Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Kinder Scout in the rain - but BBC Radio Newcastle first

Tomorrow I leave the sleepy village of Edale in North Derbyshire and walk to Crowden. This takes in Kinder Scout - a formidable peak ascended by the famous Jacobs Ladder. A long walk - probably in rain ... looking forward to it!
If you want to catch up with my thoughts on the coming "21 days long trek to Hexham" then tune in to BBC Radio Newcastle at 7.50 tomorrow morning - I am doing the breakfast show

In Sheffield

In 2011 both myself and my Labour colleague Paul Blomfield, the MP for Sheffield Central suffered brain tumours. Both of us have made a good recovery. Today I have travelled north to Sheffield before starting the walk tomorrow. Paul and I were guests on BBC Radio Sheffield drivetime show this afternoon with BBC DJ Howie Pressman [brother of the Sheffield Wednesday former goalkeeper]. This evening we are jointly doing an event with Headway in Sheffield.
I am walking for 21 days - Paul and his wife and a few others are doing day 1 with me tomorrow. Looking forward to it.

Boycott the Supermarkets that rip off our farmers

Today I am asking you to join me in a boycott certain supermarkets as part of our campaign for a fair deal for British Farmers.

I urge you to avoid buying milk at not  at Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl or Londis – and to think twice about Asda and the Co-op.

I launched the fair deal campaign to get a better deal for the regions farmers a few weeks ago, after a cut in milk prices highlighted how much farmers are squeezed by producers and big supermarkets.

However it's more than just a single issue, and there was a wider need to ensure a fair deal for British farmers. People want to buy British. People want british meat and british milk on our supermarket shelves, but that is pointless if farmers are being ripped off by the big supermarkets. I hope local people will use the pound in their pocket to make their support for our British farmers clear.

I have been pushing the Government to speed up and enforce the draft code of practice between milk processors and producers which diary farmers have been calling for; an agreement on the code now looks likely which is good news.

But we must not be fooled. Some supermarkets are acting shamefully. In 1996 supermarkets were making an average margin of about 2.3p a litre on milk, but today it stands at around 15p a litre. At the same time they want to pay farmers less than the 30p a litre, a price which is the bare minimum farmers can survive on.

The current price at Tesco for a two-pint (1.1 litre) carton of milk is currently 89p, while at Asda a four pint carton can be purchased for just £1.

Tesco, Sainsbury, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer are all paying the minimum 30p a litre or more to dairy farmers. Aldi, Lidl, Londis, Asda and the Co-op do not and Morrisons have now temporarily raised the price they pay, but for how long? I hope local people will join me in avoiding those stores that won't pay a reasonable price to our local diary farmers and help get a fair deal for British farmers.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Olympic ceremony and cycle race

What a great Olympic Opening Ceremony! Loved the Bond spoof - particularly the corgi doing a forward roll in excitement at seeing 007. Thought the industrial revolution section amazing and loved Brunel / Branagh, Bean and so much more. Am now stuck in Westminster clearing my desk but managed to get out yesterday to watch some of the cycle road race - gutted for Cavendish and the rest of the British Team.  

Friday, 27 July 2012

Pennine Way Plans

Final details of the epic 280 mile Pennine Way walk this August are just being finalised - but the short summary is as follows:
Aug 1: leave Edale, North Derbyshire and walk to Crowden via Kinder Scout
Aug 2: Crowden to Standedge
Aug 3: Standedge to Hebden Bridge [Speaking at event near Halifax]
Aug 4: Hebden Bridge to Haworth
Aug 5: Haworth to Thornton
Aug 6: work day in Keighley / Bradford
Aug 7: Thornton to Malham / Horton
Aug 8-12: Tbc but Horton to Dufton [Speaking in Skipton area 8/8]
Aug 13 Dufton to Garrigill / Alston [Speaking at venue TBC]
Aug 14: Alston to Greenhead [[Speaking at Haydon Bridge Community Centre 7pm]
Aug 15: Work day in Haltwhistle, Northumberland [Speaking at the Haltwhistle Comrades Club 7pm]
Aug 16: Walking / working along the Tyne valley / Hadrians Wall
Aug 17: Housesteads to Bellingham [ Speaking at a Dinner in Battlesteads Inn, Wark]
Aug 18: Working / Falstone Show
Aug 19: Bellingham to Byrness
Aug 20: Working / rest day
Aug 21: Byrness to Kirk Yetholm
Aug 22: Rest!
When I have more precise details I will post them. Anyone wishing to meet up on the way please call 01434 603777
You can donate by going to my Just Giving page: http://www.justgiving.com/GuyGNAA
You can also simply text 'OQHK97 £5' to 70070 to donate £5.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

