June 2012

Fri, 29 Jun

First stop was a couple in Weymouth who are battling the council over the erection of a large garage in the next door garden.

It's a hugely complicated case, not least because it's already been to the Ombudsman.

I won't bore you with more details, except to say I will do what I can to help, but it is now in the hands of lawyers.

Off then to the swimming pool off Knightsdale Road to meet a group of residents who are fighting to protect a wonderful athletics track next door.

They fear the council might be planning to build on it.

It has a covenant on the land and they are seeking legal help and advice, while I try and find out what plans the council has for the land.

The sailing gold medallist Sarah Hayton turned up kindly, offering her support, which we might well need.

I do hope this magnificent area of green is not destined for concrete!

The track, with a little maintenance, is to die for.

And with this being an Olympic year, it really would be ironic to build houses on one of the few green spaces left in the town.

We shall see. Watch this space.

Then back to the office to write a host of follow-up letters, which always need doing after a day out.

Thu, 28 Jun

 

Frantic day.

Hopped on to my motorbike and headed to Portland for 8.45am.

Was the guest of honour at Year 11's graduation ceremony at Royal Manor Arts College.

However, it was me who was honoured to have been asked to address the leavers.

We all assembled in the gym and the head Paul Green and head of year 11 Michelle Webb opened proceedings.

I gave a short address, after which each tutor gave a short speech about their particular students, which was touching.

A few tears from the teachers!

I met the superb Head Boy Jake Rowland and Head Girl Emily Bullin. What wonderful role models they made for their friends and for the school.

Then it was upstairs for some tea and a general bun fight!

The lovely Lisa Kelly, the librarian, organised us all superbly.

I chatted to children and parents and thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was a fun morning. 

Then, it was across to Lulworth Cove to meet the new house manager of Lulworth Mill House Hotel and his boss Brian Smith.

They work for HF Holidays, who have taken a 16 year lease of the hotel, which they hope to expand.

Very exciting and local jobs for local people. Just what we need.

I was impressed by both men and I recommend you visit the hotel now and try out the new menu.

I just had time to drop in and see Vivien King and chat about some fishing issues before heading to Dorset Police for their briefing day.

A most illuminating talk by the Chief Constable, followed by a fascinating insight into the work of the CID by Det Ch Supt Stanger. 

He spoke of two cases Dorset Police have been involved in and impressed us all with the professionalism and dogged determination which brought the criminals to justice.

The new Asst Ch Const Debbie Simpson then briefed us on the new Police and Crime Commissioners, which sound ghastly!

I had to leave shortly before the end, to get home, change, back on to the bike and then off to a fundraising drinks do.

A busy day!

Wed, 27 Jun

 

A good run in the morning.

Into the office and flat out until PMQs

Dropped in to meet a pilot who, along with others, had come to the Commons to express their concerns at EU plans to extend flying hours.

Our pilots feel that we have the tough standard and the EU should move to us. I agree.

Finished off my newspaper column, this week on the sensitive subject of education.

Signed a wad of letters to constituents and then attended a meeting about the Lords' reforms, which I oppose, as do many of us.

That number is increasing by the day, too.

Last vote at 7pm and then I headed to Dorset.

Tue, 26 Jun

 

An early morning run, a catch-up breakfast with my daughter, before heading to the House for a hectic day.

During the morning, I worked on the Swanage Hospital threat, began to draft my weekly column, signed more than 30 letters and talked to a colleague about House of Lords' reforms.

A sandwich lunch and then off to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to be briefed on my 'ambassadorial' tasks during the Olympics.

Jeremy Hunt gave a short introduction, which was followed by a good presentation by his team on what we were expected to do.

The traffic was so bad, I walked back to the House with a colleague, arriving back in time with a meeting with my new whip, a charming colleague called Stephen Crabb.

A chat with John Redwood followed, but the topic was no longer relevant after the Government announced during Treasury Questions that they would not be implementing the planned 3p tax rise on fuel. Hurray! Cheers all round.

I then went into the Chamber to listen to the very able Education Secretary Michael Gove, who was giving the Opposition a hard time!

I could only listen for a short time as we had a private meeting with Caroline Spelman, Defra secretary of state, fishing minister Richard Benyon and agriculture minister Jim Paice.

