Monday, 29 February 2016

65 days until key elections in Scotland, Wales, PCC and local authorities - who wins, who loses?

In 65 days we will know how well the electorate think the various parties are doing around the country. Primarily all eyes are on Labour. Put simply will Corbynista politics be popular to the voters in Scotland, Wales, PCC elections and for the metropolitan authorities? I find the Scottish election most interesting, not least as the Scots are our neighbours over the border at Carter Bar.
At present Corbyn's labour are struggling for even second place in Scotland. We see at Westminster the two opposition parties trying to be even more left wing than each other, and I believe that Ruth Davidson MSP is beginning to convince people in Scotland that you can be fiscally conservative but socially liberal, with a consequential impact on voting intention; given the SNP strong left wing approach, albeit with very poor outcomes in education, policing and all devolved public services, why would you vote for a alternative left wing party, like labour? That is Corbyn's problem, and that is why labour is struggling.
I am going to help by spending a day or two in Scotland and Wales over the next months campaigning and helping our conservative candidates, not least to get a better understanding of what the local electorates are thinking.
Ruth Davidson is our inspirational leader in Scotland: her recent article is here:

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Westminster and Northumberland this coming week

Am on the train south preparing for a busy week: the budget is barely 2 and 1/2 weeks today and this week is virtually the last chance to pitch to the Treasury or the Business Department. There are various bills to be considered this week on the floor of the House of Commons including the Northern Ireland Bill, and debates on everything from the future role of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to steel, to the science budget and on Wednesday the issue of end of life care is being discussed. I will be present in the chamber for most of these.
I also have meetings with the DOH, and various constituents and Northumberland organisations who are coming to Westminster.
On Wednesday night I am catching the last train home and then have a very early start for the Otterburn Ranges, where I am spending the day with the Army, notably 3RHA. Friday I have a packed day in Prudhoe, Heddon, Ovingham, Hexham and places in between! Saturday is our regional conference locally.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

The good and bad news about Oil falling from $130 a barrel in 2014 to $30 region

The good news is that we the consumers are getting a great deal on petrol prices for commuting, the cost of heating oil and the capacity of businesses to run with cheaper energy and transportation costs.
Filling up in a garage is barely a pound. Heating oil is a fraction of its cost in 2011-14. Business operating costs are lower.
The bad news is that this is severely impacting on financial viability of the North Sea businesses, upon which so much of the North East businesses depends. This is undoubtedly affecting businesses and jobs as the extraction of oil becomes uneconomic and the businesses that support the sector struggle through viability and lack of investment.

The causation of the price reduction is multiple but has three real triggers:
- shale gas in America has resulted in the production of much cheaper energy for businesses both in the USA and around the world; this has underpinned so much of the USA economic recovery. This cheap energy revolution has had impacts.
- a price war has resulted between the oil producers and the shale gas industry which sees the oil producers continue to flood the market notwithstanding an oil glut.
- the impact of foreign policy changes that sees countries like Iran now able to provide oil to overseas customers post the lifting of sanctions and the Geneva Agreement.
I do not see the price rising in a hurry albeit this price war cannot last forever. The argument in favour of energy security for a country is definitely made clear. Otherwise we are subject to overseas markets, dodgy dictators, problems of supply, and declining reserves in the North Sea. This is one of the reasons I support energy production in the UK. We need to have control of our energy supplies. Those who suggest otherwise have to tell us where we would get this energy from at a reasonable cost when this price war ends - as it surely will.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Hadrian’s Wall Networking Day saturday at the Mart in Hexham - worth going along to

Hadrian’s Wall Networking Day
Saturday 27th February 2016

9.15-10.00Registration and Refreshments.  Exhibition Space opens 
10.00-10.15Welcome by Humphrey Welfare, Chair of Hadrian’s Wall WHS Partnership Board
10.15-10.45'Broadening archaeological research and ownership of the Wall'
– Professor Richard Hingley, Durham University
 10.45-11.15Break and Refreshments
 11.15-11.45The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what's in between’ - Duncan Wise, NNPA and Mark Ellis, Go North East
 11.45-12.15‘Marketing Hadrian’s Wall’
- Emily Railton, English Heritage
13.15-13.45Bringing Scotland’s Roman frontier to life’ 
- Cllr Adrian Mahoney, Falkirk Council
 13.45-14.15The Hadrian’s Cavalry Exhibition’
- Dr Nigel Mills, Heritage Consultant and Bill Griffiths, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums
14.45-15.15The future of Alauna Roman Fort and Camp Farm: answers on a postcard please!’
Rose Lord and Jules Brown, North of England Civic Trust
15.15-15.45 Heritage at Risk and Community Archaeology on Hadrian's Wall; past, present and future- Paul Frodsham, ORACLE Heritage Services
15.45-16.00Plenary – Humphrey Welfare, Chair of Hadrian’s Wall WHS Partnership Board
16.00-17.00 Exhibition and Close

Busy weekend in Tynedale - but make sure you support Hexham Market + Corbridge point to point

Today I am on the BBC recording the Sunday Politics in the North East - it is broadcast at 11.30 on Sunday. I also have surgeries and various other meetings today and tomorrow. Saturday I would urge you to support the Hexham Farmers Market. Sunday I will be in Wylam in the morning but thereafter I will be meeting friends, farmers, and racing folk 2 miles north of Corbridge on the Aydon Road at the Tynedale Point to Point - first race is 12.30. Come along.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Improving dementia care in our NHS - great to meet and talk to Tynedale's Kevin Whately

Last week I met with Northumbrian born Kevin Whately at the launch of Alzheimer’s Society’s new campaign Fix Dementia Care. Kevin is an Alzheimer's ambassador and we had a short but good chat about the work he is doing and his family in Hexham.
The Alzheimer's campaign is calling for improvements in hospital care for people living with dementia. Specifically, it is aimed towards achieving greater transparency across the NHS. This follows an Alzheimer’s Society investigation, which found: too many people with dementia are falling while in hospital, are being discharged at night, or are being marooned in hospital despite their medical treatment having finished.
We need to end any postcode lottery that exists on the quality of hospital care people with dementia face. The first step to improving the issue across the country is greater transparency - once we know where the shortcomings are we can take steps to tackle them.

