Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Weekend Read: Real progress on Cycling and success from Mondays Infrastructure Bill debate

I was able to speak in the Infrastructure debate and set out my short speech below. I am pleased to say that following representations by myself and others we were able to ensure that the Cycling Strategy passed the Commons.
The Guardian report of the debate is here:
The precise wording of the Amendment is set out below. The crucial issue is the amount to be spent as part of a National Budget. There is already significant urban spend - see my speech, the £7 m illion to Newcastle and the successes in London of Boris. But the expectation is of a £10 per person per annual spend on cycling as set out in the debate itself.  

This success is the culmination of a long campaign going back several years:, and my thanks to the many locals in Tynedale who have guided me and helped me along the way, notably Ted Liddle and many others, too numerous to name. 
I well remember speaking in support of the All Party Group for Cycling’s efforts to get long term investment and a strategy. See my speech from 2013 here:

Mondays speech is set out in detail below, with the actual clause of the Bill set out in full below as well:
8.45pm 26/1/15
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): It has been a long struggle for many of us, and I congratulate hon. Members of all parties on instituting, bringing forward and finally getting Government agreement on the cycling strategy, which I shall briefly address.
We have spoken in various debates over many years to get where we are, but as with all the best cycling strategies, if we stick at it and power on through, the destination is always worth the journey. I congratulate the various cycling groups behind the campaign. Speaking as someone who cycles to work here in Westminster and at home in the great county of Northumberland, I say that whether it be off road in Kielder or taking the highways and the byways, this is without a shadow of a doubt one of our finest assets.
This decision by the Government, and the reaching of cross-party agreement on it, will definitely be welcomed in Northumberland. There is a tremendous desire there for a cycling strategy. We have looked enviously at the city of Newcastle, which has enjoyed £6 million to £7 million of cycling investment. That is wonderful for Newcastle, but has been somewhat to the disadvantage of us in Northumberland. While we now have an integrated strategy, I genuinely feel that there is an opportunity for our constituents to get the cycling strategy that they so enthusiastically require.
Locals have already prepared strategies for Hexham, Prudhoe and other towns in Tynedale and Castle Morpeth. I am pleased to say that Northumberland county council has at last got into gear, and it needs to pitch to the Government for the funding; otherwise the cycling groups in my area will definitely be disappointed and potentially left behind. That is not something that anybody wants.

Let me finish by saying that
- I do not believe we can improve tourism without a cycling strategy;
- I do not think we can improve our health, the obesity problem and pollution without a cycling strategy;
- I do not believe we can improve the cost of living that is an issue for so many people without a cycling strategy;
- and I certainly think we could do great things to improve the quality of life if we had such a strategy."

The amendment that passed is here:
 (1) The Secretary of State may at any time—
(a) set a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy for England, or
(b) vary a Strategy which has already been set.
(2) A Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy is to relate to such period as the Secretary of State considers appropriate; but a Strategy for a period of more than five years must be reviewed at least once every five years.
(3) A Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy must specify—
(a) objectives to be achieved during the period to which it relates, and
(b) the financial resources to be made available by the Secretary of State for the purpose of achieving those objectives.
(4) The objectives to be achieved may include—
(a) activities to be performed;
(b) results to be achieved;
(c) standards to be met.
(5) Before setting or varying a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy the Secretary of State must consult such persons as he or she considers appropriate.
(6) In considering whether to vary a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy the Secretary of State must have regard to the desirability of maintaining certainty and stability in respect of Cycling and Walking Investment Strategies.
(7) A Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy must be published in such manner as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(8) Where a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy has been published the Secretary of State must from time to time lay before Parliament a report on progress towards meeting its objectives.
(9) If a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy is not currently in place, the Secretary of State must—
(a) lay before Parliament a report explaining why a Strategy has not been set, and
(b) set a Strategy as soon as may be reasonably practicable.”

My hope is that very soon we will doing what my friend and Conservative colleague, and fellow cyclist, Boris Johnson, is doing in London: see here -

Birney Hill Green Belt Planning Inquiry closes

Friday, 30 January 2015

Pleased that Allendale has had its local plan approved - community involvement and local democracy at its best

1 and 1/2 Days to go until the end of Dry January! Missing a beer

I have worked hard to support Northumberland and local North East brewers, and successfully campaigned to get the duty on beer reduced. This success saw me celebrate in the past with Hadrian Border brewer, and local constituent, Martin Hammill. I have been round his Newburn brewery and his beer is superb. I will definitely be having an ale to celebrate the end of Dry January at some stage next week.
But once again it is fair to say that being sober for a month has been a great health boost, and I would strongly recommend Dry January to anyone.

I shall be voting in favour of Mitochondrial Donation next Tuesday in the Commons

I shall be voting strongly in favour of the new regulations that allow this ground breaking technique. The debate is to be held on Tuesday afternoon of next week. 
The Government has recently consulted on draft regulations, which would allow new techniques to help prevent mothers passing on serious mitochondrial diseases to their children. 

It is estimated that 1 in 6,500 children are born every year in the UK with a serious mitochondrial DNA disorder. The consultation on proposed new regulations resulted in more than 1,850 responses. Following consideration of these I am informed that the Department of Health has agreed to:

·         Keep the definition of the mitochondrial donation techniques, as they are set out in the draft proposals.
·         Continue with plans that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) would have to be satisfied that there is both a particular risk of mitochondrial abnormality and a significant risk the person will develop a serious illness or condition.
·         The HFEA will consider each application on a case-by-case basis.
·         Only non-identifying information about the mitochondrial donor will be released to people born following mitochondrial donation when they reach age 16.
·         Clarification will be given to the consent requirements around the use and storage of eggs and embryos used in the mitochondrial donation techniques.
·         Further consider the recommendations of an Expert Panel, refine the draft regulations to take account of changes identified during the consultation, and discuss with the HFEA an appropriate approval process.

