February 2011

Mon, 28 Feb

A week is a long time in politics, someone once said. Looking along the North African coast and the extraordinary scenes played out on our television screens, and you'd think the whole thing was surreal.

But, it isn't, and Libyans are being murdered by their own government, the very same government Tony Blair and his Labour cohorts have been cosying up to until very recently.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister talks of no-fly zones and possible military involvement at a time he is slashing our armed services. Madness!

In the office, I tucked into my in-tray, which was brimming over.

Fri, 18 Feb

I always enjoy meeting the Prison Officers' Association. And on this occasion I chatted to Tim Roberts, branch chairman at HMP The Verne and the soon-to-be national chairman Pete McParlin.

Both charming men, I sat and listened to a number of points they raised. I remain concerned at what is going on in our prisons.

There is no doubt that everyone is trying their best, but the system appears to have broken down. This is due to a number of factors, not least lack of funding and, in my view, an undermining of prison discipline by political correctness and too much emphasis on human rights.

In addition, sentencing is no deterrent nowadays as prisons are already packed and those who should be sent to jail are given community punishments, which do not do the job. 

My next meeting was in the same building. The Dorset Olympic Board meets regularly to discuss how preparations for the Sailing Games are going.

We had an interesting start to the afternoon, when three students from Weymouth College gave us a short presentation.

One of them highlighted the need for someone 'young' to join the board! We all agreed and that is now being resolved.

As this student rightly pointed out, the Games should be an opportunity for the young to celebrate and get involved in.

I must praise Gary Fooks, who is co-ordinating so much of the effort. He is working tirelessly, along with others, to ensure success.

Thu, 17 Feb

 

Rather bleary-eyed after a early morning drive home, I rose and headed down to Weymouth to meet with Signpost Housing to discuss an issue between them and a constituent.

The meeting went well and I have to say that the two representatives could not have been more sympathetic or helpful.

Most of the afternoon was taken up by my regular surgery. So many deserving cases and I will of course do my utmost to help.

Then, back to the office to catch up with constituents' correspondence.

Wed, 16 Feb

 

 

I particularly enjoyed my run this morning, as I knew it was going to be the last time I'd see the sunlight for some hours!

The reason: the Lords' amendment to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill which calls for a voting threshold of 40%.

On such a major constitutional matter as this, I agree. I voted against the government last night and will do so again if necessary.

The problem is twofold. One the Bill is a rotten one, with the Conservatives wanting to reduce the number of MPs at one end and the Lib Dems pushing to have a bigger share of the vote and hence winning more Seats at the other.

Such constitutional changes should be in two Bills, not one. This is ill-thought out and could have very serious consequences for our Party, country and importantly voters.

My first meeting of the morning was with Shaun Walsh and Mark Cotton, both from the Big Lottery Fund.

Like Father Christmas, they came with presents and great news.

Littlemoor in Weymouth had been given £1 million, to spend how they want. It sounds incredible, but it's true and even now an action group from the area is working with local stakeholders and of course residents to find out what they'd like the money spent on.

I thanked the two men, for it was they who selected Littlemoor for this investment, along with three other areas in the south west.  

Afterwards, I caught up with constituency business in my office, while listening to the beginning of PMQs. I then had to dart out to collect my son's new passport.

After a hurried lunch, I attended the Defra select committee where we grilled the charming parliamentary under-secretary of state, Richard Benyon MP, on the waste water national policy statement.

Later in the afternoon, I went to the weekly 22 Back Bench Committee and listened to Ian Duncan Smith outline his radical welfare reform plans.

I then dropped down to the Chamber to listen to the tail end of the Opposition debate on the Military Covenant.

At about 7.30pm, the Lords' amendment came before us. There were some excellent speeches on both sides of the House, most of them attacking the Lib Dems, who are so keen on AV.

For them, it's the first step to proportional representation, which they really want.

I, and many of my colleagues, do not. And if pushing for this 40% threshold ends the coalition, I for one will not shed any tears.

Regrettably, our noble colleagues in the Upper House had had enough of ping pong by about midnight and gave in to the wishes of the Commons.

We now have an AV referendum this May and I hope that the country sees this for what it is - the appalling price for a shoddy coalition, where principle has been buried for political expediency.

Tue, 15 Feb

It was always going to be an interesting day, and so it turned out.

