Sunday, 28 September 2014

Conference Diary in Birmingham over the next 2 days

Monday Morning: 
-8-9.30: Women To Win mock selection of MPs and 3 candidates tell candidates how they got selected, with Tim Montgomerie in the conservative home tent. 
- then meetings with candidates, and coffee with theNewcastle Airport representative, Graeme Mason re APD and devolution. 
 12.00Dementia meeting with Alzheimer's Society 
12.45 to 14.00 - Northumbrian Water event Novotel Hotel - I am speaking
- 16.00 - Meeting with Network Rail re Gilsland Station and rail crossings, station maintenance and bridgework
- 17.30 to 19.00 – 'Energy and Equity event' focusing on off grid - speaking with several key experts
Venue: Drawing Room, Hyatt Regency Hotel, 2 Bridge Street, B1 2JZ
19.00 to 21.00 - Common Vision event on local economic growth - 266a – 271 Broad Street, B1 2DS. 'Greater economic localism will answer the devolution question’. With several other MPs

 - 12.30 to 14.00 - ResPublica Roundtable: speaking on creation of local banks. Room 15/17, Jurys Inn, 245 Broad Street, B1 2HQ
14.00 – 14.30 - Meeting BT Public Affairs team re rural broadband 
14.30 - Meeting Ed Boyd, Deputy Policy Director, The Centre for Social Justice.
- 15.00 – Meet Victoria Raffe (FCA) re local banks
- 15.30 to 17.00 - Demos Banking event, Jury's Inn, 245 Broad Street, Birmingham, B1 2HQ. Guy keynote speaker 'Community chest: Could local banks work in the UK'. 

Guest Blog Post - student Mark Loughridge talks of life doing work experience in both offices

"It has been a great privilege to work for Guy and his team this summer, both in Hexham and in Westminster. To have had a first-hand glimpse at the hard work both offices are putting in for the people of Northumberland has been a fantastic experience. Two Mondays ago I was able to attend the Let’s Stay Together rally in Trafalgar Square. Armed with ‘Hexham says: Please stay!’ posters, we joined a huge crowd of people from all over Britain and made a very vocal case for Scotland to stay in our shared Union. I was particularly moved by Sir Bob Geldof’s passionate speech in which he, an Irishman by birth, praised the success of our Union and explained how he thought creating yet another boundary in our world would do little to make it a safer or friendlier place.

Guy had repeatedly voiced concern about the future of the North and Scotland if there was to be a ‘Yes’ vote on Thursday 18 – I hope that the thousands of people in Trafalgar Square on Monday were able to make a heartfelt case for why we are better together. The stakes this summer couldn’t be much higher, so to be in Westminster at this seminal moment in the history of our nation has been brilliant.
Finally, I’d like to thank Guy and all of his staff who have been so friendly and accommodating during what has been a rollercoaster summer. I hope many other young people from the North East are able to work alongside Guy and his team for years to come. "

For my part as the MP I cannot stress enough that we try and make the parliamentary and Hexham offices open to all, so get in touch.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Ponteland Local Plan Meeting - try and go along this weekend to Pont Memorial Hall

Today from 10-7 and tomorrow from 9.30-1 continues the drop in sessions concerning the new neighbourhood plan being prepared by local councillors and volunteers on behalf of the Town Council. I went along last weekend and am seen with the inspirational Alma and Will Moses. There is so much to see and understand but the key message is get involved. This is your local community and your chance to shape it.
More details found here:

Iraq Motion today

That this House

Condemns the barbaric acts of ISIL against the peoples of Iraq including the Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Christians and Yazidi and the humanitarian crisis this is causing; recognizes the clear threat ISIL pose to the territorial integrity of Iraq and the request from the Government of Iraq for military support from the international community and the specific request to the UK Government for such support;  further recognizes the threat ISIL poses to wider international security and the UK directly through its sponsorship of terrorist attacks and its murder of a British hostage; acknowledges the broad coalition contributing to military support of the Government of Iraq, including countries throughout the Middle East; further acknowledges the request of the Government of Iraq for international support to defend itself against the threat ISIL poses to Iraq and its citizens, and the clear legal basis that this provides for action in Iraq; notes that this motion does not endorse UK air strikes in Syria as part of this   campaign and any proposal to do so would be subject to a separate vote in Parliament; accordingly supports Her Majesty’s Government, working with allies, in supporting the Government of Iraq in protecting civilians and restoring its territorial integrity, including the use of UK air strikes to support Iraqi, including Kurdish, security forces’ efforts against ISIL in Iraq; notes that Her Majesty’s Government will not deploy UK troops in ground combat operations;  offers its wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty’s armed forces.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Post Referendum we can have more local NE powers AND a fair deal for England

After the Scottish referendum, the UK is going to change; I see the future as being an opportunity for the North East; we are starting the end of top-down Westminster control as power and money is decentralised from London.

The new settlement on devolution should herald empowerment not just for nations but for our communities, cities, and counties. I believe we can do it all: make the settlement which all have agreed to Scotland, create more powers for our region and a fair settlement for England as a whole.

The Prime Minister is absolutely right to set out plans to solve the English question. It is entirely wrong that Scottish MP's can vote on laws which only effect England. For example healthcare is entirely devolved to Scotland. Yet at the moment Scottish MPs can vote on English healthcare matters but I as an English MP cannot vote on Scottish healthcare matters. This problem is going to be even more acute as more powers are devolved to Scotland like finance, welfare, etc. There will be effectively no matters save foreign policy and defence that a Scottish MP would have any control over. It will all be devolved.  

