Monday, 30 November 2015

I would urge all constituents to read the PM statement to the Commons before judging our Isil plans

Campaigning in the Oldham West & Royton By-Election

On Monday and Tuesday last week I spent some time campaign in Oldham West. + Royton, helping our very impressive candidate James Daly. James is doing a good job making a positive case for the local area in the snap by election following the sad death of Michael Meacher.

The seat has a massive 15,000 Labour majority. Labour won a whopping 54% of the vote at the last general election and the area has a Labour controlled council. It should be an easy hold for them. And yet ... there is no appetite for Jeremy Corbyn's North London based, hard left, Labour Party.

Corbyn is being kept away from Oldham and after speaking to local voters I can see why...

Westminster this week: Middle East dominates

Today there is a debate on the Middle East for over 6 hours from 3.30-10pm. I stress that this is a general debate and not any debate on the issue in Syria. Clearly this issue dominates the commons this week. I have blogged at length on this issue yesterday. There are also other debates on the Immigration Bill, the Charities Bill, and an opposition day debate on Wednesday. I have a very very busy weekend in Northumberland, with multiple events in Hexham on Saturday, including an action day knocking on doors and support for Small Business Saturday. On Friday I will start first thing at the Royal Mail depot in Hexham followed by a visit to Hexham middle school. However, from 11-3 I will be at the over 50s fair in Prudhoe that we have organised. I also have a bus meeting and a variety of other Prudhoe meetings. Later on Friday I have surgeries in Hexham.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Syria: UN mandate, the 36 page response to the foreign affairs SC + PM on Thursday determine my support

An assessment of the Syria situation requires a number of things: we already carry out such missions over Iraq. As to the extension of this to Syria I would urge any constituent to assess three key documents. The approach of the UN is key. But the best document is the very very detailed 36 page response by the government to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. This is an explanation of what this entails, what diplomatic efforts are being made, what is the road map to a long term peace, and what reconstruction post isil looks like.
Then there is the 3 hour session in parliament on Thursday where the PM took 103 questions from across the house.

1. What does the unanimous resolution 2249 of the UN say? I would urge constituents to read this as a starter:
The key paragraph is:

“5.   The UN Calls upon Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, in particular with the United Nations Charter, as well as international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law, on the territory under the control of ISIL also known as Da’esh, in Syria and Iraq, to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL also known as Da’esh as well as ANF, and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the United Nations Security Council, and as may further be agreed by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and endorsed by the UN Security Council, pursuant to the statement of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) of 14 November, and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria;"

2. The cross party foreign affairs select committee sought detailed answers to a number of questions. The full response of the government is here:

In the response the PM addresses the key questions which are:
Why us?
Why now?
Is what we are contemplating legal?
Where are the ground troops to help us meet our objectives?
What is the strategy that brings together everything that we are doing, particularly in Syria?
Is there an end to this conflict and is there a plan for what follows?

3. The PM provided a statement to the House of Commons and answered 103 questions from members of Parliamanetary from all parts of the House. This can be found here:
As always we will await the motion itself that Parliament is asked to support but I believe we have the UN backed legal mandate, that we have a clear roadmap from a diplomatic point of view, and that the very very detailed response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee provides answer to the key issues that we all need to have addressed. I shall be supporting the Prime Minister.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Tyne Valley burglaries: update

Northumbria Police have made a significant breakthrough in the operation to tackle burglaries in the Tyne Valley.
On 5th November a 46 year old male from Newcastle was arrested and has now been charged with 7 recent burglaries; he is remanded in custody pending trial.

Since the male's arrest no similar house burglaries further to the recent spate have been reported.

Levels of house burglary have abated across Tynedale. 

We still need to remain vigilant, report any suspicious people, vehicles or behaviour and take sensible crime prevention steps when leaving the house. 

However residents should be reassured that this male is now remanded in custody.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Even the Guardian are now withering in their criticism of Labour's economic approach

Quoting approvingly from a book that is "the bible of the far, far, far, far left" is clearly political insanity - so says the Guardian piece on John McDonnell's approach to the economy debate yesterday. Not my words. Read the piece.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

PM in Commons on Syria today this morning as William Hague writes a persuasive column advocating action v Isil

Today the PM will come to the Commons and take questions from all sides as to the governments approach to action against Isil. As always he will take questions from all sides.
At the same time William Hague has written a robust piece in the telegraph as to why he supports action:

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Today's Autumn Statement is good news for the North East

This Autumn Statement delivers on the promise we made to working people right across the North East that we would put their security first. Protecting our economic security by taking the difficult
decisions to live within our means and bring our debts down. And protecting our national security by defending our country’s interests abroad and keeping our citizens safe at home.