I strongly support plans to legalise the new technique. It is a major advance in the prevention of this devastating disease, and it will alleviate the suffering of affected families both in Northumberland, and the rest of the UK.

I was pleased to attend and speak in the previous debate on this issue held in September particularly as I recognised how much the issue meant to many of my constituents. I have included below my short speech during that debate for your interest:

Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
"I support the work to combat this terrible disease, some of which is being pioneered by my local university, Newcastle, and I will be urging the Government to proceed with the trials, but the question is this. The new IVF technique that has been pioneered at Newcastle has proved to be successful in the laboratory, but the current law prevents it from being tested in a clinical trial or used in clinical practice. That is what we need to change. Without those clinical trials, we cannot progress and deal with this terrible disease."

I have also previously written on this subject on my blog, where I address the objections raised by many who oppose this pioneering research. Should you wish to read the piece in full please follow the link below:

My views on this matter are clear: I am in favour of this research as it will greatly alleviate human suffering, and it will not change the DNA which shapes a child’s identity. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 recognises Mitochondrial Donation specifically as an exemption to prohibiting such intervention in the 2008 legislation.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Parliament debates the Chilcot Report today and Sir John Chilcot gives evidence next week

Today sees a long awaited debate on the Chilcot report, as MPs press to get the report published before the election. This debate will probably start around 1, and will be very interesting.
The evidence session, where Sir John Chilcot attends next week, will be next Wednesday morning to the Foreign Affairs Select committee.

Meeting yesterday with Secretary of State concerning dairy farmers

Yesterday a delegation of rural MPs including Welshmen Simon Hart, MP for Pembrokeshire, and Glynn Davies, MP for Montgomeryshire, myself, and my Cumbrian neighbour Rory Stewart MP met with Secretary of State Liz Truss for intensive discussions about the problems facing our country's dairy farmers. 
Liz was in Hexham recently for the Northern Farmers Conference, where we both got an update on the local issues and spoke to dairy farmers.

Yesterday, we discussed the problems faced by the depreciating milk prices, the reduction in the number of dairy farms, the problems facing First Milk, and the smaller providers that are struggling to expand, work cooperatively, or export. 

We all pushed hard to ensure immediate action on labelling of British products on supermarket shelves, to make sure that supermarkets extended their ‘cost-plus payments’ (in which they pay over the cost of production) from liquid milk to other milk products.  

We also need the urgent introduction of higher fines on supermarkets that did not follow the rules. 
Clearly the point was made that we need Single Farm Payments to be made on time. 
We received a favourable response from Liz. She is pushing the Business Department on the Fines point, and continues to battle the EU on labelling. This is something I know our MEPs are working on.
She also explained new opportunities for British milk producers to export to markets such as China, where demand was growing fast.
All of us understand that this is a tough time for the dairy industry. Global production is up by 6% and prices have plummeted around the world. We are doing what we can. 
I was encouraged by the Prime Ministers response at Prime Ministers Question time last week when he answered Glyns questions:
Photo of Glyn Davies
Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire, Conservative)  The dairy industry underpins the economy of rural Britain, including that of my constituency of Montgomeryshire. The dairy industry is currently in difficulty. Does the Prime Minister accept that the Government must consider all ways to bring stability to this important sector, including whether the powers of the Groceries Code Adjudicator should be extended and strengthened?
David Cameron (The Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that we look at how we can support Britain’s dairy farmers at a time of very low milk prices. This is an important industry for our country and I think there are a number of things we can do; first, make sure that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is prepared to provide the time to pay to support our dairy farmers. There is more we can do in terms of leading exports for British food producers—I know theSecretary of State is very keen on that. Specifically on the Groceries Code Adjudicator, something we have established, it is time to make sure that that organisation
has the power, if necessary, to levy fines so that it can get its will obeyed. I also think it is time to look at whether there are ways in which its remit can be extended to make sure it looks at more of this vital industry.

RPC - biggest employer in Haltwhistle and a thriving plastics business

RPC are based in Plenmeller, and create a vast amount of sophisticated plastics products that are seen on the High Street, from Nestle to Unilever, as well as larger commercial plastic containers. Ian Hutchinson, the local County Councillor, came too and we are going to work together to ensure that local issues, like the broadband the business needs, and any issues with English Heritage are sorted.

There was a great atmosphere in the factory - with everyone purposeful and supportive of a longstanding local business. Best of all almost all the staff are from Halty, and many have worked there a long time; I met many of the team from management downwards as we spent nearly 2 hours in the factory chatting to employees and getting to know the business.
There was a good report on the business this week in the Courant:

RPC is the biggest employer in the area by a big margin. RPC is growing and I will do everything possible I can to help it thrive and survive.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Greece's economic problems are, I fear, only just beginning

William Hague was the one who described the Euro "as a burning building with no exits."

He said this when the Europeans decided to create a financial union, crucially without also sharing decisions on taxes and spending; it does not work. For complete solutions to current and potential future problems the sharing of fiscal risks is clearly required.

Currently, EU members share the euro currency, but decisions on spending are made at a national level. Hence why Germany and others in the Euro are so reluctant to bail out Greece again - or waive their debt. They are struggling to trust the Greeks. This is not helped by the new Greek leadership.

Greek markets were thrown into deeper chaos today as investors feared that the new, anti-bailout government would jeopardise the country’s future in the eurozone. The Athens Stock Exchange tumbled more than 9pc, led by a 27pc fall in bank stocks, amid concerns that the Syriza-led coalition could take direct control of the country’s lenders and write off billions of euros in household loans.
Greek PM Alexis Tsipras has vowed never to bow to European creditors as the government took steps to wind back austerity.

