Saturday, 31 May 2014

NHS Chief praises cottage hospitals

The NHS must stop closing cottage-style hospitals and return to treating more patients in their local communities, the new head of the health service has said in his first interview. He could be making the case for Haltwhistle cottage hospital's integrated care. Full interview here:

Kirkharle Community Market this Sunday and Belsay Horse Trials all weekend

Sunday's Market is from 10-4, featuring the Zen Baker, Local cheese, fruit, veg, meat, charcuterie and so much more including live music. A good place to go before taking in the Belsay Horse Trials which is Saturday and Sunday. Also on the weekend is the Bellingham Bike and Beer Festival featuring bike rides on Saturday and the famous beer fest and music on Sunday all based around the town hall. It will be a great weekend of events.

Friday, 30 May 2014


Tynedale Plans this weekend

I will be out knocking on doors in Haydon Bridge on Saturday, and have various surgeries and meetings Friday night and Saturday. Sunday I will be opening the Prudhoe Fair before going later on to the Haydon Hunt Point to Point at Hexham Racecourse. I also have a couple of surgeries exceptionally on Sunday and a number of local constituency meetings planned for Monday.

CBI Survey shows record manufacturing and retail sector growth in May as economy recovers

Campaigning for Meriam Ibrahim and freedom for Christians to practice their faith abroad

I have this week written to the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to raise the concerns of many, including myself, with the case of Meriam Ibrahim. A copy of my question is set out below, but there is no doubt that Christians continue to be persecuted merely for pursuing their faith in countries where there is no such tolerance. This has been a problem in states like Syria for some time but is widespread in other places. I have previously raised the issue in parliament in relation to the Middle East, but it is clear that this terrible case in Sudan has really highlighted the iniquity of the Sudanese approach and the problem generally. My written question to the FCO is as follows:
“To ask the Secretary of State what he is doing to raise the plight of persecuted Christians abroad, and in particular the case of Meriam Ibrahim with the Sudanese Government, so that Christians can continue to practice their faith without prejudice or persecution?”
I and others will be raising the case with William Hague when parliament returns. 
I am a huge supporter of amnesty international and their site on this issue is here:
Slightly more detail is found in the bbc report here:

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Prudhoe Community Fair this Sunday at noon - come along!

This years Town Fair, will take place on Sunday 1st June 2014 in the town centre. I am opening it on Front Street; the event is between 12.00 - 4.00 p.m.  Entry to the fair is free of charge.

The event will commence with a parade of decorated hats, hopefully, this will be led by the Northumbrian Pipe Band, starting at 11.30. The Glade will be packed with stalls, funfair rides and performances.  Like previous years there will be a range of stalls selling all of the things you would expect at a fair, sweets, novelties, cakes, teas, coffee, hot food, crafts, the list goes on.

Prudhoe's "Mr Disco Man", John Robson will be on hand to provide entertainment throughout the event.  The Dragons Tale Theatre Company will also be putting on one of their ever popular performances during the afternoon. There will be many other activities for adults & children alike to take part in. Many of the town's traders will be open during the event providing opportunities to browse and shop whilst enjoying 'all the fun of the fair'

As in previous years the fair will close with "Songs of Praise" on the Glade, led by the Rev. Charles Hope, starting at 3:35
Full details here:

County Show a massive success on Monday

This year I was the judge of the outdoor Agricultural stands and was pleased to meet and chat to so many brilliant stallholders. Winner was David Henderson Tractors, who had worked for days to make their stand literally gleam - never before have I seen tractors and farm equipment look this smart! And all this after a downpour and huge problems getting the equipment on site. They were a great team and were enthusiastically selling and showing off their wares in a really positive way.
In second place was Kirkley Hall College, who combined so many elements of the college in their stand, whilst the NFU once again put forward a great stand - full of animals, produce, hands on experiences of farming and so much more. My thanks to my faithful sidekick Susan who kept me in order and helped the job fly by. On the whole the day went off without a hitch, albeit there were some problems getting in to the site early on from the Stocksfield side. I am certain that the team will learn lessons to make it even better next year, but noone could fault the size and scope of the show which goes from strength to strength.
I spent the whole of the rest of the day at the show taking in all the events and attractions, and going from stall to stall chatting and meeting people. Finished off as usual in the Haydon Hunt Beer Tent. A great day.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Michael Gove is Not "Killing A Mockingbird"

Atticus Finch is one of the reasons I became a Lawyer. The novel To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic in so many ways - a portrait of the race struggle, of childhood, of justice denied, and of the courage of your convictions. I have read it many times. It is an old friend.
But of all the made up stories to have a pop at the Education Secretary, this "story" of Michael Gove banning the book is one of the worst. It is surprising that nearly 70 per cent of children sitting the AQA English literature GCSE should be taught the same novel. And even more remarkable that this should sometimes be the only novel they have to read for their GCSE. Michael Gove has not banned the teaching of To Kill A Mockingbird or Of Mice and Men. Nor has he suggested the English literature GCSE begin with Shakespeare and end with Dickens. What he is doing is broadening the curriculum. I think this is a good thing. But I will let Michael explain the reality himself in the article he wrote in yesterdays Telegraph:

A return to British Rail? Labour plans to renationalise trains - what are the consequences?

Post war British Rail saw a dramatic long term decline in rail use: this characterised the whole post war nationalised industry experience. Getting rid of British Rail has resulted in three key things:
- increased investment in the trains and its infrastructure
- allowed competition to improve services
- doubled the number of rail journeys by rail users.
Ask any train professional and they all say the same. The state has a poor long term record of running railways. British Rail was a disaster.

Where are we now?
All the track, signals, train pathway timetabling and stations are owned by a monopoly business largely financed by taxpayers and entirely owned by taxpayers. The train companies lease trains and run services over the nationalised tracks under strict controls from the Rail regulator and the Transport Department. They have to conform to five year centralised plans, and they gain near monopoly rights to use given regional track systems. The only element of competition in the whole thing is the competition for the franchises. The majority of the revenue to sustain Network Rail comes in the form of taxpayer financed subsidy.