Time for a tea before entering the Chamber again to participate in the Opposition debate on defence.

I intervened on our minister, asking if service personnel being made redundant prematurely to avoid the government having to pay out their full pension, and if so would the government treat them kindly.

I was reassured that individuals were not being targeted and that redundancy payments were larger than usual to account for this.

I disagree vehemently with our defence cuts, so abstained from the vote at 10pm.

It is customary not to vote for an Opposition motion, not that I agreed with every word of it.

Mon, 25 Jun

Up with the lark, a quick breakfast and then off to Bovington First School to hoist a flag!

The superbly able headmistress Juliet Muir gave me a coffee and then led the way to school assembly.

Like little angels, the two hundred and so children sat obediently on the floor, listening to their new Deputy Headteacher.

The flag has been given in recognition of the school's efforts to be more green and environmentally friendly.

It's a national award and the school and children have every right to be very proud of their achievement.

After a brief chat to them all, we filed outside, posed for a picture for the local paper and gazette, and then I raised the huge flag to loud cheers.

While the children disappeared off into classrooms, I stopped with Juliet for 30 minutes to chat and catch up.

She is a remarkable head and the school and children are lucky to have her.

I then headed home and presented a commemorative and inscribed tankard to one of my farm staff, who is celebrating 35 years with us. Remarkable.

Into the car and up to London where a busy afternoon and evening took us all through to 10pm. 

Sun, 24 Jun

Thankfully, the rain held off as thousands of veterans, cadets, the women's land army, and others marched past the Lord Lieutenant at Weymouth's annual Service of Remembrance.

I always find these parades very poignant and today was no exception.

After the marching men, women and bands had filed past, it was the turn of the historic vehicles, including a Sherman tank.

Regrettably, one of the lady standard bearers has a heart attack and collapsed in the road, bringing proceedings to a temporary halt.

The air ambulance was called and it was not long before she was on her way to Dorset County Hospital.

Once the parade was over, we all went to the Pavilion to meet and chat with the veterans.

They were wonderful, as always.

I met two Normandy veterans who landed on Sword Beach on D Day. Quite remarkable.

They requested, and I shall do all I can to see that it happens, that they be allowed to lead the parade in 2014, their 70th anniversary and the country's last.

It's been agreed that due to the fact the veterans are dwindling the annual commemoration should end. Very sad.

I had a lovely chat to four members of the women's land army who were truly remarkable. 

I bought them all a drink and then moved upstairs to join the VIPs and officials.

What a great day and to meet the very men who risked all for our freedom is such an honour and very, very humbling.

Fri, 22 Jun

After a morning in the office and a sandwich lunch, I headed to Swanage on my motorbike.

I met the hospital's League of Friends, led by the charming and able Jan Turnbull.

We are all very concerned at new health plans for Purbeck, which will see the beloved cottage hospital in the town closed.

The League has two more options to push forward and we are going to do all we can to ensure NHS Dorset includes them in its consultation.

We are all baffled by the plans, which might see a new hospital built in Wareham.

Why and where's the money coming from to pay for that?

The 15 beds at Swanage are used all the time and needed because we have such a large proportion of elderly.

The League over the years has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds, a sign, if ever one was needed, of the high regard the residents of the town have for their hospital. 

BBC South are showing a piece tomorrow night, which will no doubt put the cat among the pigeons.

I, in the meantime, will do all I can to help the League and talk to NHS Dorset.

I am not convinced by the two proposals at all, and feel the League has a good case.

We shall see.

Thu, 21 Jun

 

With rain lashing down, I went to Budmouth College to welcome Prince Edward, who'd come to officially open the new 'hub' at the college.

This hub is a £21 million investment and is most impressive.

it's to be used mainly for teaching in and we were shown around in groups during the Prince's visit.

The Prince was very entertaining and he displayed his acting skills when unveiling the plaque.

He wound up the children to a frenzy of delight with some pantomime-style delivery as the curtain was drawn back. All good fun.

A brilliantly organised morning and the children were superb.

Stands displaying a raft of abilities from life saving to fashion were manned by grinning and enthusiastic students, who were clearly having the time of their lives.

The Principal, David Akers, hosted us all magnificently, as did my tour guide Amanda Fortescue, who was smashing.

A big hit and a fun morning. 