Now the Bank of England Governor has made his case pretty clear:

Labour MPs in the North East want to borrow more and put us further into debt

The Journal reports today that a group of Labour MPs do not believe we should be trying to address our debts and get the deficit down. We have halved the deficit and taken some very tough decisions in this parliament but I do not want to pass on this country’s present problems to my children. We have to balance the books

The Labour MPs for Wansbeck, Gateshead, Easington and Blaydon have made their views very clear. They are, to be fair, to the far left of the Labour Party. Their policies are that of France, and more particularly Greece.

The job count in these countries are terrible, and their growth is non existent. And one final point:

- Countries like Portugal and Greece forgot about their deficit and suffered 17% and 14% reductions in their Health Spending.

- You can only have a Strong NHS with a Strong Economy and a Long Term Economic Plan.

Bill Gates annual letter is world class in its vision

I have had the chance to listen to the great man on the two occasions when he has come to parliament and explained what his foundation is doing to address poverty, immunisation, vaccination programmes, ebola, and provide international aid.
He is doing amazing work. I warmly recommend his Annual letter -  the link to which is set out below:

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

British economy grows again by 0.5% in Q4- long term economic plan is working

New Office for National Statistics figures show the economy grew by 0.5 per cent in the final quarter of 2014 – growing by 2.6 per cent over the year – showing our long-term economic plan is delivering a stronger economy and a more secure future for hardworking taxpayers and their families.

Today’s figures confirm that the recovery is on track and our plan is building a stronger, healthier economy, protecting Britain from the economic storm, with the fastest growth of any major economy in 2014.

That means more businesses, creating more jobs, and more people with the security of a wage to provide for their families. It means we can afford to cut the deficit while investing in the things that matter to hardworking families: schools, frontline health services and apprenticeships so young people can get on in life.

But the international climate is getting worse. With 100 days to go until the election, now is not the time to abandon our plan and return Britain to economic chaos.

Key statistics
·         The economy grew by 0.5 per cent in Q4 2014, following 0.7 per cent growth in Q3 – this is the first time the economy has grown for 8 quarters consecutively since the crisis.
·         The economy has grown by 2.6 per cent in 2014 – the best year since 2007.
·         The economy is now 3.4 per cent above its pre-recession peak.
·         This confirms the IMF forecast that we were fastest growing G7 economy in 2014.

This builds on other recent good economic news:
·         The IMF and OECD forecast the UK to grow at the fastest rate in the G7 in 2014.

Today's Holocaust Memorial Day is more important than ever

The passage of 70 years since the day Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated on 27 January 1945 has rendered those events no less unthinkable. For my part I have not yet been to Auschwitz but do plan to go. My trip to Jerusalem a few years ago moved me tremendously, most particularly the visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum
Many have uttered the words ‘never again’ - but recent atrocities in Iraq, Kurdistan, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur are reminders. 
Recently in France and Belgium Anti Semitism has seen Jews murdered by terrorists simply because of who they were. Across France armed police stand guard outside Jewish schools.
Our best defence against this poisonous ideology is education, and I support the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust; the Trust’s mission is to educate young people in Britain from every background about the Holocaust and its meaning for us today. I know they are working with several Tynedale schools very successfully.

Spend a moment today to reflect on what happened 70 years and more ago. 
More details of why this matters here:

Monday, 26 January 2015

Westminster this coming week -Prudhoe High School, Matfen broadband and local constituents issues featuring strongly

Today I have a sit down meeting in Westminster to try and iron out the final details of the Prudhoe high school rebuild project in Westminster with Sport England and the Education Funding teams who are looking at the sport provision. This is at 4pm so I may miss the start of the latest stage of the Infrastructure bill debate, which will address a multitude of different issues from cycling, to planning, pubs and the fracking debate. We will be debating the differing parts of the infrastructure bill till 10.30pm. As always, I will try to listen to the debate as much as is possible before deciding how to vote, not least as there has been significant improvements, concessions and developments on all aspects of the Bill over the last few days.

Tuesday I have Treasury questions and a meeting with Sajid Javid on broadband, where I will be raising the specific problem of Matfen, and its lack of broadband, notwityhstanding the 80% sign up when local campaigners went door to door. I have already raised this with BT but we have more to do to fix the problem. Later in the week there is a debate on the Chilcot report into Iraq. Friday I am in the House of Commons for various meetings, and have constituents down from Hexham to the House of Commons, along with a variety of meetings.

Beware Greeks leading a rush for the Euro exit, or their unacceptable demands

Europe's chief concern is that Greece does not start a stampede to the exit. To be fair Greece's new leader does not want to leave the Euro but he does not want to live within his means, nor pay his debts and he has promised higher wages for everyone. Those of us who see the Euro as a burning room with no exits are not surprised, but I am torn. Part of me wants to see an end to the euro as we now know it.  The other part accepts that if Greece leaves the European economy will really struggle as others look longingly at the exit.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The French economy, unemployment and taxes compare very poorly with Coalition Conservatism

In May 2015 the UK Voter faces a stark choice, as to who should be Prime Minister, for which there are only two choices. There is, however, example of what we, here in the UK, would get if we voted for the two Eds to be PM and Chancellor. And it is France.

In France, run by Ed Miliband's friend and Socialist guru, Francois Hollande, they have:
- mega taxes [75%]
- businesses unable to grow or take on new workers
- unemployment at record levels, with shocking youth unemployment in particular
- and a country generally struggling to grow the economy

In this country we have:
- cut taxes
- allowed businesses to grow and take on more workers
- we, in the uk, have the fastest growing economy in Europe
- with employment levels that are improving all the time.

It is a simple choice in May. If you want an economy like France, unemployment like France etc etc vote for Ed Miliband and Ed Balls to run the country. I urge you not to, but you need to understand that there is mirror image over the Channel of what you would be voting for. As many have said before, why would you give the car keys back to the team who crashed your car in the first place?