After all our campaigning I am particularly proud to see the Chancellor also announce plans for a new national funding formula which will start to be introduced from 2017. The plans will see the phasing out of the old arbitrary and unfair system which meant a child in Northumberland could receive £1,225 less in education funding a
pupil in Kensington and Chelsea.

This Autumn Statement was fundamentally good news for the North East. Employment and wages are up and businesses continue to grow. Over the last parliament 45,000 jobs were created, the number of businesses grew by 11,800. Weekly pay for full-time employees grew faster than anywhere else in England at 10.3 per cent and the Chancellor's announcement will help further boost growth in the region.

Childcare Bill in parliament today - fulfilling our pledge to provide 30 hours free childcare

In England, all three- and four-year-old children, and disadvantaged two-year-old children who meet the eligibility criteria, are currently entitled to 15 hours of free childcare per week for 38 weeks of the year. The Childcare Bill would provide for an increase in the entitlement to free childcare to 30 hours a week (for 38 weeks of the year) to be made available to eligible working parents of three- and four-year-old children in England. The Bill would also require English local authorities to publish information about the provision of childcare, and other services or facilities which may be of benefit to parents or prospective parents, or children or young persons, in their local authority area. The Government has stated that the increased entitlement would be implemented for all working parents from September 2017, with trials being introduced for some families in September 2016. We debate the matter in detail on Wednesday afternoon. Fuller details of the passage of the bill through parliament are here:

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The PM sets out the moral case to defeat terrorism and the ideology that feeds isil

As the murders on the streets of Paris reminded us so starkly, Islamic State (Isil) is not some remote problem thousands of miles away; it is a direct threat to our security. So I want the British people to know they have a government that understands the importance of our national security and that we will take whatever actions are necessary to keep our country safe. 
This is not a time to equivocate about allowing our police to shoot a terrorist to save the lives of innocent people. It is not a time to stand back and wish for another world where Jihadi John or Reyaad Khan could somehow be arrested, rather than stopped in their tracks. Neither is it a moment to question our support for our dedicated security and intelligence services, who risk their lives day in and day out – often necessarily without any recognition – in order to keep us safe.

Christmas comes to Tynedale - late night shopping, fairs and Christmas markets galore

- Haltwhistle has its late night shopping this weekend on Friday between 4-8pm with carols, shopping, and multiple stalls - make sure you shop local as it is a great night.
- At the same time Prudhoe opens its Christmas fair this Friday afternoon from 3-8, based around the Spetchells Centre, with a load of things to see, do, listen to and buy.
- Hexham has its Christmas lights switched on at 5pm, with carols from the Hexham middle school band.

This week we also have the Red Cross Christmas Fair at Hexham Racecourse on Wednesday 3-8.30pm and Thursday between 9.30-3.
And the Beaufront Christmas fair on Saturday between 2-4.

Future events on the horizon include the St Mary's Christmas fair in slaley at 10.30 on December 5, along with a Christmas coffee morning in otterburn on Saturday 5th December from 10.30, and the Ponteland Christmas Fair at the Methodist church from 10-2.30 on the same Saturday.
There is also Sunday opening in Corbridge from noon - 4pm every Sunday to Christmas going forward.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Great coverage of the Tynedale Community Bank in the Chronicle today

Westminster this week - the autumn statement dominates but a lot more also happening in Westminster

Wednesday at 12.30 sees the autumn statement. In it the chancellor will set out how he intends to try and balance the books, and implement the manifesto that the country voted for.

In addition I have the usual mix of constituents, companies and other matters before parliament. I have Haltwhistle employer RPC coming to the plastics reception in the commons, a meeting on arch cru, and multiple other debates this week. The main one is the Childcare Bill, of which I will blog more later this week. The PM will also be setting out the details of the strategic defence review.

Back the campaign for fairer funding of Northumberland's schools - sign our petition

I am one of several MPs who represent under-funded areas which receive low per pupil funding.

For many decades our local schools have been in the bottom 10% for funding in the entire country, due to the historic schools funding formula. In the last Parliament, I campaigned hard for a solution to ensure that our local schools are funded properly and fairly.
We are expecting a government consultation on the issue early next year - so support now is crucial.

For generations pupils and schools in local authority areas such as Northumberland have been the poor relation of places like Newcastle in terms of education funding. Basic yearly funding for schools in Newcastle amounts to £4,709 per pupil, while in Northumberland it is just £4,244 per pupil. In other areas across the country we lose over a thousand pounds per pupil.

Our children deserve a fair funding settlement, so they can gain the skills they need to get on in life. Following our 2010-15 campaign, we secured a £12m funding up lift to the fairer funding formula for our schools in Northumberland. That additional £12 million funding was, however, simply a down-payment, or a first step towards a new and fairer funding system for our schools. What I am continuing to fight for is a revised and long term fairer national funding formula, to replace the existing arrangements. That is why I now need local people to demonstrate their support. I urge local people to sign the petition online by clicking HERE.