When the railways were privatised a two tier structure was set up. There was a privatised monopoly track owner, and regional monopoly train franchise holders. This greatly limited the amount of competition introduced by privatisation, but even this limited competition administered a shake up and reversed .

Nationalisation plans by Labour:
Today the East coast mainline franchise is run as a nationalised monopoly, and Labour is looking at doing the same for some of the other franchises as they expire were they to win the next election. That would be a good way to stop the modest cost and price competition we currently enjoy  and would help limit innovation. For four decades a fully nationalised and integrated monopoly industry presided over large cash losses for taxpayers, high  and rising fares, declining train usage, little innovation and poor service levels. Why would a future completely nationalised BR be any different?

Simple question: are we all prepared to pay more to run the new British Rail? And will it be better. I know of no person who works in the rail industry who supports a return to British Rail. Labour is clueless as to how to pay for this, and naïve to expect a better service.

Fares for commuters on crowded routes into our main cities are too high and service levels not good enough. Too many cross country and mainline express trains fail to attract nearly enough paying passengers, whilst a limited number of trains and routes beyond the commuter lines suffer from overcrowding. We need more innovation, not less, more competitive pressure to do more for less as the airlines have done, new thinking on how to improve service and allow more of us more of the time to choose the train for our travel. That requires a more competitive industry with more private capital and management, not a return to BR days.  Where challenger railway companies have been allowed they have helped lower prices and improve the range and quality of services.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

My take on the 2014 election results

It was a tough night for the Conservatives on Sunday, losing our hard working MEP Martin Callanan by a few votes.

The only consolation to the Euro result locally was that in Northumberland, the Conservative vote actually increased on the Conservatives' high watermark of 2009 - in both real terms and percentage terms.

In Newcastle we also managed to win more votes that we did in 2009, even beating the Lib Dems who ran the Council up until 2010. Overall the Conservatives chalked up 107,733 votes in the region - don't let anyone say there are no Conservatives in the North East! In the end Labour now have 2 MEPs and UKIP 1.

In local government it was a real mixed bag. In Newcastle Labour actually lost a seat to an Independent, and in Sunderland they lost one to the Conservatives. Just like in the County Council elections last year UKIP didn't win a single seat on any of the five Tyne and Wear Councils up for election.

In Newcastle we have been helping the Conservatives rebuild themselves in the West Gosforth ward, using some of the tactics we have successfully applied in my own area. I am pleased to say in West Gosforth we managed to hit all of the targets we set; we increased our popular vote, increased our share of the vote, retook second place, and more than halved the sitting Lib Dems majority. In a ward the Lib Dems not so long ago won with 62% of the vote they scrapped home on Thursday with just 38%. As I have so often said, it is all about the long term, and I hope we can expand this project in other areas over the coming years.

For the Lib Dems perhaps the less said the better... The Lib Dem vote fell 66% in the North East – from 103,000 in 2009, to just 36,000.

I must also put on record my thanks to my excellent professional campaign team Cath and Callum. They really did lead campaign for the Conservatives in my patch and in Newcastle. Be it sunny Saturday afternoons or 5am starts on Polling Day (in torrential rain!), they have led from the front and I couldn't do it without them.

Cath and Callum with Anne-Marie Trevelyan who is working hard to win Berwick in 2015, along with Barry Flux and Wayne Daley our two excellent Councillors in South East Northumberland. 

Westminster bound with a stop in Newark to help Robert Jenrick on my way back to Westminster

I am heading back to Westminster today but getting off the train at Newark North Gate, to help in the Newark by election before travelling on to the office. The Newark by election is on Thursday June 5th and I am really impressed with our candidate - Robert is very active on the ground as a candidate and well known already.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Understanding the Afghan Election

Who takes over in Afghanistan really matters, both to the Afghans, but also the wider region as well and to us in the UK. The election saw no one win 50% in the first round. But how this country goes forward is vital to the stability of the region and the growth of democracy. It is a wonderful thing that Iraq and Afghanistan now have democratic elections not dictatorships. Also every one of our brave troops who fought so long to return this country to democracy will want this beautiful country returning to normal life, normal elections and a decent role for women. It is a great feature of these elections that not only did women take part but they ran for many of the seats.

The election is a bit like the French election in that many candidates vie for the top two spots and then those 2 candidates have a run off to be President.

The development last week was that the Afghan presidential election front-runner, Abdullah Abdullah, won the backing of a key rival, Zalmai Rassoul; Rassoul did not do enough to make the last 2 even though he was the successor favoured by outgoing President Hamid Karzai. As every politician knows being anointed as the favoured son / choice of the outgoing PM [or Speaker] of whatever country is normally a certain way to lose support. Rassoul duly did not make the final 2. He has now pledged his support for Mr Abdullah, the top candidate from the first round.

The second and final round, due in mid-June, pits Mr Abdullah against Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist. The vote comes as international forces prepare to leave at the end of 2014.
Millions of Afghans defied Taliban threats to take part. The scenes and commitment to voting is something truly special. I love in particular this iconic picture of Afghans queuing in the pouring rain to vote.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

The Weekend Read: Votes at 16 - a good idea? Parliament discusses

Last month I held a debate in Ponteland where all 4 local High Schools debated whether to let 16 year olds have the vote. The blog report is here:
Subsequently this was reported at length in the Hexham Courant and Morpeth Herald and Pont News and Views.
Two weeks ago there was 90 minute debate in the Commons on this issue. I could not stay for all the debate but the link to it is here:
I asked several questions of various speakers but the key one is here:
"I held a debate involving four high schools—Haydon Bridge, Ponteland, Prudhoe and Hexham—on that particular issue last month. It was won by Ponteland high school, whose students proposed the motion for 16-year-old voting, and who also swayed quite an elderly audience—with respect to them. I accept that my hon. Friend is my former boss, and normally I would obey everything he says, but on this issue, does he not accept that to a degree, whether or not the argument is won today, the tide is beginning to turn a little?"
The debate is good and I am moving form being against the idea to being persuaded, like the audience marginally in Ponteland, to be in favour.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Hexham Market and Bellingham Fair tomorrow - make sure you buy local and support your farmers markets

The Market is from 9am in Hexham and equally worth supporting is the Bellingham Fair, which has lots on all day for all the family.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Election Day today - Make sure you vote!

