Saturday, 28 December 2019

Funding boost to record Vindolanda's Roman past

Northumberland is home to some historical treasures, and there are few more remarkable than Vindolanda. The Roman fort is still an important site for excavation today, and thanks to this work we are able to learn more and more about Vindolanda‘s past. The Vindolanda Trust has recently received the brilliant news that it is to receive £83,000 in funding by the Arts Council England for its Digitising Vindolanda’s Wooden Collection project. This funding has been awarded as part of the Arts Council’s £200,000 investment in North East museums and libraries. Vindolanda will be able to record and catalogue its Roman wooden collection thanks to this funding. Great news for one of our region’s most important historical sites.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Last Hexham Farmers' Market before Christmas!

Hexham is the place to be this morning; it's Farmers' Market day, and farmers and producers will be coming from all over Northumberland to sell locally grown and produced products. The Market takes place from 9am-1.30pm at Hexham Market Place, and with an incredible variety of local products for sale, it is the perfect opportunity for some last minute Christmas shopping!

The Hexham Farmers' Market takes place on the second and fourth Saturday of the month and is a fantastic way to show your support for our producers and the local economy. It's also a great chance to talk to the producers about how they farm and make their products- a chance not to be missed!

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Well done Essity - recognised for outstanding training and skills development!

I was delighted to welcome the team from Essity Mill in Prudhoe to Parliament recently to celebrate their success in being recognised in the Princess Royal Training Awards.

The team from the Mill, including Essity's site manager and UK manufacturing director Tony Richards, apprentice leader Ian Callender and Luke Atkinson, one of the top apprentices, were in London to receive their award from Princess Anne at St James' Palace. Later in the day they visited Parliament to meet with me, celebrate their success, and discuss how they can continue to make a real difference in Prudhoe.

Essity Mill is Prudhoe's largest employer and the second biggest manufacturer in all of Northumberland. The firm supports dozens of local charities and schools through donations, and is a great supporter of grassroots sports. Essity also stepped in to save the public toilets in Prudhoe Town Centre from closure with a generous donation for refurbishment, and provide free toilet roll on an ongoing basis!

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Looking forward to the 2019 General Election!

As your local Member of Parliament, I have worked hard to deliver improvements to our local area. From fighting to rebuild our local schools, to leading the campaign to protect our greenbelt.

Make no mistake, this coming election will be close. I know that at election time politicians are meant to make endless promises and pledges. However, I will make just one to you. That's the same promise I have made every time you have elected me as your MP. I will do everything I can to work hard on the issues you have told me matter the most:

My local plan for Tynedale and Ponteland

  1. Our Jobs
  2. Our Schools
  3. Our NHS
  4. Our Greenbelt
  5. Our Environment
  6. Our Police
Meeting with Egger, Tynedale's largest local employer.

I know that I won't win every battle. But, as our local record shows, when we stick together, we can change our area for the better.

Every year, I host my annual Tynedale Jobs Fair to help get local people into jobs and training. This year’s event – held just over two weeks ago – was bigger and better than ever before. More than 70 employers attended, including top local employers like Egger, Essity and Marks and Spencer.

Unemployment has fallen by almost 50% since Labour were last in power. But there is always more to do, and that’s why I’ll continue to host my Jobs Fair annually if I am re-elected on December 12th.

Next year, Queen Elizabeth High School will
receive at least £5,000 per pupil.
Our campaign to improve our local schools has been a success. I led the campaign locally and in Westminster to deliver a new national funding formula for our schools.

Next year, the average school in Tynedale and Ponteland will see their funding rise by more 10%, with many small rural schools benefiting from a more than 25% increase in funding.

Schools will receive a minimum of £4,000 for every primary school aged pupil, and £5,000 for every secondary school aged pupil.

Prudhoe Community High School was completely
rebuilt, and is now officially a good school.

