Thursday, 28 February 2013

Riverside / Home Group Public Meeting Tonight in Haydon Bridge

6.30pm tonight, Shafto First School, for residents of Showfield, Crookhill Close, and Innerhaugh Mews in Haydon Bridge - both companies are coming along to answer questions and clear up any issues about their properties. This follows on from several complaints I received when I was in the area a month or so ago. If you are a resident and cannot come along simply email / write to me at the office with your concerns in the usual way.

Immigration figures out today show net migration falling again

Praise to the Home Office team for doing what we said we would do = tackling immigration - down by a third.
My boss Mark Harper said today on the announcement of the figures:
"Our tough reforms are having an impact in all the right places – we have tightened the routes where abuse was rife and overall numbers are down as a result. But sponsored student visa applications for our world-class university sector are up and the numbers of skilled people being sponsored by UK employers in sectors such as IT and science have also increased. We will continue to work hard to bring net migration down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament and to create a selective immigration system that works in our national interest.”
Full story here:

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Eastleigh By Election tomorrow

I have been 3 times to Eastleigh for the by election, including yesterday morning. It will clearly be a tight run thing. Both the Liberal and Conservative candidates are good local candidates who care passionately about their area. The key issue I found on the doorstep was not Chris Huhne or Rennard's misdemeanours, the AAA rating, or anything Labour was saying but the concern of local people that the Liberal Council had decided to build on green fields in the heart of the constituency.
As always with local housing decisions this was a very key issue. In Hamble the gravel pit played a part. All these issues are local ones raised by local people wanting proper local representation. In my view that is right.
But the politics of prejudice were best shown by Ukip. A woman handed me a leaflet in  Eastleigh from Ukip that saddened me hugely. It is difficult to deal with opponents who play upon people's fears, and who promise what is patently not true and not possible to deliver:
The Ukip leaflet promised to reduce everyone's taxes, increase the military / police / pensions etc, send more people to prison and introduce free student grants.
They back this up with immigration messages that imply 4 million + people will leave their home countries of Romania and Bulgaria and come to the UK. This is totally untrue.

The Romanian Prime Minister wrote in the Times on Monday with the express words "Don't worry, there will be no flood of Romanians".
Contrary to popular belief Romanians are already free to travel abroad, and the vast majority of them have gone to Latin based countries like Spain, Italy and France to work. Their own PM wrote in Mondays Times:
"If the immigration process continues, which is unlikely, it will definitely not focus on the UK". He went on to add that -"our people are our most valuable, cherished and significant resource. And we will do our utmost to keep them in our country. This why Britain can rest assured. They will not rush to Britain in January 2014. They will be busy developing their own country. Meanwhile we would be happy to welcome British people here - be it for a holiday in the sleepy villages that Prince Charles loves so much [the Prince visited last summer] or for a strong pint in the Old Town of Bucharest."      
I cannot be in Eastleigh tomorrowe as I catch the morning flight north but I will be watching the result with interest.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Children and Young Families Bill passes - good news on adoption, SEN Provision and reforms child care

The Children and Families Bill is a very important new piece of legislation. It received its second reading yesterday in the House of Commons and has more pre legislative scrutiny to go.
Amongst other things, the Bill seeks to remove barriers to adoption, transforms the provision for those with special educational needs, extends the use of Direct Payments, reforms support for looked-after children and their carers, and improves flexible working hours and childcare for working parents. There is a welcome emphasis throughout on spreading excellence and protecting the rights of children.
The Bill has been subject to considerable consultation, including a Green Paper, publication of draft clauses, Committee reports, expert input and responses from key outside bodies.
I have a background as a lawyer who worked for families and LEAs on the provision of special education needs; I did over 30 SENDIS Tribunals and multiple IAPs re discipline and drugs in schools. This Bill requires that the new education and health care plans be effective for young people all the way up to 25 years old. Why should a young person with special needs be treated any other way?
The key to the Bill’s approach will be an important new duty on local authorities to set out a “local offer” of suitable schools and institutions for each individual with special needs. But my colleague Jesse Norman MP has outlined that this carries with it a risk: that the new duty will be interpreted in a purely local and parochial way, cutting out national providers with specialist expertise in particular areas.
But there appears to be a straightforward solution to the problem of parochiality: to require that local authorities include national specialist providers as well as regional and local ones in their “local offers”. This has three benefits: it maximises choice, it promotes competition and it preserves the national providers’ deep reservoirs of expertise. And it perfectly fits with the Bill’s distinctively conservative emphasis on excellence and institution-building. It deserves close consideration as the Bill progresses.

Monday, 25 February 2013

A Frenchman guest edits the Journal.

Geordies are taking the French to heart.
With French tax rates hitting 75%, and even Gerard Depardieu deciding france is not the place to be I am noticing the French more and more leaving France for a life in London. The bars, tube and restaurants are full of the French. But Newcastle readers of the Journal would have been struck by the Editors decision last Saturday to allow ace French footballer Yohan Cabaye to edit their local paper. The Newcastle United team now feature plenty of French stars and the guest editor wrote a piece headlined:
"What a wonderful place this is - vive la revolution"
I agree. I liked his additional article that read:
"I tried baked beans the other day was interesting". I think he was speaking with that famous french tact and diplomacy...
Full story here:

Green Belt applications up for decisions soon

Whittonstall Open Cast Mine comes up before the Northumberland County Council on Tuesday March 5th. Anyone who came to the public meeting in the snow at Snods Edge will know the huge strength of opposition to this plan.
Shortly thereafter in mid March Ovingham's green belt application for 20 houses is to be considered by the westet area partnership.
Meanwhile the Birney Hill application, in Ponteland's green belt, has already gone in with a future date to be determined.
My views on these applications, how we are trying to help the opponents, and the history of the engagement with the community are set out in detail on the blog in past entries.
If you have any doubt about the impact of the Whittonstall decision and the strength of local opposition look at this recent ITV piece:

Sunday, 24 February 2013

In westminster prepping for the week ahead

Sat at my desk catching up on emails / paperwork and getting set for a busy week in the House with
- Children and Families Bill on Monday
- Remaining Stages of the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill after House of Lords amendemnts on Tuesday
- PMQs and other debates on wednesday, plus preparation and drafting of a speech for the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill, which returns to the House on Monday 4th March. I will be raising and supporting local banks again.
On Thursday Morning I am coming north to Hexham, and have a series of events in Haydon Bridge on Thursday, and Haltwhistle on Friday.
This coming Sunday March 3rd I am on the Politics Show at around 11.30 on BBC. My hope is that I will also be going to the Tynedale Point to Point at Crobridge on Sunday. It seems a lot more than 4 years since I rode the wonderful Lowlander to be the winner there on March 1st 2009!!

The Guardian says: Lets Move to Hexham!
Cute as a puppy's nose, handsome as Clark Gable: is this the nicest market town in the known universe?
Far be it for me to say that the left leaning Guardian is wrong - because they are clearly right!
The town has a great arts scene, top pubs, a couple of great restaurants and four amazing gastropubs just out of town [The Rat, The Feathers, Barrasford Arms, and the Duke of Wellington], several great hotels and so much more.
Schools are good, and there is a racecourse! I could eulogise more but make sure you read the article.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Local Butchers doing very well in Hexham
The Courant has a great report as to how local butchers in  Northumberland are doing better - because people trust them more than they do the makers of ready meals

Eastleigh Report

Just finished two days helping out in the by election campaign in Eastleigh. Yesterday was in the town itself and today was in the village of Hamble. Spoke to dozens of voters. Very little specific Labour support, a clear presence for the Liberals, 2 Ukip, plenty of Tories but loads of undecided.
Only a small amount of snow!

Employment up, unemployment down

Some more good news on jobs this week.

The employment rate increased to 71.5%. There were 29.73 million people in employment, up 154,000.

The unemployment rate was down to 7.8%. There were 2.50 million unemployed people, down 14,000.

Most importantly here in the North East:  Employment is up by 9,000 and unemployment is down 4,000.

Overall employment is up by an impressive 888,000 since the General Election.

Friday, 22 February 2013

By Elections, Eastleigh and an attack on jury trials

Today I am off for 2 days campaigning in the Eastleigh parliamentary by election. Mid term is always an interesting time for such an assessment by voters in a single constituency on a government's performance and I will report back on what I find over the weekend. This is made doubly more interesting by the fact that it is a Coalition fight in a Liberal seat. I did not know Chris Huhne aside from a couple of meetings when he was Energy Minister, but his demise is a genuine tragedy, as he clearly had great intellect and ability, whatever his indiscretions nearly 10 years ago. The papers today are full of criticism of the jury system but I would beg to disagree. The questions posed by the jury in the Vicky Pryce trial are not actually that unremarkable in my experience of over 100 such Crown Court trials. Often such questions are by one or two persons out of 12 who need assistance.
Questions like: "can you define what is reasonable doubt?" were often raised in my experience.
The reality is that the Crown failed to explain and prove its case to satisfy a 10 person majority out of 12 randomly selected people. The jury system is a good one and we should keep it.

Scottish Students hold an early Independence referendum and 62% vote for the Union

A mock referendum among students on Scottish independence has resulted in a large majority in favour of staying within the UK. Students at the University of Glasgow were balloted using the same question as will be used in the referendum itself, due next year.
When asked "should Scotland be an independent country?", 62% (1614) voted no, while 38% (967) said yes.
The two student unions, Glasgow University Union and the Queen Margaret Union, hosted the ballot boxes.
Five specific debates and hustings, featuring local and national politicians, commentators and academics, were held on campus in the run up to the poll.
My own personal opinion is that this will reflect the likely result in 2014 but I will be travelling to Scotland in the spring and summert for my own debates and to get a better understanding of why the students want to keep the Union.
Full story here:

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Will it be third time lucky for the winners at Humshaugh Village Shop?

Big society, community action, or just local people taking control of their lives and their village - the Huimshaugh Village Shop is simply the best. The shop was closing and this dedicated band of locals simply decided they were going to run it themselves as a community venture - and in doing so they have transformed the village.
For two years I have welcomed them to Westminster for the prestigious Countryside Alliance Village Shop of the Year.  Last year Humshaugh was pipped into second place by Ludwell post office stores near Shaftesbury, Dorset. The year before it was Yarpole Community Shop Association in Herefordshire who took the honours.
The shop at Humshaugh, Northumberland, which was rescued from closure by volunteers four years ago, has once again taken the top regional accolade as top shop in the CA Village Shop category for the North East, ahead of the highly commended Belsay Shop, also in Northumberland.
And delighted chairman of directors Dick Moules declared: “Obviously we are thrilled. It is real recognition that we are moving up and not standing still.
“It’s great to be recognised again – this is three in a row. Now we are hoping for third time lucky in the national category, though at this stage we don’t know who we are up against.”
But in a year when Humshaugh Community Ventures Ltd has introduced a free-hire electric car for the village and renovated the village hall kitchen, it’s hoped the CA judges will finally tip their hats to the shop
If you have not been I urge you to go - it has local people turning their village around day by day, month by month. I look forward to congratulating them on winning on March 13 in westminster

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Haltwhistle Walking Festival

The wonderful festival returns in late April - early May with a packed schedule of events:
If you have not been on one of their day or half day hikes, which are expertly guided, and invariably end near a decent pub or tea shop you are missing out. It is wonderful walking country with parts of the Pennine Way, Hadrians Wall and so many other amazing walks all around. You do not need to be local as tourists come from miles around often on a repeat basis.
Full details on the website but you will want to book ahead.
For my part when I was in Haltwhistle last weekend there was a real sense of excitement not just about the coming walking festival - which goes from strength to strength - but also from the rebirth of the new rebuilt hospital, following on as it does from the new Library.
One project I also popped into was the Whistle Art Stop - which is right in the centre of town. It is a great project that I will write more on when I return there at the end of the month.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Great meeting at Albermarle Barracks

On Monday I was able to go to Albermarle Barracks and listen to the specific concerns of the troops and their families there. Our soldiers do so much for us and we need to make sure that the home life of the troops, and their families here in Northumberland, is as good as it is possible to be.
We discussed many things in a 2 hour meeting, ranging from housing, and drainage, to garden waste and roads / potholes on the Military Road [again I hear you say!] ... but if we could make 2 key improvements on the base it would be transport on and off the base and mobile phone reception in the blackspot that is Stamfordham / Harlow Hill.
Veronica Jones, the local councillor, came along with me. We met all the welfare team who are doing a great job, and who looked after us with coffee and delicious cake: Jo's delicious banana cake will live long in the memory!
I do not want to promise anything I cannot deliver but real progress has been made, and I am clear of the 2 biggest things. It is really important that mums, families and the troops themselves have an ability to get on and off the base; we are looking at transport arrangements on a number of levels from County Council vehicles and sponsored buses.
Secondly, having the capability to call your sweetheart, family, folks or friends by mobile phone would make a huge difference. The solutions are out there. Give us time and we will try and make things better.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Venture Capital in the North East as Newcastle is the new tech hub

There are exciting developments in the North East as business drags the economy out of recession. I was interested recently to meet Alasdair Greig and discuss the work that North Star is doing to promote Venture Capital in Newcastle and Northumberland. The business has funds for the promotion of businesses here and is doing well - see
The successes have not gone unnoticed by the BBC who did a great report by on the new tech based hubs and businesses that are setting up and fluorishing here:
There is real positive change in Newcastle and North East as young entrepreneurs realise that they can fulfill their dreams of a business start up and live in Northumberland.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Tyneside Blonde is coming to Westminster

Hadrian Brewery Beer available in the House of Commons
There is a bar in the basement of the Commons called the Strangers. It is about 30 foot by 15 foot and it is an institution in parliament; it is far less busy so I am told than yesteryear but I would pop in about once a month. I am delighted that the beer that is going to be on sale there shortly is from one of our local brewers in the north east. Martin's email is so kind I have reproduced it in its entirety. If you have not tried his beer - do so - it is very good.

Dear all, just to let you know that as a result of me leaving my business details with Guy Opperman MP, and the bar manager of the Strangers Bar in the House of Commons, they have requested 5 casks of Tyneside Blonde for delivery next month. This is quite an accolade. Had a great trip around Parliament when I was down there, and Guy and the other constituency workers were very kind and helpful. (thanks Guy et al). Indeed I have sent Guy a text asking him to look out for its arrival, and if he can get a picture of him and the PM drinking it I will pay for their pints. Well worth a try, anyway.

Quite happy with this one!!!
Martin Hammill
Brewery Manager
Hadrian Border Brewery

Whether I can prise the PM out of Number 10 for a pint is a big ask, I suspect, as he has a lot on his plate right now, but it will not be for the lack of trying.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Reform to Elderly care costs

Finally a government has had the courage to address the issue of the cost of elderly care: I am proud we have taken the bold step of doing the right thing for people who have worked hard and saved all their. Every year more than 30,000 people have to sell their homes to pay for the cost of care. The current system, which only provides state support if your assets are above £23,250, is unfair and sends out completely the wrong message – that if you work hard, save for your future and want to have something to pass on to your loved ones, your savings can disappear in a puff of smoke if you end up needing long term care. As one in three of us will get dementia and one in ten end up with more than £100,000 of care costs, this is a problem a responsible government cannot ignore.

The new reform package includes from 2017:
•A cap on care costs at £75,000. The intention is not that people should pay the £75,000, but that they should not have to pay it because they can cover it through, say, an option in their pension plan. Only with the certainty of knowing there is an upper limit to costs will pension companies or insurance companies offer this.
•Increasing the threshold for financial support from £23,000 to £123,000. This will help strivers on low incomes who may have saved and bought a house for which a potential £75,000 cost could still mean losing it.
The package will cost £1 billion a year by the end of the next Parliament, from which around 20% of the cost will come by extending the freeze on the threshold for Inheritance Tax. This is right because overall these proposals offer a much stronger way of protecting inheritances people have worked for all their lives - by allowing them to make provision so a family home is never at risk, something that currently is not possible.
We have now delivered in just two years what Labour ducked for 13 years. We can be proud we will be perhaps the first country in the world which, in the face of an ageing population, is building a system where people plan and prepare for their care costs as much as they plan and prepare for their pensions.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Opposition to Green Belt Housing proposal in Ovingham

Recently, I went to see the proposed housing development in Ovingham. It is an application by the Duke of Northumberland's estate to build homes above Piper Road. Once again it is on designated green belt. The location of the site above Piper Road is on the side of farmland that is steep, wet and invariably prone to flooding. The drainage and sewerage system is not satisfactory, at present, let alone with a further 20 odd houses. I would also question the location generally. Representatives of Ovingham Parish Council / locals from piper road came to see me recently at a surgery. They were not clamouring for more housing, and they were most definitely not supporting the proposed housing in this place.
There are surely better places to put this housing, if a local need is demonstrated, in this village?
There is a western area partnership meeting in mid march to consider this issue, but any concerned resident should make sure they write to the County Council with their objections in the next month.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Great campaign meeting in Hexham this week

All candidates for the County Council elections selected!
We held a really good campaign meeting in Hexham on Monday, planning a series of action days for the future and ensuring everyone knows the campaign plan, the support that is available and the objectives, as well as discussing the Manifesto for Northumberland and the plan for the next few months.

European Trade Conference in Newcastle today

Representatives of over a dozen European countries have come together at the Marriot Hotel in Newcastle today for an all day conference that seeks to build up cross country relationships and ensure
- shared best practice for business / exporters from different European countries
- helps business investment to countries that the North East can export to
- provides a positive platform and a platform for positive investment in the North East by overseas businesses.
Last night I was a guest at the dinner that took place the night before. Each country took a table hosted by honorary consuls. It is fair to say that the French were out in force, but there were representatives from over a dozen countries from Finland to Italy and Germany. I was a guest on the Swedish table and met many of the trade and business reps based both here and in Sweden.
One of the North East's biggest employers is SCA in  Prudhoe, a Swedish company, and I am keen to harness the goodwill and traditional links to ensure that our renewable businesses, engineers and healthcare specialist can export their goods, whilst we welcome the overseas companies who see the North East as the place to invest / export. We are also looking at what we can learn - the ideas behind remote automated fuel stations and the oil buying groups came originally from Scandanavia. Big respect to the amazing Caroline Theobald, who does a great job as the honorary Swedish consul.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Is my frozen beef my former steed? Buy Locally for quality beef and utter confidence in traceability!

As a former jockey I have been lucky enough to ride horses around Cheltenham, Kempton, Hexham and beyond, over big fences and long distances. I have schooled upsides Mick Fitzgerald and Tony McCoy in Lambourn and loved every second of my partnership with these wonderful animals.
Like everyone I have enjoyed the jokes these last few days ["I put £5 each way on my lasagne"] but the issue of confidence and sourcing is of paramount importance.
Cutting back on price, destroying traditional supply chains, and not buying locally will always put pressure on the sanctity of the food chain from animal to plate.
That is why you should always support local butchers and local markets. In Hexham, Corbridge or Ponteland the butchers know every farmer they have bought off, the animal they have killed and the safety and quality of the meat they are selling. The full facts will become known this week but I have total confidence in our local butchers. My hope is that they will do better because of this scandal.
If criminals have been substituting horse for beef in some frozen foods then I hope they go to jail. But purchasers of the big supermarket companies / supermarket suppliers must also look to the safety of their supply chains and lessons need to be learnt.
As a foot note Boris, as always, has the best and last word:

Monday, 11 February 2013

Localism? Do people want a small local authority like Tynedale or a large Northumberland County Council?

Everywhere I go people are upset about John  Prescott's decision in 2007 in the last days of the Labour government to get rid of Tynedale DC and create Northumberland County Council. Local people remember the efficiency, financial astuteness and organisation of Tynedale very fondly. People in Haltwhistle on Satruday made the point that slowly but surely the power, resources and key actions by the County Council are being focused on the east - on Morpeth, Ashington and beyond.
I recently debated the issue of regional government, and large local governments, with other MPs in the House of Commons. The Labour members wanted ever larger regional government and supported the creation of the unitary authority here in Northumberland. This is in the context of their specific desire for another layer of regional assembly for the North. Even though this was rejected by a vote less than 10 years ago.
For my part I wanted to know if Tynedale could return?
It is not impossible, but I accept it would not be easy. Others have done this before but it needs a sustained campaign, a proper business plan, and lessons to be learnt from where it has been done successfully. The traditional campaigners on this issue are the Isle of Wight, Rutland, Flintshire and specific areas. The problems with the present Northumberland County Council are numerous but it is trying to satisfy a rural and a suburban populace, and struggling to do so.
The Journal reported the matter here:
It is worth reading the comment at the end of the Journal piece. That is almost exactly what countless voters tell me. Please comment or write in on whether small is beautiful or big is best?

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Report on Open Primary to be Berwick upon Tweed candidate

Anne Marie Trevelyan deservedly won the open primary that took place on Friday night in the Assembly Rooms in Alnwick. There were around 300 people there - from all across the Berwick constituency, to see 3 excellent local candidates answer questions both from the moderator, my colleague James Wharton MP, and from the floor.
All candidates were asked the same first few questions, as to why they would be the best candidate, where they would live if selected, whether they would rather be a rebellious backbencher or supportive Minister, what were their strengths and weaknesses, and then a variety of questions on wind farm policy, the PM's approach to Europe, and around 8-10 further questions from the floor on everything from broadband to same sex marriage. Both Chris Galley and Lucille Nicholson spoke well and demonstrated a good grasp of issues, but Anne Marie was a deserving and very popular winner, backed by both the Conservatives in the room and the neutrals who came to take part in a Primary. Alan Beith will have a fight on his hands. She is a tireless campaigner,  and leads our march for both better broadband and academy schools. She will be an excellent MP.
As to the process it is clear that a Primary does widen the scope of the selection procedure of candidates. I had hoped for even more to attend but it genuinely was standing room only at the back. Full credit to everyone who organised the event.

Apprenticeship Summit 2013 at Kirkley Hall

Employers, apprentices, schools and colleges met for a discussion and awards ceremony at Kirkley Hall last week. Apprenticeships have doubled these last 2 years in the north east and I was pleased to bring together the Minister Matt Hancock MP, to our summit just outside Ponteland. Matt and I had earlier visited Newcastle College and then met with business leaders, including the North East Chamber of Commerce for lunch. At Kirkley Hall a number of apprentices were honoured, including the impressive Caitlin May, along with her boss from North Star Venture Capital [pictured]. Other apprentices were from Egger,UK Coal and Bernicia amongst others. The apprentices locally in Hexham range from those at Egger to the young team in Hexham who are learning hairdressing skills at the new college - and who cut my hair. I was impressed at the summit by Jason Janczyk, UK Coal's apprentice, who is ex army and who has worked his way back into employment with UK Coal. Pictured with me is Caitlin May who is North Star's first apprentice in venture capital. She is surely living proof that apprenticeships can be for anyhting.
All agreed that apprenticeships are a wonderful way into work, and are just as good as a degree.
A full report is in this weeks Hexham Courant and here in the Morpeth Herald:

Friday, 8 February 2013

The Fiscal Sensibles Win! 3% EU Budget cut secured by the PM - great result for Britain

The first ever real-terms cut in the European Union's budget is good for the UK and good for Europe too.

