April 2012

Mon, 30 Apr

From the moment we learnt that the Prime Minister was going to be called to the Commons, I knew we had an interesting day in front of us.

I had a speech to prepare beforehand as I was speaking up for our shop keepers, some of whom are worried about the relaxed Sunday Trading laws over the Olympics.

This idea was generated from the Treasury, no doubt to raise revenue and with the best of intentions.

However, the best of intentions often has unintended consequences.

And Michael and Barbara Clements, a charming couple who run the Spar Store in Weymouth, claim they will lose out to big 'multiples' who normally close at 1600 on a Sunday.

Of course, that's when stores like the Clements' make their money, especially during the summer.

Anyway, at 1530 the PM came to the Despatch Box and spent the next hour defending his actions and his Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt.

I would say that, on balance, the PM came out of what turned into a bruising encounter well.

The crucial question for most of us is why Mr Hunt allowed his so-called special adviser out on such a long lead, seemingly without knowing what he was doing. 

Still, the Leveson Inquiry will no doubt tease that out when Mr Hunt gives evidence himself.

Damian Green then faced an Urgent Question on queues at Heathrow, after which we got on with discussing relaxed the Sunday Trading laws.

It was an interesting debate, with many contributors focusing in on the importance of family and that Sunday should remain a day of rest where possible.

You can find my speech on my website: www.richarddrax.com.

We voted twice at 2200 and then I headed to Dorset in pouring rain! 

Sat, 28 Apr

 

In pouring rain, I drove down to Weymouth to campaign with two of our council candidates.

The first wisely decided to go home!

By 11am the rain had stopped and I joined John Worth in Wyke for two hours.

What a nice man, and I wish him well on Thursday.

The feedback on the door was friendly. A few grumbles, as you'd expect, but most realised that we were living through exceptional times.

Home by 3pm ... and more rain!

Fri, 27 Apr

 

A busy and interesting day.

It began at Kingston Maurward, where the police held a rural crime prevention day.

All agencies, including the fire service, were present.

The High Sheriff, Jeremy Pope, was there and after a brief introduction by me took over proceedings.

I had to leave early to get to Swanage to take part in the official opening of Heroes Haven, a log cabin for seriously injured servicemen.

Led by the the remarkable Steve Churchill, fundraisers had pulled in a staggering £250,000 over two years.

The event was well attended and, despite the rain, which poured down, a great success.

The hut was officially opened by Rifleman Jack Otter, who was injured in Afghanistan.

What an amazing man. I also had the privilege to meet his Mum, Helen Otter, and his sister.

After a couple of hours, I had to say my farewells and get across to Weymouth for my regular surgery.

Then, later in the afternoon, I visited the newly renovated Samaritan's centre in the town.

I arrived on my motorcycle and was surprised to be met by a large group of volunteers standing outside on the pavement.

David Webb, the director, soon had us all lined up for pictures, with the Echo photographer perched precariously on a step-ladder!

Inside, the centre sparkled. I could see almost immediately why it had needed a lick of paint or two.

The volunteers were charming, as you'd expect.

Tea, sandwiches and cakes were all laid on and their generosity was touching.

I was given a guided tour and told how volunteers are trained and prepared for this most essential role.

I met two lovely ladies in the Ops Room only briefly because clearly when the phone rings the conversation is totally confidential. What special ladies they were. 

I much enjoyed my visit and was impressed by all those I met.

Bon voyage Samaritans of Dorset, because they do a remarkable job.

Finally, back to the office and then home in the evening.

Thu, 26 Apr

An early morning run on a cold, blustery day. A taxi driver told me that our rain was his sun!

After a couple of hours at my desk, I entered the Chamber for DEFRA Questions.

The Defra brief is huge, ranging from dangerous dogs to flooding.

My good friend Richard Benyon, the fishing minister, gave a good account for himself.

Then it was back to the office, where I dealt with a range of constituency matters.

The Leveson Inquiry continues apace.

This is not good for parliament's integrity, which took such a knock over the expenses' scandal, and rightly so.

Last vote at about 7pm, then back to Dorset.

Wed, 25 Apr

An early morning run in the rain started what was to be an interesting day, to put it mildly.

With every news outlet gunning for culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, something was going to happen.

In addition, and very unhelpfully, the economy went back into recession, giving Miliband plenty of ammunition at PMQs.

Before that, I met Alastair Kerr, the director general of the Wood Panel Industries Federation.

He'd come to warn me that the Government's plans to use more biomass to fuel power stations would leave a shortage of wood for his and other related industries, which employ thousands of people.

His main point was that his business was being undermined by government subsidies to the biomass industries.

They should, he argued, have to buy the raw material at the same price his business did.

I agree.

Then, it was PMQs.

Two friends, the editor of my local paper and his new MD attended, and what a day they chose!

A noisy PMQs was followed by a statement by Jeremy Hunt.

At this stage, it's not for us to jump to conclusions and the Leveson inquiry must complete its job before any fingers of accusation are pointed.

However, the mood in the Chamber was ugly and I can only imagine how lonely it must be for anyone standing at the Despatch Box with knives coming in from all angles!