The mood then changed as I attended the funeral of dear Joan Miller, from West Lulworth.

A packed chapel at Lulworth Castle heard a wonderful eulogy about this remarkable lady, who was so well loved and respected.

Joe and Christine Miller and other family members showed great courage and dignity throughout.

These fishing families are so special and Joan's funeral reminded us all just how special they really are.

The Service was simple and poignant and afterwards the sun popped out for a few moments to allow us all to chat before the family headed home to West Lulworth.

Very sad.

Then back to the office to catch up, as always. 

Wed, 20 Jun

 

Sun still shining. Good run in the park.

Busy in the office until 1130 when my Godson dropped in to watch PMQs and have lunch.

William Hague stood in for Cameron, while Harman replaced Miliband.

Mr Hague did well.  

Attended Efra select committee in the afternoon.

Asking health minister questions on EU move to ban disinsinewed meat!

What, you ask?

This is meat that is taken off the carcass mechanically, in simple terms.

The Commission has suddenly announced this is illegal, which threatens to cost the industry in this country about £200 million. 

It's lunacy and another reason why the sooner this whole EU debacle ends the better!

Post select committee, finished my newspaper column and read through/signed a huge pile of correspondence.

Also spoke to local paper about redirecting campaign to save our helicopter.

There's a petition on the Government's website with only c550 signatories.

We need to attract 100,000 if possible to win a debate in the Chamber.

That's the target at least.

Worked through until 7pm. Two votes and then home to Dorset.

Tue, 19 Jun

 

The sun is shining at last!

Enjoyed an early morning run before a busy day.

Plenty to do in the office in the morning. Also put in for two adjournment debates.

The Navitas off shore wind farm is one and I've asked for that to be heard in the Chamber.

The second is the Portland SAR helicopter, and I've put in to speak in Westminster Hall.

Both these issues are important.

A short lunch break, sitting on the terrace enjoying a sandwich in the sun.

Back into the office briefly, before heading to the Chamber for Foreign Office questions.

I wanted to ask the Foreign Secretary what plans he has, or not, to send the British military into Syria.

Mr Hague has not discounted this option in earlier comments, so I was interested to flesh out this controversial issue.

I say controversial because I cannot see why we should ever get involved militarily in Syria, and, with all the cuts to our armed services, who on earth would we send?

Regrettably, I was not called, so placed a written question instead.

I was back in the Chamber an hour later for the debate on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Home Secretary is trying to better guide our judges to make more common sense decisions when it comes to deporting foreign criminals.

Too often they hide behind their right for a family or private life; this when they have committed appalling crimes, like rape, robbery or even terrorism.

We do need to act on this and I support the Home Secretary.

She was good enough to let me ask a question.

The debate went on for four hours. 

Mon, 18 Jun

A long day.

Up at 6.30am, a mouthful of toast and into the office to get as much done as possible before heading over to Dorchester to keep a long standing commitment.

I had been asked by the Dorchester Rotary Club to address their lunch, which I was more than happy to do.

What a delightful bunch they were.

With time pressing - I had to get to London for any votes in the afternoon - lunch was quickly consumed and I was on my feet chatting about my time in the army and as a journalist.

Then, it was back on to the motorcycle and home, a quick change and off to London.

The London desk was its normal brimming self!

Launched into dealing with the Swanage Hospital proposal, the SAR helicopter at Portland, swotted up on the debate tomorrow on Article 8 European Convention on Human Rights, started to plan newspaper column, and went through some parliamentary procedures to see whether my application for an adjournment debate on the massive, off shore wind farm near Swanage had been successful.

I also spoke to the delightful Belinda Craig, the mum of the missing fisherman, who is clearly struggling to come to terms with the tragedy.

I also called Colin and Grace McFarlanne, the parents of the skipper, Dave, to see if there was anything else I could do for them.

Both families are determined to help me and others save our Portland SAR helicopter. This is excellent.

Worked through until 10pm, when we voted twice. 

Fri, 15 Jun

My wife's birthday, so after a 7am rise and a morning in the office, we headed off to celebrate.

In the papers, the EU horror story contines to unfold and Osborne has now pumped multi millions of pounds into our economy in a bid to encourage and allow banks to lend to businesses.

I fear this is too little too late.

Without changing the environment businesses operate in this country - lower taxes, cutting EU red tape and bureaucracy - flushing money into the system will not work.

And, as Mrs Thatcher used to say, recalling her days when her parents ran a store, you should not spend more than you earn.

A country is no different and borrowing more is not the answer in the long term.

Thu, 14 Jun

Dropped to a one-line whip, I drove back to Dorset in the morning.

No sooner had I returned than my caseworker reported an elderly lady needed my help to take on the owner of a mobile home site near Wool.

Mrs Young has lived on this site for 12 years but fears the owner is trying to move her on so he can place bigger and more valuable homes on the site.

The owner has erected unsightly metal fencing around two sides of Mrs Young's home and boarded up a small opening in a yew hedge at the back.

The result is that Mr and Mrs Young feel hemmed in and harassed.

I was of course more than happy to help and have written to the site owner and the local authority.

I met another home owner, the charming Mrs Hurt, who also feels the site owner has waged an unnecessary campaign against her.

There are, of course, always two sides of a story and I shall be interested to hear back from the site owner, if indeed he does respond.

He does not speak to the Youngs, for example. 

A former journalist of some 17 years, I have come across this sort of thing before, sadly.

Returned to the office and worked through to the evening.

Wed, 13 Jun

What an interesting day.

I had a hour or two in the office before heading to Poole station to meet health minister Simon Burns.

Once I'd grabbed him and his assistant Jessica, we headed to Upton House to meet Dorset health executives, GPs, consultants, dentists et al.

This was a forum that I'd suggested and NHS Dorset organised to help clarify in everyone's mind just where the government was going with its bill.

The Minister was quite excellent and we all learned an awful lot.

Speeches went of for about an hour before the floor was open to questions which were still coming thick and fast when we had to leave to catch the 12.40 from Poole.

The reason: to vote against an Opposition motion to put Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt before a parliamentary scrutiny committee in regard to his handling of the BSkyB bid.

The government won by 38 votes, with the Lib Dems abstaining!

One of our MPs had to leave his hospital bed, while another returned from his honeymoon. Can't believe the blushing bride was too happy!

After the vote at 4.15pm, I went cap in hand to the police minister Nick Herbert.

Dorset Police funding has been critically low for years and the force is really finding it hard to cope with further cuts of 20 per cent.

I went to plead their case, as I have done for months now.

Mr Herbert listened, but was told there is no more money!

I returned to the office to finish off my column in the Dorset Echo and signed more than 40 letters.

There was no vote at 7pm and we all headed home. 

Tue, 12 Jun

 

An early morning run began the day.

Into the office in pouring rain, a munch on a croissant and a slurp of coffee while flicking through the papers quickly.

Checked my diary with my team and then attended my Efra select committee where we questioned the affable Agriculture Minister Jim Paice on 'disinsinewed meat'.

Then down to the vote office to table some written and oral questions and apply for an adjournment debate in the Chamber on the proposed wind farm off Swanage.

At 1pm, I went to support my colleague Jesse Norman apply to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate on the report into the proposed changes to the House of Lords.

We feel this huge constitutional change should be debated in the Chamber before the Reform Bill is presented to us.

A quick sandwich lunch and then back to work on constituency matters, my newspaper column and tomorrow's meeting with NHS officials, doctors and consultants from across Dorset who are due to listen to Health Minister Simon Burns.

This was my brainchild and I hope it is a useful opportunity for all of us to question the Minister and for NHS medicos and suits to put their concerns to him.

Because of this commitment, I was allowed to head to Dorset at 7pm, when many of my other colleagues had a long night ahead of them.

Mon, 11 Jun

Where's our summer gone?

After a morning in the office, I headed to the Sailing Academy to meet with the Transport Secretary Justine Greening.

She had come down for an on-site briefing on the transport plans and issues prior to the Olympics.

At 1.30pm Ms Greening arrived at the Sailing Academy and was given a short presentation on preparations so far.

The CEO, John Tweed, then took her on a guided tour, before she returned to meet the press.

Following several interviews, she kindly obliged to meet me and Cllr Mike Goodman to discuss further her plans to cut the Portland SAR helicopter.

Cllr Goodman, having read the report Ms Greening based her decision on, had countered with some excellent points on why the report was seriously flawed.