I have family members who have suffered from this terrible disease
and I am delighted to support Kevin and the AS efforts to address its symptoms and treatment, and have written to my local trust to ensure that we are doing all that we can at our local hospitals in Haltwhistle, Hexham and Cramlington to address good care of patients with dementia.
Similarly, I am a huge supporter of the work that Corbridge Parish Council have done - notably the wonderful Councillors Melvyn Stone, who trained me as a dementia friend. See more details of this here:

The Alzheimer’s Society is calling on people to back the Fix Dementia Care campaign by signing up at:

Monday, 22 February 2016

Read, thought and listened a lot over the last few days, but I believe we should remain in Europe. I shall be voting In

This is not a decision for politicians to decide. We made a pledge to let the people decide and that is the pledge that the PM has stuck to.

However, like many of you, I have spent some time over the last 3 days:
- weighing the arguments,
- speaking to constituents of all views, businesses and backgrounds,
- reading the documentation - the agreement is here: , 
- and assessing the claims of both sides of the argument since the Prime Minister concluded his negotiation with the presidents and prime ministers of the other 27 members of the EU; the referendum he promised at the last election will take place on 23rd June.

I stress that I do not start this process as someone who is determined that we should stay, or determined that we should leave. There are legitimate arguments on both sides. I would describe myself as a Eurosceptic in the broadest sense.

But, I do think you have to assess what the Prime Minister negotiated, and the direction of travel this takes the UK, and the choice we all now face.  The people of this country will decide our future - and rightly so. My job, I think, is to address the arguments as the elected representative: in doing so I start with two fundamentals.
- What is best for Britain?
- And what is best for my Hexham constituency, and the wider North East? 
In the run-up to the election, lots of people told me that they didn’t believe David Cameron would keep his word and, after a renegotiation, hold a referendum. He’s proved the doubters wrong and now we all need to make our minds up.

It’s one of the biggest decisions we will face in our lifetimes. What kind of country do we want to live in and how much of a risk are we prepared to take?

In one sense, I find it a very tough decision. Some of the people who gave up hours of their spare time to get me elected want us to remain in the EU; others want us to leave. It’s difficult finding yourself at odds with people you so often agree with.

But when it comes to it I know how I am going to vote. Despite David Cameron’s best efforts, the EU will still be far from perfect. The world wouldn’t end if we left it. But I believe that we will be more prosperous, more secure, and have more influence in the world, if we remain in the EU.
More prosperous because we have full access to the single market. If we leave, we may well be able to negotiate access to the single market, but only if we pay and only if we obey the rules - rules we would no longer have a say in making.

I have actually read what the PM achieved by this renegotiation, and I believe it does make a real difference. It sets out the direction of travel in a way that has never been done before. And all those
indications are positive for Britain, and positive for a reformed role in Europe. 

My colleagues, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, have made good arguments about sovereignty and the importance of Britain controlling its destiny. I echo many of their sentiments. But I disagree on how that destiny is best controlled.
The question is: Are you in the tent influencing what goes on or out of the tent with no say? In today's globalised world I believe that our influence is stronger, and our interests better served, by being in the tent. 

This question of what is sovereignty is key to our assessment of the U.K. And the EU. It is sovereignty that is the lynchpin of Boris and Michaels argument. This article in the Economist over the weekend has swayed me a lot in relation to the vexed issue of sovereignty as proposed by Boris, and Michael Gove. The full version is here:

But the key quote for me on sovereignty is here:
"The flaw in this case lies in the tradition's idealistic definition of sovereignty. For Mr Johnson and Mr Gove, being sovereign is like being pregnant—you either are or you aren’t. Yet increasingly in today’s world, real sovereignty is relative. A country that refuses outright to pool authority is one that has no control over the pollution drifting over its borders, the standards of financial regulation affecting its economy, the consumer and trade norms to which its exporters and importers are bound, the cleanliness of its seas and the security and economic crises propelling shock waves—migration, terrorism, market volatility—deep into domestic life. To live with globalisation is to acknowledge that many laws (both those devised by governments and those which bubble up at no one’s behest) are international beasts whether we like it or not. If sovereignty is the absence of interference, the most sovereign country in the world is North Korea.

Thus the EU is just one of thousands of intrusions on the sort of sovereignty that the likes of Mr Johnson so cherish. Britain is subject to some 700 international treaties involving multi-lateral submissions to multilateral compromises. Its membership of the UN similarly infringes its self-determination, for it can be outvoted there just as it can in Brussels. Likewise the WTO, NATO, the COP climate talks, the IMF, the World Bank, nuclear test ban treaties and accords on energy, water, maritime law and air traffic all require Britain to tolerate the sort of trade-offs that Eurosceptic out campaigners find distasteful: influence in exchange for irksome standardisation, laws and rules set mostly by foreigners not elected by Britons (regulations that Britain would not

apply, or would apply differently, if left to its own devices). Yet it submits to all of these knowing that, as with the EU, it is free to leave whenever it wants—but at a price not worth paying.

This is precisely why the two models for a Britain outside the EU often cited by Eurosceptics (including Mr Johnson), Norway and Switzerland, constitute such weak arguments for Brexit. Under the Johnson-Gove view, these countries are quite dramatically more "sovereign" than Britain. But in practice their economies and societies are so intertwined with those of their neighbours that they must subject themselves to rules over which they have no say. This exposes a false choice: in an increasingly interdependent world, countries must often opt not between pure sovereignty and the pooled sort, but—however distasteful the choice may seem—between the pooled sort and none."