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Publication of the Chilcott Report - I want it published but accept that the Chilcott team are genuinely following the rules

It is not within the Government’s power to grant publication of the report.

The Inquiry is independent and the process must be completed properly. It is very important that these sort of reports are not controlled or timed by the government. The report is complete - the delay is giving those who are criticised in the report the chance to respond: this takes time. I do not believe critics are being fair to the reports authors, as this is the process by which all public inquiries are conducted. Blair is to blame for many things but he is blameless on this one, and the individual and independent Chilcott Report Panel are doing the right thing. I want something done right, not rushed.
The BBC report of the matter is here:

Otters seen on the River Allen And the Wobbly Bridge is back at Staward Gorge
Full credit to the National Trust who have followed up on locals reports and filmed the family of otters. There is no doubt the river is improving in its quality. Allen Banks is also home to kingfishers, herons and dippers. 

Another development at Allen Banks is the re-opening of the “wobbly’” bridge, that was utterly destroyed by the floods in May 2013. 
The National Trust launched the “save the wobbly bridge” campaign a year ago to raise funds to repair the bridge which had been damaged by flooding.
The work included re-pointing the abutments, installing new cables, adding new decking and repairing the footpath en route from the Allen Banks car park.
The bridge has been raised 300mm to help reduce the risk of similar damage happening again. Future plans also include re-surfacing the footpath south of the bridge and some stepping stones in the River Allen.
If you want to visit the Allen Banks and the beauties of Staward Gorge, and experience the wobbly bridge go here for directions and details. It is a beautiful spot, as the otters would agree...

Friday, 23 January 2015

Plain packaging has been campaigned for by doctors for some time - it's introduction I support.

Like many I needed to be convicted on the evidence that this was a change that would achieve its clear aims - namely the reduction in cancer deaths. I have met with many of the key local activists, and the north east campaign groups over the last few years, and consulted a variety of medical professionals, and we have debated this in the commons and I will be supporting this policy move when it comes to the House of Commons.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

All parties will be invited to the election debates in Ponteland, Prudhoe and Hexham and that is right

I will be debating All political opponents at the coming general election with a series of debates in Hexham, Prudhoe, Ponteland and beyond. This is what happened last time, when everyone from Labour, Liberals and even Steve Ford, who ran as an independent, came to the debates in Hexham Abbey, the High School and in Prudhoe Church. We had a No Show from the BNP man, and Colin Moss, the Hexham artist, only entered the contest at the very last moment barely a few weeks before the election.

2010 Result:
Conservative: 18795 (43.2%)

Lib Dem: 13007 (29.9%)
Labour: 8253 (19%)
BNP: 1205 (2.8%)
Independent: 1974 (4.5%)
Colin Moss: 249 (0.6%)

Much has been made of the refusal by the broadcasters to invite the Greens and SNP to the possible TV debates. There is a problem with this in my view.
There is a good case for a debate between:
i) the only two possible Prime Ministers post May = a Cameron v Miliband debate.
ii) A debate between all the political parties: - this in my view has to include the SNP, and the Green Party, as the SNP, in particular, may hold the balance of power. On present polls they win most of Scotland. I do not think that will happen, but those are the polls. There is even an outside chance that we in the Hexham constituency may have a SNP candidate - they tried to get a candidate last month for Berwick.
And it is crucial to know if the SNP, and other non English elected representatives, propose to hold the rest of the country to ransom by voting on matters that are not part of their capabilities eg health and transport. The Scottish health budget is devolved in its entirety. And yet Scottish MPs tell the rest of the UK how our budgets and laws should be - whilst I, as an English MP have no say over these devolved budgets decided in Scotland's parliament.

What I suspect will happen is that all major political parties including the Greens will thus be invited to take part in the multi-party debate. Although I hate the SNP divisive approach (they are MacUkip in reality) I do want to know what they would do. 
As the columnist Iain Dale puts it: "It’s actually the broadcasters’ own fault. They should have set up a formal Debates Commission after the election, which could have solved all these problems independently of the political parties and broadcasters. One must be set up later this year so that we don’t have these squabbles next time around."

Sturgeon's SNP will tell us in rest of UK how we run our NHS -why we need English Votes for English issues

22 January 1879 is Rorkes Drift day - 11 Victoria Crosses awarded -a British Army record

11 Victoria Crosses were won this day and overnight into the 23 January 1879. A study of the battle reveals why. Just over 150 British and local troops successfully defended the simple garrison against an intense assault by 3,000 - 4,000 Zulus. They did so with superior weaponry, a lot of guts, and a well formed defensive position, hastily erected. More details of the battle here:

If you get the chance ever to go to the battle site I urge you to do so; I travelled there long ago when hiking around South Africa and have never forgotten it. Failing that try and listen to Rob Caskie on one of his battlefield tours, when he comes to the UK this autumn. Rob transfixed the Hexham audience in October 2014 and 2013, when he gave a talk for Tynedale Hospice. 

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

North East Job Figures - employment up, unemployment down NECC verdict is a big thumbs up


NORTH East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) response to today’s labor market estimates.
Headline figures for the North East:
·         Employment in the North East stands at 1,151,000 or 69.7% – a rise of 12,000 over the quarter and increase of 33,000 over the year. This compares to a rate of 73% nationally.
·         North East unemployment stands at 109,000 or 8.7% – a fall of 9,000 over the quarter and 20,000 over the year. This compares to a rate of 6% nationally.
·         The claimant count stands at 52,000 or 4.3% in the North East, compared to 2.6% nationally.

NECC Policy and Research Manager, Mark Stephenson, said: “Today’s figures are a great start to the year with every indicator heading in the right direction and over 30,000 more people in work than this time last year.

“Employment is at a record high for the second successive month thanks mostly to businesses while unemployment is at its lowest in over five years – down 20,000 on a year ago. The claimant count continues its long term decrease and is down over 20,000 on the year, back to its pre-financial crisis level of 2008.

“While the North East unemployment rate remains too high, moving below 9% represents a symbolic victory. In spite of the economic progress we have seen in the past two years, North East unemployment has remained largely static, so to see it falling is very encouraging. The unemployment rate dropped as fast as anywhere in the country while the increase in employment was bettered only by one other region.

“The North East business community has made the majority of this progress possible in the context of continuing retrenchment in the public sector, which just goes to underline the necessity for pro-business public policy placing a premium on development, investment, employment and growth. Ahead of a forthcoming budget and general election it is vital that political parties understand and safeguard the role that businesses play for the well-being of our country.”

Meeting William Hague MP today to discuss English votes for English Issues

William is leading the Conservative Party on this issue and taking the views of MPs all across the country. As an MP with a constituency that Borders Scotland I have made the point in previous meetings, and in the Commons, that people in Northumberland are particularly affected.
How we achieve fairness is the key.
My meeting is 9.30. I am hopeful that we will address the issue of Scottish MPs voting on English matters - which are devolved in Scotland- before the election, hence why MPs are meeting now post the Scottish referendum to address the question.
For a full understanding of why this problem matters, and affects us all read here:

Cheaper fuel on its way for residents of Upper North Tyne

I am delighted that our campaign for NE48 residents is a further step closer to success.
Even though fuel prices are falling across the country, they are still higher in very rural areas. Places like Kielder and Bellingham are amongst the most rural areas in the UK. For people who live in these areas cars are a necessity, not a luxury. We have battled hard to reach this major milestone, and the campaign continues.
Full story here:

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Day 20 of Dry January - and going well - but missing a pint of beer a lot!

This is my second year of dry January. Losing weight, getting fitter and sleeping better. Missing a pint of beer a lot!

Monday, 19 January 2015

50 years on from Churchills death as his 24 January 1965 anniversary approaches

Born in 1874, on the 30 November, Churchill had a parliamentary career spanning sixty-four years. He was a soldier, writer and countryman who excelled at so much. In a political career of highs and massive lows he represented several constituencies, and served under thirteen Prime Ministers, including himself. 
WSC giving his final address in the 1945 election campaign at Walthamstow StadiumChurchill represented Oldham in 1900-06, briefly in Manchester, and then was MP for Dundee for over fourteen years, before losing both his seat, and his appendix, in the bitter fought election of 1922. He was out of the House of Commons and written off, but returned in 1924; he was adopted as the "Independent Constitutionalist anti-Socialist" candidate for Epping, which effectively remained his constituency for the rest of his political career.
The wartime quotes are well known but I prefer some of the wiser assessments of life and the difficulties he overcome.

"All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope."

 And this on business: "Some people regard private enterprise as a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look on it as a cow they can milk. Not enough people see it as a healthy horse, pulling a sturdy wagon."

I have just read Boris Johnson's short biography of Churchill = The Churchill Factor. It is a great read. Make sure you buy it at an independent bookshop, not on Amazon!
Fuller details here:

Next Sunday Europe may be facing further Greek culture shocks post their election

There is a snap general election in Greece next Sunday. If Syriza, the hard left anti austerity nationalist party, led by Alex Tsipras wins there will be real consequences for us in the UK, and all across the EU. Mr Tsipras has promised to renegotiate the bail-out package, including by writing-off “most” of the debt.
Yet he also wants to keep Greece in the euro. Despite the trauma of the past five years, a solid majority of about 70 per cent of Greeks wants to stay in the euro. If Mr Tsipras wins this election, he will have triumphed by the simple device of telling the voters exactly what they want to hear, namely that Greece can have the euro without austerity. He may not find it so easy to get any credit or lending if he takes that attitude however, as Mrs Merkel is  not for turning.
The consequences will be a significant shock to European markets, and a real problem: are the Greeks, the Europeans, and us in the UK, serious about living within our means?

Antonis Samaras, the  Greek prime minister, had hoped to battle on and see through the austerity plan that should reduce Greece’s public debt to a mere 110 per cent of national income by 2020. But MPs failed to choose a new president last month, triggering an election for Jan 25.
Mr Samaras, the leader of the centre-Right New Democracy Party, has imposed punitive cuts in exchange for a £190 billion bail-out from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. With all the passion of a man who believes he is performing the Herculean task of restoring his country to health, the prime minister argues that his policies are finally showing results.             
Indeed, last year, Greece ran a primary budget surplus for the first time since the onset of the eurozone crisis; the economy may even return to growth in 2015.

But the voters beg to differ. Millions of Greeks believe the price of the bail-out has been too high. Youth unemployment stands at 50 per cent and the state is busily laying off thousands of employees.
Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the hard-Left Syriza party, says that Greece is being compelled to suffer “fiscal waterboarding”. At a rally last week, he declared that it was “time for the people, not foreign interests, to decide Greece’s future”.
All the evidence shows that the message of this 40-year-old populist is striking home. Every opinion poll for the past two months has put Syriza in first place with a consistent lead of between three and five percentage points. The latest survey showed the party widening its advantage, reaching 34.5 per cent compared with 29 per cent for New Democracy.
Unless there is a shock of earthquake proportions, Syriza is set to win this election – and Mr Tsipras will then become prime minister of Greece: and his mandate will be we wont pay; debts don't matter; we want to live on borrowed money on our terms.