Our local schools are also undergoing significant refurbishment and improvement. Work is already well underway on the £45m new Ponteland School and Leisure Complex, which will open next year. Queen Elizabeth High School and Hexham Middle School are being completely rebuilt, Haydon Bridge High School is undergoing a £4.5m refurbishment, and more than £2m is being spent on education in Haltwhistle. After a long campaign, Prudhoe Community High School was completely rebuilt and re-opened in 2016.
It is now officially a good school, with outstanding teachers and great pupils.

Watch my video from my recent visit to the site of the new Ponteland Schools Complex

I led the campaign in Ponteland over many years against Labour's plans to destroy our precious greenbelt with thousands of new houses. As a community, we have always said that we are not against house building, but it must be sustainable and organic growth in our communities, not simply huge housing developments lumped alongside existing communities. 

Campaigning with local residents against 
Labour's plans to destroy our greenbelt

Thankfully, these plans were scrapped by the new Conservative-run County Council following elections in 2017. However, the fight to protect our green open spaces is not yet over. Labour-run Newcastle City Council want to build thousands of new houses on the green lungs that divide Newcastle and Ponteland. In fact, just recently, plans were approved for 1,200 new homes in the north of Newcastle. As these new houses get closer and closer to Ponteland, I am particularly concerned about how this will encroach on our greenbelt, destroy our precious wildlife, and increase pressure on our roads, schools and local NHS services. 

Find out why protecting our precious green lung is so important to me

Protecting our environment is very important to me. That's why I have been campaigning against plans for a new opencast coal mine at Dewley Hill. Over 250 acres of green open space could be lost to the new coal mine, at a time when Britain is rightly headed towards a coal-free economy to tackle climate change. 

Thankfully, these plans have been put on the back-burner unless Banks Group are able to prove their environmental credentials and explain how they will prevent noise nuisance, the loss of animal habitats, harm to the green spaces and increased pollution, but I will continue to make the case for a cleaner, greener energy future. You can read more about our campaign by clicking here.  We have made great progress in tackling Climate Change since 2010, and the UK has cut net emissions by 25% over the past nine years. Click here to find out more.

I won't be making attacks on my Labour opponent. This election is about the issues that matter to all of us. I know that many residents are concerned about crime and anti-social behaviour, particularly in our rural communities. That's why I am campaigning to make sure we get our fair share of new police officers in Northumberland to keep our streets save. 

I will continue to fight for greater funding for our local NHS. The NHS is now better funded than it has ever been thanks to an extra £20bn boost.

My first political experience was fighting to save the hospital that saved my mother's life from cancer. When I was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2011, it was only thanks to the incredible care I received from our NHS doctors and nurses that I am here today. The debt I owe our NHS will remain with me forever. 

I will always fight to ensure as many NHS services as possible are delivered locally at our fantastic local hospitals. Our hospitals now offer more than 40 different services to local residents, and last year, the hospital treated more than 80,000 patients, including more than 2,000 cancer patients and almost 14,000 people in urgent care. 

Recently, I have been fighting to ensure Northumberland County Council has the money it needs to fix our roads and potholes. Last year, our Council filled more potholes than anywhere else in the country - but there is always more to do. When Barclays threatened to remove access to cash from our Post Offices, I met with Barclays and persuaded them to change their mind and support our local Post Offices, which are so vital to local residents. You can see coverage in the Hexham Courant of our successful Barclays campaign by clicking here. 

I love elections, and I am looking forward to chatting to residents across Northumberland about their priorities for the future. 

At this difficult time for our country, I believe it is more important than ever that we stick together locally. It will be my name on the ballot paper at this election. If you think I have done a good job as your local MP, I hope I can count on your support. 

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Keeping your animals safe this Bonfire Night

Bonfire Night is just around the corner, and while there are lots of fantastic fireworks displays planned around the constituency in the coming days, it is important to bear in mind the damaging impact such displays can have on pets, livestock and wildlife.

Every year the RSPCA receives hundred of calls from concerned animal lovers about the effect of fireworks on animals’ health. This year they have produced a list of ways you can help to reduce the chances of fireworks frightening your pets and animals. It is advised that you go to an organised firework event, rather than holding your own celebration, as this will reduce the overall number of displays taking place. However if you do want to hold your own celebration please do only let off fireworks on the traditional dates and let your neighbours know in advance. You can also buy low-noise fireworks to reduce the fear and stress caused to animals. 