I stress that having read the document I am impressed by the direction of travel that seeks to ensure that we get the best of both worlds: a two speed Europe for those who are fundamentally committed to a common market, as a base, and those who want a Europe which is fully integrated with one currency and one overall government. I believe the PM has opened clear water between these two things.

However, whilst not everything we would have liked has been secured from the negotiation I believe that no assessment of the direction of travel is possible without assessing it.

When he started the Prime Ministers negotiation had four objectives.

Objective 1: A 2 speed Europe with Protections for countries like ours which are in the single market, but not in the euro

Most EU members are fully into ever closer union, having joined the euro; and there is a danger that if the eurozone starts voting as a bloc Britain could find itself consistently out-voted.

The deal the Prime Minister negotiated prevents this. First, it permanently protects the pound. For the first time, the EU has explicitly acknowledged that it has more than one currency.

It also ensures that British taxpayers will never be made to bail out countries in the eurozone. 
And crucially it ensures that British business won’t face discrimination because of our decision not to join the euro - for example, our financial services firms couldn’t be told that they have to relocate to the eurozone if they want to trade in euros.

If any member state that is not a member of the eurozone believes that these rules are being broken, they can unilaterally activate an emergency safeguard to ensure that they are enforced.

Objective 2: putting job creation at the heart of Europe by making Europe more competitive so our economy can create more jobs

For the first time, competitiveness will be "an essential objective of the Union."

The EU will complete the single market in services. This will be a particular benefit to the UK because service companies make up two thirds of our economy.

The EU will also complete the single market in capital. This will mean UK start-ups will be able to access more sources of finance and it will also present new opportunities for the UK financial services industry.

And the EU will complete the single market in energy. This will allow more suppliers into the UK energy market, lowering bills.

In addition, the PM secured commitments that the EU will complete trade and investment agreements with the fastest growing and most dynamic economies around the world including the USA, Japan and China as well as our Commonwealth allies India, New Zealand and Australia. These deals could add billions of pounds and thousands of jobs to our economy every year.

And the Prime Minister also got the EU to introduce targets to cut the total burden of its regulation on business.

Objective 3: Reduce the very high level of migration from within the EU by preventing the abuse of free movement and stopping our welfare system acting as a magnet for people to come to our country

This is probably the objective that matters most to many of my constituents. The Prime Minister secured:

- new powers to stop criminals from other countries coming here in the first place and to deport them if they are already here;
- longer re-entry bans for fraudsters and people who collude in sham marriages;
- an end to the ridiculous situation where EU nationals can avoid British immigration rules when bringing their families from outside the EU;
- an end to EU migrants working in Britain sending Child Benefit at UK rates to their families back home. At first, this change will apply to new claimants, but from the start of 2020 it will also apply to existing claimants; and
- an emergency brake under which EU migrants will have to wait four years until they have full access to our benefits, finally putting to an end the situation where people can come to our country and get something for nothing.

Objective 4: Protect our country from further European political integration and increase powers for our national Parliament

Ever since we joined the EEC, it has been on the path to “ever closer union”. The Prime Minister has managed to get Britain out of it. The treaties will be changed to make clear that “the Treaty references to
ever closer union do not apply to the United Kingdom”.

A new red card mechanism will allow our Parliament to work with other national parliaments to block unwanted legislation from Brussels.

The EU will have to carry out an annual review of its powers to identify those which are no longer needed and should be returned to nation states.

And the deal makes it clear in international law that Britain's national security is the sole responsibility of the British Government - so, for instance, we will never be part of a European Army.

In addition to these changes, the Prime Minister announced that he will shortly be bringing forward further proposals that we can take unilaterally to strengthen the sovereignty of our institutions.

The Prime Minister believes that this deal gives us the best of both worlds.

In the run-up to the election, many people doubted that David Cameron would keep his word and hold a referendum. He’s proved the doubters wrong and now we all need to make our minds up.

It’s one of the biggest decisions we will face in our lifetimes. What kind of country do we want to live in and how much of a risk are we prepared to take?

I have thought long and hard over my decision. Some of the people who gave up hours of their spare time to get me elected want us to remain in the EU; others want us to leave. It’s difficult finding yourself at odds with people you normally agree with.

But I know how I am going to vote. Despite David Cameron’s best efforts, the EU will still be far from perfect. The world wouldn’t end if we left it. But I believe that we will be more prosperous, more secure and have more influence in the world if we remain in the EU.

More prosperous because we have full access to the single market. If we leave, we may well be able to negotiate access to the single market, but only if we pay and only if we obey the rules - rules we would no longer have a say in making. We will be in the parts of Europe that work for us - the single market that makes us more prosperous and the Europe-wide co-operation on crime and terrorism that makes us more secure. But we will be out of the parts of Europe that we want nothing to do with - the eurozone and its bailouts, the passport-free movement area, a European Army or an EU super-state.

He is therefore recommending that we remain in a reformed EU.

It’s interesting to see what the newspapers in other European countries make of it.  Most of them seem to think the Prime Minister got nearly everything he wanted - and some of them aren’t too happy about it.

It’s your decision

Ultimately, this isn’t a decision for politicians or newspapers. It's your decision. The people of this country will decide our future in our out of the EU - and rightly so.

I personally beleive we are more secure because close co-operation between EU members helps prevent terrorism, organised crime, human trafficking and cyber attacks. If we left, there’s no guarantee such co-operation would continue.

And more influence because when we agree 28 countries speaking as one are more likely to be listened to than Britain alone. All of our allies outside the EU, like the USA and The Commonwealth, want us to stay in.

We live in challenging times and leaving would be just too risky.

If you’re undecided, I’ll leave you with one final thought: look at the politicians on either side of the argument. The Prime Minister and all three of his surviving predecessors - John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown - believe we should remain in the EU. They do not do so lightly. This is a complex, globalised world, and I think we are right to conclude that being in the tent in a reformed EU with a direction of travel that allows us to be part of a 2 Speed Europe is the right way to go. I shall be voting In.

Westminster this week - busy in the commons but plenty happening outside the chamber

The House of Commons will see a variety of debates this week on the education and adoption bill, the welfare bill, backbench and opposition business, plus a statement by the PM and Q+A on the European agreement at 3.30 in the Commons. I will be on the front bench in the commons all week and have a series of meetings on education, buses, small business, and more. Owen, from Ponteland High School, is our work experience student this week. My plan is to be heading north on Thursday evening, as I have a very busy weekend including recording the Sunday Politics on the BBC, a question time with the pupils at The Royal Grammar School, a high schools meeting, and two days of booked surgeries and door knocking on Saturday and Sunday. Sunday afternoon I am going to the Tynedale Point to Point just outside Corbridge. Sadly not riding but watch his space!

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The EU Referendum will be on June 23 - details of the actual text of the agreement / PM statement below

Here is the full text of the agreement for constituents to judge for themselves:

The PM statement in full is here:
“Within the last hour I have negotiated a deal to give the UK special status in the European Union.

This deal has delivered on the commitments I made at the beginning of this renegotiation process.
Britain will be permanently out of ever closer union – never part of a European Superstate.
There will be tough new restrictions on access to our welfare system for EU migrants – no more something for nothing.
Britain will never join the Euro. And we have secured vital protections for our economy…
…and full say over the rules of the free trade single market while remaining outside of the Euro.
I believe it is enough for me to recommend that the United Kingdom remain in the European Union – having the best of both worlds.
We will be in the parts of Europe that work for us…
…influencing the decisions that affect us…
…in the driving seat of the world’s biggest market…
…and with the ability to take action to keep people safe.
And we will be out of the parts of Europe that don’t work for us.
Out of the open borders.
Out of the bailouts.
Out of the Euro.
And out of all those schemes in which Britain wants no part.
Let me set out the details of exactly what we have agreed and why.
I began this negotiation to address the concerns of the British people.
Today all 28 Member States have signed up to concrete reforms in each of the four areas I set out.
British jobs and British business all depend on being able to trade with Europe on a level playing field. So our first aim in these negotiations was to get new protections for countries like ours which are in the single market but not in the euro.
Let me take you through what we have secured.
We have permanently protected the pound and our right to keep it. For the first time, the EU has explicitly acknowledged it has more than one currency.
Responsibility for supervising the financial stability of the UK remains in the hands of the Bank of England, so we continue to keep our taxpayers and our savers safe.
We have ensured that British taxpayers will never be made to bail out countries in the Eurozone.
We have ensured that the UK’s economic interests are protected. We have made sure that the Eurozone cannot act as a bloc to undermine the integrity of the free trade single market.
And we have guaranteed British business will never face any discrimination for being outside the Eurozone.
For example, our financial services firms can never be forced to relocate inside the Eurozone if they want to trade in euros, just because they are based in the UK.
And not only are these rules set out in a legally-binding agreement…
…we have also agreed that should the UK, or another non-Euro Member State, fear these rules are being broken…they can activate an emergency safeguard, unilaterally, to ensure they are enforced.
Let me be clear, because there has been a big debate about this.
Britain will have the power to pull this lever on our own.
Our second aim in these negotiations was to make Europe more competitive, so we create jobs and make British families more financially secure.
We have secured a Declaration outlining a number of commitments in this area.

For the first time, the European Union will now say competitiveness is – and I quote – “an essential objective of the union.”
This is important because it goes to the very heart of what Europe should be about.
It means Europe will complete the Single Market in services.
This will make it easier for service-based companies including IT firms to trade in Europe.
Nowhere will this be more of an opportunity than in the UK where thousands of service companies make up two thirds of our economy.
It could add up to two per cent to our economy each year.
That’s a real improvement.
The European Union will also complete the Single Market in capital.
This will mean UK start-ups will be able to access more sources of finance for their businesses…
…and it will also present new opportunities for the UK financial services industry.
Europe will now also complete the Single Market in energy.
This will allow more suppliers into the UK energy market, lowering bills and increasing investment across the continent.
That’s a real improvement too.
In addition, we have secured commitments from Europe to complete trade and investment agreements with the fastest growing and most dynamic economies around the world…
…including the USA, Japan and China as well as our Commonwealth allies India, New Zealand and Australia.
These deals could add billions of pounds and thousands of jobs to our economy every year.
And because I know one of the biggest frustrations with Europe, especially for small businesses, is the red tape and bureaucracy…
…we have also got Europe to introduce targets to cut the total burden of EU regulation on business.
That means that, from now on, the cost of EU red tape will be going down, not up.
Our third aim in these negotiations was to reduce the very high level of migration from within the EU…
…by preventing the abuse of free movement and preventing our welfare system acting as a magnet for people to come to our country.
In this respect, we have secured the following:
New powers against criminals from other countries – including powers to stop them coming here in the first place, and powers to deport them if they are already here.
Longer re-entry bans for fraudsters and people who collude in sham marriages.
And an end to the ridiculous situation where EU nationals can avoid British immigration rules when bringing their families from outside the EU.
We have also secured a breakthrough agreement for Britain to reduce the unnatural draw that our benefits system exerts across Europe.
We have already made sure that EU migrants cannot claim the new unemployment benefit, Universal Credit, while looking for work.
And those coming from the EU who haven’t found work within six months can now be required to leave.
Today we have established a new emergency brake so that EU migrants will have to wait four years until they have full access to our benefits.
This finally puts an end to the idea that people can come to our country and get something for nothing.
The European Commission has said unambiguously that Britain already qualifies to use this mechanism.
And it won’t be some short term fix. Once activated this brake will be in place for a full seven years.
We have also agreed that EU migrants working in Britain can no longer send child benefit home at UK rates.
The changes will apply first to new claimants.
And, after intense negotiations, we have ensured that they also will apply to existing claimants, from the start of 2020.
I came here to end the practice of sending child benefit overseas at UK rates.
Both for current and future claimants.
And I’ve got them both.
Our fourth aim in these negotiations was to protect our country from further European political integration and increase powers for our national Parliament.
Ever since we joined, Europe has been on the path to something called Ever Closer Union.
It means a political union.
We’ve never liked it. We’ve never wanted it.
And today we have permanently carved Britain out of it, so that we can never be forced into political integration with the rest of Europe.
The text of the legally binding agreement sets out in full the UK’s position.
It says that the treaties will be changed to make clear – and I quote:
“…the Treaty references to ever closer union do not apply to the United Kingdom.”
Let me put this as simply as I can: Britain will never be part of a European superstate.
We have also put power back in the hands of Westminster and other national parliaments.
A new red card will mean that the UK Parliament can work with others to block unwanted legislation from Brussels.
And at long last we have an agreement that, wherever possible, powers should be returned to Member States…
…and we have a new mechanism to make this a reality.
Every year the EU now has to go through the powers they exercise and work out which are no longer needed and should be returned to nation states.
In recent years we have also seen attempts to bypass our opt-out on justice and home affairs by bringing forward legislation under a different label.
For example, attempts to interfere with the way the UK authorities handle fraud but under the guise of legislation on the EU budget.
With today’s new agreement we have made sure this can never happen again.
Likewise, we have established once and for all in international law that Britain’s national security is the sole responsibility of the British Government – so, for instance, we will never be part of a European Army.
These are significant reforms.
But I have always said that if we needed to go further to put Britain’s sovereignty beyond any doubt, then we would.
So in addition to these changes, I will shortly be bringing forward further proposals that we can take as country, unilaterally, to strengthen the sovereignty of Britain’s great institutions.
The reforms that we have secured today have been agreed by all 28 leaders.
And I thank them for their patience, for their good will, for their assistance, for all the work that we’ve done, not just in the last 48 hours, but in all the months since the election last year.
The changes will be legally binding in international law, and will be deposited at the UN.
They cannot be unpicked without the unanimous agreement of every EU country – and that includes Britain.
So when I said I wanted reforms that are legally binding and irreversible – that is what I’ve got.
And the Council was also clear that the Treaties will be changed in two vital respects.
To incorporate the new principles for managing the relationship between countries inside and outside the Eurozone…
…and to carve the UK out of Ever Closer Union.
I believe the changes we have secured as a country fulfil the objectives I set out in our manifesto at the last election.
And I think they do create a more flexible Europe…
…more of a “live and let live” arrangement that recognises one size does not fit all.
But of course, there is still more to do.
I am the first to say that there are still many ways in which this organisation needs to improve.
The task of reforming Europe does not end with today’s agreement.
Far from it. This is a milestone on a journey, not the end point.
And let’s be clear, there’s absolutely nothing in this agreement that stops further reform taking place.
For as long as we stay in the European Union, Britain will be in there driving forward the single market…
…bearing down on regulation, championing the cause of free trade and helping to ensure that the Europe remains open to the world and robust for instance in the face of Russian aggression.
But with this new agreement I believe the time has come for me to fulfil the promise I made when I stood for a second term as Prime Minister.
So tomorrow I will present this agreement to Cabinet.
And on Monday I will make a statement to Parliament…
…and commence the process set out under our EU Referendum Act…
…to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
The British people must now decide whether to stay in this reformed European Union or to leave.
This will be a once-in-a-generation moment to shape the destiny of our country.
There will be many passionate arguments made over the months ahead.
And this will not be a debate along party-political lines.
There will be people in my party – and in other parties – arguing on both sides.
And that is entirely right. This is an historic moment for Britain. And people must be free to reach their own conclusion.
And in the end this will not be a decision for politicians.
It will be a decision for the British people.
And we will all need to look at the facts and to ask searching questions of what either choice would really mean.
Simply being in Europe doesn’t solve our economic problems – far from it.
I have always been clear about that – just as I have always opposed Britain joining the Euro.
But turning our back on the EU is no solution at all.
And we should be suspicious of those who claim that leaving Europe is an automatic fast-track to a land of milk and honey.
We will all need to step back and consider carefully what is best for Britain, and best for our future.
Whatever the British public decide I will make work to the best of my abilities.
But let me tell you what I believe.
I do not love Brussels. I love Britain.
And my job – the job of the British Prime Minister – is doing all in my power to protect Britain’s interests.
So when it comes to Europe, mine is a hard-headed assessment of what is in our national interest.
We should never forget why this organisation came into being.
Seventy years ago our countries were fighting each other. Today we are talking.
And we should never take that cardinal achievement – peace and stability on the continent – for granted.
Even today our world is an uncertain place with threats to our security and existence coming from multiple quarters. This is a time to stick together; a time for strength in numbers.
Like many, I have had my doubts about the European Union as an organisation. I still do.
But just because an organisation is frustrating it does not mean that you should necessarily walk out of it, and certainly not without thinking very carefully through the consequences.
The question that matters for me as Prime Minister is what is best for my country.
How, as a country, are we stronger, safer and better off?
This is something I have given a huge amount of thought.
And now we have this new agreement, I do believe the answers lie inside a reformed European Union.
Let me explain why.
First, Britain will be stronger remaining in a reformed Europe than we would be out on our own…
…because we can play a leading role in one of the world’s largest organisations from within, helping us determine our future.
Yes there are frustrations and no, we don’t always get our way.
But time and again British leadership at the top table gets things done….
…whether it’s imposing sanctions on Russia and Iran, or tackling people smuggling in the Mediterranean.
Because the truth is this.
Throughout our history, our strength as a nation has come from looking beyond our shores and reaching out to the world.
And today the EU, like NATO and the UN, is a vital tool Britain can use to boost our nation’s power in the world and multiply our ability to advance Britain’s interests…
…to protect our people, sell our goods and services…
…generate jobs and a rising our people’s standard of living.
Britain has always raised her eyes to the horizon and today we are energetically seeking new markets in India and China – from South East Asia to Latin America – in the finest go-getting traditions of our nation.
But that is not a substitute for doing the same right next door to us – on the continent of Europe.
We can, and should, have the best of both worlds.
That is one reason why our closest friends outside Europe – from Australia to New Zealand, the US to Canada – want us to stay in the EU. We should listen to them.
People who want us to leave would take us out of this position of influence…
…and they can’t tell you what that would mean for Britain’s ability to advance our interests.
Second, I profoundly believe the British people will be safer remaining in a reformed Europe than we would be out on our own.
Let me tell you why.
We will always depend on NATO as the bedrock of our nation’s defence.
But today we face a myriad of threats to our security, from terrorism to organised crime, from human trafficking to cyber attacks.
We defeat these threats by working together, by the closest possible co-operation between countries, especially with our closest neighbours in Europe.
Let me give you one example from the way we share information.
When terrorists tried to bomb London for the second time in 2005…
…one of the culprits fled to mainland Europe.
Because of the European Arrest Warrant we could bring him back in a few weeks.
Previously that could have taken years.
So when I say we are safer, I really mean it. By contrast, those who want to leave can’t tell you whether and how this co-operation would continue…
…or how long it would take to attempt to replicate these arrangements with each European country one by one.
Third, Britain will be better off remaining in a reformed Europe than we would be out on our own…
….because British businesses will have full access to the free trade single market of 500 million people.
This brings jobs, investment, lower prices and financial security to our country.
Those who want to leave can’t tell you if we would still have access to this free trade single market, or on what terms.
They can’t tell you how long it would take to get a new agreement with 27 countries.
That could mean years of uncertainty for our economy – for our children’s future.
And let’s be clear: if we were to leave, it’s not in Europe’s interests to give us all the benefits of membership without any of the responsibilities.
Look at Norway and Switzerland.
Neither have as much as access to the single market. And neither have any say over its rules.
And yet they both still have to pay into the EU budget.
And they both have to accept migration from within the EU.
Of course, as I have said, the EU isn’t perfect.
There is a need for further and continuing reform.
But the UK is best placed to do that from the inside.
Our plan for Europe gives us the best of both worlds.
It underlines our special status through which we will be in the parts of Europe that work for us…
… keeping full access to the EU’s free-trade ‘single market’, which makes us better off…
…and the Europe-wide co-operation on crime and terrorism that makes us more secure.
But we will be out of the parts of Europe that don’t work for us.
We will never join the Euro.
And we will never be part of Eurozone bailouts, the passport-free area, the European Army or an EU super-state.
As I have said, I’m not saying that Britain couldn’t survive outside Europe.
But after nearly six long years of difficult decisions and hard work by the British people, our economy has turned a corner.
In an uncertain world, is this really the time to add a new huge risk to our national and economic security?
I do not believe that is right for Britain.
I believe we are stronger, safer and better off inside this reformed European Union.
And that is why I will be campaigning with all my heart and soul to persuade the British people to remain in the reformed European Union that we have secured today.”