I work with the cross party f40 group in Parliament, which campaigns on behalf of the lowest funded Education Authorities and has been fighting for a fairer deal since the 1990s. Northumberand County Council also officially backs the campaign.

The f40 is a cross party campaign on behalf of the lowest funded Education Authorities which has been campaigning for a fairer deal since the 1990s.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The United Nations resolution is clear in support of action against Isil

Last week saw a genuine game changer at the UN when they passed an unequivocal and unanimous resolution deciding "to combat Isil by all means". The full text of the UN debate is below.
The PM will set out his approach on this issue to Parliamanetary in the near future.

Ashington HQ Survey - Have your say!

Do you agree with Labour's plan to build a new £40m County Council Headquaters in Ashington? County Councillors will decide on 2nd December - Vote here to have your say:

Saturday, 21 November 2015

What are your local priorities for the Police and Crime Commissioner?

I am really pleased to announce we have selected Stewart Hay to be the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner candidate for Northumbria next year.

Stewart is a former senior detective who spent 30 years with Northumbria Police before joining the Conservative Party after his retirement.

Stewart's top prioirty is listening to local people and he has launched a survey to here directly from you. Please take a moment to complete it here:

Last chance to make your views clear on Council's Local Plan

Consultation on the submission draft Core Strategy ends on 25 November 2015.

Given my well recorded opposition to building on the greenbelt I remain concerned at the continued high housing figures within the County Council's overall plan. I urge local people to continue to make representations as part of the County Councils ongoing Local Development Plan consultation.

The Council has also issued new proposals as part of the plan for a new school and leisure complex.

On the issue of co-location of services, my support for this principle is well known. In tough times it is vital that public bodies work together to deliver the best quality services. I am also passionate about securing investment in our local schools; nothing is more important than ensuring the best possible education for our children.

We know that being taught in school buildings in good condition, and with the latest facilities, can have a positive effect on pupil attainment. I think many of us therefore welcome the principle of Council investment in our area to deliver new school buidlings and a modern leisure centre. It must however be for local people and parents to make their voices heard to help determine how and where this investment should be delivered.

Regarding the Council's own preferred site, following concerns raised with me, I have been assured that the Council will now work with local residents to consult on issues around access, traffic and the specifics of the site plan.

It is vital that we get a Local Plan in place that works for Ponteland, and, most importantly, one which secures our community from speculative planning applications. We must remain ever aware that a lack of a Local Plan will provide a free-for-all for developers such as Lugano, who still own thousands of acres of land around Ponteland and Darras Hall.

As the Local Plan process draws to a close, it is crucial local people now take part in a final push to secure a Local Plan which balances the objectives of sustainable growth, local investment and protecting our precious greenbelt.

You can read and comment on the Council's plans here:

Friday, 20 November 2015

Women2Win 10th anniversary celebration - some of the new intake lauded by the PM last night

Last night the PM gave one of the best speeches I have ever heard from him - and I have heard him many times! He was incisive, articulate, warm, intellectual, and brilliant at speaking passionately about the changes brought about by W2W, the greater numbers of women in politics and their impact around the Cabinet table. He also did a brilliant impression of Tony Benn, as he retold the great mans advice on how people react to change.
But the stars of the show were the many new intake female MPs. Many of them are in the picture below. All were selected on merit, beating men, and all are lighting up the House of Commons. I played a very small part in the women2win drive to turn these unpolished diamonds into gems. This is done by mentoring, and help by coaching; it is one of the things I am most proud of in the last parliament. They are, from left to right, and excluding the two ladies from the House of Lords who are on either end:
Suella Fernandez (Fareham)
Helen Whately (Faversham)
Lucy Fraser (Cambridgeshire)
Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester)
Anne Jenkin in front of my boss, the deputy chief whip Anne Milton (Guildford)
Mims Davies (Eastleigh)
Wendy Morton (Aldridge Brownhills)
Victoria Atkins (Horncastle)
Lucy Allen (Telford)
Seema Kennedy (South Ribble)

Thursday, 19 November 2015

My and Kevan Jones MPs interview with the Journal on Corbyn and security

The journal did a piece on the impact of multiple labour MPs queueing up to denounce Corbyn's failure approach to security.
The article is here:

Bizarre Labour contortions on defence, Trident + security are impossible to fathom but genuinely worrying

Todays story takes a little telling but it is straight from The Thick of It, if it did not have really sinister overtones and a serious attack on a mental health campaigner.
First, Maria Eagle, MP, shadow Defence Minister was furious that anti-Trident / anti defence Ken Livingstone had been appointed by Corbyn to co-chair the Labour party’s defence review with her, apparently without her, or her deputy, Kevan Jones MP, having being consulted.

