January 2011

Mon, 31 Jan

The news in Egypt changes almost hourly. I have commented on my blog about my concerns for the future in a potentially volatile region and the implications for the West should Egypt fall into fundamentalist hands.

Clearly, there is a mood for democracy in a country which has never had it, and that must be a good thing. However, it's the transition which is going to be the most difficult aspect for the West to deal with.

Back home, the morning sun burst on to a beautiful, frosty countryside. I headed back up to London for another week in the Commons.

New proposals for the NHS created a sometimes heated debate in the Chamber. I support our plans for the future, although the devil is always in the detail and it's this we have to get right.

I spent two hours at a small committe meeting on animal cloning. Then, it was back to my office to deal with a large amount of constituency business.

Fri, 28 Jan

A`cold and blustery start to the day. After spending a couple of hours at my desk, I headed to Weymouth to Portland Port.

There I met MEP Julie Girling, a delightful and very able politician, who'd come to learn about the port's plans and hopes to secure a contract with Dutch utility company Eneco, which is proposing to build a large offshore windfarm off the Isle of Wight.

Clearly, such a huge project could and would bring jobs to the area, which Weymouth and Portland need.

After a catch-up brief with port CEO Steve Davies, we received a further address from Eneco's Director Guy Madgwick and Consents Manager Helen Cassini.

It was good to actually meet executives from the company and we had a most useful exchange of informatiion.

Meanwhile, reports on the radio say the situation in Eqypt is deteriorating, which is worrying. We live in a very unstable world, yet we are cutting our Armed Forces! 

Thu, 27 Jan

 

It was almost snowing as I drove down to Weymouth to attend a full surgery. Afterwards, I grabbed a sandwich and headed across to Wareham to meet the delightful Inspector Chris Weeks, the Purbeck Section Commander.

He and his team have been doing an outstanding job. The Inspector is an impressive and dynamic man, leading a most effective team, with imagination and flair.

He and two of his sergeants gave me a most useful and informative brief on what they were up to.

After a couple of hours, I headed across the road to a nearby business park to meet the NFU.

I met with a small team of farmers, which have formed recently, to listen to their problems and demands and for me to brief them on events in the Commons.

This initiative is working well and proving useful. 

Wed, 26 Jan

 

After my morning dash around the park, it met up with NFU President Peter Kendall for breakfast at Portcullis House.

A charming and well informed man, we discussed matters agriculture for an hour. This area has been so neglected for years and it's very important the government reverses that trend.

Peter is full of common sense and has the ear of both the Secretary of State and Farming Minister Jim Paice, a most able man who is doing great work for the country's farmers.

PMQs was not quite so personal this week, with Ed Miliband still not denting the PM's thick hide. There were some good questions from Back Benchers.

A working lunch, led to the DEFRA Select Committee weekly meeting. We took evidence from MEP George Lyon and Brian Pack OBE, who is chairing the inquiry into future support for agriculture in Scotland.

It was a lengthy session and I returned to my office to deal with more parliamentary and constituency matters late in the afternoon.

Events in north Africa are worrying. First Tunisia and now Egypt. This unrest could spread, with potentially serious consequences. 

Tue, 25 Jan

 

An early start, to the extent I found myself virtually on my own during my jaunt around the park. The Household Cavalry was out exercising some horses, which is always a wonderful sight. I recall being a young officer and having a lot of fun with our cavalry colleagues in their mess on the edge of the park. 

A 1030 I and John England, an education officer from Dorset County Council, were in front of Lord Hill, the education minister, to hear whether we were to receive any capital funding for the Portland Academy.

The short answer is: we might. Talks are continuing between the Academy's two co-sponsors and the DfE and we shall have to wait and see.

Clearly, I and the co-sponsors will do all we can to make it happen.

Then, it was a working lunch with a colleague and Sir Harry Studholme, who heads up the SW Regional Development Agency.

He had kindly come to brief us on where the organisation is as this quango is slowly shut down.

Then, back to the office to get on with parliamentary and constituency business. The debate on the European Union Bill continued.

I abstained on the amendments tonight, as I have made my point. There are a number of us who are concerned that this Bill is nothing more than a fig leaf and there's a risk that a coach and horses could be driven through it.

Personally, I think it's a sad day that we are spending so much time on defending our very own sovereignty.

And, unless we repatriate our powers, I suspect the people of this country will push us to a straight vote: in or out in the future. 