It began with a refreshing saunter around the park, after which I was soon in the office dealing with many constituency matters.

I met a prospective employee for lunch, who was charming. I am hoping she will be able to work part time for me in the constituency.

In the afternoon, MPs began discussing the Lords' amendments to the controversial Parliamentary Voting System and Constituency Bill.

I and a hardcore of Conservatives were particularly concerned with one: the 40% threshold. If the nation votes for AV this May, the way we are governed will change forever, and for the worse.

We unfortunately, regrettably and wrongly agreed to give the Lib Dems a vote on AV as part of the coalition agreement.

A YES win will see this country run by coalitions forever more, with politicians making the decisions on who's in charge rather than voters.

Principles will be sold for power, with the Lib Dems acting as king makers. God help this country if that happens.

Sadly, that Lords' amendment saying that an AV referendum must have a turnout of more than 40% was defeated, although MPs were dragged in from miles around, including the PM.  

Mon, 14 Feb

A very happy Valentine's Day to you all. Amongst all the doom and gloom, I do hope that love is still in abundance out there. For without it, what would we do?

A busy day back in the Commons wading through a bulging in-tray.

I was staggered to read that a quarter of new RAF pilots are to be made redundant. I can only reiterate my strong opposition to the way the defence spending review was rushed through, regrettably with accountants in charge, rather than the top brass.

Decisions like this are risky at best and irresponsible at worst. I have made my views well known on this topic.

Sat, 12 Feb

It's always a pleasure heading down to Swanage. It's like going back in time in the most delicious way. The rolling hills, the charity railway, the peace and the beauty. We have a lot to be grateful for.

I was attending the local branch's AGM at the Conservative Club. The meeting, most ably chaired by Roger Patrick, lasted about an hour, which included a few words from me.

Then, it was downstairs for a coffee and a chat. There are always plenty of people in the club and I'm beginning to know them all better and better, especially the regulars.

Fri, 11 Feb

It's apprenticeship week, so what better to do than meet three apprentices. So, to Weymouth College I headed first thing, to meet two young women and a young man.

Two of them were working at the college, while the third was under the care of Julie Cleaver, who runs a marketing company. She's a bright, enthusiastic lady, who carries you along she's so full of optimism for the town.

There's no doubt that apprenticeships are the way forward and from what the three young people told me more and more of their friends are heading in this direction rather than university.

After a coffee and a chat, Julie took me off to meet Rob Hughes at Jezebels Jewels in St Mary Street. There's no doubt that traders in Weymouth are aggrieved by the road works, which they claim has seen business to fall away for many of them. They have all my sympathies, although there is little I can realistically do. 

Afterwards, we popped into Marks & Spencer to meet the new and very charming manager Georgina Gardiner.

She and her team are preparing for a multi-million pound refit, which will be a huge boost for the town. Judging from the plans we had a glimpse at, the renovation will be a vast improvement and includes a cafe.  

Then, on to meet the lovely Fiona Penny, who runs a flower shop in St Thomas Street. With St Valentine's Day on Monday, she and her team were flat out. 

So as not to cause any upset with my special wife on the day, I invested early! 

My last visit was to catch up with Brian Cooper, a remarkable man, who runs a publishing business with his family.

Brian's well known in the town and contributes an enormous amount to it. We had a most useful chat about business and apprenticeships.

Finally, it was back to the office to catch up with correspondence and plan for next week. 

Thu, 10 Feb

 

An early start with an interview with my former colleagues at BBC Radio Solent on prisoners' voting rights.

The station had put me up against John Roberts, who is pro the idea. As you can imagine, I am not!

We had a perfectly good mannered debate but I felt his argument was weak and flawed. However, hearing the presenter's friendly voice - my old mate Julian Clegg - brought back many happy memories of my time there.

The day then only got busier. My aim was to speak in two debates: one of onshore wndfarms and the other on prisoners' voting rights, in addition to issuing a press release and reading and signing a mass of correspondence.

The votes' debate began first at about midday and I was in my place with many other colleagues. The Opposition Benches were virtually empty.

The onshore wind turbine debate began in Westminster Hall at 2.30pm so, making my excuses to the Deputy Speaker, I scurried across the Palace in time for it to begin.

After the initial speech, I was called early, and recounted my own experiences of wind farms on my land.

There is no doubt in my mind that these huge monsters are not only an eyesore, but they produce precious little electricity. I'm all for nuclear power and to continue research into wave and tidal power, which the UK has an abundance of.  