Then, Ken Livingstone spoke to the Mirror about his appointment, and was asked what he thought of Shadow Defence Minister Kevan Jones’s complaint that he shouldn’t be involved in the review given his preconceived views. Livingstone said Jones, who has spoken movingly in the Commons about his struggle with depression, ‘might need some psychiatric help’ and was ‘obviously very depressed and disturbed’. Livingstone repeatedly refused to apologise and retract for such a derogatory and inappropriate comment against a mental health campaigner; when before a number of TV / media outlets and he again refused to say sorry, claiming somewhat bizarrely that he’d spoken the way he did because he was from South London. Eventually he gave a half hearted apology, literally wrung out of the man.
The truth of the Labour Party position is therefore something which is difficult to ascertain at best especially when we consider that at the Scottish Labour Party Conference they specifically voted to adopt a policy of non-renewal of Trident. This was later heavily downplayed by the UK Labour Party with Angela Eagle saying it was no more than a contribution to the debate Trident renewal. Now Corbyn puts Livingstone in charge. You could not make it up.

Women2Win 10th anniversary celebration tonight- great to celebrate the progress we have made

Today is the 10th anniversary of women2win, and I am going to the gala reception with the PM, and the co founders, Theresa May MP, and Anne Jenkin.
Why this matters is best set out here:
Women2Win is transforming British politics and is a genuine force for good.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Parliament Week - proud to support this weeks efforts to connect people to democracy

Parliament Week is a programme of events and activities that connects people with Parliament and democracy in the UK. There’s something for everyone, whether you attend or organise an event or simply take part in the conversation online.
Organisations across the UK run events and activities throughout Parliament Week which explore what parliamentary democracy means to them and their community.
Parliament Week is coordinated by the House of Commons with support from the House of Lords. More details here:

Labour should really ask themselves which side Corbyn is on

Labour member Dan Hodges article is robust but unequivocal:

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Home Secretary and the argument for enhanced surveillance powers for our security services that are needed

After Paris everyone is genuinely in shock in parliament.
Yesterday the Home Secretary gave a statement to the Commons: the text is here:

The Home Secretary had the full support of the House of Commons.
The issue of the capacity of our country's security services being able to monitor and combat the threat to our safety will not go away.

Boris John son also wrote a good piece for yesterdays Telegraph. It is hard to disagree with much of what he says. I certainly am 100% behind the need for better surveillance powers for our security services. There is genuinely a need, and genuinely no alternative.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Aftermath of Paris attacks - my thoughts and a Commons statement likely today at 3.30

I was asked to comment after the attacks by the Journal and the Chronicle and the quote I gave them is below: as always, in such circumstances, I genuinely struggle to know what to say, as words are never enough. 
“My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this attack in Paris and with the French people generally.
“This is a disgraceful attack and it doesn’t reflect 99.999% of the views of people.
“We must continue to combat terrorism, both at home and abroad, but the most important thing is that we continue with our day to day lives. It is only when we become craven that terrorism wins.
“I also think we owe a huge debt to our security services who are keeping people in this country safe.”

The PM and Chancellor Merkel commented as follows:
There will clearly be a House of Commons statement on the Paris Attacks and the UK response at 3.30 today

Westminster this coming week - much to do but celebrations for Women2Win dominate

I have a very busy week in the Commons this week, being on duty every day as the house debates Backbench Business, day 2 of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, PMQs and more. I have constituents attending the house on a number of days, whether for meetings with Vattenfall, who are local wind farm developers, or to attend the bowel cancer UK reception and lobby group in Parliament, or the British Racing reception which supports British horse racing. It is also Parliament week, about which I will blog more tomorrow.

Thursday is the 10th anniversary of women2win, and I am going to the gala reception with the PM, and the co founders, Theresa May MP, and Anne Jenkin.
Why this matters is best set out here:
Women2Win is transforming British politics and is a genuine force for good.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Flood risk And dangers continue- please drive very carefully if you are going out in Northumberland

The environment agency site is here:
Although the situation appears to be easing the advice is clearly do not go in or near the river Tyne and be very careful if driving as the chance of driving into floodwater at any stage is real and very dangerous, particularly at night.