To find out more about fireworks and animal safety visit here:

Monday, 28 October 2019

Championing our veterans

I welcome the news that the Government has created a new Office for Veterans’ Affairs, delivering on a promise made by the Prime Minister during his first week in office. Veterans have offered to make the ultimate sacrifice in defence of our country, so it is only right that the Government carries out its moral duty to provide veterans and their families with the best possible support after they leave service. The Office for Veterans’ Affairs will aim to make the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran by championing our ex-servicemen and women and their outstanding contribution to our economy and society. The Government has also announced £5 million in funding to staff and resource the new Office. 

I am delighted that we now have an Office in government to promote our outstanding ex-servicemen and women and I am confident that the new Office will provide our veterans with the support they need after they leave service.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Blogging for the Bank of England- get your school involved!

The Bank of England is looking for secondary schools and colleges from the Hexham constituency to take part in its annual school blog competition, run in conjunction with the Financial Times.

School and college students aged between 16-19 are invited to blog on the topic of 'the economy and climate change'. The Bank of England says:

"We’re concerned about climate change.   Its impact is already visible: glaciers are shrinking, sea levels rising and heatwaves are intensifying.  And a threat to the environment is also a threat to the economy. Climate change, and society’s response to it, presents risks that could impact our monetary and financial stability objectives.  Financial and economic risks can arise from events such as floods and droughts, e.g. insurance firms facing higher claims.  Such risks can also arise in the transition to a low-carbon economy, like changes in government policy and technology." 

Students are asked to explain, in no more than 500 words, what could be done to reduce these risks, taking into account the roles played by government, companies, regulators and investors, and backing up their arguments with sound reasoning and relevant data.

The winning blogs will be published on Bank Underground and the FT online. The deadline for entries is Friday 31st January 2020.

Friday, 25 October 2019

Christmas is coming to Brocksbushes!

With just two months to go until Christmas (!), there are lots of great pre-Christmas Fayres coming up soon. I really recommend the Brocksbushes Christmas Fayre which is taking place in a few weeks time. The Fayre, which is always very popular, has three huge marquees full of wonderful gifts, food and wines for Christmas, and with free entry and parking it is definitely not to be missed!

The Brocksbushes Christmas Fayre takes place from 7th-10th November from 10am-4.30pm. It's a fantastic opportunity to start getting ready for the Christmas season so don't miss out!

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Get your winter flu jab now!

Winter is fast approaching, which means now is the perfect time to get your flu vaccination if you fall into one of the vulnerable groups. If you are aged over 65, a pregnant woman or have an underlying health condition or weakened immune system, I would encourage you to arrange to get the vaccine at your local GP surgery. I am immuno compromised myself and get the vaccination every year- make sure you do too!

You can find out more about the flu jab via the NHS here:

Monday, 21 October 2019

Crafts and Beauty in Hexham Abbey

Every Tuesday Hexham Abbey hosts its Craft and Beauty Fair in the cloisters porch. The Fair brings together local makers and traders from all around our local area to showcase and sell their hand-made products. Running from 9.30am-1.30pm, the next Fair takes place tomorrow, but the weekly event is on every Tuesday so next time you're in Hexham make sure to pay a visit!

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Funding opportunity for local community groups

If you are part of a community group that is looking for funding to improve places and facilities in your local area then the National Lottery Community Fund could be able to help!

The National Lottery Community Fund last year awarded over £500 million to more than 12,000 projects that matter and make a difference to the lives of people in communities across the UK. The funding programme is open all year round and is open to groups and organisations of all sizes. 

To find out more about the National Lottery Community Fund’s funding opportunities and how they could help improve your local community group, visit here: 

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

My thoughts on the end of Barclays withdrawals from the Post Office

When Barclays closed many of their branches - particularly in rural areas - they made a promise that customers would be able to withdraw money from any Post Office. 

This week they announced that they are ending the ability for customers to access free cash from the Post Office. This is simply not acceptable, and I am extremely concerned about the impact this will have on our rural communities.