Then, it was back to the Chamber to await my turn in the debate on prisoners' voting rights. As it happened, I was called last of all and gave the assembled MPs my blunt assessment of the situation.

The idea is ludicrous and is only another example of meddling EU judges and a lawyer's interpretation on the Convention of Human Rights.

Rightly, the motion was defeated, although I shall be interested to see what the government does with our views, especially as we are in bed with the Lib Dems, who want to see this become law.

The debate ended at about 6pm, leaving me time to return to my office and sign about 50 letters. It's extraordinary the range and complexity of issues we MPs deal with. Expectations run high and I do my level best to ensure we meet them, not always successfully, sadly.

Wed, 9 Feb

Spent the morning working on a draft of a letter to ports' minister Mike Penning, who has proposed various changes in HM Coastguard, most of which I disagree with.

Dropped down to the Chamber at midday to watch the weekly duel. It was more even on this occasion, in my view, with Miliband attacking the PM on banks, the 'Big Society' and local authority cuts.

A statement later in the day by Chancellor George Osborne on the banks was no less exciting as Balls leapt into the attack with relish.

Clearly, I support the government, but it is important to have an effective Opposition, which keeps the government of the day on its feet.

Labour's massive flaw is that they deny the vast deficit, which is both stupid and arrogant, and as the PM told them, they won't be taken seriously by the country until they admit their role in our country's financial predicament.

At 2.30pm I attended a private session of our Defra select committee. These private meetings enable us to scrutinise reports and amend them before they are released to the public. My Labour and Lib Dem colleagues are a charming bunch and as we get to know each other better the committee appears to work more effectively.

Keeping an ear open to the afternoon debate on local authority funding, I reached for my in-tray and worked through it until the evening. 

Tue, 8 Feb

What a stunning day. Thoroughly enjoyed my morning run, before heading into the Commons for my Defra select committee meeting.

Agiculture minister Jim Paice was questioned on the future of the CAP. He wants less reliance on subsidies and for farms to be answerable to the market. To be fair, he doesn't want that immediately, but that's the government's long term view. I have to say I think they are mistaken.

Most farms in the UK would go under without some form of subsidy and I don't see that changing for many years to come if we wish to go on enjoying cheap food.  

Treasury questions turned rowdy as Balls squared up to Osborne. Clearly, the two run each other up the wrong way, although Balls is renowned for enjoying a scrap with anyone.

Then, with one ear listening to a debate on education, I worked through a mass of correspondence and prepared two speeches I hope to make on Thursday - one on prisoners' voting rights, the other on onshore windfarms.

A written statement that moves to hand over the UK's SAR role to a private company had floundered due to "irregularities" caused a wee bit of concern.

The local press were quick on to this and I reassured them as best I could that nothing had been said about the future of the Portland helicopter, which we must fight to retain. 

Mon, 7 Feb

Monday is turning out to be a catch-up day. Letters and emails aplenty, which my hard working team sort and then discuss with me how to deal with them!

It was an Opposition day and they chose fuel prices. They are too high and I've said so on many occasions.

Mr Cameron says the time to look at this pressing issue is the Budget, so I am hoping he will do just that.

We each voted for our preferred choice to elect a new member to the Back Bench '22 Committee. It's a very important committee, representing as it does all us Back Benchers.

The evening ended unusually early and we were heading home by 7.45pm.  

Sun, 6 Feb

My former colleagues at BBC South Today looked at the issue of rural policing on the Politics Show today.

I contributed to the programme, which I thought was balanced and gave the police plenty of time to comment on their excellent record, despite the year on year budget cuts and pressure on resources. 

Sat, 5 Feb

A day of protest against proposals to close libraries took me to Crossways to support the local community there.

I am instinctively unhappy about these proposals, which would see both libraries on Portland close. I would have thought that leaving at least one would be preferrable.

Now, I know that the county council is taking no pleasure in suggesting these closures and are only doing so in the face of dire financial circumstances. 

But libraries are so important for local communities, especially in rural areas, and a service whose cost bears no resemblance to its significance.

I do urge everyone to write to the county council and my visit to Crossways only undermined in my view the importance of this service.

Fri, 4 Feb

 

After a busy morning working through constituents' correspondence, I headed to the Royal Manor Arts College on Portland

They were holding a good citizen's day and had asked a number of people from the community to come together to thrash out some ideas.