Full story here:

Sunday, 18 January 2015

General Election Predictions of columnist Iain Dale make it clear Miliband will be PM - this election is very serious
If you have not followed Iain predictions and are interested in the outcomes of the General Election then this is fascinating reading - an area by area study of the 650 battles that will occur in April / May. Iain is the first to admit he may not have got everything right, but it is fascinating. The methodology and the approach is explained in more detail here:

Two things are clear:
- On this basis Miliband is definitely PM.
- And we in Northumberland are in the heart of the struggle. aside from my struggle in Hexham, three of the projected swing seats are our neighbours = Berwick upon Tweed, the Scottish Border seat of Roxburgh, Berwickshire and Selkirk, and Carlisle in Cumbria. I shall be campaigning in all 3 along with Hexham over the next 4 months. If you want to get involved drop me an email or call the office.

Westminster this coming week

Prudhoe High School is being rebuilt in March, but there remains an issue with the scope of the on going sports provision. I am working with the Prudhoe Community High School, and the various funding bodies, to get a speedy resolution on this and hope to have a round table in Westminster this coming week to help resolve this. There is also education questions on Monday at 2.30, followed by a confirming debate on the Women Bishops legislation. Wednesday we have further counter terrorism legislation being debated in the Commons, and I will be helping guide this through the Commons.

I have meetings or appointments this week in London with constituents, the Clinical Commissioning Group, Smart Energy, and with the association of Air Ambulances, amongst others, along with plenty of Home Office work and Women2Win. I am also trying to get a resolution to the Matfen broadband problem, which several locals, including the local councillor, Veronica Jones, have contacted to me about.  It is great news that Stamfordham, Great Whittington, and other local areas north of the Military Road, now have proper broadband but Matfen is lagging behind and we are trying to sort it. I am sat at my desk in the Commons prepping for the week ahead, which is chock a block with meetings in particular. Not looking forward to the cycle back to west London on the coldest night of the year!

Energy Prices and why Miliband "Price freeze" would have been a disaster - and is still affecting our bills

This blog matters because Ed Miliband and Ed Balls want to run our country. Labours policy of an energy price freeze for 18 months shows how little they understand about economics and basic budgeting: I will set out below the consequences of his energy policy on Northumberland consumers here and now, but first the Room 101 basic economics lesson:

- If you require by law a company to "freeze" its prices for 18 months then it has buy at least18 months of stock up front - whether this is gas, oil, timber whatever.
- if the price of gas oil etc goes up then this may be a good thing as you have frozen your price. [NB you can do this with all the companies anyway]
- however, if the price of gas, oil etc goes down then both the original supplier company AND you the consumer / purchaser are stuck with an 18 month fixed price - even though the core product of oil and gas has gone down in price.

This is happening right now: oil and gas have dropped dramatically in price - and if you had taken the Miliband price freeze you would be stuck with a higher price.

Yet it is even worse: because there is a risk that Labour could win the election, and bring in this mad plan, it is still affecting present energy prices: dont take my word for it - look at the prices, and industry commentators set out below....

Thus, Ed Miliband’s ill-conceived price freeze is one of the main reasons for companies’ failure to pass on reductions, because if prices rose after the start of a price freeze suppliers would make losses.
Counter intuitively, the proposed freeze has therefore caused consumer energy prices to be higher than they could otherwise have been at this time.

Just one major company, E.On, has so far cut its prices, announcing a gas price cut of 3.5 per cent of £24 a year – which it said was “a risk” due to the price freeze.
Another major company, npower, suggested last summer it would be cutting prices but for Labour’s freeze.
"The political and media pressures at the moment make it more difficult to reduce prices and then increase them again next spring,” Paul Massara, its chief executive, said. “We are acutely aware that if the Labour party were to implement their proposed price freeze, we will be living with the consequences of our standard rate tariff price for a very long time and beyond the level of risk that we could manage in the wholesale market."

While some suppliers are thought to be holding back cutting prices in order to avoid risk, others have already bought so much energy further in advance than normal, in order to ensure they can afford to freeze prices, that they are now unable to benefit from the lower wholesale costs.

One of the Big Six suppliers, SSE, responded to Labour’s freeze by announcing last March it would freeze its own prices until 2016. It admitted at the time that it was buying its energy much further in advance than usual and might therefore be unable to pass on the benefits if prices fall.
At the time SSE's freeze was seen as a coup for Labour as it was thought unlikely that prices would fall, but mild weather has seen persistently low gas prices since last summer.

If a company had bought 85 per cent of its gas for this summer back last April, leaving only 15 per cent to buy now short-term markets, it would have spent about 8 per cent more on the gas than if it had left 50 per cent to buy at today’s lower prices.
Peter Atherton, the independent utilities analyst, said: “The election is undoubtedly a real risk; given Labour's price freeze idea it is a significant barrier to lowering prices.
“I think it’s leading to materially higher prices for consumers.”

Sam Laidlaw, the recently-departed chief executive of British Gas owner Centrica, told the Telegraph last month that Labour’s freeze would have “unintended consequences”.
“I think the clear concern is that people will have bought some of their energy further forwards than they otherwise would have done, in order to mitigate the effects of the price freeze. And that means that retailers’ ability to take advantage of a softer price are limited,” he said.

If you want real help on energy bills I suggst you have a look at my local booklet with local suppliers and details on everything from switching to biomass and oil buying clubs. See here:
It is entirely your choice to vote Labour at the next election. But your energy bills will go up for sure. The evidence is here right now.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

My submission to the Ponteland Greenbelt Planning Inquiry last Thursday

I had the chance to give evidence on Thursday at the Public Inquiry. The full speech and Q and A with the developers are too detailed to list below but here is the Journals report:
And the key points I made are set out below:
"Green Belt Purposes:
According to the NPPF, there are five stated purposes of including
land within the green belt are:
·       To check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas
·       To prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another
·       To assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment
·       To preserve the setting and special character of historic towns
·       To assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government made clear in parliament on 17th Sept 2012 that:
“The green belt is an important protection against urban sprawl, providing a green lung around towns and cities. The national planning policy framework delivers the coalition’s agreement to safeguard the green belt. Inappropriate development should not be approved in the green belt, and boundaries should be altered only in exceptional circumstances.”