Lunch with my friends, and then into my select committee.

Today, we put questions via a video link to Andrea Gavinelli, the Commission's Head of Animal Welfare, and Bente Bergersen, about the Welfare of Laying Hens Directive.

The point is that we in this country have spents millions and millions of pounds updating our cages to meet new standards and many countries in the EU have not.

I found myself far from satisfied by their answers to our questions.

The EU is a shambles and frankly I was not surprised at what I heard.

Afterwards, we took evidence from Terry Jones, from the Food and Drink Federation, on the same subject.

At 6.40pm we had three votes on the Civil Aviation Bill before heading home.

Tue, 24 Apr

First up was Treasury Questions.

I thought Osborne looked tired, but he's had quite a time since the Budget.

Balls reserved his fire until the end of the session, but it wasn't anything special.

In the afternoon/evening two matters concerning the EU bubbled up and caused me to vote against the Government.

One was a motion concerning the Budget which, in effect, has to be submitted to Brussels.

This is an annual event and I for one do not see why we, a sovereign nation, have to submit anything to the EU.

The second was more serious and where the Government had withdrawn its right to opt out of an EU plan to allow all personal data to be shared.

To be fair, the aim is to be better able to prevent, investigate, detect or prosecute criminals around the EU.

And although this may sound attractive, it has not been costed or gone through the proper parliamentary scrutiny.

My colleague Bill Cash, an exponent on all EU matters, said in the Chamber it was a "disgrace".

That's strong words from him.

So I and a handful of like-minded MPs voted against the Government on these two motions.

They say a week in politics is a long time and so it proved to be as the Leveson Inquiry revealed some interesting goings-on in regard to Jeremy Hunt's handling of the BSkyB bid.

The culture secretary is a charming man, but storm clouds were gathering today.

No doubt PMQs tomorrow will be interesting!

Stayed until 10pm and then home  

Fri, 20 Apr

After a busy morning in the office, I headed to Weymouth.

Tempted to take the bike, but rain forecast!

Arrived at the new community fire station to see 12 young people receive certificates from the delightful Lord Lieutenant for completing their 12 week Prince's Trust course.

The instructors, all of them superb, and their charges all gave short presentations on what they'd been doing and what they felt they had achieved.

It was very moving listening to their stories and clearly the course had had a profound effect, not only on the young people but also on their instructors.

Let's hope these 12 weeks completely change their lives and lead to a new start, a job and a future.

Their families came too and the station was packed with people.

Afterwards, I only had time sadly to speak to a few people as I was horribly late for the next meeting in the town.

I met up with local businessman Derek Luckhurst and a few others to see what we can do to help young people into work.

I had called the meeting because I am sure there is more we can do to guide young people in the right direction and I want to try and help.

The meeting was out first and most useful.

We shall progress further before officially launching our small organisation once we have spoken to a few people and finally decide how we intend to implement this help.

Then it was back to the office in the rain. I thanked my lucky stars I was not on my bike! 

Thu, 19 Apr

 

Another interesting day!

After my morning ritual, I joined my daughter for breakfast before heading to the Commons.

The Chamber was pretty full when the Home Secretary responded to an Urgent Question concerned hate cleric Abu Qatada.

Mrs May did well and saw off her opponent Yvette Cooper with ease.

This whole case is ridiculous and the fact we cannot deport Qatada because he might allegedly be tortured in Jordan makes a mockery of our battle against terrorism.

Frankly, Qatada should have thought of that when he travelled down his warped path!

Following the Urgent Question, the House went on to debate more of the Finance Act.

We had two contentious matters to deal with, the so-called granny-tax and child benefit.

I abstained on the first and voted with the Government on the second.

My instinct is to support our Government over the Budget because we are facing a monumental challenge to balance the books and I appreciate we cannot go on spending money as we used to.

However, this granny-tax was slipped in under the radar and if the Chancellor cannot be up front with me and the electorate he won't get my vote.

As for this universal child benefit, I wish we didn't have to change it because in its own way it worked and helped families, which is what our Party believes in.

But we want to wean everyone off benefits, because they are unaffordable in the long term.

A system of tax allowances, as used to be the case, is far better and something I'd support.

In the middle of all this the '22 Committee held a meeting to discuss Lords' reforms.

The content is confidential but I think it's fair to say that all, bar one, were against an elected second chamber.

We had two sessions of votes, the final ones being at 6pm.

Then it was home to Dorset.

Wed, 18 Apr

 

An interesting day began with a run in the drizzle! I hope this is not a repeat of last year.

I spent the morning studying the Finance Act, knowing that we were going to vote on some controversial issues, not least the so-called Granny tax, caravan tax, pasty tax and church tax!

Having done so, I entered the Chamber just before PMQs, which promised to be interesting.

And so, indeed, it was.

Mr Miliband had plenty of ammunition, but failed to use it to full effect.

The Prime Minister held his own well through a noisy session.

Then we launched into the finance act.

I won't go through the next few hours blow by blow, except to say that I abstained from all the votes around VAT increases.

A few of my colleagues voted against the Government on the so-called caravan tax.

What's annoyed me most is how these taxes have come unexpectedly from stage left.