Have your say on the future of transport in the North East - NECA consultation

The North East Combined Authority (NECA) has begun a consultation on a 20-year ‘Transport Manifesto’. The consultation will look at every aspect of Transport across the region. It will also crucially, help to empower this part of the North East and reinforce its position of being a national and international economic force.
People rightly demand a transport system that works for them, that is reliable, easy to use, and affordable. Now is your chance to ensure you have a say over how we move forward.

The manifesto team want to hear your thoughts and suggestions on potential developments. I strongly encourage everyone to have your say, on this once-in-a-life-time development. You can complete a questionnaire online through the NECA website: or call 01912771156 to have a paper copy posted out to you.
The closing date for responses is Friday 8th April 2016.

Friday, 19 February 2016

To kill a Mockingbird shaped my life: Harper Lee's death a very sad day

There are few novels that compare to To kill a Mockingbird. I read it and it inspired me to be a criminal defence lawyer. Atticus Finch is the man we all would like to be. His daughter Scout is one of the great commentators of literature as she describes everything from race to injustice, parenthood to tolerance. V sad at the passing of Harper Lee, the author.
The book is the one I continue to give as presents to friends, staff and young people as a gift. It is tough to pick out quotes from an iconic novel but try these for size:

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what."
- Atticus Finch

"We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe- some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they're born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others- some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of men.

But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal- there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court."

Come and visit Westminster / get Commons work experience

Every month we welcome at least one student intern to help out in the House of Commons office. They get the experience of a busy Westminster office answering 100s of emails, letters and phone calls a day, with a very small but dedicated team, and the chance to get to know the mother of parliaments. This week we welcomed Molly Hall for a couple of days work experience. Next week fellow Ponteland High School student Owen Stratford is coming down. As always, if any constituent wants to come and see what we do on your behalf, get work experience and get the chance to get a better understanding of parliament, and the role of an MP, then please email in. Alternatively we provide and organise tours of parliament. If we have the space and can look after you we will try and help. So far in the last 5 and 3/4 years we have had over 100 Northumberland students do work experience, some in Northumberland some in Westminster. Everyone gets our thanks, an understanding of what we do, hopefully some real work experience and a copy of my book on prison reform - and amazingly not every copy has sold out! Simply put, Parliament belongs to everyone.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

School Councils – come + be recognised for the positive change you deliver

I want to encourage all school councils, who have done, or are currently doing projects that make a difference to their communities, to enter The Speaker’s School Council Awards.

The Speaker’s School Council Awards is an initiative run by the Parliamentary Education Service, which provides an opportunity to recognise, and celebrate the achievements of school councils around the UK. Specifically, the focus in on projects that bring about positive change in schools or the community.

The initiative is open to every infant, primary and secondary school, sixth-form college, and SEN school, and the winning projects are chosen in four age categories (4-7, 8-11, 11-16, 17-19). Every school that enters receives a web badge in recognition of their achievements, and the winners are invited to the Houses of Parliament for a prize giving ceremony in Speaker’s House.

In addition to the main competition, this year schools can also submit blog pieces, ‘top tips’, and images for the website that illustrate what can be achieved when young people work together, and the huge contribution school councils make.

The competition has received over a thousand entries in the past six years, with projects varying from work with the elderly, tackling cyber-bullying, disability and mental health issues, sustainability initiatives, and many more.

So many of our schools have produced really excellent projects, which have greatly impacted their communities and the schools themselves.  Now is a great time to share the great work you have been doing, and continue to do.

For more information, please visit the website:

Monday, 15 February 2016

Assange is not being detained and the UN is losing credibility

Go to the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London and you will not see a ring of steel, or dozens of police. Why? Because Julian Assange is free to leave the building. As the embassy is Ecuadorian property the UK police will not enter. Assange is hiding. He is detaining himself. The UN decision is both legally flawed and a serious undermining of its credibility as an international organisation. When did it get so disconnected from reality? The UN panel is a troika from Benin, South Kirea and Mexico. They are manifestly wrong. I practiced criminal law, human rights law and several extradition cases. This UN panel are legally and factually wrong. They have zero credibility and are undermining what the UN stands for.
Assange is wanted in Sweden to face a rape allegation. If he believes so much in freedom and democracy why is he hiding in an embassy of a country he has no real link to and not facing the music and clearing his name? He is detaining himself and anyone who suggests otherwise is detached from the legal and factual reality.
The Foreign Secretary's view and the background to this story is well expressed here:

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Update on Aid support for Syria following last weeks conference

Last week the International Development Secretary Justine Greening updated the House on the London Syria Conference and the UK’s response to the Syria crisis. She delivered extremely important news, which I have broken down below, although I would encourage everyone to read the full statement found here:

The Syrian conflict has created untold misery for the Syrian people, at the hands of the Assad regime and Daesh. There are 13.5 million people in desperate need, and 4.6 million refugees.

Our efforts, to help Syrians in Syria, refugees, and to defeat Daesh, are having a real impact. However, we must remain focused on ensuring political discussions between the key parties restart in order to create a lasting solution for the region.

On a humanitarian level, our efforts have doubled. On Thursday 4th February the UK brought together over 60 countries and organisations including 33 heads of state and Governments. Countries, donors and businesses all stepped up and raised new funds for this crisis to the amount of over £7.7 billion. This included £4 billion for 2016 and another £3.6 billion for 2017-2020. This was the largest ever amount committed in response to a humanitarian crisis in a single day. More has been raised in the first five weeks of this year for the Syria crisis than in the whole of 2015. The UK, once again, played our part. We announced that we would be doubling our commitment – increasing our total pledge to Syria and the region to over £2.3 billion.

Politically the UK continues to call on all sides to take steps to create the conditions for peace negotiations to continue. In particular Russia must use its influence over the Syrian regime to put a stop to indiscriminate attacks and unacceptable violations of international law.

Militarily, the Global Coalition, working with partner forces, has put further pressure on Daesh. Iraqi forces, with Coalition support, have retaken large portions of Ramadi. In Syria, the Coalition has supported the capture of the Tishreen Dam and surrounding villages as well as areas south of al-Hawl. As of 5th February, RAF Typhoon, Tornado and Reaper aircraft have flown over 2,000 combat missions and carried out more than 585 successful strikes across Syria and Iraq.

The UK has been in the vanguard of efforts, to solve the Syrian crisis, but we can always do more. It is crucial that we secure a political solution to the conflict, without which it will be almost impossible to establish a stable, and secure future for the region.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Corbridge open for business with pop up market tomorrow 10-2

The Guardian miss the point about voter registraion - it is common sense and there to combat fraud

A couple of Mondays ago the Guardian features this headline:
"Figures compiled by Labour find register has shrunk dramatically in areas with high student population"
As one columnist puts it in rebuttal of this bizarre argument.
"The students referred to in the Guardian report have not had their vote taken away. They are simply now being asked, under the individual electoral registration system, to spend three minutes online to personally register to vote."
This is being done to combat voter fraud. The new voter registration rules came into force last December, ending the out-dated system whereby the (often self-appointed) head of a household registered all eligible voters at a particular address. This was wide open to abuse, error and fraud so now every voter has to register themselves individually, which includes students who have moved into halls of residence at university. It is easy to do. The Guardian have nothing to complain about - in fact they should be applauding the end of the old abuses. The full commentary on why this is a good thing is here:

Thursday, 11 February 2016

I would strongly urge local Hexham businesses to vote for the Hexham BID Project - key financial and other support for the town

I am backing the Hexham BID Project = an exciting government backed initiative to promote, expand and enhance the business opportunities in the Town. But we need Hexham businesses to get involved. Full details are found here and set out in more details below:

1. Marketing and Promotion - To market and promote Hexham as a centre for retail, leisure and tourism, including better use of digital and mobile technologies, and extending cultural activities, festivals and events. To include comprehensive and coordinated marketing, promotion and events campaigns for the town and support for the development of a Hexham Loyalty scheme.
2. Town Pride - To take pride in Hexham by building on its fantastic heritage and creating a more attractive town for workers residents and visitors. This would be delivered through improvement works designed to raise standards of appearance, accessibility, cleanliness and security throughout the town and will include action aimed at improving signage and linkages within the town.
3. Business Investment - To invest in people and businesses to enable Hexham to build upon its reputation for high quality services and goods. To deliver high quality customer services and an effective network across the town. This will include a series of initiatives to achieve business excellence, better business networking and deliver cost savings for individual businesses linking into the Hexham Business Forum and Tynedale Business Network. Work will be undertaken to build upon the two newly created Enterprise Hubs operating in the town and the benefits that could be accrued in attracting and supporting new and existing businesses.
4. Vibrant Markets – To invest in and build upon the Hexham Markets as an excellent way of bringing people into the town, and enabling new traders to test out their idea before committing to permanent facilities. This may include the purchase of new stalls and equipment and is linked to the Business Investment and Marketing and Promotion themes.
The BID will only deliver additional projects and services. The BID will not duplicate or replace services provided by public bodies but will, in particular, work with Northumberland County Council, Hexham Town Council, Northumbria Police and other relevant service providers to ensure their continued delivery of high quality services.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Digital Skills for the Northern Powerhouse - Code is key to the future of IT business in the North

Tomorrow the Code Academy is launching at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead. This is a very encouraging step by industry, helping to fill the digital skills gap, and complements the work being done by Local Enterprise Partnerships, and the Government.

These are the skills we need in the North East for the future. Already a leading technology centre, the North East is well placed to push on to become a real centre of excellence, as part of the wider Northern Powerhouse. Only last month, GP Bullhound, one of Europe’s largest technology investment banks, came out in emphatic support of the technology industry in the North East, publishing a list of nine companies with the potential to become $1 billion businesses. The region already has a turnover of £1.7 billion, across 199 different technology firms. 

Moving forward, it is vital that we maintain and build on this success, and it is with schemes, like the Code Academy, that we can ensure that the skills of the future stay in the North East.

The Trident debate + what use / or not you make of the submarines is the debate occupying the Labour Party party now in Westminster

Having the expensive submarines without the missiles [The Corbyn Approach] seems to be the one course of action that no one else in the Labour party thinks is a good idea. Except Emily Thornberry, their defence spokesman.
Whatever your views on Trident as a defence mechanism the one thing everyone seems to agree upon is that you either have the missile system and believe in deterrence, or you do not have the missile system and do not believe in deterrence. Yet there is a difference on so many things between leadership, Labour party policy, and the views of the MPs and membership.

This from Jamie Reed Labour MP in this weeks Spectator:
"These are wild times in the Labour party, as an appetite for self-destruction grips the party leadership. Central to the ‘new politics’ approach of the party leadership is a deliberate abandonment of basic political professionalism. Positions don’t have to make sense, policies don’t need to be thought through, the political concerns of the public can be dismissed and the media should be hated at all times and ignored wherever possible.
This new approach represents an orgiastic embrace of the chaos theory: anything goes and no one is to blame. To understand this approach is to understand the Labour leadership and it is through this peculiar prism that the internal Labour debate about Trident should be seen.
Trident renewal is Labour party policy; it is the settled will of the country, and every decision relating to it will have been taken by 2020. Renewal is morally right, strategically justified and overwhelmingly in the national interest.
Creating our independent nuclear deterrent and our civil nuclear industry should be a source of immense pride for Labour. We should take great pride in being the standard bearers for one of Attlee’s most important legacies."

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Great visit to Highfield Middle School in Prudhoe last week - good Q+A with Year 8

The Head of Citizenship at Highfield Middle School, Prudhoe, Carly Nichol invited me in to talk to the year 8's about parliament, how it works and what it is like to be an MP.
I was delayed by a flood meeting that overran, but had a great time explaining the job and taking questions from the students. 
The questions and general discussion ranged from: 
- what got you first involved with politics
- why did you become an MP
- what did you do before
- how do you spend your time as an MP
- what are your priorities
- do you enjoy the job
- and various substantive questions on Europe, schools and policy issues

These are all fairly standard, albeit perfectly legitimate questions, but my favourite question was from a libertarian who asked are you in favour of more laws or are fewer laws better? And the children really enjoyed the tales of going to Buckingham Palace, nearly getting into trouble for taking pictures there and tales of how amazing, but really quite short, the Queen is. My thanks to the school and all the children. 

Monday, 8 February 2016

Great news PM focusing on prison reform: putting governors in charge, reforming education and ranking our prisons

I have long campaigned on prison reform and am really proud our PM is taking up the cause.
Explaining the need for reform in what No 10 is describing as the first speech from a prime minister focusing solely on prisons since John Major in the 1990s, Cameron will say: “The failure of our system today is scandalous.”
“Forty-six per cent of all prisoners will reoffend within a year of release; 60% of short-sentenced prisoners will reoffend within the same period. And current levels of prison violence, drug taking and self-harm should shame us all.
“In a typical week, there will be almost 600 incidents of self-harm; at least one suicide; and 350 assaults, including 90 on staff. This failure really matters.”
He will argue that reoffending costs the country up to £13bn a year. But Cameron will also make a moral case for a renewed focus on cutting reoffending through education and rehabilitation, saying that for too long governments have adopted an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to prisons.
“When I say we will tackle our deepest social problems and extend life chances, I want there to be no no-go areas. And that includes the 121 prisons in our country, where our social problems are most acute and people’s life chances are most absent,” he will say.
Even the Guardian approves:
If you want to read more my book on prison reform, Doing Time, is still available in all good book shops.