The area of greenbelt land between Newcastle, which is encroaching ever closer to Northumberland and Ponteland / Darras Hall in Northumberland, is particularly important because this area stands as a barrier between the two areas; once it starts to go, and we lose the green belt, we would have a genuine urban sprawl with the expanding Newcastle and the built up green belt becoming the classic urban sprawl. 

Lugano want to build on the green belt. They say their plan for 280 houses on 82 hectares is an exceptional development. 
The only problem is that no one agrees with this assertion:
-         not the County Council’s Planning Committee,
-         the Neighbourhood Plan group,
-         the County Council’s existing planning policies
-         the County Council’s Local Plan
-         or the 4300 local objectors identifies Birney Hill as such a site

And that is why I continue to maintain my strong objection. This is not an exceptional development."

Obama on the UK economy - worth a read

Britain’s economic recovery is evidence that David Cameron “must be doing something right”, Barack Obama has said, in a huge pre-election boost to the Prime Minister.
In what will be seen as an effective endorsement of Mr Cameron, the American President hailed Mr Cameron’s leadership and described him as one of his “closest and most trusted partners in the world”.
His comments were delivered alongside Mr Cameron in the East Room of the White House.
Asked whether Britain should “stick to the plan” and if Mr Cameron is “right” over his plans for the economy, the President said: “I would note that Great Britain and the United States are two economies that are standing out at a time when a lot of other countries are having problems. So we must be doing something right.”

Friday, 16 January 2015

Speech on budget responsibility, manufacturing, unemployment figures and labour tax plans

On Tuesday I gave a short speech in the House of Commons on balancing the books, and support for manufacturing and the growth of apprentices. Time was limited but I hope I made a few good points.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con):
I support the charter for budget responsibility. I think it is a good thing and a vital part of the long-term economic plan. For four and a half years we have been faced with a Labour Opposition who have opposed every single budget reduction, and I have no faith in Labour choosing fiscal discipline in future years. As various Members have eloquently explained, the Labour party is effectively France in all but name. It wishes to have a socialist Government with higher taxes, and all the financial and economic consequences that that would bring.

This coalition Government have turned around manufacturing—we have seen tremendous increases in manufacturing, particularly in the north-east. We have infrastructure support, city deals, regional devolution on a scale not seen before, support for apprenticeships, fuel duty frozen, increases to the fairer funding formula on education, and reductions in unemployment in every constituency across the north-east, including by 50% in my constituency. We should be proud of that genuinely good record.
The consequences need to be addressed, too. The shadow Chancellor, as usual, did not answer my question. I put it to him that the north-east has the fastest rate of growth of private sector business in the autumn quarter and the highest growth in the value of exports, and it is the No. 1 exporter, with a positive balance of payments.

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD):
My hon. Friend mentions manufacturing. Has he heard anything from the Opposition about how they intend to expand manufacturing? He will remember that they managed to reduce it from 22% of GDP to 11%. Has he heard anything about how they plan to reverse that trend, if they come to power?
Guy Opperman:
Absolutely nothing whatever. My hon. Friend and I are leading lights in the all-party apprenticeships group, which has seen fantastic work. I should probably make a declaration that I am the first MP to hire, train and then retain an apprentice as an office manager—not as an MP, I hasten to add—because she was doing a fantastic job.
On what the Opposition intend to do, we have to address the deficit. The Chancellor eloquently put it that the Leader of the Opposition is practising Basil Fawlty politics by not mentioning the deficit at every opportunity. We also have to look at fiscal consolidation. We all heard what the shadow Chancellor said today, but what did the Leader of the Opposition say only on Sunday on “The Andrew Marr Show”? He said that
“if we…cut our way to getting rid of this deficit, it won’t work”.

So there goes fiscal tightening in any way whatever.
To the clarification put to Miliband by Marr that:
“that requires a £30 billion fiscal tightening”,
he replied, “I don’t accept that.”

Whatever the Opposition say today, the reality will always be that the Labour party will introduce greater taxes and greater borrowing, and greater difficulties for our children.

On attempts to address the deficit, other Members have made the point, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), that raising the tax rate to 50% will not
increase the tax take by any margin and will actually disincrease investment. On the minimum wage, tax credits from the coalition have already addressed that in a very successful form and we intend to raise it. I heard on the BBC “Daily Politics” today the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) proposing that his plan for addressing the deficit was an increase in gun licences. That may be laudable, I do not know, and I am sure he has fiscally costed this matter in great detail, but if that is his plan to address the entirety of the deficit, we really are in more trouble than we thought.

We were indeed fortunate to hear from the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless). It is always a pleasure to comment on his speech. I will not cast aspersions on his honour, but I will attack his memory and grasp of economics. He supported the coalition as we did the tough work from 2010.
Steve Baker:
Will my hon. Friend give way?
Guy Opperman:
I will not. I am so sorry, but I have zero time. Mr Reckless supported us then, but he does not support us now.

Ed Balls gives way

Last week in the Commons I had the delight of intervening on the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls:
Guy Opperman:
Will the shadow Chancellor give way?
Ed Balls:
In a second. Actually, go on; let’s get it over with.
Guy Opperman:
I did not want to disrupt the shadow Chancellor’s flow, because I know he is easily distracted. Is it not because of the Chancellor’s support for the north-east by way of city deals, manufacturing and business support that the north-east now has the fastest rate of growth in private sector business in the autumn quarter, and the highest rate of growth in exports? Surely that is evidence that this economy has been turned around by a Chancellor who cares about business and manufacturing?
Ed Balls:
Maybe we could form a consensus on the way forward on devolution for the regions—I am in favour of that and so is the hon. Gentleman—and that is not the only thing we could form a consensus on, because this is what he told ConservativeHome just recently: “A bit of extra tax on properties over £2 million seems perfectly fair to me.” I am with him all the way. Maybe we should get together on that one as well—you shouldn’t have let that one through, George!