After two days of talks, leaders agreed a budget 3% lower than the current seven-year period.
Full credit to the PM who built alliances across Northern Europe with the fiscal sensibles of the Dutch, danish and Germans.
Well done also to our own local MEP Martin Callanan who played a leading role in securing a good deal for the North East. The world must be going mad as even Labour agreed the PM did a great job.
Full details here:

Thursday, 7 February 2013

On ITV Tyne Tees - Around the House Tonight

Our apprenticeship summit features in detail first up on ITV later tonight. Apprenticeships have doubled in the North East. A genuinely great event last week at Kirkley Hall.

Discarding ends - a really positive change to the EU on fishing policy

Discarding is over: the tragic waste of fresh fish was brought in by bonkers EU rules.
The EU finally accepted the British argument that the "top down" system of micro-managing fisheries from Brussels was failing and that decision-making needed to be decentralised. There will be widesprtead changes to the Common Fisheries Policy.

The method of allocating fishing quotas EU-wide has contributed to the serious depletion of stocks, the EU Commission accepted. Crews that haul in more than the agreed quota often had to throw large quantities of dead fish back into the sea - the much-criticised "discards" policy - rather than selling or giving the fish away. The new policy wiull be a hiuge step forward for the fishing industry and a sign that the EU can change. I have no deep sea fishermen in my patch but this policy change will be great news all along Britsh coastlines. For more details see here:

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

I will be supporting the Same Sex Marriage Bill today

The House of Commons has a free vote today on whether same sex couples can extend their union to marriage. I have met members of the Church of England and Catholic Church and other denominations. I fully respect their views, and accept that this is not the vote that some of my constituents would wish me to make, although many have argued I should support the Bill. But this is a draft Bill that has now been significantly improved.
There are specific exemptions for churches who do not wish to be a party to this process.
I am satisfied that religious freedoms have been protected in the legislation. No religious institution can be forced to conduct gay weddings.
This will be secured by a quadruple lock:

1) The Government has written on to the face of the Bill a declaration that no religious organisation, or individual Minister, can be forced to marry same-sex couples or to permit that to happen on their premises.
2) The Government will amend the Equality Act 2010 so that no discrimination claims can be brought against religious organisations or individual Ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple or for refusing to allow their premises to be used for this purpose.
3) The proposed legislation will make it unlawful for religious organisations or their Ministers to marry same-sex couples unless the organisation has expressly opted to do so. As part of this lock, a religious organisation will have to opt in as a whole, and each individual Minister will then have to opt in too. Therefore, if a religious organisation has chosen not to conduct same-sex marriage, none of its Ministers will be able to do so. However, if an organisation has chosen to conduct same-sex marriage, individual Ministers are still under no compulsion to conduct one unless they wish to do so.
4) The legislation will explicitly state that it would be illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to marry same-sex couples. That provision recognises and protects the unique and established nature of those Churches. The Church’s canon law will also continue to ban the marriage of same-sex couples. Therefore, even if those institutions wanted to conduct same-sex marriage, it would require a change to primary legislation at a later date and a change to canon law—additional protection that cannot be breached. This particular legislation recognises and protects the opposition that those institutions have expressed to same-sex marriage.
Indeed there are several religious groups – including Liberal Judaism, Quakers, and the Unitarian and Free Christian churches – that have welcomed this proposal.
Ah, say the doubters, but the European Court of Human Rights may say something rather different?
I do not accept that. The Bill has been drafted to ensure that can't happen. I am also much reassured by the opinion of the Lords Pannick and Lester and Baroness Kennedy – who are far better Human Rights lawyers than I ever was – that the law is clear that there is:
- No obligation upon states to provide access to same sex marriage
- That sovereign parliaments retain control and that
- Article 9 of the ECHR convention provides all the protection to faith groups that they could possibly need

Has the world stopped elsewhere?
Equal marriage has been introduced in many other countries, including Catholic Spain and Protestant Holland. So far as I know it has not undermined straight marriage at all.

Are we really going to say that we do not believe that a same sex couple are worthy of the very same privileges and honour of marriage that I, as a straight man, can enjoy?
For me: this is about Commitment:
I have spent 20 years as a lawyer, councillor, and now MP seeing examples of the difficulties that occur when couples fail to commit, and fail to bring up children in the right way. My experiences in prisons has shown ample examples of what happens when adults let children fall by the wayside.

Yet when 2 people show a desire to commit in the most serious way possible – are we to deny them this merely because they are of the same sex? We know that married relationships tend to have greater longevity and stability than other forms of relationship, because marriage is based on a deep personal and public commitment between two people. Married couples are twice as likely to stay together as cohabiting couples.
We should be applauding couples that are willing to take the very serious step of committing to each other for life and not standing in their way. Don’t take my word for it:
Rabbi Julia Neuberger:
“It is precisely because marriage is such a uniquely important institution that we should ensure that all couples who want to get married can do so, regardless of their sexuality. I will continue to pray for the day when I am able to officiate at the weddings of gay couples, in just the same way as I do for those who are straight.”
Finally: some insist that equal marriage would undermine the institution of marriage, which has traditionally been between a man and a woman. How would my gay friends marrying their partner undermine the marriage of my parents, my brother, or myself?

UPDATE: the House of Commons voted 400 to 175 in support of same sex Marriage. If you want to
read my speech [we were limited to 4 minutes] go here:
You can also watch the debate on Democracy Live.

I will write back to every person who lobbied me over the last 2 weeks attempting to answer their questions and arguments but bear with us on that.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Good news on Forestry Announcement

I welcome the news that a new, independent public body will hold the nation's publicly-owned forests in trust for future generations. I led the campaign in the House of Commons to stop the privatisation of the forests. This is a good package of measures. Credit to all the campaigners locally who have fought so hard.
The full DEFRA announcement is here:

Local Banks and the Regional Development Agency

For years I have been leading the campaign for greater competition in banking. This takes its form in local banks and a business bank. It astonished me that the Labour party - led by the 2 Ed's and Rachel Reeves were against this idea and voted against the plan for greater competetion and smaller entrants to the banking system. I well remember the debate last April, where they voted against smaller banks and local lending bank: see the debate here:

Since then they now talk the talk and say they want such things. To my amazement they also say they agree that the LEPs are working well and would not be replaced by another regional development agency.
This from the same bunch who assured us the world was going to end when RDAs were replaced by business led LEPs. The Journal reports Mrs Reeves speech yesterday here:

For me the key is this: if you want something vote for it and pass legislation. The speech is silent on any changes to legislation - which would be required. If they were committed to local and business banks why did they vote against them?

Friday, 1 February 2013

Haydon Bridge Action day tomorrow

If you want to come canvassing tomorrow we will be out in Haydon Bridge from just after 10 - simply contact me or the office on 603777 if you want to come along

Matt Hancock MP Minister for Skills and further education coming to Newcastle today

Pleased to be welcoming Matt and taking him to Newcastle sixth form college before a meeting with business leaders and then the highlight of the day at Kirkley Hall, where there is a Northumberland College apprenticeship afternoon featuring an awards ceremiony and an hour long Q+A with Matt and over 100 invited apprentices and key players in further education locally, My own apprentice Jade will be there. Really looking forward to it.