But I want to make it clear that  as much as we must stick to the commitments made to the Scots we must also ensure a fair and equal settlement for England.

Labour's plan is simply to ignore the calls for fair representation of England in Parliament, and dust off John Prescott’s ill fated plans for a regional assembly.  I don't know anyone who thinks that creating another layer of politicians with no real power is the answer. The good people of the North East rejected Labour's plan for an expensive talking shop almost 10 years ago and rightly so – I see very few people except the dinosaurs like Labour MP Ronnie Campbell wanting to go down this route.

What our region needs isn't more politicians, it is more powers. Real powers to boost jobs, infrastructure and investment. The easiest way to do that is to build on the existing combined authority. The combined 7 Local authorities have already come together to make joint decisions on transport, skills and so much more. This is a body which is ripe for more power, and ready to accept it.  That excludes the need for many more new layers of bureaucracy. The combined authorities could be given more control over economic development. That would really put our region in the driving seat for growth, skills, transport links and jobs.

My personal view is that we need the leader of the Combined Authority being elected as a Mayor – as they have in London, New York and so many other great areas, rather than it being an appointed post as it is now. I think that is the simplest, cheapest and most sensible way to bring democracy and greater power to the combined authorities.

The end goal for this whole process of devolution in my view is relatively simple; more powers and democratic accountability for our region, and a fair settlement for England. That is a goal worth striving for in our new United Kingdom .

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Looking forward to speaking at tomorrow's Asian Business Connexions Curry Club in Newcastle

Asian Business Connexions will be holding their annual ABCurry Club at The Beacon, Newcastle tomorrow, the 25 September @ 6pm.

The Curry Club is a unique opportunity to meet with so many of the key people in the local Asian community - I am a massive fan of ABC  - this is a group of wonderful people who have one common vision - to Connect, Support, and Promote, one another. They also serve a mean curry!!
The promo says:
"Guest speakers attending include some of the biggest names in education, local politics, business and enterprise - Paul Woolston: Chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, Carole Kitching: Principal of Newcastle College and Guy Opperman MP."

Tickets are strictly on a first come, first paid basis (£10 for members & £12 for non-members). To reserve your space email or call 0191 242 4892.

I would add - Come along: you will not be disappointed as the people are fascinating, and the curry is great!

Surely cutting the deficit & balancing the books is more important than memorising a speech?

I must be one of the few people who has actually watched Ed Miliband's speech yesterday as he tried to convince the Labour party faithful that he could tackle Britain's economy. The speech had its moments to be fair, but he totally forgot to talk about the deficit and immigration - although these are consistently the 2 biggest issues pollsters say voters are concerned with. Freud might have something to say about the unconscious erasing of past mistakes and the inability to deal with present problems, but lets not try and psycho analyse the Labour leader too much. But what you "forget" is also very indicative.  

For the real problem is the lack of candour from anyone in Labour about the scale of the financial challenges facing a Labour government, if it came to power next year, because the economy is not out of the woods and it is not sunlit uplands all the way from May 2015. Just ask French President Francois Hollande how his anti austerity super socialist measures are going in La Belle France: the reality is that socialism is a jobs and economic disaster. France is the sick man of Europe.

Ed Balls said on Monday that Labour was facing difficult, unpopular decisions, but then undermined his bad cop routine by failing to outline any meaningful cuts to any budgets. And this from an Opposition who has opposed every attempt at Budget Reduction between 2010-2014.

The truth is that Ed Miliband is simply not concerned by the economy, balancing the books and cutting the deficit. We have to remember that Ed Miliband is after all:
- a former Treasury Policy wonk under Tony Blair,
- an advisor to Gordon Brown [remember "no more boom and bust"]
- and now advised on the economy by Ed Balls

So his lack of understanding of the economy is not altogether surprising.

Parliament may be recalled Friday in light of Islamic State air strikes

The question is - how do we in Britain support the efforts against the IS troops?
The USA have launched air strikes, working with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar, who all took part, or supported the strikes.

Monday's strikes expanded the anti-IS campaign across the border into Syria for the first time. The strikes targeted the group's main headquarters in its stronghold of Raqqa, north-eastern Syria. The US has launched nearly 200 air strikes in Iraq against IS since August.
As always, I would welcome constituents thoughts. Thus far we have taken no physical action but have provided diplomatic support. But ...diplomacy will only get you so far with an organisation who
- kidnap people and then behead them
- or massacre those who will not support their extremist views.

For those who do not know what IS are have a read here:
The US Secretary of State has spent a lot of time making sure that this Coalition is a group of countries from all across the Middle East.

I should stress that am not certain that parliament is to be recalled [it requires the PM and Opposition leaders to agree in reality] although there is much discussion of this, and certainly the Guardian and other papers seem to think so. There are no easy answers but these monsters are not going to stop, that much is clear. I am in Westminster today, but my present plan is to go North tomorrow.