We were given an excellent presentation first, before discussing a number of topics and ideas in groups.

It was a most useful meeting and certainly food for thought.

Then, I drove across to Swanage to attend a full surgery there, which ended at about 7pm.  

Thu, 3 Feb

 

Wolfing down some breakfast, I headed down to Swanage on a lovely sunny morning to meet a young aspiring politician.

14 year old Melissa Parish, from Swanage Middle School, is a candidate in this year's UK Youth Parliament.

A bright, attractive child, I was most impressed by her one minute video presentation, which was shown along with those from the other candidates.

I had to leave before the voting took place but I believe the school had been lent the proper ballot boxes to make the event even more authentic. 

The charismatic head, Dave Pratten, was rightly proud of Melissa and we all hope she will one of those elected when the votes are counted next Thursday at County Hall. 

After an inspiring start to the morning, I went to have one of my regular meetings with some of our councillors nearby.

We chatted for more than two hours, covering a mass of local and national issues. I would say this, wouldn't I, but Swanage is fortunate to have some top grade public servants who know and love their resort passionately. 

Then, it was to Sunseeker in Poole to meet the operations director Wayne Moore, to discuss their plans to expand.

The boss from Portland, Ian Jolliffe, had kindly come along too and together we had a most interesting hour listening to Wayne and exploring future possibilities.

Afterwards, Ian took me on a most interesting wander around the yard, where about eight monster super yachts were being built. 

It is fascinating seeing them in this state of undress, as it were, because you normally only see the gleaming finished product.

It's not until you actually experience the care and dedication that goes into building these boats that you realise just what a task of love it really is.

Wed, 2 Feb

 

A busy day. I met up with former colleague and television journalist Peter Henley from BBC South.

He wanted to interview me about policing,especially on Portland, which has had its share of incidents recently. I must say that I have every respect for our police force, which does a remarkable job with less and less resources. We must support them.

Mr Henley also slipped in a question on the consultation on the future of our state-owned forests.

I am instinctively uneasy about this proposal, which has come from stage right. Running a forest is an expensive and complicated business and I can't see how charities and others will want to take on such a capitally intensive enterprise. More debate is needed on this issue.

PMQs was less combative today. Ed Miliband concentrated on Egypt and the normal ding dong between the PM and Opposition Leader was replaced with a more statesmanlike approach.

In the afternoon, I went to Westminster Hall to take part in a debate on the future of our Coastguard service, which is facing closures and redundancies across the country.  

Regrettably, I was not called in what was a very short debate. But I shall continue to fight hard to save the Portland Coastguard and the 30 staff who are facing redundancies.

However, this proposal has now gone to consultation and if you want to contribute there will be a public meeting at All Saints' School in Weymouth on Wednesday 9 March at 7pm.

Then, back in the Chamber to listen to the debate on the forestry sell-off. Some very interesting contributions. 

Later, we were placed on a one line Whip, so I headed home for a busy day in the constituency the following day. 

Tue, 1 Feb

After clearing my desk first thing, I joined my DEFRA select committee colleagues at 10.30. Today was took oral evidence from members of the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board, followed by Andrew Kuyk CBE, the director of Sustainabilityand Competitiveness, the Food and Drink Federation, and Andrew Opie, director of Food and Sustainability, the British Retail Consortium.

These interviews were all part of the select committee's inquiry into CAP reforms, which are due to come into effect in 2013.

It's a huge issue and an interesting one. Most of those we question acknowledge that subsidies of one sort or another will have to remain for the forseeable future.

I came straight out of the committee meeting, to tie up with Mark and Michael Turner, both from Corfe Castle. If you recall, Michael is facing an investigation in alleged fraud in Hungary when his marketing company closed some years ago. The whole situation is a disgrace as Michael and a business partner face the consequences of signing up to the European Arrest Warrant.

A working lunch followed, before returning to the office. Then, later in the afternoon, I entered the Chamber to listen to the debate on further amendments to the European Union Bill.

My colleague Peter Bone MP had put forward an excellent amendment which, for the first time, raised the possiblity of an IN/OUT vote on the EU.

As another colleague pointed out, Mr Bone's amendment was not perfect, however it importantly voiced what millions of people in this country want to hear, and that was the point.

I and 19 other Conservative MPs voted for this amendment.