New Train factory brings jobs and investment

Some fantastic news for the region today as the Government has announced that Hitachi will be building 596 rail carriages at a new factory in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham. The first trains will enter service on the Greater Western Main Line in 2017 and on the East Coast Main Line by 2018. A total of 730 new skilled jobs will be created with a further 200 created during construction of the factory itself. Transport Secretary Justine Greening said: "A new train factory is fantastic news for Britain and will be welcomed by everyone who wants to see a thriving UK manufacturing sector. "The decision to build almost 600 new intercity train carriages is great for rail passengers who will experience faster and more comfortable journeys when travelling across Britain on the East Coast and Great Western main lines. "Hitachi is the latest major international company to invest on this scale in Britain and I look forward to this new factory in County Durham following in the footsteps of Nissan's successful car plant in Sunderland."

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Syrian uprising will end soon but....

Syria will have regime change soon, that much is clear from the events of the last 7 days. It is merely a question of when Assad flees or dies in Damascus, not if. His regime may still be heavily armed, and enjoy the ongoing tacit support of the Russians but the fighting is getting ever closer in Damascus. Reports of rebel control of Iraqi border controls, mass defections, violent fighting in the northern city of Aleppo and the deaths of key generals and family members this week point to a dynasty on a fast slope down the dictators exit ramp. But what will replace Assad? Will they be able to introduce democracy or will Syria sink under the weight of its conflicting religious and tribal differences? I visited Beirut last year and met many Syrians living over the border in Lebanon. They were not supporters of Assad, but many asked whether the replacement regime would be better. I can find very few supporters of the Assad regime, given the way it is trying, and succeeding, in killing so many of their own countrymen. All want peaceful regime change, but few expect this to end well. The end is coming, and for the law abiding Syrian it cannot come too soon. But, as always, be careful what you wish for.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Persuading the Office of Fair Trading to investigate the fuel companies

Robert Halfon MP and I have made repeated appearances before the Backbench Business Committee in the House of Commons this last month as we battle to bring the big fuel companies into the spotlight over their pricing structures. We all know that they put prices up like a shot when the price of oil goes up yet when the commodity price falls they take weeks or months to pass on the price cut. Put simply, we want the oil companies actions investigated. We cannot force the OFT to act as they are independent of government but if all of parliament asks the oft to act on a cross party basis then we should get results. Other countries are carrying out this sort of investigation so I think the UK should too. Full details of our last joint application are found on this link, which also explains how backbench busines committee works. In reality this debate will be heard we hope when parliament formally rehears backbench debates in September, but watch this space. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmbackben/uc0307/ucbbc0307.htm

By-election Win in Hexham West

Fantastic result tonight in the Hexham Leazes Ward, which is part of the Hexham West County Council Divison. The Conservatives have taken the seat from the Lib Dems with a great result: Con: 569 Lib: 351 Lab: 273 Turnout: 41% CON GAIN from Lib Dem Well done to everyone involved. I know the local Conservative team put in a lot of work in a tough fight with the other parties. Another big blow for the Lib Dems who not only lose the seat but this is their second by-election defeat in the town in a matter of months.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Otterburn Crisis Meeting

On Monday night we held a meeting in the Percy Arms, Otterburn, with the hauliers, energy company and turbine manufacturers following the disastrous accident when one of their lorries went off the road. The accident caused a significant loss of earnings to key local businesses and also local people. It was a good meeting and I am confident we will get a speedy resolution to the problem.

The BBC came along and filed the following report: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-18868152

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

A Fair Deal for British Farmers - trying to fix a broken milk market

This week I have launched a campaign to get a fair deal for the regions farmers after meeting with diary farmers hit by a cut in milkprices this week. The changes have meant the amount paid to some British dairy farmers for their milk recently fell 5 to 6p a litre below what it costs to produce.