This election does matter. I want you to vote Conservative .... but whatever happens make sure you vote. All our grandparents fought so that we had the right to do so. I have relatives who died at Dunkirk, protecting our right to democracy.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

At the European Elections tomorrow I urge you to vote Conservative

These last 3 months I have been out campaigning for tomorrows European Elections in Newcastle and all across Tynedale for local man Martin Callanan. He is well known and I am encouraged with the responses on the doorstep. Martin is doing a great job at making the case that we need a strong voice in Europe, to reform and change the EU, so that it works for Britain.

Martin is
- a passionate Newcastle United fan
- worked for Scottish and Newcastle Breweries for 12 years,
- as well as being a Gateshead councillor, before being elected to the European Parliament in 1999. Since then he has been a strong Eurosceptic leader of the Conservatives there, and has a proud record to take to the electorate.
Under Martin's leadership in the EU there are 5 strong reasons to vote Conservative at the European Elections:

1. We have cut the EU Budget ....The first time this has ever been done!
2. We have taken Britain out of the EU Bailout fund .... so that we have not had to bail our Greece
3. We have committed to an EU Referendum .... no one else can deliver this. Labour and the Lib Dems have blocked this in Westminster.
4. We have reformed our border control .... and brought immigration down- it has reduced by a third
5. We have reformed EU Fishing policy ....and ended the bananas policy of discarding healthy fish

If you want a reformed EU, with a locally born, pragmatic, tax cutter as your representative then I urge you to vote for Martin.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Northumberland County Show this coming Bank Holiday Monday - you have to come!

There is no show like it! 300 Trade Stands, dozens of events and more animals than you can name -  from Lambs to Llamas; there is lots of entertainment, and a wealth of food and drink places and loads more parking this year. I am judging the Indoor Trade Stands this year so you will see me in the tents all morning.
This is a great day out for all the family at Bywell. Come along and support your show.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Tynedale Plans this week

I am campaigning every evening this week for Martin Callanan but also having
- several surgeries with individual constituents, local businesses and one of the higher education providers
- visiting a couple of first schools in Greenhead, Henshaw and Beaufront.
- holding a short meeting with the new head teacher of Prudhoe CHS
- popping into Hexham Hospital to discuss the plan for long term free parking there

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Dementia Awareness Week this coming - I am doing my bit and I urge you to get involved

There are 4,844 good reasons why each and everyone one of us in the Tyne Valley should get involved in Dementia Awareness Week, which runs from 18th-24th May.
I say this because that is the number of people in Northumberland who are currently living with dementia. One in three people over the age of 65 will develop dementia, and as a local MP, all too often I see first-hand the devastating impact the condition has - not only the person with dementia but their family, friends and carers too. The fact that there are more and more people locally who are living with dementia puts into perspective why there is a duty on us all, and society as a whole, to act.
Across the UK, on average less than half of those people have received a diagnosis. Diagnosis is the key that unlocks access to support services. There are many reasons why people may afraid to ask their GP for a diagnosis. They may feel scared, confused or even ashamed. But the sooner they know what they're dealing with, the sooner they can get on with their life and feel in control again.

That’s why Alzheimer’s Society – the charity behind Dementia Awareness Week – is using the week to encourage people to 'open up' and talk. They want anyone who is concerned to talk to their doctor, their family, but also to come and talk to Alzheimer's Society. I’m doing my bit for Dementia Awareness Week in Corbridge this week, and that is why I’m challenging readers to do the same.
A whole host of activities will be taking place across th region to make people aware of the help and support that is on offer if they are worried about their memory, or that of a loved one.
From becoming a Dementia Friend to spreading the word on social media, there are lots of small ways that we can all make a big difference for people in our local community this Dementia Awareness Week. Corbridge is leading the way as I will be seeing this week but other communities need to follow suit. There is much that we can do locally. There is much that you personally can do.
Dementia Awareness Week 2014 runs from 18-24 May. Find out more at If you have any concerns about dementia, you can call Alzheimer’s Society’s National Dementia Helpline for confidential advice, information and support on 0300 222 11 22. You can also email enquiries to

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Apprenticeships are the key to changing the jobs market and here is why

Since 2010 the number of Apprentices has doubled and become a new norm for school leavers. However, I know that locally when I talk to small businesses who haven’t yet taken the plunge and hired an apprentice their main worry is whether they’ll be buried in paperwork. The good news is that under this Government employing an apprentice is now simpler than ever. Not only that but we have also put employers in the driving seat of designing new apprenticeships so that in future they will work even better for both employers and apprentices. If you want to read more detail about the effectiveness of these reforms, the Minister’s latest speech on apprenticeships, may be helpful:

A few highlights though are that so far:
·         1.7 million apprenticeships have been delivered, and we are on track for 2 million over the course of this Parliament.
·         There has been an increase of 103,300 in the number of employers taking on apprentices since 2009/10 (representing an increase of 45.2%).
·         And, the number of high quality, full apprenticeships has doubled among young people aged between 16 and 18, from 53,600 in 2009/10 to 110,900 in 2012/13.

The next step in this process is reforming the funding of apprenticeships so that employers can take the lead on both standards and training. This will mean that colleges, training providers and universities will need to provide the training employers need to fulfil the standards they have set. It will also dramatically simplify the funding rules and processes.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here is what thirty-five leading trade organisations and businesses – large and small – wrote in a letter to the telegraph:

Immigration Act 2014 becomes law and provides real change

The Immigration Bill receives Royal Assent this week and builds on our reforms to the immigration system and will have a major impact on the Home Office’s work to secure our borders, enforce our immigration laws, and continue to attract the brightest and the best to the UK.