Post 16 Transport Update

The Northumberland County Council's full Post 16 policy is here:

Independent Councillor for Stocksfield Anne Dale has asked me to clarify her position on the introduction of charges for Post 16 Transport. I am more than happy to do so.
I had previously suggested in two Articles, dated 4 and 19 July this year that Mrs Dale sided with Labour on the Northumberland County Council and supported the abolition of Post-16 Transport. After discussions with Mrs Dale, she has made it clear to me that she does not support this policy, and points to her abstention at the Scrutiny Board on the 29th May.
I have agreed to withdraw the Articles which suggested that she did support this policy, and apologise to her for any disruption and distress caused by my suggestion that she did support this policy

Parents opposing the policy to charge Post 16 Students for school travel are collecting information on the impact on young people in 6th form. You can do so by filling in this short survey:

You can also keep up to date with the campaign groups activities via their Facebook page:
I myself am still opposing the policy. If you are a constituent and are having specific problems with the Council's new policy, or it is causing you hardship, please do not hesitate to get in touch and I will see what we can do to help. You can call my office on: 01434 601 420, email at: or write via: 1 Meal Market, Hexham, NE46 1NF

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Macmillan Cancer Support coffee morning all across Tynedale this week - please try and support one

There are many different coffee mornings locally in village halls, schools and WI. Please make sure you go along and support one. I have yet to decide where I shall be but they are happening on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. My present intention is to go to the event at Humshaugh First School on Friday and maybe one other on Thursday. The Courant has details of many other events.

Monday, 22 September 2014

In the Commons and Home Office today catching up on casework and lots more

Apologies if I have not got back to you - Scotland has taken up a lot of our time but spending several days catching up this week before heading north again on Thursday.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

North East must be first in line for greater powers and control now Scotland has decided

The Battle of Rorke’s Drift - Queens Hall, Hexham Lecture 7.30 14/10 - do not miss Rob Caskie


Following his sell-out talk last year on Scott and Shackleton, Rob Caskie, a South African, renowned internationally for his lectures, will give a balanced account of this famous battle. His passion and enthusiasm for his subject will make for an electrifying narrative.

Visit the Rob Caskie website
The Battle of Rorke’s Drift took place on 22 January 1879 during the Zulu War in South Africa at the Mission and Supply Station of Rorke’s Drift. During the battle, some 179 British soldiers held off and defeated a force of over 4,500 Zulu warriors.
Immortalised by the classic movie Zulu, this remarkable battle saw the award of 11 Victoria Crosses, the largest number of VC’s awarded for a single action in history.
Tickets: £12.50 / £8.00 (students), including a drink with Rob following his lecture, are available from Brian Massey 01434 673413
If you have not heard Rob speak I urge you to go. You will also be raising money for Tynedale Hospice.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Pub of the Year is Blanchland's Lord Crewe Arms according to the Sunday Times
A glowing review by the Sunday Times travel section describes the well known South Northumberland pub as 3 Inns for the price of one - with amazing food, history going back to the Middle Ages, gorgeous countryside a stones throw away, a fireplace you could park a car in and the famous bar in the vaulted crypt. There is no place like it. Visit soon.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Relieved. Tired. Proud of democracy, our United Kingdom and the efforts of so many

As a general once said: "a battle won is better than a battle lost" but it was still a close run thing, and the consequences will be significant. I have campaigned in Aberdeen, Argyll, Annan, Fife, Perthshire, Islay, Stonehaven, Banchory, Jedburgh, Hawick, and many villages and towns in between before Edinburgh the last two days of the campaign. 

Democracy prevailed in that such battles are normally fought over a gun not a ballot box. Even though there was some intimidation by the SNP, this only backfired on them, as many voted against this aggression, and comments like those of Jim Sillars, whose comments defied belief. I cannot thank enough the many who helped over the last 18 months of campaigning. They know who they are and are too many to thank. The margin of victory was larger than I expected albeit I never thought we would lose. 
In Edinburgh on The Referendum Day one journalist said how invigorating the campaign had been, and he was right. I cannot overstate how many people got involved, who had never been part of an election before. On Thursday I shared a house in Murrayfield that was given over by volunteers to be a campaign and election centre. We ate them out of house and home, as so many better together volunteers flocked to their home to help get out the vote. Likewise many came on our Borders battle bus two weeks ago. It was great to see passionate citizens expressing their views, and getting involved. Being in Trafalgar Square on Monday I saw the people caring about politics. 

The consequences of the big win is consequential for everyone; our kingdom is united once again, localism is the new issue and rightly so, and Salmond has gone already. I am clear that we cannot have greater Scottish devolution (which we will) without addressing powers and governance changes for the other countries of the UK and providing more self governance for the regions, including the North East.  It is clear that Britain is about to change significantly as the governance of the UK will 
For my part I have had little sleep for a long time, and will recover this weekend, but am back at work in Westminster on Monday, as I have a ton of a Westminster, and Home Office work, to do. I probably should not have agreed to such a packed Friday in Northumberland so my apologies, if required, to the many I saw today if I was a little overtired. This included the children and teachers of Otterburn and Hexham East First Schools, the surgeries I had in Hexham, the broadband seminar in Corbridge, the BBC in Newcastle on radio and then Mark Denton, of the BBC, who required far too many takes to film a reaction to last nights events. 
This was a very convincing win in the circumstances. My thanks to all who voted and all who helped. Britain is something – a place and an idea too – and this was something worth fighting for. The 
country will need to change now but the biggest benefit of this fight is that our United Kingdom, and the way power is exercised in this country is going to evolve. And that is a good thing. 