Friday, 13 November 2015

UK Youth Parliament today - live on TV you will see why our future is better than our past

The Youth Parliament is something very special and well worth watching. There is a quality of advocacy, passion, belief and hope that is wonderful to see. Anyone who doubts that we are a multi cultural, progressive modern democracy should see this special day. It is live on BBC Parliament.
Full details here:

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Hexham Jobs Fair sees results as unemployment drops - claimant count down locally and employment up in the wider North East

A summary of yesterdays latest employment numbers below, covering the period 1 July – 30 September 2015:
The total number of Jobseeker's Allowance claimants in Hexham constituency in October 2015 was 428.
  • The number of claimants is 139 lower than in October 2014 and 20 lower than in September 2015.
    There were 100 claimants aged 18-24 in Hexham constituency in October 2015, 65 lower than in October 2014.
Employment in the North East stands at 1,166,000 or 68.3% - an increase of 2,000 over the quarter and 1,000 over the year. This compares to a rate of 73.7% nationally.
  • 10,000 fewer 16-24 year olds in the North East are unemployed compared to a year ago, a fall of 18.3%. The youth unemployment rate stands at 22.5%, a fall of 2.3% over the year.
  • The pictures below show some of the people who came to our jobs fair, who created jobs and made it happen and one lucky recipient of a local job

New employment statistics show our plan for a high-employment and high wage economy is working.

Today’s figures are excellent news. At 73.7 per cent our employment rate has never been higher and we are moving towards the goal of full employment that we committed to in our manifesto.  

With full-time employees making up three quarters of the increase in employment over the past year and wages rising three per cent, it is clear that our plan for a high-employment and high-wage economy is working.

But we cannot rest. We have over 700,000 job vacancies showing we have an opportunity to help unemployed people back into work. And we must guarantee our economy creates new jobs by ensuring we have a government that lives within its means and our economic recovery is sustained.

Key statistics
Employment: 31.21 million (up 419,000 over the past year and up over 2.1 million since 2010).
  • Employment rate: 73.7 per cent (up 0.7 points over the past year and up 3.5 points since 2010).
  • Unemployment: 1.75 million (down 210,000 over the past year and down 760,000 since 2010).
  • Unemployment rate: 5.3 per cent (down 0.7 points over the past year and down 2.6 points since 2010).
  • Claimant count (Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit not in work): 795,500 in October (down 139,100 on last year and down 699,300 since 2010).
  • Wages: average total pay rose by three per cent over the last year. Inflation over the same period was close to flat.
Other useful statistics:
 The employment rate is at the highest in our history - at 73.7 per cent of people aged 16-64.
  • Unemployment has fallen to a seven year low – at 5.3 per cent
  • There are more women in work than ever before with 975,000 more women in work since 2010, and the number of unemployed women down by 80,000 over the year.
  • Youth unemployment is at its lowest level since early 2006, and the employment rate for young people who have left full-time education is up to 74.3 per cent, the highest in more than a decade
  • Among older people (50-64), employment is up 72,000 on the quarter and 234,000 on the year to a record 8.3 million.
  • The number of long-term unemployed people has fallen by 25 per cent in the last year to 514,000 – the lowest level in six years
  • Vacancies were at 736,000 in the three months to October, up 37,000 on the year and 274,000 since 2010.
    Labour always try and tell Britain that all these jobs are part-time, insecure and poorly paid – in fact:
  • Three-quarters of the growth in employment since 2010 has been full-time.
  • Only 2.4 per cent of people in work are on zero-hours contracts. Unlike the last Labour Government, who did nothing, we have taken action to clamp down on abuses by banning exclusivity contracts.  
  • Real wages are rising strongly. 

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Voices and Choices Exhibition in Hexham Abbey - go if you can. Local and European Twin towns WW1 recollections

If you can ... go to this amazing exhibition in Prior's Hall
Hexham Abbey
Saturday 7th - Friday 20th November 2015

Opening hours 10.00am to 4.00pm daily
Open until 6.00pm on Saturday 7th, Monday 9th, Thursday 19th November
It is a very moving experience. I went to the opening last weekend and was genuinely moved. the quality of the artwork, the tales told and the individual recollections are wonderfully told.

This wonderful exhibition has received financial support from Hexham and Newcastle Quakers, The Southall Trust, The Trusthouse Foundation, Joicey Trust, Hexham Local History Society, Hexham Town Council and numerous individuals. It has been made possible thanks to Hexham Abbey, the Woodhorn Trust, the communities of Noyon and Metzingen, the Hexham Courant with other contributors and supporters including The Hexham Town Twinning Association and Hexham Community Partnership.

PM sets out the case for EU reform - and Mrs Merkel "confident" issues can be resolved

Mrs Merkel is the key player in Europe and she said she had spoken with Mr Cameron on Monday and was not surprised by his demands, adding she was “confident” the issues could be resolved. 
“We want to take a solution-based approach to these demands. There are some that are difficult, and some that are less difficult. But if you have a willingness to solve this then I am confident we can resolve it,” she said.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Corbyn row over Trident - NE Labour MP says he sees nothing wrong in Army expressing their views on Corbyn