Sadly for the Shadow Chancellor the Coalition Government has already acted on my calls for reform of property taxes.

I was very clear in 2012 that we needed reform of property taxes, especially Stamp Duty.

I said at the time in my article for ConservativeHome: 'I would propose the tax would be paid only when a property is sold – becoming a mansion sales tax, in many ways what Stamp Duty was always designed for.'

I was therefore very pleased to see the Chancellor put Stamp Duty reform at the heart of his 2014 Autumn Statement.

The Treasury's figures show someone now buying a property worth £2.1m would pay £18,750 more stamp duty compared with the old system.
At the same time the Chancellor was able to cut stamp duty for 98% of homebuyers who pay it.
Those reforms have answered my calls and ensured Stamp Duty is fairer, and now doing what it was originally designed for - as well as helping to save the average home buyer more money.

Under the new rules, no tax will be paid on the first £125,000 of a property, followed by 2% on the portion up to £250,000, 5% on the portion between £250,000 and £925,000, 10% on the next bit up to £1.5 million and 12% on everything over that.

Great visit to Whitfield Primary school - a school with a bright future

Last week I popped into Whitfield with local councillor Ian Hutchinson, met the teachers, including head Judith Reay, and had a great Q and A with the children. I found the kids were really bright, eager to learn and full of questions. It is a good school, which initially struggled with the Primary transition, but I genuinely believe it has a great future ahead of it. The school is part of the West Tyne Federation with Herdley Bank, Henshaw and Greenhead - with Judith the executive head of all 4; she does a great job, as I have visited every one of the west tyne federation.  It was also good to take Ian Hutchinson back to the school he had attended as a local child, quite a few years back!
There is a nice report of the visit in todays Courant

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Really positive news that the County Council backs the Sill project
I support the Sill project. It has a unique architectural design that blends the structure into the landscape and it will provide jobs and a focus for tourists to west Northumberland.
You can watch the You Tube video of the Sill, and my efforts to keep chatting and presenting on the benefits of the Sill, in the rain, here:

Home Secretary statement to the House of Commons on the Paris attacks and UK approach

Yesterday the Home Secretary gave a detailed statement and took questions for over an hour on the events last week
The full transcript is here:
The key passages are here:
"As the appalling events in Paris were unfolding, this House was debating the Government's Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, and the threat level in the United Kingdom—which is set by the independent Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre—remains at severe. This means that a terrorist attack in our country is highly likely and could occur without warning.
Three serious terrorist plots have been disrupted in recent months alone. Nearly 600 people from this country have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight, around half of them have returned, and there are thousands of people from across Europe who have done the same. As I said during the passage of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill and have said on many, repeated occasions, the Government will do everything they can to keep the public safe.
As soon as the attacks in France took place, the Government increased security at the UK border. Officers from Border Force, the police and other organisations intensified checks on passengers, vehicles and goods entering the UK, and we offered the French Government all assistance necessary, including the full co-operation of our police and security and intelligence agencies.
This Government have done more to confront the ideology that lies behind the threat we face. I have excluded more foreign hate preachers than any Home Secretary before me; we have deported Abu Qatada and extradited Abu Hamza; we have reformed the Prevent strategy so that it tackles non-violent extremism as well as violent extremism; and we have invested more time, resources and money in counter-narrative operations.
We have always been clear that the police and the security agencies must have the capabilities and powers they need to do their job, and following the attacks in Paris the Prime Minister has reiterated that commitment. Unfortunately, when it comes to communications data and the intercept of communications, there is no cross-party consensus and therefore no Parliamentary majority to pass the legislation to give the police and security services the capabilities they need. Let me be absolutely clear: every day that passes without the proposals in the draft Communications Data Bill, the capabilities of the people who keep us safe diminish; and as those capabilities diminish, more people find themselves in danger and—yes—crimes will go unpunished and innocent lives will be put at risk.
This is not, as I have heard it said, “letting the Government snoop on your e-mails”. It is allowing the police and the security services, under a tightly regulated and controlled regime, to find out the who, where, when and how of a communication but not its content, so that they can prove and disprove alibis, identify associations between suspects, and tie suspects and victims to specific locations. It is too soon to say for certain, but it is highly probable that communications data were used in the Paris attacks to locate the suspects and establish the links between the two attacks. Quite simply, if we want the police and the security services to protect the public and save lives, they need this capability.
Last weekend people of all nationalities, faiths and backgrounds came out on to the streets of France and other countries to demonstrate their opposition to terror, and to stand for democracy and freedom. We must stand in solidarity with them, and do all that we can to confront extremism and terrorism in all its forms.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Green Belt Public Inquiry report of day one. I will be appearing tomorrow

I have my "ticket" to Gilsland Station - it will happen in time, and progress is being made!

I literally bumped into Julie Gibbon last week. She is a tireless campaigner for the Campaign to Open Gilsland Station, and I was able to get my "ticket" to Gilsland Station.
This project is slowly moving forward, with assistance from Northumberland County Council, as we endeavour to fundraise the £30,000 to get to GRIP Stage 3 of the Network Rail process for Station Rebuilds. There is a large amount of support locally, and in the 2 local authorities, and I cannot praise Julie and the team at COGS enough - they are doing a great job. This project will happen eventually. We are pictured in the Bardon Mill Village Store and Tea Room - my usual Bardon Mill lunch pit stop.