May
I love that the PM made it clear that as a country we succeed or fail together. She is right that we achieve or fall short together. When one of us falters, our human instinct is to reach out our hand and and help them over the line ...
She believes that there is more to life than individualism and self-interest.

This was the PM setting out her positive mission to change the country for the many not the few

The reality is that the Corbyn Labour Party is the nasty party now.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Ruth Davidson: "What Conservatives do for women in this country? We Make them PM”.

While Scottish Labour struggle to fill their events with supporters, the Scottish Conservatives can take heart that their resurgence is still going strong. Attendees for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party reception queued around the bend to hear Ruth Davidson speak.

Davidson spoke of her surprise that officials had put the Scots in a room where they could break things, before moving on to the F-word. After Labour’s women conference saw Harriet Harman and her comrades describe Theresa May as a non-sister, Davidson struck back — suggesting that it is the Conservatives who did the best for women’s equality. ‘People often ask what we do for women in this country, and I say “well we make them Prime Minister”.’

However, it was Theresa May who had the last word. The Prime Minister took to the stage to explain that the Tories didn’t just make women Prime Minister:
‘And I need to correct Ruth, she says the Conservatives make women Prime Minister, but actually we make them leaders.’ 
Spectator wishes Labour’s feminists luck responding to that.
Hat tip to the Speccie for a great report.