I met with Kate from the Bellingham Post Office to sign her petition, as well as Eileen from Kirkwhelpington Post Office, and both expressed their concerns about what this will mean for our rural communities.

I will be meeting with Barclays in London to protest this decision, and many of my MP colleagues across the country will be doing the same.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

The 10th Kielder Marathon

I would like to wish good luck to everyone in tomorrow's Kielder Marathon. This year's event is extra special as it marks the 10th anniversary of the first Kielder Marathon, known as Britain's most beautiful marathon. Hopefully the weather doesn't let Kielder down!

Friday, 11 October 2019

A massive boost for our local schools

Campaigning for Fairer School Funding in Bywell

Every school across Tynedale and Ponteland will see their government funding increase next year as a result of today's massive funding boost announcement by the Prime Minister. 

Levelled up education funding means per pupil funding at Queen Elizabeth High School will top more than £5,000 next year. 
This has only been possible as a result of a long campaign which has been supported by fantastic local headteachers such as Graeme Atkins. I recently met with Graham at the consultation on Queen Elizabeth High School's new building to see their exciting plans for the future. 

With Graeme Atkins, Headteacher of Queen Elizabeth High School and Cllr Cath Homer, Hexham East

The funding boost is part of a massive investment in our schools locally which means that by 2021, every high school across Tynedale and Ponteland will have been rebuilt or refurbished.

·      Work is already well underway on the new £45m Ponteland Schools and Leisure Complex, which is set to open next year. 

·      £4.5m is being invested to upgrade Haydon Bridge High School, which will see two new multi-use games areas, a new vocational centre, and a total redesign of the front of the school, which is due to be completed at the end of the year. 

·      Prudhoe Community High School’s brand new building was opened in 2016. It is now officially a good school with outstanding teachers and great pupils.

·      Queen Elizabeth High School is set to get a brand new, state of the art building as part of a £36.1m investment, due to be completed in 2021. 

This new funding will make a massive difference to our fantastic local schools

Thursday, 10 October 2019

World Mental Health Day

Every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide.

Today is World Mental Health Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of mental health issues and overcoming social stigma. The theme of this year's event is suicide and suicide prevention; suicide is the leading cause of death among young people aged 20-34 in the UK. Schools, workplaces and organisations are being encouraged to raise understanding of mental health and wellbeing to ensure that those who need it most receive the support they need.

World Mental Health Day is a timely reminder to us all to take time to talk to and confide in those we trust most, so this World Mental Health Day, why not take a few minutes to sit down with a cup of tea and share what's on your mind with a friend, colleague or family member? Or take a moment to ask someone how they are today? It could make the world of difference.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Get Set for the Parkrun!

Back in 2016 I cut the ribbon and ran in the very first Prudhoe Riverside Parkrun. The run takes place every Saturday at 9am and is a timed 5km run for runners of all abilities. Organised entirely by volunteers, the run is free but you must register online first. There is now also a Parkrun in Hexham which starts at Tyne Green. 

If you haven’t yet taken part in one of our local Parkruns I really do recommend it; it will change your life, your fitness and so much more. Thank you also to our local Parkrun organisers. Why not give a Parkrun a try this Saturday? Find out more about how you can get involved here:

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Cast your vote at the Rural Oscars!

Nominations are now open for the 2020 Countryside Alliance Awards! 

You can nominate businesses in seven different categories- Local Food/Drink, Village Shop/Post Office, Butcher, Rural Enterprise, Pub, Game Champion and the Clarissa Dickson Wright Award. Nominations close on 8th December.

If you would like to recognise a special rural business in your local area, from your favourite village pub to your local community's post office, then why not fly the flag for Northumberland and nominate them for a Countryside Alliance Award? 

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Landscapes review: making our National Parks greener

In May 2018 the Government asked an independent team to carry out a Landscapes Review to make our National Parks and AONBs greener, more beautiful and places that are there for everyone. It is a detailed and outstanding review, and has a real impact on Northumberland. It is well worth a read by visiting the link below.