The Immigration Act will:
·         reduce the number of immigration decisions that can be appealed from 17 to 4, whilst introducing a quick and cost-effective system of Administrative Review to correct case-working errors – preserving appeals for those asserting fundamental rights;
·         ensure the courts have regard to Parliament’s view of what the public interest requires when considering Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights in immigration cases;
·         reform the removals process, replacing the current multiple decision points with a single decision notice to ensure individuals are in no doubt as to their immigration status and their liability to removal;
·         reinforce our commitment to end the detention of children for immigration purposes by putting key elements of the family returns process into law;
·         restrict the ability of immigration detainees to apply repeatedly for bail unless there has been a material change of circumstances;
·         require private landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants, to prevent those with no right to live in the UK from accessing private rented housing (this will be implemented in one geographical area first and the results evaluated before it is extended);
·         introduce a new requirement for temporary migrants with a time-limited immigration status in non-exempt categories to make a financial contribution to our National Health Service;
·         require banks to check against a database of known immigration offenders before openingbank accounts;
·         make it easier for the Home Office to recover unpaid civil penalties;
·         introduce new powers to check applicants’ immigration status before issuing driving licences and to revoke licences where immigrants are found to have overstayed in the UK;
·         clamp down on people who try to gain an immigration advantage by entering into a sham marriage or civil partnership;
·         allow the Home Secretary to deprive a naturalised British citizen of their citizenship in cases where they have conducted themselves in a way which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK, where the Home Secretary has reasonable grounds for believing the person is able to become a national of another country;
·         correct an anomaly in nationality law to enable certain children born before 1 July 2006 to a British father but whose parents were not married at the time to apply to be registered as British citizens and acquire their father’s British nationality. This rectifies a historical anomaly and provides all children with the same rights, irrespective of whether their parents were married when they were born.

These changes continue our reforms to build an immigration system which works in the UK’s national interest. We are stopping migrants using public services to which they are not entitled, reducing the pull factors which encourage people to come to the UK for the wrong reasons, and making it easier to remove people who should not be here. Net migration from outside the EU is now at its lowest level since 1998. At the same time, we continue to welcome the brightest and best migrants who want to contribute to our economy and society and play by the rules.

There is still work to do to clear up the mess we inherited from Labour – but the Immigration Act is a significant step along the way: it will put the law firmly on the side of people who respect it, not those who break it. I have spent the best part of a year as a small cog in a larger wheel bringing about these changes. The Bill was supported across all aspects of House of Commons.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Huge Congratulations to Rory Stewart, MP, my friend and neighbour on becoming chair of Defence Select Committee

The MP for Penrith, the Borders, Alston and Brampton has won the support of the House of Commons to lead the Defence Select Committee; this is a job which matters, and has genuine influence.

It's job is to hold the government and the Armed Forces to account. To ensure that we are maximising our resources, which for a long time have been affected by the debt the Labour government left us, is not an easy task. It also needs to advise government on future planning, and criticise where necessary. It needs to be cross party [as all select committees are] and needs to challenge orthodoxy. In that respect the House of Commons have chosen well - in a secret ballot.

Rory is a genuine character, but very bright, well travelled and with a bigger understanding of the world we live in than most ambassadors. He has worked in everywhere from Afghanistan to Iraq. He is also a proper countryman, and one of the most fascinating of the 2010 intake - which is certainly rich in characters. He will do a great job. He certainly has my full support and I am pleased that we have a Northerner representing the role. It will make a difference.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

PM making the case for Better Together in Scotland today

Pleased that the PM is making the positive case for the Union today in Glasgow. BBC Report is here:

Rural Oscars Report - success for Blagdon Farm Shop and Bardon Mill Village Shop

Two weeks ago I was pleased to attend the National Countryside Alliance Awards, also known as “the Rural Oscars”, held in Westminster. Not only was this a fantastic celebration of vital rural business but I was on hand to witness two of our home grown success stories being recognised.

Bardon Mill Village Store and Tea Room, opened only last year by Michael and Dawn Smith [pictured with me], was a finalist in the competitive “Village shop/post office” category and our very own Blagdon Farm Shop won Highly Commended in the Butcher Category.
This is not the first time Simon and his team at Blagdon Farm have been recognised for their hard work and high standards: their apprentice Daniel was recently honoured at Butchers’ Hall in London.

I believe supporting our local businesses is important as they are the backbone of Rural Life. So if you are looking to try a new Northumberland gem do take a look at My Top 10 places to go in Northumberland this summer
and enjoy what we have to offer.

My congratulations go to Michael, Dawn, Simon, Daniel and everyone who contributed to the success of our local winners.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Fundraising exhibition for Great Ormond Street Hospital last night - amazing Andy Parsons pics

Last night I attended the fundraising exhibition of the incredible photojournalist Andy Parsons' pictures, to support the life changing work of Great Ormond Street Hospital. The photos are world class images of everything from the Royal Family to Political shots to the Afghan War. The money raised goes to GOSH. The pictures are at the Ellwood Attfield Gallery at 34 Smith Square in Westminster. Full details and further photographs are available online here: 
The tale of how he persuaded Boris to lean out of the helicopter above Hong Kong is one of my favourites.

I was lucky enough to meet and see Andy Parsons work in January this year, when we travelled to the Nizip Syrian refugee camp on the River Euphrates, next to the Syrian Turkish border. Andy took some incredible photographs whilst we were there. He is also a nice bloke. The Journal covered that trip with some of Andy's amazing photos here [if he can make me look vaguely good he is clearly a genius]:
I strongly recommend the photographs, and very much support the work of GOSH. The exhibition and sale runs from 13 May until 5 September. It is rightly entitled Royalty, Politics and War; the art
of the photojournalist. Well worth a visit.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Elections in India and Afghanistan are changing the world

India first: my intention is to blog the 2 upcoming elections that matter so much to all of us both here in the UK and across the world. Let us start with India. My prediction is that Modi will win in India after the biggest election in history: it has lasted 6 weeks and seen roughly around 500 million voters. 

The BJP party in India is led by Narenda Modi. The 63-year-old has played down his party's traditional commitment to religious and cultural revivalism in favour of stressing development, jobs and honest government. Repeated surveys have shown that this is what Indians want, and that many of them clearly believe it is what Modi, who has earned a reputation as an effective if authoritarian administrator, can provide. However, there is no doubt his success will also bring a possible risk of religious divide, which he will need to manage and provide reassurance upon. But if India is to progress and take the next step it definitely needs an administrator. As the BBC puts it - That is fundamentally what the Indians are voting for.
My friend Adrian Mutton, who lives and works in India, has done this assessment of the Indian Election and it is worth a read:

Guardian Letters Page makes good reading for those who believe in the North East
My thanks to those who wrote in, from all across the spectrum. No one says the North East is all perfect but I, for one, am pleased to see the Guardian eating some humble pie after their shoddy piece of journalism on the weekend.