General Houghton triggered a row on Sunday when he expressed concern that Mr Corbyn had declared there were no circumstances in which he would press the nuclear button should he become prime minister.
"It would worry me if that thought was translated into power," he told the BBC on Remembrance Sunday. 
"The reason I say this – and it's not based on a personal thing at all – is purely based upon the credibility of deterrence. The whole thing of deterrence rests upon the credibility of its use.” 
"When people say they're never going to use the deterrent, I say you use the deterrent every second of every minute of every day – the purpose of the deterrent is you don't have to use it because you effectively deter."
Yesterday Kevan Jones, MP for Durham North, said he could see “nothing wrong” with Gen Sir Nicholas Houghton’s comments that he would “worry” if Mr Corbyn became the Prime Minister because his stance on Trident would put the country’s defence at risk.
But Mr Jones told The Telegraph: "I see nothing wrong in what he said. I know Nick Houghton and as is typical of a Yorkshireman he gives straight answers to straight questions."
Full story here:

Fully behind Michael Gove's plans to sell outdated prisons and build new ones

There is much to be admired in Michael Gove's innovative approach to prison reform.
The BBC has full details on the plans to sell outdated Victorian prisons and build new ones, whilst also creating inner city housing in the locations of the former prisons. Gove is showing the same reforming zeal in the prisons job that he had with schools.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Westminster this week - devolution dominates as the remaining stages of the Scotland Bill to be debated

The governments commitment to devolution has further evidence today as the Scotland Bill finishes its last stages of the Commons scrutiny. This is one of the reasons why the North East devolution package is so important - we cannot be left behind by what is happening in Scotland.  This week we also have further debates and amendments of the Trade Unions Bill. I have also got constituent meetings, and a long scheduled meet with Ofsted.

WATCH: BBC and ITV report on the launch of Tynedale Community Bank

Both ITV and BBC covered last week's launch of the Tynedale Community Bank. You can watch the reports here:
(From 5.30mins in)

Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Mail on Sunday reports on the launch of Tynedale Community Bank

Jeff Prestige of the Mail on Sunday's This Is Money writes about the launch of Tynedale Community Bank:

"In a week that has seen the already sullied reputation of payday lenders slide to even darker depths, with yet another provider forced into paying compensation to customers, it is good to report the launch of an alternative (and far friendlier) lender.

Step forward Tynedale Community Bank, the brainchild of Guy Opperman, Conservative MP for Hexham in Northumberland.

For the past four years, Opperman, a barrister by training and in his younger days a pretty useful jockey, has been masterminding the launch of this ‘bank’ – an updated version of a traditional credit union.

More than most MPs, he was traumatised by the near collapse eight years ago of Northern Rock, ‘the bank’ of the North East. Constituents queued in their thousands to get money out before the Government stepped in to guarantee all deposits. These events forged in him a steely determination to counter the domination of the ‘casino’ banks and to breathe new competition into the banking industry.

In the process, he has become a political champion for challenger banks – the likes of Aldermore, Atom (soon to launch) and Metro.

It has also led to the launch two days ago of Tynedale which will provide the 55,000 residents that fall inside its catchment area (a big swathe of Opperman’s constituency) with the opportunity to both save and borrow.

Read it in full here:

The Sunday Read: The FT reports on the launch of Tynedale Community Bank

The Financial Times reports:

Britain’s newest bank plans to fight loan sharks and payday lenders by offering lower interest charges as it aims to give 50,000 people in south and west Northumberland a savings and lending alternative to big banks. 

Tynedale Community Bank, the latest so-called challenger bank, opened on Friday. Its average interest charges on loans are expected to be between 0.5 per cent and 3 per cent a month.

“Banks like the one we are creating in Tynedale will be a local bank that serves the 
community when too often it has seemed the other way round. We will not solve the banking sector’s problems overnight, but we will be helping to shine the light on a new way of banking in Britain.”The lender is the brainchild of Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman.

“People are fed up with banks disconnected from the local area,” said Mr Opperman.

The lender says it will plough any profits back into it. Initially, it will operate as a savings and loans operation. For now, there will be a £15,000 limit on loans, which will be individually assessed.

The bank, fully regulated and covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, will not at this stage issue debit cards. Deposits into accounts can be made via internet banking from other accounts and withdrawals via the Faster Payments Service that all banks use. Savers will be paid an annual dividend.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Packed weekend ahead but Remembrance Sunday I shall be in Prudhoe - make sure you pay your respects wherever you are

This Sunday I shall be in Prudhoe, paying my respects to our fallen servicemen and women both in church and outside. I rotate my attendance so that I go to a different major town every few years. I will be returning for the civic lunch organised in Hexham after the church service and 11am commemoration. Wherever you are I urge you to go to church or your local war memorial to say thank you, and that we will never forget. Today I am helping to choose our police and crime commissioner candidate for the May 2016 election and then conducting an action day meeting local voters.
The photo to the right I took this week where the RBL volunteers are assembling the poppy garden outside Westminster Abbey. There are special designated areas for our local regiments, notably the RA and RHA who presently occupy Albemarle Barracks.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

D-1: Tynedale Community Bank launches tomorrow

I want a bank located in the community, serving that community and responsible to that community. 
Eight years ago, on September 15th 2007, Northern Rock, that most North East of banks, was at the heart of events which brought the British banking system close to collapse.