Monday, 30 September 2019

A Hexham institution

It was great to visit Hexham Community Centre and see first-hand the progress that is being made, as well as hearing all about its exciting plans for the future. There are six organisations permanently based in the Community Centre, as well as regular clubs and activities which take place there. I regularly hold events and surgeries at the Centre and would urge local groups to support this Hexham institution too.

Friday, 27 September 2019

Support your local farmers!

It is Market Day in Hexham tomorrow- from 9am-1.30pm Hexham Market Place will be jam-packed with local farmers and producers from all over Northumberland with products using a high percentage of locally produced ingredients for sale.

The Hexham Farmers' Market takes place on the second and fourth Saturday of the month and is a fantastic way to show your support for our producers and the local economy. It's also the perfect opportunity to talk to the producers about how they farm and make their products- a chance not to be missed!

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Law, language, the Supreme Court, the evolution of Judicial Review, Attorney Generals’ advice and still seeking a deal on Brexit

In this blog I will try and set out the basis of legal advice, based upon my own experience, the legal basis for the Attorney General’s advice, the evolution of Judicial Review, Prorogation, the Supreme Court litigation and decision, the way ahead for Brexit, and the need for Parliament to deliver on the 2016 referendum result. As always in a twitter, instant media age, everyone wants instant reactions. I disagree. I really try to read the judgments, listen to the debates and give detailed assessments. This is not always possible, but this blog has been 2 days in the writing. It is long and will not cover everything but is an attempt to explain certain things, notably an acceptance and an understanding of the recent Supreme Court decision, following legitimate questions by constituents, media and colleagues in the House of Commons. 
This has to change – whether it is in a political arena, by a football pitch or on social media, where normal human beings become something very different. Many of my MP friends have abandoned social media. I continue but never read notifications as the bile is off the charts. But we have to keep going – and keep trying to make a respectful robust but civilised case. At all times I, and the government, respect the decision of the courts, and accept the judgment of the Supreme Court. However, everyone seriously needs to moderate their language, and tone. There are no exceptions:

-          people or newspapers attacking judges or civil servants, 
-          John McDonnell’s lynching comment concerning Esther Mcvey, 
-          people using language like a coup to incite violence 
-          liberals talking about decapitation of individuals 
-          and party leaders forgetting that tone matters 
-      Clearly some Conservatives have used inappropriate and inflammatory language just as others have. It helps no one. There are no exceptions to this. I deprecate it all.   
-          Every MP I know requires police protection in some shape or form. I am no different to that, but clearly the female labour MPs, and particularly the Jewish ones, get it worst of all. 
The nature of advice before action:
I made my living for 20 years as a barrister. Often, I was asked to give advice to government, or other arms of the state, on prospects of success in a case, or in respect of a course of action. On other occasions I was fighting government in the pursuit of individuals rights, freedom or entitlements.
In the field of criminal law I did over 200 trials and was a prosecutor often advising the state on prospects of success in criminal cases. Some we won. Some we lost. That is the nature of being a prosecutor, and criminal trials. I also defended hundreds of people accused by the state on good grounds [according to a prosecutor and the police] – and successfully won many cases on legal aid to ensure my clients freedom. 
Similarly, I did a significant amount of judicial review and public law cases. In both instances' counsel is asked to advise on prospects of success.
The test is never 100% certainty as a lawyer in any situation. The test in crime before prosecution is on the balance of probabilities / reasonable prospect of conviction – sometimes known as being at least 51% sure. In civil litigation different tests apply, but there is always an assessment of how sure the lawyer is of the outcome and the validity of the action.
All ministers in government are constantly being advised by department lawyers, retained by government as civil servants to advise on any course of action. For the avoidance of doubt this is standard under any government. They advise without fear or favour, as any minister – or civil servant - will tell you.
In March 2010 I did my last case as a barrister. It was in the High Court in London. I represented one arm of the state. My co-defendant in the action brought against the state was Rt Hon Ed Balls MP – in this case in his capacity as Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. We were successful on behalf of the state. The case is reported here:

Frequently, during my career at the bar, I regularly was asked to challenge the government or state sponsored bodies: such cases like Compton v The Wiltshire Primary Care Trust are reported here:
Although that case was successful against the state, I know that the state received advice on prospect of success and the legality of the process, which indicated that Mrs Compton would not win. On that occasion, by our litigation, we helped create new law.  