Many of you will have read how hard dairy farmers are being hit at the moment. I am hopeful the Government's Grocery Code Adjudicator Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, and which will effectively create a Supermarket Watchdog, will be the key to getting a better deal for the regions under-threatdairy farmers. I want to ensure the Grocery Code Adjudicator Bill will protect suppliers and farmers against retailers passing on excessive risks or unexpected costs.

People want to buy British. They want to support british farming. People want british meat and british milk on our supermarket shelves, but that is only worth something if the farmers are getting a fair deal from the supermarkets and big processors. The first step of our campaign is to push the Government to speed up and enforce the draft code of practice between milk processors and producers. This is the only the way to start to repair the broken milk market in the short term.

In this case Dairy Farmers deserve equal and fair contracts with the big milk processors. The current situation where a processor can end the contract immediately - but the farmer has to give six months notice - is just unfair and wrong.

Too many people seem to think free markets are the answer ...well not when those markets have broken down. Processors and Supermarkets are abusing their power. The cost of almost everything in this country is regulated, except the price of milk.

I won't be afraid of naming and shaming the worst supermarkets in this Fair Deal for Farmers campaign.
I urge you to think twice about going to Asda, Morrisons and the Co-Op, who are squeezing every last drop of life out of our rural economy; they should be ashamed at themselves for forcing farmers to operate at a loss.

Our campaign will make sure the voices and concerns of local farmers’ are fully represented to the government. British Farmers are not asking for the earth, simply a fair price for their produce.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Northern Rail Meeting at the Valley in Corbridge

Great meeting last night between 3 of the key Northern Rail team who made a big effort to come out and sit down for a meal with a variety of rail users and concerned locals - all of whom gave up their evening to get involved. All of us want a better railway service and it was a really worthwhile meeting that lasted 3 hours and was accompanied by delicious Indian food.
This photo was by Robert Forsythe [a man who possibly knows more about the railways than Brunel and Stephenson ever did put together!] and there is more on the TVRUG website and facebook / blog: http://www.tvrug.org.uk/
My particular thanks to Richard, Alan and Drew from Northern Rail - what impressed me most was that they clearly care passionately about the railways. We are merely one part of their franchise, but I am certain this was the first in many steps that we will be taking to ensure that Northumberland residents get a better service and a voice that is heard more loudly both in the North and in Westminster.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Good news on trains

Today we have a key meeting with Northern Rail in Corbridge. For some time I have been trying to get better relations with Northern Rail as we attempt to get  a better rail service for the Tyne Valley and also from Newcastle generally. So I am pleased that tonight we have a meeting between Northern executives and key local train enthusiasts, notably the Tyne Valley Rail Users Group.
This is against a backdrop of the wonderful news of the investment announcement today in the North: the latest industry five-year plans is intended to help end the north-south divide. Much of the investment, covering 2014-19, is aimed at the North, with the Northern Hub improvements that will cut journey times between cities such as Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool and Newcastle. Full details will be announced later.
For my part I am pleased that we are meeting for a curry in the Valley = the number one train lovers restaurant, as it is based in the old ticket hall at Corbridge station.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Transcript and Video of the Air ambulance debate and presentation of the Hexham Courant petition

Full transcript of the VAT on Air Ambulance debate in the House of Commons can be found here:

The video of the entire debate can be found here:
Debate starts 5 hours 9 minutes in
As has been asked several times in emails yes, I am wearing my Great North Air Ambulance badge in my buttonhole, and a green GNAA wristband!
The Hexham Courant Petition was presented to the House shortly after the main debate ended and is found here:

Bastille Day - an Englishman winning the tour de france

Bastille Day - an Englishman winning the tour de france; July 14 is meant to be the French Independence and Liberation Day in France. But this year it is different. I am avid cylist, and a big supporter of Wiggins and Cavendish's efforts in the Tour. Wiggins has a two second lead, and all done with the most impressive sideburns ever seen since the 1980's.
If he wins perhaps we should rename July 14 "Bradley Wiggins Day" as the British cyclist takes the Tour de France by storm.
I know they will be going bananas in Chorley, Lancs where Wiggins lives. This is essential viewing on C4