Thursday, 18 September 2014

#indyref is upon us: a grey Edinburgh morning but out with #bettertogether team

Great evocation of why it is so important that we stick together last night, by GB of all people, but it is v good:
‘Let us tell the undecided, the waverers, those not sure how to vote, let us tell them what we have achieved together. We fought two world wars together – and there is not a cemetery in Europe that does not have Scots, English, Welsh and Irish lying side-by-side. And when young men were injured in these wars, they didn’t look to each other and ask whether you were Scots or English, they came to each other’s aid because we were part of a common cause. And we not only won these wars together, we built the peace together, we built the health service together, we built the welfare state together, we will build the future together. And what we have built together by sacrificing and sharing, let no narrow nationalism split asunder ever.’
‘Let us tell also those people who have been told unfairly by the nationalists that, if you vote No, you are a less than patriotic Scot. Tell them this is our Scotland. Tell them that Scotland does not belong to the SNP. Scotland does not belong to the Yes campaign. Scotland does not belong to any politician – Mr Salmond, Mr Swinney, me, or any other politician – Scotland belongs to all of us. And let us tell the nationalists this is not their flag, their country, their culture, their streets. This is everyone’s flag, everyone’s country, everyone’s street.’
‘If you’re like me and a million more people who are convinced that the case for cooperation is greater than any case put for separation then I say to you: hold your heads high. Show dignity and pride. Be confident. Let us have confidence that our values are indeed the values of the majority of the people of Scotland – that our principles of sharing and cooperation are far better and mean more to them than separation and splitting apart. Have confidence that people know that our Scottish Parliament and its new powers give people the powers they need and meet the aspirations of the Scottish people. Have confidence, stand up and be counted tomorrow. Have confidence tomorrow and have confidence enough to say with all our friends: we’ve had no answers. They do not know what they are doing, they are leading us into a trap. Have confidence and say to our friends: for reason of solidarity, sharing, justice, pride in Scotland, the only answer for Scotland’s sake and for Scotland’s future is vote No.’

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Tynedale events this weeknd - sculpture, lions club auction and leek shows - something for everyone

Aside from the Hexham Music and Arts Festival there is also on Saturday the Wark Leek Show from 4pm and the Allendale Lions Club charity auction from 9am and Sculpture at Cheeseburn, a new venue for sculpture in the North East this Friday19 and Saturday 20 September

Please register here if you want to go to the scultpure exhibition or find out more about the centre for sculpture and contemporary art in the North East. The initial exhibition will include new works and proposals by David Mach and you will be able to tour the grounds at Cheeseburn and see work by Joseph Hillier, Andrew Burton, William Peers, Stephen Newby, Heidi Dent, Colin Rose, Daniel Clahane and Sarah Smith.

Campaigning days between now and Christmas

Friday 19th
ACTION DAY - Canvassing in Hexham Central – 11am

Hexham Abbey
Saturday 20th:
Super Saturday ACTION DAY - Canvassing in Gosforth - 11am – 1pm
The County, High St, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne & Wear NE3 1HB
Friday 26th
HCCA Association Dinner - 6.30pm
Hexham Racecourse, High Yarridge, Yarridge Rd, Hexham NE46 2JP
Contact for details. A few places left to hear Conrad Dickinson speak 
Saturday 27th:
Super Saturday ACTION DAY - Riding Mill - 11am – 1pm
Duke of Wellington, Main Road, Riding Mill NE44 6DQ

Friday 17th:
Ponteland Branch Supper Club – 7.00 p.m. for 7.30 p.m.
Ponteland Golf Club, Bell Villas, Ponteland. NE20 9BD
Contact for details - some places still available. Guy is the Speaker
Saturday 18th:
Super Saturday ACTION DAY - Prudhoe North - 11am – 1pm
Dr Syntax, 1 West Road, Prudhoe, NE42 5JT
November 1st:
Super Saturday ACTION DAY - Ponteland West - 11am – 1pm
The Blackbird, North Road, Ponteland, Northumberland, NE20 9UH
November 6th:
Hexham Women’s Conservative Lunch, 12.30pm
Tynedale Cricket Club
Contact for details
December 13th:
Super Saturday ACTION DAY - Hexham West - 11am – 1pm
Meet at QEHS, Whetstone Bridge Rd, Hexham NE46 3JB

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Unity Rally - thoughts on last nights impromptu #IndyRef event

Trafalgar Square was packed last night as thousands of Londoners came together to make the case to the Scots that they should say "No Thanks" on Thursday. Dan Snow, Jenny Colgan, Bob Geldof, Eddie Izzard and Al Murray, not in the guise of the Pub Landlord, all spoke passionately of what it means to be British, and celebrated the Scots as part of being British. A Unity Rally full of flags and quiet passion it was. We heard Colgan's 30 things that make us British and heard both Auden's classic poem, the Night Mail, and then listened to Al Murray on How being British is a lovely umbrella, that allows all the individual countries to flourish together. Bob Geldof, an immigrant Irishman was the most impassioned, arguing that:
- before the USA or the UN there was a United Kingdom, and that we should be proud of this great achievement.

Izzard spoke eloquently of the progress that the taking down of borders has brought. He mentioned the first astronauts in space who reported back that when looking down at the earth they "could see no borders". He said "humanity is about human beings coming together otherwise we have no future."
I am glad I went. I write this on the train north and shall be in Scotland on Thursday, in particular, getting the unionist vote out. This matters too much. Action this day.

Hexham Abbey Music Festival starts this Friday 19th - until the 27th September
There is an exciting programme of events, which has been made possible following the award of another generous grant from Arts Council England. There is amazing music and if you have never seen parkour - this is a visual spectacle that will blow your mind: 3Run are very very good I am told.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Scotland edges back from the brink - encouraging signs that momentum has swung back to a "No Thanks"

On many levels the campaign to save the Union is gaining ground:
Firstly the message is getting through that the Uk as a whole wants Scotland to stay
Second the economic arguments become more overwhelming every day as all the major employers say they would leave if the Scots go independent.
And why would not they do that when people like the SNP oddball Jim Sillars saying the following?
Speaking on the campaign trail yesterday Mr Sillars said oil giant BP would face nationalisation in an independent Scotland.
He said: "This referendum is about power, and when we get a 'Yes' majority we will use that power for a day of reckoning with BP and the banks.
"The heads of these companies are rich men, in cahoots with a rich English Tory Prime Minister, to keep Scotland's poor poorer through lies and distortions. The power they have now to subvert our democracy will come to an end with a 'Yes'.
"BP, in an independent Scotland, will need to learn the meaning of nationalisation, in part or in whole, as it has in other countries who have not been as soft as we have been forced to be.
Mr Sillars added: "What kind of people do these companies think we are? They will find out."
It defies belief. The man is not only wrong, but would harm Scotland as all the job creators - like BP, RBS, and many other employers leave. This is mob rule and a passport to the third world.  Full story here:
Separately I am a massive fan of Inverness's Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator. His report makes a sad but sober read.

International Aid saves lives - historic Commons vote yesterday

The Turn Up and Save Lives campaign had a lot of competing interests yesterday.

I could have gone to Scotland, for obvious reasons: to anyone who reads the blog this matters desperately to me. But I decided to stay in London and support the International Aid Bill.
More about the campaign is set out here:

People sometimes ask - can we afford to give money to refugees, to the vaccine programmes, to help feed the starving?
There are three ways to answer this question.
Firstly, ask yourself - do you give money to charity? Because the reality is that we are looking to give £7 out of every thousand this country makes to a type of charity. That is 0.7%.

Secondly, we are a first world country with wealth beyond the wildest dreams of many. Slowly our country is turning its economy around and balancing our books, and although there have been significant hardships we have clean water, few diseases, a free and superb NHS, welfare for all who slip through the net, pensions for all, a fair judiciary, democracy, law and order, and so much more.
I think the wealthy should help support those in need. The difference this makes to so many is astounding. Examples of the help include:
  • Even in some of the most difficult places on earth, British aid is helping. The British public have dug deep to help children caught up in Syria’s civil war, and their generosity has been ‘match-funded’ by the British government, meaning that together we have reached more than one million children with blankets and other supplies.
  • We really are turning the tide. Since the year 2000 the number of children’s lives lost to malaria has halved. Since 1990 we’ve halved the rate of child mortality overall. There are now only three countries in the world where polio is still endemic. Amidst so much bad news about things we can’t change, it is time to celebrate the things we already have changed, together.
Thirdly, try and see the difference yourself. I wanted to be convinced the money was really reaching the refugees and not being squandered or filtered away in corruption. That may have happened before, but it is not now. Earlier this year, I went to visit the Syrian refugees stranded north of Aleppo, in a British government supported Aid camp. The experience moved me beyond words.  I have seen for myself that our aid helps save lives. The Journal covered the story as follows:

Friday, 12 September 2014

RIP Reverend Ian Paisley - from "Never" to Peace, and a long journey in between

The Reverend Ian Paisley is living proof that extreme views can change, sworn enemies can became friends and political opponents can then forge a peaceful way forward. Although many of his earlier views and pronouncements were unacceptable he clearly changed with time. And through his change, Northern Ireland changed.

Mr Paisley, who was 88 when he died, moved from the being the "Never Man" to become Northern Irelands First Minister in a power sharing arrangement with Sinn Fein.
This today from Marin McGuiness:
"Over a number of decades we were political opponents and held very different views on many, many issues but the one thing we were absolutely united on was the principle that our people were better able to govern themselves than any British government. I want to pay tribute to and comment on the work he did in the latter days of his political life in building agreement and leading unionism into a new accommodation with republicans and nationalists."

The lesson for all those in Gaza, Kashmir, and all the other conflicts around the world is that even the most difficult problems can be solved and that peace can be found, if there is a genuine will to forge a better way forward and a commitment to work together peacefully with former enemies.
The BBC reports on him as follows:

In 7 days Scotland will decide - what are you doing to help save the Union?

Next Thursday September 18th I shall be in Scotland helping to Get the Vote out. I will also be there earlier next week - although I have a variety of meetings in Prudhoe on Tuesday, and in Slaley and Stanley, County Durham on Wednesday morning, that I cannot avoid or change. I will certainly be travelling up to Scotland most evenings next week to campaign in the Borders.
I have been many times these last 18 months: some examples are here from two Saturdays ago:
and here:
Sadly this weekend I cannot go to Scotland as I have a family wedding to attend. However, others can go and lend a hand:

The Better Together website is here:

Two contact details for Northumberland people of any political persuasion or inclination, who want to help, in the Borders, which is less than 80 minutes from Hexham:

John Lamont MSP - whose Hawick office is
25 High Street
Telephone: 01450 375 948 [ask for Ross]
Or the Better Together team HQ in the borders
Flora McCaul
Contact Phone:07891103122
Better Together South of Scotland Office (Galashiels, Scottish Borders)
2 High St
Galashiels, Scottish Borders TD1 1SD

Stories behind Hadrian's Wall pioneers celebrated at Wall Face exhibition at Housesteads

It is largely thanks to pioneers like William Hutton, who raised awareness of the Wall and its importance, that the world heritage site monument is there today.
Hutton is among 11 individuals who recorded, protected and revealed the stories behind the Hadrian’s Wall frontier who are honoured for their roles in an exhibition which spans 150 Roman frontier miles
Wall Face opened last month and continues to November 9.
It features 11 prints and photographs from the National Portrait Gallery in London, each alongside the life story and achievements of the individual at a Wall site associated with their work.
The show is at Housesteads fort in Northumberland.
The exhibition has been organised through a partnership of heritage organisations across the Wall - Vindolanda Trust, English Heritage, National Trust, Senhouse Museum Trust, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery Trust and the Hadrian’s Wall Trust. Full details here:

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Before building on the green belt we should bring derelict properties into use - what do local people think?

What would Northumbrians prefer, and can we learn from the example of Kent?
Homes on the green belt or action by the County Council to bring empty homes back into use?
I believe it is clearly important, and potentially better value for money, to bring derelict properties back into use rather than building from scratch on green belt land as the NCC are proposing to do in some places. It is also of aesthetic benefit, as well as being popular locally. For the present argument I have put to one side all the brown field land that is available to be built upon, such as the police site in Ponteland.

Some progress nationally is being made, and a recent study of Kent could provide a good guide. According to the Empty Homes Agency there were 324,733 long term empty homes in the private sector in November 2009. By November 2012 it was 259,842.
One explanation is that the New Homes Bonus applies not only for new homes but long term empty properties brought back into use:

As the DCLG Minister Baroness Hanham said::
"Under the new homes bonus, local authorities also earn a financial reward for bringing a long-term empty home back into use. To date this has provided an income to local authorities of £59 million for almost 51,000 homes brought back into use. Our reforms on council tax flexibilities and the new empty homes premium will also allow councils to remove the tax subsidies being given to empty homes and instead use the funding to keep the overall rate of council tax down and support frontline services."

I am pushing NCC on progress they have been making in bringing the number of long term empty properties in the county back into use.
There has been great success in some Counties such as Kent, with its "No Use Empty" campaign.

The Kent example is worth noting:
- Sometimes enforcement is used, where there is a real eyesore but the carrot is preferred to the stick.
- Mostly it is just advice – putting the owner in touch with a local auctioneers.
- Or there might some modest help – paying the auction fees or dealing with the admin. This is often useful for those who live outside the area.
- The county council also offers interest free loans to restore properties. These are paid back when the property is sold.
- So far 455 empty properties have been restored and sold due to these loans.
- Another 3,000 properties have been brought back with just a bit of nudging and some more modest help.

There is some cost to the Council Taxpayers of Kent. A couple of staff are employed to run the scheme. Also, if at any given time Kent County Council is borrowing money, and then lending it interest free, that is also a cost. However, the New Homes Bonus offsets that. It’s worth six years Council Tax for each new home. In Kent, the districts get 80 per cent and Kent County Council 20 per cent. Even so that is a significant sum. Then there is the impact on Business Rates to consider. Dealing with derelict properties is an effective way to regenerate an area. Councils now have an incentive to encourage economic growth.
Tackling the problem of derelict empty homes is also about fighting crime and improving the environment as well as providing more jobs and housing. It is something as Conservatives we should proud of. This is something where the Government is making a difference.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Live in Heathrow: huge pics selling the Great North East has gone live in T1-5

Millions of Heathrow passengers now see VisitBritain adverts of the North East on digital screens across all the 5 terminals, as a result of our region’s victory in the #YourGreatBritain competition back in July.

Heathrow airport is now officially promoting the North East. The five promotional images for the North East show the Newcastle Quayside, Bamburgh Castle, Durham Cathedral, Hadrian’s Wall and the Angel of the North. 

Heathrow, the UK’s only hub airport, is the gateway to Britain and sees around 73 million passengers a year travel through the airport. With seven flights a day from Heathrow to Newcastle we hope that the three month advertising campaign worth £1million will inspire passengers to explore the beautiful North East during their visit to the UK.

If you could spare a brief moment, you could retweet, blog or let others know:
Better Still: tell your friends to come and visit soon.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Good to see the Party Leaders making the case to the Scots that they are wanted

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband are combining forces and heading to Scotland tomorrow to make the case for the UK. They have cancelled PMQs. Here’s their joint statement:
‘There is a lot that divides us – but there’s one thing on which we agree passionately: the United Kingdom is better together.
That’s why all of us are agreed the right place for us to be tomorrow is in Scotland, not at Prime Minister’s Questions in Westminster.
We want to be listening and talking to voters about the huge choice they face.
Our message to the Scottish people will be simple: “We want you to stay.”
The evidence from Canada's referendum 20 years ago when Quebec thought about leaving is that the rest of the country needs to be passionately making the case to the undecided nation that they want them to stay. I will be doing this myself in the days leading up to the Referendum next week. 

The Scottish Referendum just got closer but the positive case for the Union is still strong

I have made many trips north of the border these last 18 months debating the Scottish Referendum, urging the Scots to say "No thanks", and making the positive case both for the Union and the fact that we, who live in the Rest of The UK, want the Scots to stay. Most recently I was in Hawick [with a team of 14 like minded southern based locals keen to help make the case for the Union] but before that I was in everywhere from Aberdeen to Argyll, Dumfries to Perthshire and many places in between.
As always close to election people worry, but it was ever thus, and you just have to keep campaigning, keep making the case, and worry not too much about the media. I will be going back north of the border in the last few days to help Better Together team get out the vote. In reality, like all elections this will be a numbers game and turnout on the day is key. If any of my constituents south of the Border want to do more then they can contact me and I will direct them as to where we are helping or they can contact Better Together direct  - their website is here:

The crucial day will be 17th and 18th September. Any locals wanting to help on the 18th should get mark it out in their diary.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Westminster this Week

Local Banks and Credit Unions are this weeks key meeting which is on Tuesday with Sir Hector Sants, the advisor to the Church of England on credit Unions - whose help I am seeking as we try and take forward our local banking and expanded credit union plans for Tynedale.
Later in the week I have the Association of Air Ambulance awards meeting - where we attempt to identify and assess who the winners of these annual awards will be.
Also on Wednesday parliament will be debating the conflicts and unrest in the Ukraine, Middle East and beyond from around 12.40 onwards.
I have multiple constituents coming to Westminster this week for meetings and some on tours, and we are working the full week once again in Westminster as Friday is another Private Members Bill day.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Weekend Read: Hexham Hospital Car Parking Charges debated in Parliament

The full debate, and my speech, is here:
I believe the Northumbria NHS Trust are wrong not to reduce, or take away entirely, the car parking charges that are required of both patients and NHS staff.

The previous argument that this was required otherwise locals and tourists would use the Hospital car park if it was free, I entirely supported. However, the town centre is now free: the debate is well argued with several very interesting ideas and suggestions. In my speech I went out of my way to make it clear that I have nothing but respect for the managers at the NHS Trust. They, like the NHS staff are doing a great job. But the managers are in the wrong on this issue. Patients, their families who attend them, and the staff themselves, who are effectively having to pay to park close to their place of work deserve a better deal.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Church Steeplechase by bike, horse, car or foot coming soon! Where will u go?

Saturday 13 September sees the annual Northumberland Historic Churches Steeplechase. If you have not done this wonderful event I urge you to try. This is my report of last years steeplechase:
The origin of horse racing in this country is steeple chasing - riding from church steeple to church steeple across country. These days you can do this across Tynedale by horse, foot, bike or even car.
You simply pick the churches you want to go to, plan a route and get a few sponsors. Last year I went everywhere of Wylam to Hexham to Whitfield and finished at the church of the Holy Paraclete in Kirkhaugh.
This year other commitments prevent me from taking part but I warmly recommend it. It is for a great cause and you get the chance to see some of the amazing churches we have here in Tynedale. If you can do it on a horse so much the better but a bike is still brilliant.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Report on the successful Puppies and Kittens debate in the Commons

The motion on the sale of puppies and kittens was carried by the House of Commons yesterday.
I managed to attend some of the debate and was able to speak briefly as follows:

Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I congratulate him on securing this debate and support the motion, on behalf of the many constituents who have contacted me. May I make a simple point? The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has gone through the process of traceability for cattle, sheep and other animals, so surely the way forward must ultimately be a register of and traceability for cats and dogs.

The Full debate, the opening statements, and the Minister’s response can be found here:

Tynedale Cricket Match

We have had the final donation in this morning and so we have our total today for the Charity Cricket Match we held a few weeks ago on behalf of Tynedale Hospice at Home. The amount raised at this event is £747.75 which is a great achievement by all those who were involved.

Thank you for all the people who came along and supported Tynedale Hospice at Home. One of the top prizes was a very large amount of toilet roll from SCA - many thanks to them and also to Dipsticks who both sponsored the number of sixes hit in the game and also bought some of the toilet roll. After a great game Tynedale eased home by 23 runs. My thanks to all the players, Councillor Cath Homer, and Gary from Tynedale Cricket Club, in particular, who did so much of the organising.
If you have not booked your tickets for the next THAH event on the 14th October at the Queens Hall I urge you to do so. 

I strongly support the pioneering research and trials to alleviate Mitochondrial Disease

Parliament debated this matter on Monday in a quite heated debate. Clearly there are many who object fundamentally on religious grounds. I believe they are mistaken, and misunderstand the nature of the research, the proposed changes, the safeguards and the reasons why this IVF replacement should go ahead to combat this terrible disease.

I can do no better than cite parts of the speech of the former Science Minister, David Willets MP, which sets out very eloquently why this ground breaking research, pioneered in Newcastle, and which will save lives, should be supported.

"I think that this is a great piece of British scientific advance. We should congratulate the scientists at Newcastle university who have been in the lead in the research. My view is that provided it meets stringent safety requirements this is something that should go ahead because it will alleviate the suffering of constituents whom we represent.

The evidence is pretty clear that this could alleviate human suffering, but I am not a simple-minded believer that the consequences justify whatever we do. Looking at my hon. Friends assembled in the Chamber today, many may say, “All right, this alleviates mitochondrial disease, but the price—the threat to human dignity or integrity—is too great.” I should like briefly to touch on those types of objection.
First, I do not agree with my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg that this somehow creates different people. We are not talking about the nuclear DNA that makes us who we are—the characteristics of our character or appearance. This is about a very distinctive part of DNA that has been called, for us laymen, a battery part of the cell, not the nuclear DNA, so it does not affect identity.
We are sometimes told, “Life is a vale of tears. There are sorrows and burdens that people have to bear, they should bear them with dignity, and this disease is part of that.” I have two responses to that argument. First, we have not run out of human frailties and problems yet. The problem facing our society is not yet that we have all started to lead lives of bland satisfaction.

It is also important to recognise that these scientific advances create a new problem. For the first time, a parent—a mother—could know that she could transmit this disease to her child. We have learned something that we did not know before. If we allow people to have this knowledge but do not permit a medical intervention that will tackle the problem, we have created a new source of human suffering that did not exist before this scientific understanding came about. Now that this knowledge is available, failing to permit families to act on it would be an unacceptable addition of a new cruelty to what is already a very distressing condition. Therefore, in terms of our respect for human integrity and dignity, it is right to intervene.
Then there is the argument that we are on a slippery slope. However, the framework set out in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 is very clear that we are not allowed to intervene in the nuclear DNA that shapes a child’s identity. That is recognised specifically as an exemption in the 2008 legislation.
This is a scientific advance that does not affect human identity, that is the opposite of eugenics, that enables people to escape a potential new cruelty if we do not act on this knowledge, and that is not a slippery slope. This is not just my view. We conducted a structured dialogue to consult members of the public on what they thought. When they understand that this is not to do with hereditary characteristics being affected by an arrogant intervention to create a designer baby, they support these interventions. If they support them, then so should we, in all parts of the House."
For those who want to read more, including my string intervention in support read more and the full debate is here:

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

On BBC Radio Newcastle tomorrow morning 8.20 talking about transport issues

Will be live tomorrow morning discussing the debate we are having in the Commons tomorrow evening and the work we are doing on everything from the Gilsland Station Reopening Project, see here: which I fully support.
Plus the campaigns on road safety and A69 improvements, the need for an integrated "Oyster" card style ticket in our region and the work I am doing in many ways on the Tyne Valley Line. All in the usual 5 minutes of radio time! Tune in if you can.

Puppy and Kitten Farming petition - Mass commercial production / sale of young pets is wrong and needs reform

I have been contacted by a large number of constituents concerning this Thursday’s Backbench debate in the Commons on the practice of Puppy and Kitten Farming. This debate will discuss the e-petition signed by over 110,000 people, relating to the breeding and sale of young puppies and kittens.

This petition states that puppies and kittens mass produced in horrific “puppy/kitten farms” are separated from their mothers too early, transported long distances, and then sold via pet shops, newspaper adverts, websites and private dealers.
I believe we must do what we can to prevent this. This practice leads to puppies and kittens suffering hardship. I do not support everything that the RSPCA do, but I do note that they assert that as many as 85,000 puppies bought via social media or over the internet die before they reach six months old. I have not studied the evidence in detail but man’s best friend should not be treated this way. Pets become an integral part of any family they belong to: it is terribly unfair to remove them from theirs before they are ready.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to look further at the issue of pet sales over the internet, as well as the guidance that is being provided to people looking to buy a puppy. I urge all my constituents who are interested in purchasing a young dog or cat to research thoroughly the breeders or pet shops beforehand. It is a good idea to choose a dog or cat through the Assured Breeder Scheme, or by adoption from legitimate rescue organisations. You should also be sure to ask ‘where’s the mum’ and check to see how the puppy interacts with the mother to make sure that they have not been separated.

I will try and attend the debate itself on Thursday, but am also juggling other commitments in Westminster; the debate is likely to be between 12 Noon and 2.30pm but Thursdays are always very flexible on timings in the Commons as Urgent Business or Statements have to take precedence. In the meantime I have written to the Minister concerned and will press the government to reform and change this practice.

Details of the statement of the PM combating extremism and measures to prevent terrorism

The full statement is here:

The Prime Minister confirmed key points:
  • Police will gain the power to seize passports at the border temporarily so that they can investigate an individual. This power will include safeguards and oversight arrangements.
  • Ministers will also draft legislation giving the authorities powers to stop British nationals who have travelled abroad to join jihad from returning to the UK. Existing powers do not apply to those who are solely British nationals; he said a ‘targeted discretionary power to allow us to exclude British nationals’ would redeveloped with agencies and on a cross-party basis.
  • Airlines will have to give the government details of passenger list and comply with security screening demands or their flights will not be able to land.
  • The government will start preparing legislation that it can introduce in case an ongoing legal challenge to the royal prerogative powers allowing the Home Office to seize passports succeeds. That primary legislation would be introduced immediately if necessary.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Westminster this week

PM is coming to the house today at 3.30 to update on the International Terrorism situation, and I have a variety of Home Office beforehand. In the evening we will be raising hospital parking charges and taking part in the mitochondrial replacement debate as well, provided the speaker allows us enough time to debate both matters as Mondays diary is a packed day in the Commons chamber, even allowing for the fact that we do not finish until 10pm.

Tuesday I have a Treasury question at 12.15 and will then be trying to take part in the Pensions Bill debate, which is a groundbreaking improvement on how we control our pension and retirement funds.
Wednesday is packed with meetings, PMQs and my Northumberland transport debate at the end of the day in the Commons chamber. There is a lot to raise but we are drafting the speech in the office at the moment.
Thursday I will try and go to the chamber for the puppy farming debate although I do have a series of meetings that day. We are here for Fridays debate as well, which is a recurring theme this coming winter as the Commons is sitting a lot of Fridays, making it difficult to get home for Friday surgeries. As always, if anyone has anyone complaints, problems or issues to raise then please get in touch by email, letter or phone or take them up locally with Pete, who is my roaming caseworker, holding surgeries in 6 different locations across the constituency.