It was on that day that local people here in the North East began to join queues outside the bank's high street branches in a desperate attempt to withdraw their savings, as rumours of its collapse began to spread across the region.

Two days later the Government was forced to step in to guarantee deposits to prevent a full scale run on the banks and just a few months letter it would nationalise the bank.

It is the from those ashes, from the ashes of banks that were too big to fail, too interested in big casino bets, and had forgotten the people the system is there to serve, that we are launching the Tynedale Community Bank.

The Archbishop of York John Sentamu will be making a special trip to the North East to launch the new Tynedale Community Bank at Hexham Abbey this Friday.

Friday will help mark a new chapter in the North East's relationship with banking. There has been much attempt to pin the banking crisis on one bad banker, one bad decision, or one merger too many. The truth is the British banking system was failing. Northern Rock was nationalised, Lehman Brothers went bust - and HBOS,

RBS, Bradford + Bingley, and Alliance + Leicester all came within days of going the same way.

Since then regulations have been tightened and new rules introduced, but the same old model remains. The UK banking market is still concentrated in six large banks that have over 75% of the UK’s current account market. Fundamentally we need new banks to break up that lack of competition.

The Tynedale Community Bank will be part of a growing number of community banks in the UK. A phenomenon the UK has been too slow to adopt.
Look at Germany, their banking market is evenly spread across various sectors, none of which – whether they are savings banks, co-operatives, or commercial banks – have more than a 26.5% share of the market. But where we did once have an additional local tier of banks 70 years ago, we now have just one dominant tier with the number of bank branches on the high streets down by 43% in the last 20 years alone.

By opening a new community based bank in Tynedale on Friday we will not solve the banking sectors problems over night but we will be helping to shine the light on a new way of banking in Britain.

Local banks, like the one we are the creating in Tynedale will be a local bank that serves the community when too often it has seemed the other way round. Local banks are based in the community, lend to the community, and make all of their decisions in the community. We will also make sure that profits are ploughed back into the local area.
The new Tynedale Community Bank is part of the Prince Bishops Community Bank who are providing infrastructure support and regulatory status based in County Durham.

There is no doubt that our police and security services need the Investigatory Powers Bill and I support its implementation

I was in parliament yesterday when the Home Secretary, Mrs May told MPs the proposed powers were needed to fight crime and terror. I have spent two years between 2013-2015 working in the Home Office and I have not a shred of doubt these powers are needed to keep us safe. But the government has used the time prior to the publication of the Bill well - to ensure that there is cross party support, and that the original pre 2015 version of the Bill is new and improved.
Full details of the Bill  are here:
Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday, David Cameron said the draft bill was "one of the most important this House will discuss", adding: "We must help the police and security and intelligence services to keep us safe."

Opposition approach:
It is noteworthy that Labour support the Bill. The shadow home secretary Andy Burnham backed the draft bill, saying it was "neither a snooper's charter nor a plan for mass surveillance".
Former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said it was a "much improved model" of the legislation he blocked during the coalition government.

The threat to the UK:
The threat is clear. In the past twelve months alone six significant terrorist plots have been disrupted here in the UK, as well as a number of further plots overseas. The frequency and cost of cyber-attacks is increasing, with 90% of large organisations suffering an information security breach last year. And the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre estimate that there are 50,000 people in this country downloading indecent images of children.
The task of law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies has become vastly more demanding in this digital age.  It is right, therefore, that those who are charged with protecting us should have the powers they need to do so. But it is the role of Government and Parliament to ensure that there are limits to those powers.
It is not just a threat from terrorism that we face but also that from organised crime. There are today over 5,000 active organised crime groups operating in the UK, comprising over 40,000 individuals. They are engaged in people trafficking, drug smuggling, theft and robbery. The frequency and cost of cyber-attacks is increasing. 

These threats are compounded by the fact that the way in which people choose to communicate has evolved. People are using a telephone less to communicate in the way that they once did and are instead increasingly using a variety of mobile devices to communicate with one another via the internet and to connect to the services they need to live their lives. The means available to organised criminals, terrorists and hostile foreign states to coordinate, inspire and – increasingly – to execute their crimes are therefore also evolving. Communications technologies that cross devices and international borders increasingly allow those who would do us harm the opportunity to evade detection.

This change of communication means that many of the long standing capabilities which have enabled law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies to detect how serious criminals and terrorists are communicating are becoming less available. Data which was available for traditional forms of communications, such as telephony, is not always held for internet communications because CSPs do not retain all the relevant data for their business purposes (as they might billing data for a phone line).