Friday, 13 July 2012

Otterburn Village Festival this weekend

This weekend sees the Otterburn Festival. I shall be there most of Saturday. Full details here: http://www.otterburnvillagefestival.co.uk/index.php The event is in aid of the GNAA and Help for Heroes and features an arena with ongoing entertainment on both days as well as craft and trade stands and food outlets. Also displayed will be vintage cars, tractors, commercials, motorbikes and stationary engines. There are activities especially for children. Full credit to the organisation team, the Otterburn Parish Council and the many local businesses who have got invovled and are sponsoring notably the Otterburn Tower Hotel, along with Tynedale Timber Supplies, J.D.Weldon and The Trojan Group. I will be there from 10 am to around 3 on Saturday.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

10 Downing Street Last Night

Larry the Cat outside 10 Downing Street last night. "He's got the Hump!" said the security men. Despite the efforts of the security men, myself, and the Downing Street staff we could not persuade the premier mouser into his home. He lay dozing out on the balcony by the front door to Downing Street.
This took place yesterday when I and other colleagues went over to 10 Downing Street. I still find walking into Whitehall's inner sanctum an incredible experience.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Dairy Farmers London Crisis Meeting

Just back from the crisis meeting of the UK Dairy farmers, this afternoon, [see packed hall] who are in desperate trouble, because there have been severe cuts to the price of milk, by the retailers and supermarkets. Effectively milk is now being produced at a price [around 30p base price] and then purchased by the retailers at a cost below 30p - sometimes as little as 25p.

I could only stay for 40 minutes at the meeting because of the Air Ambulance Debate, but there is no doubt that the supermarkets and retailers should hang their head in shame. As one farmer put it: "how have we reached a situation where Tesco runs the country?"
I know some constituents attended amongst the thousands who were there but I am meeting some of my dairy farmers next week, and will be trying to speak to Jim Paice the Agriculture Minister in the intervening period.
For a fuller report: see here: http://www.itv.com/news/tyne-tees/story/2012-07-11/dairy-farmers-protest/

Air Ambulance Debate today

This afternoon we will be praising the work of the Air Ambulance teams throughout the country and debating whether the state should give more support to this wonderful charity. Successive governments have benefited from the hard work of this amazing organisation. The precise time of the debate in the main chamber is a little unclear and I will try and update the blog but it is likely to be at around 4.45pm in the House of Commons. I will be standing up for the Great North Air Ambualnce, but it is, in reality, no less deserving of our support than the other 17 Air Ambulance organisations in the country. The heart of the debate is the Epetition that has garnered over 150,000 supporters and which has resulted in a backbench business committee debate today. The desire is to ensure that the government reimburses the VAT incurred by these organsations on their fuel.
Update: 21 speakers spoke in favour of the Motion and the whole House voted for it. My thanks for the support of so many locals and all across the country.
I will be walking the Pennine Way in support of the GNAA this summer and will be at the Otterbrun Show this Saturday. If you want to see a short clip of the debate look here: http://www.itv.com/news/tyne-tees/update/2012-07-11/refund-fuel-vat-for-air-ambulances/

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

A bank of Northumberland?

Today I held a debate on Community Banks in the House of Commons. I used the debate as chance to unveil my idea for reforming our banking system. A key part of my proposal is that shares in Royal Bank of Scotland should be distributed to the public free of charge.

ITV have covered it HERE, where you can also watch a clip of my speech.

If my plan went ahead it would create around 45million shareholders, the largest in history, dwarfing the 10million shareholders that were created during the 1980's through the sell off of BT and British Gas.

It is crucial to remember that the Government didn't bail out the banks, the public did. It was their hard earned tax money that kept the banks afloat now it's time they shared some of the rewards too.

My plans would see taxpayers get an effective rebate in the form of the shares but also more importantly, help restore confidence in the banking industry. The truth is British banking is broken. The public is quite rightly fed up with a system which has became overwhelmed by small vested interests and personal greed.

What better way to repair it than by giving every member of the public a say in our state owned bank. Yes people could sell if they wanted too, but the force of having 45 million British taxpayers holding banking shares would help transform the banking system.

Banks are there to serve the public, something they have totally forgotten.

Under my plan the public would take on shareholdings whilst the bank itself was not sold but instead broken up and used to form community banks.

We should decentralise the branch management and use it to form the basis of devolved local community banks - a local bank for every city and every county. Linking these new banks with the local Chamber of Commerce.

We have golden opportunity with RBS to transform the banking system.

If we adopted my model lending decisions would be made by managers who understood the economy around them better than anyone at London head office ever could. These managers - embedded in their local economy - could base their judgements on knowledge of people and businesses without being overruled by a computer or centralised targets, with their success being intertwined by the success of the local economy.

How would it work? My plans would see all 45 million people on the electoral roll given shares. Those shares would entitle them to a shareholder of a local bank made up of the broken up RBS. Each 'local bank' would coincide with a County or City Council. Effectively creating the Bank of Northumberland for example with every adult in Northumberland acting as a shareholder. The banks lending powers would be limited to persons and businesses within the Council boundary. With residents as shareholders, the banks administration would be run by the existing council to save costs.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Change to Win - the challenge in the North

This summer I am taking on a big tour of the North. I will broadly be following the path of the Pennine Way, talking to voters, and listening to their concerns. I hope to find out what the Conservatives are doing right by the North, and also what we're getting wrong. There will be more about the walk on the blog in the next few weeks.

In a similar strand of thought the Journal's Regional Affairs reporter Adrian Pearson wrote a piece last week on my attempts to do things a bit differently as a Conservative MP up here in the North East. I hope he won't mind me reproducing it below:

Opperman’s approach can help the Tories make progress
 - The Journal 30/6/12

"North East Conservatives are a most curious creature. Bracketed with generic "Northern Conservatives", they are counted as a branch of the party which can make gains in Yorkshire and North West. But the North East is Labour in its industrial areas and Berwick is loyal to Sir Alan Beith. So over the last 15 years the party has had to talk big but accept reality.

Eric Pickles, now a secretary of state, came to Tynemouth in the run-up to the 2010 General Election and boldly admitted that "if we can’t win here the party has made no progress at all." Have a look at North Tyneside and it is clear that progress has a long way to go. Elected Conservative mayor Linda Arkley is in for quite a battle in 2013.

Council elections last month saw her long-serving group leader lose his seat. The party is paying heavily and really there will only be national issues in the minds of voters when they head to polls in this election. Worse, there is no election in Newcastle next year, which means all eyes will be on North Tyneside as one of the few newsworthy stories.

Despite this mayor Arkley isn’t backing down. She’s sought and accepted the nomination to be the candidate – a post which one imagines few would contest. If she survives, the party will be galvanised and ready for a fight two years later. If she loses, few will notice.
Guy Opperman will be watching you can imagine. Which is odd, because the Hexham MP has things fairly safe. Northumberland isn’t about to kick out it’s Tory MP any time soon. Mr Opperman however, appears not to have noticed he has a relatively safe seat. He has rocked the boat twice already- in ways that in others would indicate a fight for their political lives.

First, on calls for a mansion tax to hit high earners. Mostly those are high earners in the South East and not votes he needs to win, but enough of a rebellion to upset some. A far bigger upset came after his comments to this newspaper on regional pay. Mr Opperman did not back down after becoming the first to criticise George Osborne’s plans to hit Northern public sector wages.

Instead this week he made a speech in defiance of his critics, both those within the part and those nationally. Included were a few lines which explain Mr Opperman’s increasing role as the Tory’s main man in the region. He said; ‘We need to be a one nation coalition and our focus should not shine too brightly on London and the South East. We should represent all the people in our constituencies, from the dinner lady to the gentleman who employs 200 people. It is not an exclusive either/or matter.’

Increasingly Labour in the North will find it difficult to challenge this sort of Conservative. His campaigns on fuel poverty and his rebellion on pay are part of a modern Tory image which moves the party away from the right-wing perception yesteryear. When Lee Martin attempted to take the Sunderland Central seat in 2010 he would occasionally be met with shouts of ‘’Thatcher’s man’’ by those who think engaging in politics involves idiotic slogans being shouted loudly.

In a slightly less confrontational way, the same claims have been made against Mr Opperman. They will not stick. Mr Opperman was 10 years old when Mrs Thatcher came to power. His youth and young adult years were those of New Labour’s rise to power and he didn’t join the Conservative party until he was 30. The MP said this week his party has to think about a way of winning back the North.

Mr Opperman’s non-tribal approach is perhaps the best lesson the party could learn. His attempts to break through the left-right divide will serve his party well, but only if the Conservatives can put the resources behind that message in 2015."

You can follow Adrian on twitter at @adrianpearson

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Sunday with Murray, Speeches and Silverstone

Writing speeches on House of Lords for Monday, Community Local Banks /RBS for Tuesday and fine tuning Air Ambulance speech for Wednesday's debate before an afternoon of Murray and Silverstone. Genuinely believe Murray can consign the greatest tennis player of all time into second place today. The man who wins at Silverstone will be the one with the best waterproofs...

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Armed Forces Day in Hexham

Today was Armed Forces Day in Hexham, and saw the town turn out in force to thank our brave troops. Soldiers from 39 Royal Artillery exercised the Freedom of the Town of Hexham which was awarded to them by the Town Council last year. The troops marched through the town wearing the multi-terrain pattern uniforms which signifies the constant presence that the soldiers have had in Afghanistan.
There was a great turn out, but the event was tinged with sadness, of course, as we heard this week that the 39 Regiment is one of the regiments to be withdrawn after the end of the Afghan war, with the soldiers spread among other Royal Artillery units.
Last Thursday I met with Nick Harvey MP, The Minister of State for the Armed Forces, to discuss the impact of the changes to the Army and have been been given two important assurances. Firstly the men in the 39th will be at no greater risk of redundancy than anyone else. Secondly the changes will not happen immediately but in 2015.

Today the focus was on thanking every single one of those brave soldiers for the role they have played in Afghanistan and keeping us safe.

Doreen Soulsby achieves a change in the law - and Justice for victims

My constituent Doreen Soulsby is a truly amazing woman, but she is also sadly the mother of a daughter who was sexually assaulted and murdered locally in Northumberland many years ago not far from where I live. Her daughters assailant was prosecuted successfully for murder, but in a bizarre legal decision at the time the murderer was not prosecuted for rape, despite admitting it at the time of the offence. The decision not to allow prosecution was also not one that Mrs Soulsby agreed with, nor to be fair was it one that the CPS barrister at the time agreed with. However, after a long campaign Mrs Soulsby, andf others similarly affected by such decisions, have managed to get the CPS guidance and, effectively, the law changed.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, met with the Doreen, myself, the Victims Commissioner Louise Casey, and others in a meeting in London as part of the victims campaign. In future, when prosecutors decide whether to prosecute, they must consider not only if there is a realistic prospect of conviction but also if it is in the public interest.
The DPP is an impressive man and an excellent lawyer / prosecutor. He wrote in Thursday Times as follows:

"I met Mr and Mrs Clough and other parents in a similar position [Doreen Soulsby]. Their argument was powerful: that overall sentence is not the only factor and, in many ways, the public interest will be served by bringing rape charges even when there is a murder conviction. So I decided to look again at this issue and, after consultation, today I am publishing revised guidance. In cases where an offence as serious as rape is alleged in the context of a subsequent murder, the Crown Prosecution Service should persist with the rape charges save in exceptional circumstances, even if no extra penalty can realistically be imposed.

Although the CPS does not act on behalf of victims or their families, it is vital that we acknowledge how important it is that families feel that justice has been done. In this new guidance I have made it clear that prosecutors must consult families whenever a plea or conviction for murder is entered and explain to them the implications of not proceeding with other charges. That does not mean that the CPS will always persist with charges, but leaving charge to lie on the file will now be the exception, not the rule. The CPS has worked hard in recent years to improve how we prosecute rape, and we now challenge the myths and stereotype that rape victims can attract. both in our decision-making and in court. These guidelines add to that important work."

Keir added this crucial point:
"Victims and their families should not have only a "walk on" part in our criminal justice system. They should be treated as real participant with real interests that deserve to be protected."

Fuller details of this amazing womans long camapign can be found here:

Friday, 6 July 2012

Freeman Heart Unit Saved

I am very pleased with the decision by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts to keep the Children's Heart Unit at the Freeman Hospital open. Since the election I have joined campaigners fighting the possible closure and have raised the issue directly with the Government.  The Children's Heart Unit at the Freeman is well-established, successful and highly valued by patients and parents. I am delighted that the Committee has taken account of the input and concerns of local people and doctors in this decision, which I know will be a huge relief and comfort for many people across the region. Looking after a child with a heart condition is extremely demanding on families and this decision will come has a huge relief.

It should be understood that this is a decision taken by clinicians for clinical reasons. I have huge sympathy for areas who have lost their facility but this arose out of a lack of specialism centres with a large throughput of work. It is a process I endorse.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

A Packed Northumberland Weekend - with Beer attached!

Pint pulling is on the agenda Friday Night at the Haydon Bridge Beer Festival - please come along and support the excellent charities and also enjoy dozens of great beers, and wine. I will be working behind the bar then sampling for sure.
I am on the very early flight Friday morning to Newcastle [ugh - Terminal 5 at 6.30am is not a journey I am looking forward to] but have a packed weekend including Armed Forces Day which kicks off in Hexham at 10am. Please come in and support our troops who will be marching through the town. There is much happening in the town all day.

Debate next Tuesday in the House of Commons on RBS and Community Banks

Next Tuesday I have secured a debate on the future of RBS and the need for community local banks.
Timing is everything, and I have been wanting to get a debate on this issue for some time. As my colleague JohnRedwood writes today - see his blog here: http://johnredwoodsdiary.com/
this bank is key to the fate of the UK economy, as it was bailed out by the UK Government in the days before LIBOR became a buzz word, and we still own over 80% of it.
What RBS does is of vital importance to the future of the UK economy - it needs to be run well to avoid more taxpayer losses, and to get taxpayer cash back.

I have long argued for the creation of more community banks. More details will follow but the disposal of RBS will have a crucial impact on local banks.
As John makes clear today:
In 2010 the Group lost £1666 million.
In 2011 the Group lost £1969 million.
In the first quarter of 2012 the Group lost £1404 million.
All this and the banks computer / IT disasters have caused serious problems to many customers these last 2 weeks

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Success for Kielder campaign

Kielder Forest will remain in public ownership I am pleased to say. The working forest was one of a number that was initially considered for transfer into private ownership by the Government. I opposed the move at the time and news is very welcome. Today a panel set up by Caroline Spelman, the Sectary of State for the Environment, has advised that no forests should be sold off. Speaking after considering the finding, Mrs Spelman said, "I therefore agree with the Panel that the Public Forest Estate should continue to benefit from public ownership. A well managed and publicly owned estate provides the sort of public benefits we need to protect – such as and biodiversity."
Kielder and our other forests represent the green lungs of the North East - the heart and soul of the Northumberland countryside. As well being as a significant local employer, it is key to local industry and one of the region's major tourist attractions, with over a quarter of a million visitors a year.  
I believe our forests and woodlands are at the forefront of the public's hearts and minds. I have campaigned for them to remain in public ownership and I think the Government has now got this right. It is the right thing to do.
The Government will consider the report and submit it's full response in January 2013.

Was John F Kennedy right?

"I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." So said John  F Kennedy, at a White House dinner honoring Nobel Prize winners on the 29 April 1962.
In my view Kennedy was right.
The 4th July - in reality it is all about Jefferson. A founding father and drafter of the American constitution he was many things: lawyer, architect, farmer, statesman, President of the USA, French Ambassador and so much more. But also an owner of many hundreds of slaves, a tobacco planter, and possible father to several slave children after his wife died. He also did the greatest land deal in history - buying Louisana from the French for a song. But above all he was wise: below are a few of his sayings:
"A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference. "

"A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities."
"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent."
"All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression."
"Commerce with all nations, alliance with none, should be our motto."
"Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition."

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Mowden School in the House of Commons

Mowden School visited today in the House, which makes them the 3rd school we have had visiting in the last 10 days. We are really trying to welcome all our schools down from Northumberland. This House of Commons belongs to everyone, and I hope that by opening up parliament to all the children - and the many teachers and parents who come too - we get to share this wonderful building, its history and so much more.
As always I am asked so many questions but the best ones today were:
- Do you have to know the answer to everything?
- Whats David Cameron really like?
- What are the similarities between the Englisha dn Finnish parliaments? This last one came out of left field, I accept. 

Armed Forces Day

I am looking forward to returning home this weekend as Hexham will be celebrating Armed Forces Day on Saturday. There is always a great turn out and it is a very proud day for me as an MP. During Local Government questions this week I was able to ask the minister if he shared my view that pubs should be encouraged to accept soldiers at all times after some of the stories we have all read about those in uniform being turned away from pubs down south. You can watch it HERE at 9 mins 5 seconds in and find out what the minister had to say...