What encourages me is that there are a number of MPs on the Labour benches who also believe passionately in our sovereignty.

Mon, 24 Jan

Back to the Commons and a week ahead debating the European Union Bill. This is a move which will give the country more of a say over future European issues, not least losing more of our sovereignty to the EU.

There are a numboer of us in the Conservative Party who are worried that the Bill does not go far enough.

I sat in the Chamber for many hours and listened to several good speeches. However, there were some members on our Benches who, in my view, are unaware of the dangers we are facing as we are slowly consumed by the EU.

And, if they are not aware, then they are complacent at best.

At the end of the session, there were three votes, one of them for James Clappison's excellent amendment, which ensured that future decisions were indeed brought back to the House.

There was a hardcore of Conservative MPs who stuck to their beliefs, but the amendment was defeated by the government.

Fri, 21 Jan

Poor Alan Johnson. Not the sort of headlines I would want to wake up to. Allegedly, his former police protection officer has been having an affair with this wife. My sympathies extend to the Johnsons as they sot out their troubled private lives.

Spent the morning on constituency business, before heading down to Portland for my surgery there. Understandably, there was concern about the threatened library closures and the future of the Coastguard service.

It was also noticeably colder today, and the constituents I met had hands like ice. The accompanying dampness in our climate exacerbates the cold and it really goes straight through you.

Andy Coulson's resignation certainly warmed up the Press, who drew all kinds of conclusions from it. I have to say, Mr Coulson's departure was only a matter of time, in my view. There was too much of a cloud hanging over him and, as I understand it, he could face further questioning in the future over the phone-tapping scandal.

It's been quite a week, but they do say a week is a long time in politics!

Thu, 20 Jan

After an early rise, I was in the office catching up on constituency matters. 

I then travelled down to Weymouth to meet up with Ian Jolliffe, the dynamic manager at Sunseeker's yard on Portland. 

As ever, he was most accommodating and I received a full and most helpful update on where the company is.

It really is very good news indeed that Sunseeker has moved to Portland, providing as it does more than 150 excellent jobs, many of them to local people. 

After chatting for about an hour, I drove down the road to the neighbouring sailing academy to catch up with John Tweed, another dynamic man, who is making such a success of this thriving centre of excellence.

Our talk ranged far and wide, ending on the Olympics which are just around the corner now. Very exciting and such an opportunity.

We then got the first whiff of the scandal surrounding Alan Johnson, the shadow chancellor. He's resigned and so far has not explained why.

I feel sorry for the man, who in the short time I've been in parliament have come to respect. He's a sound, genuine and likable man and I hope his reasons for stepping down are not too desperate.

Politics claims many victims, many of them innocent.

Wed, 19 Jan

 

Knowing the day was going to be a long one, I particularly enjoyed my morning run, especially as the weather had turned colder, which I personally like at this time of year.

I was minded to talk in the Opposition debate on the Education Maintenance Allowance, but in the end did not.

The trouble with state hand-outs, however well meaning they are, is that people become reliant on them.

There's no doiubt in my mind that the current system needs reforming and a better targeted approach is certainly a sensible way forward.

An interesting survey, ordered by Labour, showed that 90 per cent of those asked said they would still attend college even if there was no EMA.

PMQs was a lively affair, again with Ed Miliband failing to land any blows on the Prime Minister.

His choice of subject to attack on has been extraordinary. This week it was the turn of the NHS, which the government is keen to reform and has stated that investment in real terms will be retained.

In the afternoon, I sat in on part of the EMA debate.

Andy Burnham, shadow education secretary, spoke passionately, as he always does. But Michael Gove's assured reply was masterly.

No one likes taking money away from people, especially those who are not particularly well off in any case, but we have inherited such a mess that dishing out more and more taxpayers' money is a habit we must curtail for the greater good of the country.

Tue, 18 Jan

A long run and a good breakfast prepared me for the DEFRA select committee meeting at 1030. We had an interesting presentation in private from Thames Water, before taking oral evidence from Ofwat and the Environment Agency.

I heard that Nick Clegg did not perform well at Deputy Prime Minister's Questions, which  was followed by the remaining stages of the Fixed Term Parliaments' Bill.

I am abstaining on this Bill, as I think it's a mess and one which tinkers with the running of this place unnecessarily. We must respect this place and not attempt to change it for political convenience.

Managed to keep up with a mass of constituency correspondence.