Schools Funding debate - Labour MPs in their droves are backing free schools

Bizarre scenes in the Commons yesterday as multiple Labour MPs from all across the country got up to praise free schools: Labour Education shadow, the increasingly bizarre Tristram Hunt had asked for a statement on free schools and education funding.
Michael Gove received support from some pretty odd quarters - Labour's Ian Austin MP for Dudley is Gordon Brown's former henchman and led the support for what the DFE are doing. The list of supporters was very long and full of Labour - much to Tristram's upset. In Tynedale we do not have a free school but the changes coming in are still very good.

My question to the Secretary of State was as  follows:
"In my part of Northumberland, we have neither the benefits nor the perceived burden of a free school. We have focused on more primary places; the rebuild, authorised by the Secretary of State, of Prudhoe community high school; the creation of the Haltwhistle academy, the first in my constituency; and the changes to the fairer funding formula, which will for the first time produce enhanced funding for Northumberland. I welcome the changes, I welcome his direction of travel and, in particular, I welcome the changes to the fairer funding formula."

Michael Gove replied:
"My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Part of the progressive changes that have been introduced by my Department and which have been championed and designed by the Minister for Schools has been an increase in funding for the parts of the country that have suffered in the past. In particular, the delivery of the pupil premium ensures that disadvantaged children, wherever they are, enjoy not only a high quality of education but additional investment in a better future."

Full debate is below:

Key debate in Connaught Fund debacle starts a parliamentary process

Equitable Life, Arch Cru and now Connaught. My time in parliament has featured all too many financial disasters that have decimated the finances of constituents. After 20 years and blighted lives with Equitable Life, and 6 long years of Arch Cru victms trying to get some recompense for a swindle that was not their fault, we again have another relic from the Labour years of light touch regulation, with greedy individuals / crooks depriving honest savers of hard earned reserves and investments.
The Connaught scandal has affected some of my constituents severely. The short debate we held last week tells the tale and full credit to my partner in financial rescue acts, Alun Cairns, MP for the vale of Glamorgan, and my fellow campaigner on Arch Cru. He secured the debate and made his points well. Full debate and my short contribution is here:

Monday, 12 May 2014

The Guardian are way wrong about the North East - and here is why

A muppet journalist from the Guardian has stated that the North East is teetering on the brink of becoming the new Detroit - ie a place devoid of character, growth, prosperity, identity, entrepreneurial spirit, new industry, and so much more. As usual with most Guardian claptrap he is way wrong. He did not choose to speak to me, but then again I am not surprised. He set out with an agenda, but as always on this blog we try to be fair so here is his piece. Make of it what you will:

I would make a number of comments to rebut this rubbish:
On jobs, growth it is my strong belief that our better days lie ahead:
- the North East is a manufacturing hub and the only region that is a net exporter in this country
- we are developing specific specialisms in sectors that are genuinely transforming the economy - whether it is subsea technology, or our burgeoning IT sector that sees Accenture and Hewlett Packard based in the North East, and running the IT for everything from the Rural Payments Agency to parts of the Universal Credit Roll out.
- no one who was at the Dynamo conference 10 days ago in Newcastle could have mistaken the entrepreneurial spirit that was there; our IT sector is genuinely transforming the region, albeit we do need a IT Technical College. I chaired a seminar on regional growth that was buzzing with ideas and expectation.
- our job figures are improving across the board, with every parliamentary seat seeing less JSA claimants than before, more people in work, and real apprenticeships doubling.
- In my area of Northumberland I opened the Egger Engineering Academy last autumn and have seen its effect in creating specialist engineering jobs.
- on Wednesday I will be welcoming the Energi Coast companies and the Subsea sector to Westminster: they are optimistic and hiring. I doubt the Guardian will come to such a good news event or do a story, but one lives in hope. 
On jobs, growth and our regions future then I urge you to read the Adonis Report or delve into the North East Chamber of Commerce's 50 Reasons why the North East is the place to do business: its report is here:

I could go on about the everything from our stunning landscape, to the community spirit that exists like nowhere else in the country. Things are not perfect and there is a long way to go but I am very optimistic about the North East's future.
I will await the chance of a rebuttal piece from the Guardian but will lay good odds that they will not be offering.

Westminster this week

Busy week with Bills to be finished, training for Women to Win, constituents coming to the Commons, and a key meeting with Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Scottish Conservatives and one of the key architects of the Better Together Campaign which is trying to save the Union.
On Tuesday I have a series of meetings with various of the key UK ambassadors at the Foreign Office, including the new Falkland Islands Governor.
On Wednesday we will be welcoming the Energi Coast and Subsea North East team of businesses to Westminster, led by several of my Tynedale businesses who are genuinely transforming the economy in the North East. The work of PDL and others is the unknown success story of our local economy.  

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Martin Callanan is a strong local choice for the North East at the European Elections on May 22

These last 3 days I have been out campaigning for the May 22 European Elections in Newcastle and all across Tynedale for Martin Callanan. He is well known and I am encouraged with the responses on the doorstep. Martin is doing a great job at making the case that we need a strong voice in Europe, to reform and change the EU, so that it works for Britain.

Martin is
- a passionate Newcastle United fan
- worked for Scottish and Newcastle Breweries for 12 years,
- as well as being a Gateshead councillor, before being elected to the European Parliament in 1999. Since then he has been a strong Eurosceptic leader of the Conservatives there, and has a proud record to take to the electorate.
Under Martin's leadership in the EU there are 5 strong reasons to vote Conservative at the European Elections:

1. We have cut the EU Budget ....The first time this has ever been done!
2. We have taken Britain out of the EU Bailout fund .... so that we have not had to bail our Greece
3. We have committed to an EU Referendum .... no one else can deliver this. Labour and the Lib Dems have blocked this in Westminster.
4. We have reformed our border control .... and brought immigration down- it has reduced by a third
5. We have reformed EU Fishing policy ....and ended the bananas policy of discarding healthy fish

I could go on but there is only one choice on May 22. If you want a reformed EU, with a locally born, pragmatic, tax cutter as your representative then I urge you to vote for Martin.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

The Co-Op is in big trouble and needs to take the doctors medicine

The Myners Report into the Co-operative Group has been published this week
The situation is not good. Following the discovery of a £1.5 billion black hole in their finances, followed by the Paul Flowers ‘crystal Methodist’ scandal, the Co-op commissioned the former City Minister Paul Myners to look into the group’s problems and put together a restructuring plan to make it sustainable and properly governed. The Spectator has done a list of the 5 key things you need to know from the 180-page report:

1. The Co-op group is still ‘manifestly dysfunctional’
Lord Myners is not impressed with the current state of the Co-op Group and warns it needs to radically change ‘soon’ or face breaking up. The report suggests there are still ‘deplorable governance failures’ and that the board is ‘still stuck in denial over this near ruinous failure of governance’. The scale of the change required to reshape the group is significant and throughout the report, Myners hints he isn’t confident the group will accept the speed and scale of reshaping necessary.

2. A smaller board should be adopted
The report states that the current board of the Co-op group is ‘not competent’ to perform the duties expected of it and there is ‘limited shared purpose among group board directors’. Myners blamed the board directly for the group’s troubles:
‘It is one of the great national business calamities and it is being led by a board totally unable – because of a lack of experience – to hold them to account’.
To replace the current bottom-up structure — the Co-op has 48 area committees with ~10 members, who in turn elect seven regional boards with 15+ members — Myners proposes a board with six or seven independent directors, two executives as well as a separate National Membership Council, to body to handle the concerns of members.
3. There should be a greater focus on being profitable
The group presently appears to have polarising priorities. As one anonymous shareholder told Myners:
‘Some want a dividend, some want low prices, some want to do social good and some want free range chickens.’

Obviously, the Co-op is a cooperative, which is not necessarily designed to maximise profit. But the report argues that the future safety of organisation’s financial health ‘can only be restored through steady, step by step, rebuilding of the Group’s profitability and repayment of its excessive debt’.

4. There is no easy route to fixing the group
With 90,000 employees and 600 elected members, the group has a lot of stakeholders shouting their concerns, including many with distinct ideas about how the group should change. In his summary, Lord Myners warns:
‘There is no short cut to recovery from its present weakened state. It will require retrenchment and some painful choices. After 150 years of development, and an extended period of financial decline, the organisation has seen more than half of its net assets wiped out in the past five years’

5. Shareholders will decide whether to back the reforms on 17 May

For my part I wish the Co-Op well. I am huge fan. But it has been run terribly for some time. There is a massive place for Mutuals, Building Societies, Co-Operatives and Credit Unions as the banks head away from the High Street in particular. But the Co-op is not helping would be applicants or the publics trust by not taking the medicine.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

British Chamber of Commerce survey finds Rest of UK Firms strongly in favour of Scotland in the Union

Yesterdays survey of 2400 English, Welsh and Northern Irish firms showed that they don’t want Scotland to quit the UK, according to a poll.
A total of 85 per cent say they are opposed to independence, the British Chambers of Commerce survey revealed.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The Real Ale Ride this Saturday in Haydon Bridge is not to be missed

Last year I joined the fun to raise money for charity and also to promote the Haydon Bridge Beer Festival
Full details on the website below but this is a fantastic event - to be enjoyed on foot, bike or horse

£10 per adult £5 per child. To go on foot, push bike or horse around the 6 pubs in our area to promote the 2014 Haydon Bridge Beer Festival 4th & 5th July.
My thanks to all the sponsors and pubs who are hosting: They start at
The Haydonian Club in Haydon Bridge at 11am - Sponsored by Big Lamp Brewery

The Anchor Hotel - Sponsored by Hexhamshire Brewery

The General Havelock - Sponsored by Geltsdale Brewery

The Red Lion Newbrough - Sponsored by Allendale Brewery
Fourstones Service Station for Soup
Then the Railway at Fourstones
Then via the Bridleway to finish at The Boatside Warden - Sponsored by Wylam Brewery
All taking part will get 1/2 pint of Real Ale in each Pub (soft drinks for the kids) included in the price.

The Chilcott Report has now taken longer than The First World War - it must be published this year

The inquiry into Iraq was initially announced on July 15, 2009 by Gordon Brown, and hearings were finally concluded on February 2, 2011. It has still not published its findings.
The Iraq inquiry is not just about Tony Blair. It is about 100,000 dead Iraqis, the 179 dead British service personnel, the mutilation of a nation and the destabilisation of an entire region. And whatever Chilcot reports, neither Tony Blair’s supporters or enemies will be happy.

The real reason Chilcot must publish his report on Iraq is because the time has come to draw an official line under Iraq. Iraq is not just a stain on our history – it is a stain on our present.
The war of 2003 is no distant abstraction. As the Syria vote proved, it is the prism through which every British foreign policy decision is still viewed. It will continue to distort our vision until we finally deliver some sort of national closure.
There is only one way to have that closure. Which is to bring the truth about what happened in Iraq, and the official version of what happened in Iraq, into alignment.
The British people don’t need to learn again what happened in Iraq. What they need is the sight of an austere-looking man, in a rather dull suit, walking up to a lectern, holding aloft a large, imposing document, and announcing, “What happened in Iraq was wrong. In here it tells you why.”
Dan Hodges full report on this is here:

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Busy week in Westminster as Immigration Bill to be passed by parliament this week

Today is packed with debates, meetings with Tom Sefton of the Church of England Credit Union Team, who is I hope helping me with the establishment of a Tynedale Community Bank this morning and several other constituents / key local issues.
We also have Justice Questions today and then Scottish Questions and PMQs tomorrow.
Wednesday I shall be in the chamber most of the afternoon helping the Immigration Bill through the House.
Thursday I shall be running for a train to get home Thursday night with luck.

Boris is spot on - Miliband price freezes are economic madness

Help to Work Scheme launched to help long term unemployed into work

The Help to Work scheme - a new intensive support to get the long-term unemployed into work was launched last week and I thought it would be helpful to send a short brief.

A key part of our long-term economic plan is to move to greater employment, making sure that everyone who can work is given the support and opportunity to do so. We are seeing record levels of employment in Britain as more and more people move to the security of a job – but we need to look at those who are persistently stuck on benefits for a number of years.
We know that most people move off Jobseeker's Allowance quickly, but there's always more to do, which is why we are providing additional support to the very small minority of claimants who have been unemployed for a number of years. Industry figures show that around half a million long-term claimants have already found work through the Work Programme.The Help to Work Scheme will give jobcentre staff a new range of options to support the hardest to help and provide more support to the long-term unemployed than ever before.
It will involve three options:
• Attending the Jobcentre every day. The daily meeting with their adviser would include discussing the progress made in looking for work, such as the number of job searches or applications made, or new activity to improve their skills base. This support will last for three months and is designed for claimants who are close to the labour market and would benefit from regular support with looking for jobs, including those who need to build motivation, momentum and engagement. Currently, a claimant only needs to attend once every two weeks. Help will be available with travel costs for those who need it.
• Community Work Placements. Claimants who lack work experience - and where this is felt to be holding them back from finding a job - may be asked to undertake a placement, which will also benefit their local community. This would include a range of roles in the voluntary and community sector that will give the claimant skills and experience within the work place. This could include gardening projects, running community cafes or even restoring historical sites and war memorials. The placements will be for up to six months for 30 hours a week and will be backed up by at least four hours of supported job searching each week to help turn the experience into full time employment.
• Intensive Jobcentre support. For jobseekers with multiple or complex barriers to work the Jobcentre Plus advisors will spend more time with the claimant looking at how to tailor a back to work support, with more flexibility to send people on intensive training schemes, ad hoc funding to overcome issues blocking a return to work such as initial travel costs or suitable clothes for a job interview, and referrals to work experience opportunities with local organisations.
This will ensure that they have the skills, confidence and experience to be able to increase their chances of getting a job so that they have the security of a regular pay packet, meaning they can provide for themselves and their families..
Over 70 organisations from the private, voluntary, charity, SME and local authority sectors are already contracted to provide placements for they recognise the positive benefits it has on their organisations, the local community and the jobseeker.

This is another important step in turning around the situation we inherited where a million and a half people spent the last decade out of work. The long-term unemployed almost doubled between 2008 and 2010 to 783,000 - we’re helping them, giving new opportunity and new responsibility to people who had previously been written off with no chance.

Monday, 5 May 2014

A Charity or philanthropic institution could run a prison better than the state or a private company

Last week we debated prison reform in the House of Commons and I raised the need for alternative providers. At present, there are only two providers: the state and since the 1990's there are private companies. I want a charity or philanthropic institution to address this problem and take over a lower category prison and provide a different approach. After all we allow schools to be run by charities, businesses and faiths, so why not prisons?
The third sector magazine has done an interesting review of the debate here:

This idea I first addressed in 2012 in the Commons and put in my book Doing Time. There is a full chapter entitled "Big Society Prisons".

The full debate from last week is here:

School Funding the Taoist Way - the longest journey starts with the smallest step

Campaigns take a long time as an MP. You start with a simple idea, but the process of initiating change in a parliamentary democracy does take time. Nothing illustrates this argument as well as Fairer Funding for our schools - knows as the F40 campaign. It is patently wrong that the formula per pupil means that Newcastle schools receive over £800 per pupil more than Northumberland pupils. This, coupled to 3 tier, transport and various complex issues of rural deprivation mean it is extremely difficult to sustain our schools in Northumberland, particularly when compared to other schools budgets. I have visited over 30 of our schools in my patch and am shortly off to revisit Beaufront First School and go for the first time to Greenhead. I am always impressed by the wisdom, hard work and make do attitude of our headteachers and teaching staff.
This week we debated fairer funding in parliament. Many of the F40 campaigners spoke. The debate was led by Robin Walker MP for Worcester, who along with Richard Graham, the MP for Gloucester. have been doing the heavy lifting in the campaign. Two years ago in April 2012 we called for this change and debated the steps needed to be taken: Robin Walker MP in his opening speech on Tuesday set the scene, and explained why we are all Taoists now....

"Many hon. Friends in the Chamber today were with me in the debate initiated by my hon. Friend Richard Graham in April 2012, when we welcomed the Government’s commitment to a fairer formula but bemoaned the lack of a down payment to begin its delivery. It was my hon. Friend Guy Opperman who invoked the Chinese proverb of Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, who said that "the longest journey begins with a single step." That single step has now been taken. Many parts of the country can rejoice at that. Of the £350 million targeted at helping the lowest-funded authorities, some £172 million—slightly less than half—is coming to F40 authorities. Cambridgeshire, South Gloucestershire, Northumberland and Shropshire all see gains of more than 6% as a result of the projected allocations and, of 34 current members of F40, 23 are seeing some uplift."

For the full debate and my short speech see here:

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Thoughts on the HS2 debate a few days on - in 50 Years time will we wonder what the fuss was about?

My question in the HS2 Debate focused on the problem with all large infrastructure projects.

"All the northern councils and chambers of commerce back HS2 unequivocally as a source of growth and extra capacity. Is it not the case that all major infrastructure projects are objected to at the time of their creation, and that 50 years on, the objectors fully support what took place?"

HS1, M25, West Coast Mainline, East Coast mainline etc etc were all objected to before they were built. All are a big success now and used by millions. Indeed West Coast Mainline was originally defeated in parliament. The arguments for HS2 are strong. We need to think long term.

And on the point of whether rail spending is HS2 and nothing else it is true that many people against this project ask “Why not spend the money elsewhere?” This is about spending money elsewhere as well as, not instead of, on this project.

Patrick McLoughlin, the Secretary of State for Transport addressed this point by making the point that:
"Over the next five years Network Rail will spend £38.5 billion on the existing railway network. That is separate from the money being earmarked for HS2."