The draft Bill will do three key things:
First it will replace the existing statutory scheme with one that is comprehensive and comprehensible. It will bring together all of the powers available to the state to access communications. It will do so in a transparent way that leaves no doubt about when and how public authorities acquire, store and access information.
Second, the Bill will ensure consistent, effective statutory safeguards and strengthen our already robust oversight regime. It will remove any doubt or ambiguity about the sufficiency and efficacy of checks and balances. And it will provide world leading oversight arrangements.

Third, the Bill will consolidate existing powers and, only where a strong operational case can be made, will enhance those powers in order to minimise capability gaps.

Our intention is that this Bill should last for many years, future proofing existing powers by ensuring they are clear, technology-neutral and fit for the long-term. It should be a world-leading piece of legislation in terms of transparency, oversight and strength of safeguards.

The wide-ranging draft Investigatory Powers Bill also contains proposals covering how the state can run operations to sweep up large amounts of data as it flows through the internet.
The draft bill's measures include:

Giving a panel of judges the power to block spying operations authorised by the home secretary

Police will not be able to access journalistic sources without the authorisation of a judge

A legal duty on British companies to help law enforcement agencies hack devices to acquire information if it is reasonably practical to do so

Former Appeal Court judge Sir Stanley Burnton is appointed as the new interception of communications commissioner

Mrs May told parliament that the draft bill was a "significant departure" from previous plans, dubbed the "snooper's charter" by critics, which were blocked by the Lib Dems, and will "provide some of the strongest protections and safeguards anywhere in the democratic world and an approach that sets new standards for openness, transparency and oversight".
This duty would include forcing firms to hold a schedule of which websites someone visits and the apps they connect to through computers, smartphones, tablets and other devices.
Police and other agencies would be then able to access these records in pursuit of criminals - but also seek to retrieve data in a wider range of inquiries, such as missing people.
Mrs May stressed that the authorities would not be able to access everyone's browsing history, just basic data, which was the "modern equivalent of an itemised phone bill".
If officers want to mount more intrusive spying operations, including accessing the content of emails, hacking into computers and tapping phones, they will still need a warrant from the home secretary or another senior minister - 2,700 such warrants were signed last year.
But the draft bill proposes giving a new panel of judges, known as the Investigatory Powers Commission, the ability to veto such requests.
The Bill will be subject to the usual parliamentary scrutiny in both Houses but I am strongly in support of it.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Good meeting with the Northern Farming and landowner group - broadband, forestry, jobs and farmers issues all discussed at recent meetingue

The NFLG does a great job representing a diverse community of farmers, food producers, foresters and more across Northumberland and the wider North East.

Their specific feedback and monthly updates are invaluable to anyone like myself who represents a diverse partly very rural community. I simply cannot meet every single farmer every single week and rely on organisations like the NFU and the NFLG to provide direct assistance and updates.

Two weeks ago I sat down and did a multitude of Any Questions with the group. As always I came away better informed and keen to help some more. The Journal came along to cover the event and their detailed report is here:

Monday, 2 November 2015

Groundbreaking Housing Bill in the Commons today - right to buy, starter homes plan and much more

Plans to extend right-to-buy to housing association tenants, have been altered last month to make them voluntary rather than mandatory.

The government has agreed to compensate housing associations for the sales discount offered to the tenant and housing associations would retain the sales receipt to enable them to reinvest in the delivery of new homes.

As well right-to-buy, the bill:

  • Implements plans to provide a number of Starter Homes for first-time buyers under the age of 40 at a 20% discount
  • Introduces the requirement for local authorities in England to dispose of vacant high value council properties to fund right to buy extension and to build more affordable homes
  • Gives local authorities additional powers to tackle rogue landlords in the private rented sector
  • Makes provision for 'high income' social tenants to pay a market rent as opposed to a social rent 
  • Reforms the planning system, including a new duty for councils to keep a register of brownfield land

Westminster this week - housing bill dominates but plenty of constituents coming to Westminster

This week I have constituents coming to the House of Commons for meetings, discussions with Punch Taverns who are major employer in the constituency and also I shall be trying to meet the local doctors who are attending the Commons in Wednesday. They are part of the Specialist Orthopaedic Alliance (SOA) - which is a coalition of medical providers which contributes significantly to the provision of orthopaedic care of patients in the UK.  Through projects such as Getting It Right First Time with its links to Lord Carter’s work in procurement, SOA members have led the way in the NHS’s drive to deliver better care and value through improved outcomes and productivity. Many of my local orthopaedic surgeons from the Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Trust are going to be at the event in Westminster in Wednesday.

Today will feature a long debate on the Housing and Planning Bill. I am one of the whips on duty today with a packed diary, but will try and pop out to meet TUC representatives who are attending the commons to lobby the Commons and Lords.
More details on the Housing Bill can be found here: