Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Westminster this week - "wash up" and a lot more in the last week of parliament before e election begins

We are presently resolving many of the last bills and pieces of legislation before parliament rises. We still have parliamentary questions, and PMQs but for a guide to wash up as it is known see below.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

The Hexham Courant reports the decision to call a General Election

THERESA May has called a General Election on June 8, with a plea to British voters to put their trust in her to deliver a good result from Brexit.
Making her shock announcement, the Prime Minister claimed divisions at Westminster risked jeopardising the negotiations to pull the UK out of the European Union.
Hexham's MP Guy Opperman has already confirmed he will be putting himself forward to stand in the hope of retaining the constituency seat. 
"This election will be a choice of leadership for the country," he told the Courant.
"Strong stable leadership under Theresa May or the unstable chaos of Jeremy Corbyn."
Having repeatedly ruled out calling a snap election in the past, Mrs May said she had "reluctantly" taken the decision to go to the country after seeing other parties "playing games" with the process of preparing for Brexit negotiations.
Her final decision was taken during a walking holiday in Snowdonia with husband Philip, and she told the Queen on Easter Monday before getting the full approval of Cabinet on Tuesday morning.
The Courant full article is here: http://www.hexham-courant.co.uk/news/Theresa-May-calls-for-UK-General-Election-in-June-47744210-aaf5-46cd-9cb4-68cd9525896d-ds

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Parliament votes by 522-13 for a general election on June 8 - supported by Conservatives and most of Labour MPs

Most of labour voted for the general election with the Conservative party, albeit 9 labour MPs like Blyth MP Ronnie Campbell voted against an early election. One lib dem, from southport, announced he would not be running again at this election, as Ken Clarke confirmed he would run again but George Osborne has decided to stand down. SNP abstained whilst seeking an alliance with labour and the liberals against Mrs May.
Three labour MPs from the north east, my neighbour Pat Glass, Tom Blenkinsopp in Middlesbrough, and Iain Wright from Hartlepool, have announced they are also standing down.
The bbc take on the election is here:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-39631768
I have included the key Q+A

Who is allowed to vote?

Basically, if you're aged 18 or over on election day, registered to vote and a British citizen you can vote. Citizens of the Republic of Ireland resident in the UK and citizens of qualifying Commonwealth states resident in the UK can also vote if they are over 18 and registered to vote.

What if I live abroad?

British citizens living abroad can register online to vote as an "overseas voter" if they have been registered to vote in the UK in the past 15 years. 

How do I register to vote?

To vote in a general election you must be registered to vote. Registration is open throughout the year, although there will be a deadline for registering to vote at this general election once the date has officially been confirmed by Parliament. 
Voters can check if they are already registered by contacting their local electoral registration office using the Electoral Commission's website
People in England, Wales and Scotland can register to vote online, or download the forms to register by post, from the government's website. Voters in Northern Ireland use a different form that is returned to their local Area Electoral Office.

When is the deadline to register to vote?

Assuming you are eligible, you can register any time but be aware that there will be a deadline. The deadline to register for the last general election was 12 working days before people went to the polls. Assuming we follow the same timetable, the deadline would be 22 May.
You can even get yourself on the register if you are 16 or 17 but you will have to have turned 18 before 8 June to actually be eligible to vote.

What if I'm on holiday?

You can vote either by post or by proxy - that is appoint someone else to register your vote on your behalf. To do that you can download the form here. Whoever you nominate must be eligible to vote in the election themselves.
If you want to post it, you need to apply 11 working days before the election - in this case 24 May.

Are there going to be any boundary changes in this election?

No. They were not due to be introduced until 2020. A public consultation is under way with final proposals set to made in 2018.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Westminster this coming week dominated by the Prisons and Court Reform Bill

I am in bill committee Tuesday and Thursday of this week with line by line scrutiny of the bill that reforms prisons and modernises courts. The house has a packed week, and I am sure there will be detailed scrutiny of the deteriorating situation in both Syria and Korea.
I have a large number of constituents down in Westminster this week. My hope is to be on the last train north on Thursday night. Busy weekend of the county council elelections ahead.

Policy North industrial strategy finished and submitted as the government consultation closes this weekend

The government consultation on its proposed industrial strategy closed this weekend. This follows on from the highly successful event we held in newcastle in February with Margot James, MP, the small business minister. The team at policy north have worked really hard to produce a detailed document setting out some of the key aims and objectives. We will publish more info this week. Pictures from Margot's visit and meetings with business leaders a couple of months back.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter is a time for family, friendship, compassion + community

The PM has written and recorded a Easter message. In it Theresa May described Easter as “a moment to reflect and an important time for Christians and others to gather together with families and friends”.
She said: “I think of those values that we share – values that I learnt in my own childhood, growing up in a vicarage. Values of compassion, community, citizenship. The sense of obligation we have to one another. The PMs full article is here:

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Local elections are 3 weeks away - get involved, get voting and have your say on whether you think the Labour County Council are doing a good job and deserve another 4 years in office

Firstly, a salute to all the candidates. It takes courage to stand, to knock on doors, and to put your hand up as someone willing to represent a community.
Clearly I would like you all to vote conservative, but most of all I want you to vote.
Get involved.
This local Election really matters, for Northumberland, and particularly for the local people of the Ponteland and Tynedale areas.
3 of the Local Conservative Council candidate policies are set out below

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Still not booked a Easter break? Come to Northumberland. England's most beautiful County has much to offer

The perfect Northumberland day would feature:
A good walk - you could go to Hadrian's Wall http://www.visithadrianswall.co.uk/
ending at a good pub like the Twice Brewed Inn, or do a stretch of the Pennine Way, or take in the gentle wildness of the St Oswalds Way.

Where to stay:
If you have to have the creature comforts then Matfen Hall is a top destination but
Hexham's Beaumont Hotel http://www.bw-beaumonthotel.co.uk/
is family run and was good enough for Pippa Middleton when she came to stay a year back!
We also have all manner of brilliant pubs and Bed and Breakfasts but if you want a good alternative then the Battlesteads Hotel in Wark http://www.battlesteads.com/ consistently wins prizes; the best Bed and Breakfast in the country was recently adjudged by Les Routiers guide to be The Black Cock Inn: http://www.blackcockinn.co.uk/
Where to eat:
If you want great pub food then I am a big fan of the Barrasford Arms,http://www.barrasfordarms.co.uk/
and the pub also has great beer and a bar where you will discuss everything from sheep prices to current affairs and who won the big race of the day. Great people and a top dining pub.
The Feathers in Hedley, and La Bouchon in Hexham are both prize winning and the destinations for fine dining along with the Rat which has won recent awards.
You will need a tea shop on your travels:
My friends say I am on a mission to try every tea shop in Tynedale but the county is justifiably famous: on your Pennine Way travels do not forget to stop at the Greenhead Tea Room: http://www.heartofhadrianswall.com/tea-rooms/60-greenhead-tea-rooms
Alison makes great cakes and scones.
Corbridge has more tea shops that any other but my favourite is Tea and Tipple, where you can while away an afternoon - they do great Northumberland Scones, including the normal cheese scone but also Blue Cheese and Caramelised Onion Scones: http://teaandtipple.blogspot.co.uk/
Their web site has a special "Sconage" section...
Beer: this is obviously essential. We have lots of brilliant brewers, but I have worked a lot with the Hadrian Border Brewery, who produce the deliciously summer ale which is Tyneside Blonde. But my favourite would be a pint of Golden Plover, made locally by the Allendale Brewery, and found in most of the pubs: http://www.allendaleale.com/index.htm

What to see; the wildlife the visit alone: http://www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk/understanding/wildlifehabitats/heathermoorland/curlews
But if you want 5 places to visit these would all make anyone's top spots:

- The Beach at Bamburgh - a great walk and a top castle
- Roman Vindolanda http://www.vindolanda.com/ = our best Roman and historical site
- Kielder Water and Forest Park: http://www.visitkielder.com/
They win awards all the time!!
- Alnwick Castle and its magnificent Gardens http://www.alnwickcastle.com/
But if you go to one for engineering / spring flowers then I would probably pick Cragside: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cragside/
-It is a stunning house with amazing engineering everywhere and beautiful gardens filled with 40 miles of walks, rare flowers and so much more. It is a special place.

What to Buy:
Whether you want to browse the independent shops of Hexham or Corbridge or purchase pottery in Bardon Mill or visit some of the amazing markets there is so much to do.

Grand National - Cause of Causes will carry my hopes but Wonderful Charm a good outsider for Katie Walsh

I like the profile of Cause of Causes - an Irish National winning horse trained by Irish super trainer Gordon Elliott.
The top weight The Last Samuri is not big and has top weight but he loves the course, came second last year and will get into a rhythm and should again finish in the top four.
Highland Lodge is another to have won and been second on his last two visits to Aintree in the Becher Chase, loves the place and having not run since December is coming here fresh and yet trained to the minute. If you want an outsider then Wonderful Charm has also had the benefit of light season and finished like a steam train in the Foxhunters. His confidence is high and he could be the surprise package of the Paul Nicholls five.
If you want to see what the National is really like watch this video of Many Clouds winning. I was lucky to get to know the old boy several times at Oliver Sherwood's in Lambourn - see the picture of us below
This video of his win is amazing !!!!


Friday, 7 April 2017

Hexham Farmers Market tomorrow - #shoplocal + support your local Farmers and producers - use it or lose it!!

Great to get behind the British Tourism Week with Kevin Robson of Wild Dog Outdoors

Kevin Robson, Tour Guide and Owner of Wild Dog Outdoors, is one of Northumberland Tourism champions.
Kevin set up Wild Dog Outdoors in 2013 and is primarily a tour guide of Hadrian’s Wall, providing insightful and passionate tours on the Wall’s Roman and ancient history. He delights in regaling visitors with tales of Northumberland’s place in Britain’s history and exploring the iconic sites within the county. Anyone who goes on a tour with Kevin is treated to secret stories and anecdotes, usually the reserve of archaeologists and historians, which bring the locations to life. I met with Kevin last week at the beautiful Hexham Abbey to discuss his efforts to bring the magic of Northumberland to locals and tourists. 

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Positive developments at Haydon Bridge High School with confirmation of the new leadership team

This is clearly very good news. The team of teachers are doing a great job in turning HBHS around, and they have my full support.  

Information on RMT strike this Saturday - there will still be services on the Tyne Valley line

You may be aware that RMT has announced its intention to hold a further strike day on Saturday 8 April. 

These are the services that will be running on Tyne Valley on Saturday:


The ongoing dispute is about Northern’s plans to modernise the region’s rail services and the changes they need to make to the role of their conductors – a move which will make staff more visible and available than ever before on trains and on stations.

Northern is at the start of a significant modernisation programme. This includes major investment in new trains, new technology, investments in our stations, and a new focus on customer service.
Both myself and Northern are disappointed that RMT has called another strike day, as Northern had only been in contact with RMT officials 24 hours before they announced the strike to organise meaningful discussions. Northern wants to talk again about RMT’s role in bringing their modernisation plans to life while maintaining a safe and reliable railway.

On Saturday 8 April Northern will be operating 822 services between 09.00 and 17.00. Their plan is to keep as many people as possible on the move during that day and they are asking customers to plan ahead and consider whether their journey is absolutely necessary.

Northern have expressed to me that they are really sorry that their customers’ travel plans will be disrupted by this second day of strike action, especially with so many significant sporting events happening across our network, including the Grand National and football fixtures.

A special page on Northern’s website gives specific information on the services we will be running and this is available here.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Status of EU nationals in the UK - a top priority for the government going forward now Art 50 has been triggered

Last Friday, I met with a group of EU nationals residing in Hexham who are understandably concerned about their future status in the UK as a result of Brexit.
It goes without saying that EU nationals make an invaluable contribution to our economy, our society, and our daily lives. I assured them and all concerned that I will continue to represent them. Every Hexham resident deserves the best possible representation.
I am pleased that the Government has made it clear that securing the rights of EU nationals will be a genuine priority. I think it would be great if the EU resolved this speedily, as they have indicated, now that Article 50 has been triggered.
The discussions ahead that the Government has with the European Union to agree the arrangements for the UK’s exit will undoubtedly reflect the immense contribution made by EU citizens to our economy, our NHS, our schools, and in so many other ways too. However, I am aware that the discussions must also secure the interests of the 1.2 million British citizens who live and work elsewhere in the EU.
One thing is clear, however – that it is in the best interests of all for this issue to be sorted as quickly as possible. In the meantime, until exit negotiations are concluded, the UK remains a full member of the European Union and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force.
Below, I have compiled a list of links that I hope you will find useful if you have any further questions on this matter:
Status of EU nationals in the UK
UK Visa information for European Nationals
Latest HoC briefing paper on EU nationals currently exercising their free-movement rights and living in the UK
My blog post from February on this topic
On 5 March 2017, the cross-party parliamentary House of Commons committee on Exiting the European Union published a report called The Government’s negotiating objectives: the rights of UK and EU citizens (https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmexeu/1071/1071.pdf), which outlined a series of recommendations as to how the rights of EU nationals living in the UK could be guaranteed as soon as possible. This is a promising first step.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s comments in the House of Commons
Home Sec’s Dear Colleague letter 6 Feb 17
Home Office response to a Written Question
Prime Minister Theresa May’s Letter to President of the European Council Donald Tusk
Brexit Timeline
Meanwhile, if you are a Brit living or travelling in the EU, then the website you’ll need is:

Monday, 3 April 2017

Week ahead in Westminster - multiple meetings, bill preparation and correspondence catch up

The Commons has risen for the Easter recess but I am staying in Westminster for a few days to try and finish off the outstanding correspondence and casework, ensure that nothing has been missed in the hundreds of emails that we receive every day, and then do further prep work on the Prisons and Court Reform Bill that I am piloting through the commons. I also have a number of meetings this week in Westminster but will be heading north later in the week.

Cabinet Minister Sajid Javid calls on Labour NCC to stop boycott of Hexham Courant over public notices


Sunday, 2 April 2017

The PM is right to resist SNP demands for 2nd referendum - and polls show SNP does not equate to scotlands view

The UK government’s argument that it isn’t fair to expect the Scottish electorate to vote until they know the details of the Brexit deal has logic and emotional and intellectual force to it. And the polls are against Sturgeon and the snp. Here is the spectators take on the issue. 

Friday, 31 March 2017

#WearaHatday - I am getting involved to support brain tumour research

I will be wearing a hat today. I have been fortunate enough to race ride since my tumour so I will definitely wear a crash hat and my Northumberland hat. 
I will be there in. Wylam with many of the local school kids
Many people are campaigning for more support, research and investigation of the causes and treatment of brain tumours. I suffered a non malignant meningioma in 2011, from which I made a full recovery. Others have not been so lucky. Many locals have got behind the Stay Strong Stu campaign which has supported the matter being raised and debated in more detail in parliament. This process has begun. There is an ongoing campaign for more research - here is the link in Parliament to the recent evidence session:
Spending on the NHS is going up, but there are always more demands for resources and, more particularly in this case, for a change in emphasis and allocation of the NHS resources to focus more on brain tumour research and treatment. If you have not seen the amazing work of the Ridley family and the locals behind the campaign then go here: https://www.facebook.com/staystrongstu/
There is, at the same time, amazing work being done by many surgeons and academics; but, in particular, last year I was fortunate enough to meet and discuss progress with the amazing team from Newcastle University, who are genuinely leading the way in such research, diagnosis and new treatments.
Some of what they are doing is described here: http://www.ncl.ac.uk/nicr/news/item/instinct-groundbreaking-research-project-aimed-at-beating-childhood-brain-tumours

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

PM signs letter that triggers Brexit today - here is the timeline of what happens next

What happens next?

Here is a potential timeline of events.
  • 29 March, 2017 - UK triggers Article 50
  • 29 April - EU summit of the 27 leaders (without the UK) to agree to give the European Commission a mandate to negotiate with the UK
  • May - European Commission to publish negotiating guidelines based on the mandate the EU leaders give it. The EU might say something about possible parallel negotiation on a future EU-UK trade deal
  • May/June 2017 - Negotiations begin
  • 23 April and 7 May - French presidential elections 
  • 24 September - German parliamentary elections
  • Autumn 2017 - The UK government is expected to introduce legislation to leave the EU and put all existing EU laws into British law - the Great Repeal Bill 
  • October 2018 - Aim to complete negotiations
  • Between October 2018 and March 2019 - The Houses of Parliament, European Council and European Parliament vote on any deal
  • March 2019 - UK formally withdraws from the European Union (The Article 50 negotiations could be extended, but this is subject to the approval of the other 27 EU member states)

The detailed version of this is from the BBC
The PM will have delivered the letter today and will at 12:30 make a statement on the issue to the House of Commons after Prime Ministers Questions.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

There is another RMT Union rail strike Saturday April 8 - union action is misguided and wrong

Once again the RMT have chosen to go on strike - I have very little sympathy with such a premature, misguided and unproductive withdrawal of labour. RMT leaders are not helping.
I have blogged about this strike before:

The Courant have reported this upcoming second strike here: http://www.hexham-courant.co.uk/news/Another-24-hour-rail-strike-set-to-hit-Tyne-Valley-line-9dd517f5-2157-454e-aed4-d162bb7cdffd-ds

For those who are curious union boss Mr Cash allegedly earns £137,000 a year! This is double what an MP earns and almost what the Prime Minister does.

The key point is that Northern have really committed to the Tyne Valley Line and to the extra security on the line - this strike will affect the tyne valley commuters yet the same service is now better for Tyne Valley commuters. Utterly illogical. I am a strong supporter of unions but the RMT have got this strike way wrong.  