The Attorney Generals advice to cabinet – how a decision can be perfectly properly reached and then overturned by a court:
It is not possible to ascertain the precise nature of the Attorney Generals advice in the summer [this is never disclosed by any Attorney General] but the background to it, the basis of the argument and its legal justification is very simple.  He was asked about the legality of the process. He advised the cabinet and the PM that prorogation was legal, and not a justiciable matter. On that basis the cabinet acted as they did, suitably advised. The legality is clearly ascertained from the court transcripts and judgment – see below.
Mrs Gina Miller sued the government – and her case was first heard in the High Court in London. The High Court unanimously agreed with the Attorney General. For those who want to read the High Court’s decision in favour of the government in full it is here:
The key section from the agreed judgment of the Lord Chief Justice identifies the argument [and the Attorneys approach] here:

40.“There are many other statements, in cases binding on this court, that the first question when considering the court’s power to review the exercise of prerogative powers is whether the subject matter of the power is non-justiciable.
41. It is central to Lord Pannick’s submissions [For Mrs Miller} that we should explore the facts first, for the purpose of deciding whether there has been a public law error, and then turn to justiciability; and then in the limited sense of deciding whether “caution” should forestall intervention.  We are unable to accept that submission.  The question of justiciability comes first, both as a matter of logic and of law.”
He then added:
54.“All of these arguments face the insuperable difficulty that it is impossible for the court to make a legal assessment of whether the duration of the prorogation was excessive by reference to any measure. There is no legal measure of the length of time between Parliamentary sessions.  There is not even a constitutional convention which governs the matter, albeit that constitutional conventions are not justiciable: see Miller No. 1 at [136] and following. The skeleton argument for the Prime Minister notes that there have been a number of occasions in modern times during which Parliament was prorogued for a lengthy period. It was, for example, prorogued on 1 August 1930 until 28 October 1930; on 18 September 1914 until 27 October 1914 and then further prorogued until 11 November 1914; and on 17 August 1901 until 5 November 1901.

55. Those facts also highlight that Parliament may be prorogued for various reasons. There is no statute, other law or any convention which requires Parliament to sit in constant session. The purpose of prorogation is not limited to preparing for the Queen’s Speech.  We have noted that under The Meeting of Parliament Act 1797 and The Prorogation Act 1867 there can be a proclamation shortening or extending the period of prorogation. Prorogation has been used by the Government to gain a legislative and so political advantage. One of the most notable examples of that was its use to facilitate the speedy passage of what became the Parliament Act 1949.”

He concluded:  
“68. For all these reasons we concluded that the claim must fail.  In our view, the decision of the Prime Minister to advise Her Majesty the Queen to prorogue Parliament is not justiciable in Her Majesty’s courts.”

The Supreme Court decision:
Self-evidently, the Supreme Court on appeal decided very differently. The judgment of the supreme court needs to be read in full, and digested properly; it can be found here:
In short form [for those who don’t want to read the judgment, although I would recommend it] the Court found in summary, that the decision was justiciable, therefore it requires justification, and absent further evidence, they chose to decide that the overall length of the prorogation was unjustified.  
I think it is important to make a few basic points clear at the outset. All governments obey the rule of law and accept court decisions. This government will do that. The highest court in the land has changed the law and found against the government [and any future government] and that is where we are now. The court has now decided it has power over something it did not have a power over before. As I hope I have clearly demonstrated above the Attorney General gave advice, which gave justification for the action of the cabinet and the PM. This was a discretionary non justiciable power so he advised accordingly. The High Court did not dispute this. The Supreme Court decision changes the law - so clearly the original decision is overruled. There is no criticism of any of the judges or counsel, many of whom I know and have worked with, against or been in front of in a former life.  