Tomorrow we shall be debating the 'granny tax' which was another surprise.

After a number of votes through the afternoon, we went home at about 2130.

An interesting day.

Tue, 17 Apr

An early morning run in cold winds and drizzle before heading in to the Commons.

Examined the Finance Act and spent some time considering various aspects of it.

Started to write my weekly column for my local paper, before other matters intervened.

Chatted to colleague Chris Heaton Harris about wind farms.

Many constituents copying me in on their objection to Eneco's offshore windfarm.

This is a major concern and I find it baffling it's being considered at all when you think our coastline has the same designation as the Great Barrier Reef!

Can you imagine what the Aussies would say if we suggested erecting more than 200 of these monsters off their reef?

It's very much everyone getting back into the swing of things.

I imagine that PMQs could be interesting tomorrow!

Mon, 16 Apr

Into the office early before heading up to London at midday.

A fair bit to catch up with in the office and a committee to attend ... one of those three line whip jobs!

Listened in the Chamber to part of the Finance Bill, which is certainly creating waves.

A lot of unhappiness around about how poorly the announcements in the Budget were made.

Press having a field day!

Had supper with a colleague and then we voted at about 2230.

Then home.

Fri, 13 Apr

I arrived at the Pavilion Theatre in Weymouth at 6.50pm.

I had come to see more than 50 youngsters from the WOW Youth Musical Theatre sing and dance their way through a compilation production which included pop, classical and well known tunes from the theatre.

I joined the founder of this wonderful organization, Janet Stockley, and other committee members for a glass of wine before the performances began.

The curtain went up at 7.30pm and for the next two hours or more we were treated with sensation after sensation.

I could not believe the high standard these youngsters achieved and the range of talent was extraordinary.

They must have rehearsed for hours, because there were so many different acts, songs, dance routines and costume changes.

How they achieved the latter, in particular, in the tiny room backstage is anyone's guess.

The director Martine Burt needs a medal!

The sheer hard work, determination and patience it must have taken to get this giant cast working so well together is mind-boggling.

All I can say is that when WOW stages Oliver The Musical in November GO and see it.

A fabulous evening and congratulations to one and all. Weymouth can be very proud.

Thu, 12 Apr

Worked through the morning on correspondence and several local issues.

Dodging the showers, I headed out to Wool in the afternoon to join our excellent PDC candidate Richard Ley on the campaign trail.

Our Chairman, Charles O'Reilly, and two other councillors joined the fray.

A good afternoon with a lot of positive feedback.

Clearly, people are worried, not least by rising fuel prices.

That is an issue which I and other colleagues are pushing in the Commons. 

Tue, 10 Apr

Into the office and the old in-tray is there winking at me!

On to the motorbike at 10am and down to the Osprey Leisure Centre on Portland.

Once there, senior British Airways personel, in conjunction with an environmental charity called PURE, officially 'turned on' 40 new solar panels on the centre's roof.

This is the first project of its kind that BA has done, using money donated by its passengers.

Our top sailor Ben Ainslee was asked to unveil a plaque to commemorate this great occasion.

We then all moved to the Sailing Academy, where other guests had been invited, to continue the celebrations.

I was fortuante enough to meet the extraordinary Sue Austin, who has adapted her wheelchair to go underwater.

After a few speeches the Academy laid on a sandwich lunch while we all mingled and chatted.

At 2pm I had to leave to join our council candidate Geoff Smith on the campaign trail around his ward in Weymouth.

Fortunately, the sun shone!

Back to my desk by the early evening.  

Sun, 8 Apr

 

A very happy and peaceful Easter to you all. 

Wed, 4 Apr

 

In the afternooon, I joined Tim Munro on Portland to campaign for the local elections on 3 May.

Tim and I concentrated on one part of the island, knocking on hundreds of doors.

I enjoy campaigning as it's a good time to get some feedback from the electorate.

I chatted with several people who raised issues like high petrol prices.

The weather held, fortunately, and the sun shone.

Tue, 3 Apr

A sad day.

Having met David MacLeod, from Portland, only days before, and liked him enormously, I found sitting in church at his funeral service almost surreal. 

David and a group of friends had been setting up a charity to cater for sailors, mostly from abroad, who, for whatever reason, get stuck at Portland Port.

There's a ship there now that has been impounded and the foreign crew are receiving no pay and their future is uncertain.

Similar charities exist in other ports and David, being former RN, wanted to help out.

I'd met this charming group at the Portland Heights Hotel and was immediately struck by their demeanour and aim.

So, it was with some shock that I learnt only a short time afterwards that David had died following a massive heart attack. He was 84.

His lovely wife, Liz, has handled the whole, ghastly affair with such courage and dignity.

She kindly asked me to read a poem called Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep at the end of the service, which I duly did.

The words are very emotive and poignant.

The couple were married for 45 years and to be suddenly parted like this is cruel indeed.

The Reverend Tim Gomm took the service brilliantly and there were a large number of standard bearers from the Ganges Association, which David would have liked.

I only knew him for an hour and a half, but when you meet someone special, you feel you have known them for longer.

A sad day, indeed.