Mon, 17 Jan

Back in the Commons and a lot on. After dealing with constituency matters, I followed the debate on the Localism Bill while working in my office.

I am broadly in support of this Bill, which will return the decision making to those best placed to make them - local people.

I'm particularly pleased to see the end of the dreaded Standards' Boards, which cut right through local democracy and stopped councillors from representing their constituents effectively.

Later in the afternoon, I attended a reception at 10 Downing Street, along with many other colleagues. No 10 ressembles the Tardis, in that it looks tiny on the outside, but is cavernous inside.

After a late night vote, fell into bed at midnight. 

Thu, 13 Jan

0630 .... scramble out of bed and into my running kit. An early start as our DEFRA select committee is grilling Commissioner Dacian Ciolos, Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development, down the phone at 0930.

A short time later, my taxi driver told me some lunatic had broken into a store in the Oxford Street area overnight and threatened to blow himself up. Traffic around the area was appalling.

The police over powered the man in the early hours, but the mopping up operation will take some time.

With the wonders of technology, our select committee tuned into Mr Ciolos on the dot of 10am.

He was a charming Romanian, with substantial agricultural experience himself, which was most reassuring.

For an hour we asked him about reforms to the CAP and he answered our questions in good English. He stumbled on the odd word, but an interpreter was on hand to help out.

Mr Ciolos spoke a lot of common sense and interestingly disagreed with our Secretary of State's view that subsidies are "immoral". Not a very wise comment, in my view.

There's no doubt that farms right across Europe would be in deep trouble without financial help. And food being such a vital commodity, subsidies will have to be paid, much as farmers themselves don't like them.

The rest of the day I spent dealing with constituency matters, not least the threat to the county's lollipop ladies and men.

Dorset County Council is considering axing them to save c£200,000. I am instinctively uneasy about this.

Wed, 12 Jan

After a run and then tackling an expanding deskful of correspondence, I entered the Chamber for the first PMQs of the year.

It did not go well for Ed Miliband, who the PM crushed, yet again.

Then it was back to my desk to draft some press releases and continue to deal with constituency matters. 

At 5.30pm I attended the '22 Back Bench Committee which, as always, was very interesting. Today, we were given a rollercoaster of a ride around the world by William Hague, the foreign secretary.

The content of the meeting was confidential, suffice it to say it was all very interesting.

Tue, 11 Jan

The last time I went for my early morning run, the temperature was considerably different and colder. In fact, I recall it was snowing.

In the Commons, I was soon taking part in the first DEFRA select committee of the year. After a chat in private, we took evidence from the Country Landowners' Association and the National Farmers' Union on CAP reforms.

These reforms will come in after 2013 and could potentially be quite radical. It's certainly an interesting debate.

After a working lunch, I went to the Chamber to listen to the committee stage of the European Union Bill.

Bill Cash made a well informed speech on what he, I and others are worried about.

In simple terms, we feel the Bill is not strong enough to keep the courts out of our proceedings and therefore the sovereignty of Parliament is under threat and more power could slip away to Europe.

John Redwood made a brilliant speech, as always.  

The debate went on to 10pm, before Bill Cash's amendment was tabled. 39 MPs, including myself, voted for the amendment, but it was easily defeated by the government.

I don't like voting against our government, but I was elected to stand up for my constituents and this I will continue to do.

Mon, 10 Jan

The phrase 'back to school' seemed rather appropriate as Parliament reconvened. It did not take long for differences to emerge, not least concerns about a clause in the European Union Bill, which is to be debated tomorrow afternoon.

Like all members, the start of a new term is always busy. The afternoon was dominated by the second reading of the Armed Forces Bill.

Interestingly, this has to be reviewed every five years so that the country can have a standing army. Despite a three line whip to 10pm, there was no dissension at the end of the debate, so no division. We all went home. 

Fri, 7 Jan

Can I begin by wishing you all a very happy new year. There is no doubt it will be challenging for us all as the government tries to tackle the huge debt our country faces.

There is also a lot to look forward to, not least the sailing Games. And it was the Games which were high on the agenda at a meeting I attended this morning at county hall.

Chaired by the leader Cllr Angus Campbell, we discussed a number of issues that need further attention.

There's no doubt that a lot of effort is being made by a lot of people to ensure the Games are a success.

After the meeting, I attended a full surgery at Wool.

Then, it was back to the office to catch up on a mass of correspondence.