Commenting on the judgment, and supporting the judges:
I repeat that I support the rule of law. I will never be a Law Lord, but I do have considerable experience in legal matters, and was given commendations by the Bar Council and even the labour Attorney General – see here for example:
Any counsel, or member of the public for that matter, after a case is entitled to assess the decision and seek to understand the decision. This goes to the issue of being surprised or disagreeing with a judgment but accepting it. The media love to ramp this up, but you can do both things – namely accept the judgment and disagree with parts or all of it. As I say, the decision breaks new ground and is without precedent, as was conceded. But clearly a few points can be made:

-          Never before has any court decided to intervene as this court has, or even decided that it had the power to intervene. 
-          If this was on a time basis then parliament has been prorogued for far longer at equally serious times – see previous prorogations in the first world war, or during the 1930 or 1949 serious situations: I quote the judgment 
on 1 August 1930 until 28 October 1930; on 18 September 1914 until 27 October 1914 and then further prorogued until 11 November 1914; and on 17 August 1901 until 5 November 1901.”
-          Many in parliament would genuinely question whether this prorogation stopped parliament functioning, given a maximum of 6 sitting days would have been missed, given the usual party conference recess, and the impact of the Benn Act ruling out no deal, but that is the decision of the court. See below for further discussion on this, given the reality of the Brexit situation.
-          But that is the nature of judicial review, which sees the ever-greater scrutiny of the executive by the courts. I have been party to this previously, as explained. I also want to stress that the case may have been political in nature and consequence, but it does not follow in any way that the court is politicised.
-          Indeed, some may come, in the future, to welcome judicial intervention and oversight one day.  
-          I will give on example that features, at paragraph 40 of the judgment, when Lady Hale reminded the court:
“In their application to the exercise of governmental powers, constitutional principles do not apply only to powers conferred by statute, but also extend to prerogative powers. For example, they include the principle that the executive cannot exercise prerogative powers so as to deprive people of their property without the payment of compensation.”

Now, given the very recently agreed Labour party policy to forcibly take over property from individuals, the reference to the executive taking over property is very relevant were labour to win the next general election: bear in mind their policy as confirmed recently at conference is to
-       hand local authorities wide-reaching compulsory purchase order powers to take ownership of empty homes.
-       Allow millions of private tenants in the UK to buy their rented homes for a “reasonable” price
Now were labour to win and seek to appropriate assets or force people to sell at under value any landowner may well want judicial intervention to prevent wholesale theft. Obviously, my advice would be not to vote labour – but the point by Lady Hale might be considered by some as both a sensible pointing out of the power of the court to intervene or by others as a warning shot. 

However – when Lady Hale describes the case in her judgment as a “One off” I am afraid she clearly misunderstands the desire for many to challenge the state’s actions – the reality is that the courts will be asked to adjudicate ever more frequently on this power on a regular basis. All my Labour, and other parliamentary MP friends in the Commons, and many of my former lawyers’ friends, agree that this opens the floodgates to greater judicial intervention with the executive’s powers. Absent a written constitution that is inevitable with the growth of judicial review – which does what it says on the tin. It reviews the actions of all executives; and it does so more and more.  This case will be repeated. 
The need for a Queens Speech
It remains my view that a Queens Speech is necessary. To have a Queens speech you have to prorogue – and this is not a coup as some seek to argue.  I have made the argument for a Queens Speech before:
It normally happens every year, and did so effectively every year under Labour 1997-2010. This should definitely happen. And progress on a deal can continue, notwithstanding a Queens Speech.  For example, in my department at the DWP the Queens Speech is necessary because we are trying to reform private pensions with collective defined contributions, reform Defined Benefit to prevent the Philip Greens of this world behaving as they did,  and to bring in a Pensions Dashboard. Here is me calling for such a Queens Speech [as were labour] in October 2018:

Brexit, the Benn Act, Article 50 Extension and Revocation, and agreeing a deal:
The Benn Act: The law following the Benn Act is clear – no deal is taken off the table, and Article 50 extensions should be sought if a deal is not reached by 31st October 2019 – although the EU has to agree:
Its consequences are draconian, and potentially it involves unlimited delays, and I certainly don’t agree this is the right way forward. It certainly hampers the PMs negotiation ability; but again it is the law - albeit it requires 27 other foreign powers unilaterally to agree. And bear in mind notwithstanding the alleged “coup” this act was passed by parliament before the September prorogation. 
Seeking A Deal: I remain committed to a deal to leave the EU, as does the Prime Minister. I have voted 3 times to leave the EU with a deal and will do so again. I do so as a democrat, who helped lead the campaign to remain in the North East. But the country has decided, and we need to see this through.  There are only 2 ways that parliament can agree a deal:
-        if the PM brings back a fresh arrangement following the October 17/18 negotiations at the EU summit.
-        or if the opposition parties change their approach and seek to work constructively to agree an exit mechanism. 
Prospects of compromise: Sadly, the liberal democrats have decided they are now a party of full-scale Article 50 revoke, without even a second referendum anymore! Clearly the original referendum and their repeated promises to abide by the result no longer apply. I could make detailed points that they were the first party to call for a referendum that their new leader, Jo Swinson, called for a referendum as long ago as 2008, and that Nick Clegg was unequivocal about complying with the result
But they will clearly never agree to any compromise deal, and have repeatedly blocked any effort to leave the EU as per the referendum decision. The Lib Dems sit in the same camp as the SNP on this issue. Both are wrecking balls in their approach. That is their call but I regret it and continue to try to engage with them. Many are my friends. 
As to Labour, if any readers genuinely understand Corbyn’s position then good luck to them. However, there does remain a very large cohort of the labour party who wish to respect the result – several Labour MPs voted for Theresa May’s deal. I live in hope of compromise by Labour, who repeatedly before and after the referendum agreed to abide by the referendum result. 
The purpose of further delay: Colleagues have returned to parliament, but the key issue is what do they want to do with the parliamentary time? Those who seek a further extension have to be honest as to what the extension is for – if it is not to enact the original decision of the referendum, or to frustrate the government, then at least say so. Clearly, despite opportunities to vote for No Confidence or an election, the labour party do not want an election having called for one every single day previously. That is their choice. 
I do not believe it is right to delay further, and I would definitely prefer compromise to an election. The damage the delay is causing to democracy, public life and so much more is significant. Parliament must honour the 2016 referendum result, deliver a Brexit withdrawal deal and then, crucially, re-establish its reputation as the servant of the British people, not its master. 

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Hexham's Big Sing

This Thursday is BBC Music Day, a day which celebrates the power of music to inspire and bring us together. As part of the celebration, a Big Sing event is planned in Hexham, with local groups and communities singing the same song- Hey Jude- at the same time (11am). Other well-known songs will be sung throughout the event, held from 10.30-11.30am at Hexham Market Place (Queen’s Hall if the weather is bad!). 

Everyone of all ages is welcome to come along and join in this fantastic community celebration of the transforming power of music.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Shop local!

Northumberland County Council’s scheme to promote food and drink produced in our county- Produced in Northumberland- has reached a fantastic milestone after gaining its 100th member. Grannies Tearoom and Delicatessen in Alnwick has become the 100th business to sign up to the scheme, thanks to its brilliant range of locally produced products. The scheme was launched in 2015 to verify that food and drink products have been produced locally, and has proved to be a great boost to our local economy.

There is such a variety of food and drink produced in Northumberland and I am a great admirer of the Produced in Northumberland scheme which celebrates our local food and drink industry. As always I would encourage you to support your local businesses by shopping locally.

You can find out more about Produced in Northumberland by visiting its website:

Friday, 20 September 2019

Help Northumberland win gold!

Northumberland is nominated in the 'Best UK Holiday Destination/County' category at the 2019 British Travel Awards, having won the award last year, and needs your help to retain the title for another year. 

There is not long left now to cast your vote (voting ends on 30th September). You can vote for Northumberland by following the link below- make sure to ask all your family, friends and colleagues to vote as well!

Northumberland is a fantastic place to live and visit so please do help Northumberland win gold for the second year in a row.