July 3rd 1863 - The battle of Gettysburg decides the American Civil War

Gettysburg: The 3rd July 1863 was the climactic day when the American Civil war was decided at the Battle of Gettysburg: the Confederate and Union armies had assembled in this farming town of Southern Pennsylvania. They went there for 3 reasons - mainly because General Lee had secured a series of victories in Virgina and planned to assault the army of the Potomac and encircle Abraham Lincoln in the White House, cut off from his men. The town of Gettysburg, a sleepy farming town was a geographical magnet because it is a meeting point of 12 roads pointing in all directions; there is also an apocraphal rumour that there was a warehouse of new shoes in Gettysburg, and as most men lacked any serviceable boots, this was an irresistible inducement.

The battle started for real on July 2nd but was a stalemate. On the 3rd Southern General Lee gambled everything on a frontal assault, led by the Virginian Infantry of  George Pickett. Of the 12,000 men he led across the field to the Emmitsburg Road only half made it through the next hour before being repulsed by withering Union musket fire. From this point on the war was lost.
After the battle Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address: it is one of the greatest speeches ever written, and only 10 sentences long:
    "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Monday, 2 July 2012

Why July 2nd, 3rd and 4th will always define America

July 2nd, 3rd and 4th are the beating heart of all America. As the US Election rages, and descends into ever greater mudslinging, I have decided to focus and contemplate these three key days in history:On the 2nd July 1776 the 13 Colonies of the United States Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence. Congress then turned its attention to a Declaration of Independece, fundamentally drafted on July 2-3rd by Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, a committee of the greatest men who ever lived. This declaration was then debated and approved on the 4th July 1776, and signed as recorded in Trumbull's famous painting.
On the 2/7/1776, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
Of course the reality is that Americans celebrate the 4th July, not the second. Bizarrely, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were not only the only signers of the Declaration of Independence later to serve as President of the USA but they also died on died on the same day: July 4, 1826, which was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration.

Nowadays all the world knows that the 4th of July is Independence day - just as the 14th July is known the world over as Bastille Day in France. The actual text of the Declaration, finally signed on July 4th 1776 is here: http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/

As we debate the breaking of bonds with Scotland it is worth a read.

Barclays Chairman resigns - the case for local banks grows.

A police investigation must surely follow this latest banking scandal. As the chairman of Barclays resigns, and we prepare to hear evidence in the House in 2 days from Bob Diamond, I am in no doubt that those who are responsible for this fraud should be brought to justice. The matter should be put in to the hands of the police forthwith.
This can only strengthen our argument for the need for local community banks, rather than these big beasts who seem to ride roughshod over the normal rules of law and ethics.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Battles with Depression - good people highlighting a difficult illness

The House of Commons is full of wonderful and contrasting characters. I often think it is at its best when MP's speak, from the heart, about their personal experiences.

This is exactly what happened three weeks ago in a debate on mental health. Most of us know someone who has been affected by this disease, and it is fair to say that awareness and understanding has sharply increased over the last 20 years. However, more can be done. This is why I applaud those members who spoke so frankly, and so movingly, about their own experiences. What they did is not easy, and the MPs Charles Walker, Kevan Jones and Dr. Sarah Wollaston in particular deserve great credit for bringing this important issue to the fore.
For Charles and Kevan's speeches click here- http://conservativehome.blogs.com/parliament/2012/06/read-the-whole-of-charles-walker-mps-brave-commons-speech-today-about-his-mental-health-history.html

Closer to home, but no less inspirational, is my constituent Katherine Wilkinson. She is getting famous through her honesty and her 30 day challenge. Having suffered from depression for 7 years, she was only recently diagnosed in March and she is, as her blog makes clear, "on a mission to raise awareness". Her "30 day challenge", is a whole month of weird and wacky challenges to raise money for the Depression Alliance charity. These range from "Cream cake conversation world record attempt" (which she did for 5 mins 57 secs) to learning to DJ. What she is doing is incredible and I think this brave and determined young lady deserves all of our support.

For more details, visit her blog at http://browsemythoughts.tumblr.com/, or donate to the Depression Alliance Charity at