Monday, 27 March 2017

After a long campaign pleased the government is reforming the betting levy regulations to give a fair deal to horse racing

Today at 4:30 I will be helping to guide through the House of Commons the betting levy changes that see a long sought change to the levy, thereby improving the tax take and input to the British horse racing industry. This has taken many years but is utterly key to a longstanding future for this great industry in which the UK is the world leader.
Debate is for 90 minutes in committee room 12

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Westminster this coming week - mixed feelings but looking forward to getting back to work

It is a great honour to be asked to serve in the mother of all parliaments. It is a great honour to be an MP. To do this job, and to make our democracy happen the Houses of Parliament require protection. It will be very odd and very raw for all of us to be returning for a new working week tomorrow morning, with all the memories and horror of what happened last Wednesday so fresh in our minds. We all grieve those lost and wish well the recovery of the injured. But the day job continues.
For my part I begin the process of parliamentary scrutiny of the Prisons and Court Reform Bill, which has evidence and committee sessions this Tuesday and Wednesday. I am also one of the whips on duty in the house for the last day of debates for this spring term, which is Thursday.
I have several constituents down in Westminster to meet and discuss the expansion of the north east economy, and have a host of other meetings this week, ranging from events to discuss expansion of our tourism sector here in the north, to discussion of our FE sector.
Monday I am helping to guide through the house the changes to the horse race betting levy, in committee room 12 at 4:30.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Life goes on after the events of the Westminster attack this week

Terrorists win if you fundamentally change your behaviour, and compromise your freedoms and way of life. We mourn those who died and we will spend time working out how security and vigilance can be improved. But most of all we move on, live our lives, and make it clear that we in Great Britain a wonderfully characterful, funny, quirky and plucky country We are not afraid.
For my part, life goes on in Westminster and in the constituency. I have held surgeries and home visits, and door knocking this weekend and that will continue as normal. Westminster will be different but resolutely the same. Life goes on. Nothing changes.

Positive news as National Trust appear to be listening after their disastrous decision to close George Stephenson's cottage in wylam

The National Trust is a great institution that has lost its way recently. And nowhere is this best demonstrated by the unilateral closure of george Stephenson cottage in wylam. The arguments about how they failed to support or even sign post the venue are many but almost worse has been the failure  to accept there is a problem in their approach. Still I hope that we are getting there and I am encouraged by positive noises coming out of the Trust, as reported in the journal.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Details on the boundary commission, the representations made and next steps

This is from the independent boundary commission:
"Last year, the Boundary Commission for England published and consulted on our initial proposals for new constituency boundaries. We received nearly 20,000 responses to that consultation. The next stage of the 2018 Review is for us to publish all those representations so that others may comment on them. I write to you today to inform you that we will be publishing all the representations at midnight tonight. We will be inviting comments on them for the statutory four-week period, until Monday 27 March 2017. All representations will be published on our website at www.bce2018.org.uk, where you will be able to search by a number of different options, such as name, reference number, existing constituency or type of respondent, as well as using the interactive mapping system to locate comments geographically. The Commission would like to encourage you take time to see what others have said about our initial proposals, and add your views to those. We would also ask you to assist us by publicising this consultation as widely as possible in your constituency and further afield. Following the secondary consultation, the Commission will be considering all representations received from both consultations, and will consider whether any revisions are needed. If we decide to revise the proposals, we will consult on the revised boundaries. We currently expect any such consultation to happen towards the end of 2017, or in early 2018."
If a constituent wishes to add any further comments then my advice is to do the following:
● Online: Visit the website
and fill in the online form
● In writing: Send representations to:
Boundary Commission for England,
Importantly, the Conservative party counter-proposal did not require the creation of any ‘orphan’ wards to be attached to a Newcastle constituency, and kept the four wards which make up the town of Ponteland, wholly within their current Hexham constituency. It had a much better fit for the Hexham constituency, and preserves Ponteland, whose proposed split has upset many - see below and the representations made. 

This counter proposal solves fundamental inconveniences which would have resulted from the Commission's initial proposed changes, namely:

1. Ponteland East, Stannington, and Whalton are primarily rural areas. Whalton, Ogle, and Belsay do not connect to any of the Newcastle boundary lines; and if the Ponteland East & Stannington ward has been removed from the Hexham constituency as initial proposed, these areas would be represented by a primarily urban, Newcastle based MP.
2. Important local ties would have been broken by the proposed changes. For example, the town of Ponteland would literally be split; meaning the High School, Middle School, Leisure Centre, Golf Club and some of the town centre would be represented by a different MP to the MP representing most of the residents. The dividing line would also mean a Northumberland MP represented one half of Eastern Way and a Newcastle MP the other side.
This  counter proposal is supported by Eileen Armstrong, the County Councillor for Ponteland East and Stannington, all other Ponteland County Councillors, and myself.