The Full debate from Monday is here:

Friday, 2 May 2014

Police Reform: Details of Home Secretary changes to Stop and Search Police powers - a very welcome reform

On Wednesday in parliamanet the Home Secretary made clear that excessive stop and search has to cease: the reforms in LOondon are being rolled out across the country: this is a shortened version of what she had to say:

"I have long been concerned about the use of stop and search. While it is undoubtedly an important police power, when it is misused stop and search can be counter-productive. First, it can be an enormous waste of police time. Second, when innocent people are stopped and searched for no good reason, it is hugely damaging to the relationship between the police and the public. In those circumstances it is an unacceptable affront to justice.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary were commissioned to inspect every force in England and Wales to see how stop and search powers are used.

The consultation generated more than 5,000 responses, and it was striking that those on the receiving end of stop and search had very different attitudes to those who are not. While 76 per cent of people aged between 55 and 74 thought stop and search powers are effective, only 38 per cent of people aged between 18 and 24 agreed. While 66 per cent of white people thought stop and search powers are effective, only 38 per cent of black people agreed.

The inspectorate reported that 27 per cent of the stop and search records they examined did not contain reasonable grounds to search people, even though many of these records had been endorsed by supervising officers. If the HMIC sample is accurate, that means more than a quarter of the one million or so stops carried out under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act last year could have been illegal.

Official figures show that if you are black or from a minority ethnic background, you are up to six times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than if you are white, and only about ten per cent of stops result in an arrest.

In London, thanks to the leadership of Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, changes to stop and search show that it is possible to reduce the number of stops, improve the stop-to-arrest ratio and still cut crime. Since February 2012, the Metropolitan Police have reduced their overall use of stop and search by twenty per cent. They have reduced no-suspicion stop and search by ninety per cent. In the same period, stabbings have fallen by a third and shootings by forty per cent. Complaints against the police have gone down and the arrest ratio has improved.

HMIC‟s study into the use of stop and search revealed that more than half the police forces in the country are ignoring the requirement set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act Code of Practice A to make arrangements for public scrutiny of stop-and-search records. This is an important duty that should empower local communities to hold police forces to account, and so I have written to all chief constables and police and crime commissioners to tell them to adhere to the code. I have told them that if they do not do so, the Government will bring forward legislation to make this a statutory requirement.

Earlier today I commissioned Alex Marshall, the chief executive of the College of Policing, to review the national training of stop and search with a view to developing robust professional standards for officers on probation, existing officers, supervisors and police leaders. I want this to send the clearest possible message – if officers do not pass this assessment, if they do not understand the law or they do not show they know how to use stop and search powers appropriately, they will not be allowed to use them.

The proposals I have outlined today amount to a comprehensive package of reform. I believe that they should contribute to a significant reduction in the overall use of stop and search, better and more intelligence-led stop and search and improved stop-to-arrest ratios. But I want to make myself absolutely clear: if the numbers do not come down, if stop and search does not become more targeted, if those stop-to-arrest ratios do not improve considerably, the Government will return with primary legislation to make these things happen.

Because nobody wins when stop and search is misapplied. It is a waste of police time. It is unfair, especially to young, black men. It is bad for public confidence in the police."

Euro election campaigning for Martin Callanan MEP tomorrow

I have a variety of meetings in Hexham today and on Saturday I will be in Ponteland knocking on doors and campaigning.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Full text of Sir Robert Rogers wonderful letter as read out in the Commons yesterday - worth a read

“Dear Mr Speaker,

I write to inform you that I have indicated to Her Majesty The Queen that I wish to surrender my Patent as Clerk of the House at the end of August this year. I shall then have served the House for 42 years, over eleven Parliaments, and for the last decade at the Table.

As Clerk of the House I have been fortunate indeed to have the best job in the service of any Parliament—indeed one of the best jobs in the world.
I have been lucky enough to have been involved in most of the innovations in the procedure and business of the House over the last ten years. Whatever the vicissitudes of Parliamentary life, and whatever brickbats may be thrown at it, I can truly say that the House now is a more effective scrutineer of the executive, and more topical, relevant and independent-minded, than I have ever known it.

As Chief Executive of the House Service of some 2,000 staff I have had the great privilege of leading a remarkable group of talented people, deeply committed to the House and, whatever their role here, all rightly proud of being stewards of the central institution in our democracy.

That commitment and pride has been a feature of working life here for as long as I can remember; but in recent years it has been coupled with increasing levels of professionalism and teamwork and an ever clearer focus on delivering the services required by the House and its Members, as well as reaching out, through education and information, to the world beyond Westminster.

I am so grateful to have had, throughout my service, and especially over the last three years, the support and friendship of Members on all sides of the House, and especially of the occupants of the Chair, as well as the happy camaraderie, support and counsel of my colleagues at all levels.
I have spent much of my career seeking to make the House and its work, and the work of its Members, better understood by those whom it serves: the citizens of the United Kingdom. For I believe that with understanding comes valuing, and with valuing comes ownership. And our citizens should feel pride in the ownership of their Parliament.

The House of Commons, across the centuries, has never expected to be popular, and indeed it should not court popularity. But the work it does in calling governments to account, and its role as a crucible of ideas and challenge, deserves to be better known, better understood, and so properly valued. So too does the work of individual Members: not only working for the interests of their constituencies and constituents, but often as the last resort of the homeless and hopeless, the people whom society has let down. This is a worthy calling, and should be properly acknowledged and appreciated.

This House is the precious centre of our Parliamentary democracy; and with all my heart I wish it well.

Yours sincerely,
Robert Rogers”
This letter was read out by the Speaker. The whole house of commons and the gallery then burst into very prolonged Applause. This never happens
The Speaker then added:
"That spontaneous reaction—"
but was interupted by the ebullient Labour MP Chris Bryant who is a devotee of parliamentary procedure: he said:
"Is unparliamentary!"
John Bercow (Speaker)
"It may be unparliamentary, but it bears eloquent testimony to the esteem in which Robert is held."

Comment: I have come to know Robert these last few years and you could not get a finer man, a more devoted parliamentarian and a better public servant. He will be sorely missed.