To be fair, Ms Greening listened, before going across to the MCA co-ordination centre to meet and talk with Mark Rodaway.

Mark was going to speak his mind as he, like everyone else, believes the helicopter must remain.

It was late by the time Ms Greening had left and I lept into my car and headed to London to vote that night.

My desk was piled high with correspondence, issues, invitations, magazines and more besides!

I worked through steadily until the vote at 10pm. 

Fri, 8 Jun

Had only been away for two days, but the full in-tray made it feel like weeks.

Quite a few issues bubbling in the pot.

The vexing question on the future of Swanage Hospital is causing concern. NHS Dorset wants to close it, with one proposal to build a new one in Wareham. Who on earth is paying for that, I ask?

Justine Greening, the transport secretary, is visiting the Sailing Academy on Monday. I shall continue to fight for the retention of our SAR helicopter. Spoke to the local paper.

Have been invited to start a new column for the relaunched Swanage Advertiser. Quickly sat down and penned my first one on my visit to Hungary in the case of Michael Turner, who's from Corfe Castle.

Had a multitude of letters to write and spent the day ploughing through them all.

Back to the Commons on Monday after Ms Greening's visit. Had to move a talk to the Dorchester Rotary Club to next Monday.

News on the euro crisis continues to be bad. Politicians are not facing up to the fact this whole experiment is over.

Out for a run last thing. Needed after being couped up in my office for hours.

Thu, 7 Jun

I could not sleep and woke early at about 5.30am.

I gave press interviews to local radio, although Five Live pulled out, sadly, due to other news' stories. Fair enough.

After a good breakfast, I headed to the court just down the road to meet up with Mark and Michael Turner and Jason McGoldrick at 8am.

Bumped into the BBC's highly respected stringer for Hungary, Nick Thorpe.

He was pulling together a report for both radio and BBC South Today, where I used to work.

We'd soon all gathered and entered a very formidable building, shuffled through airport-style security and found ourselves in a sparsely decorated corridor outside our allocated court room.

Dr Pakay, Michael's lawyer, turned up and we pretty well immediately called to court.

The room was relatively small, with extremely uncomfortable wooden benches.

A very young-looking judge sat at one end, with the prosecuting and defence lawyers in front and either side of him.

Michael was called first and he was questioned for hours, mainly by the judge, who was sitting alone. No jury for this trial.

Just before lunch, the judge asked me to give my character witness statement, which I duly did.

His reply heartened us all.

The judge said the case was complicated and full of doubt.

He would not convict, he added, if that doubt remained. He also told me to report back to everyone in the UK that the trial was being run professionally and competently. It certainly looked that way, to be fair.

I say, to be fair, because the Hungarian's treatment of Michael to date has been nothing short of a scandal.  

We then had a brief lunch in a nearby cafe, before returning to court to listen to Mark, Michael's father, giving evidence.

Mark explained how the business ran and it was at this point that I had to leave to catch my plane home.

My presence was appreciated by Michael and the judge, so aim achieved.

The case is due to end on 19 June.

I so hope that both men are found not guilty so they can get on with their lives and put this horrific experience behind them.

I flew home in reflective mood.

Like so many things, you don't realise how lucky we are here in the UK until you witness how things are done in other countries.

I got home at midnight and fell into bed.

Wed, 6 Jun

D Day ... never to be forgotten.

Up with the larks and interviewed by Meridian television first up before I flew to Hungary.

I worked in the office until 11am and then headed to Heathrow.

The flight to Budapest was on time, thankfully.

Arrived to find that Bruce Willis was in town to promote the premier of his latest Die Hard movies.

Taxi took a little longer to reach my hotel as a consequence.

A quick shower and then out to meet Michael and Mark Turner.

Tomorrow was the first day of his trial. It has taken years, four months in a former KGB jail and many thousands of pounds to reach this point.

Michael and his partner Jason McGoldrick set up a time-share marketing business which collapse in 2004, leaving debts of about £18,000.

The Hungarian authorities pursued them via a European Arrest Warrant, accusing the two men of fraud, which they have consistently denied. 

Michael and Jason looked exhausted on the eve of their trial and I was not surprised.

We had a good dinner, though, sitting outside, enjoying the cool evening breeze.

To bed to be in a fit state for day one of the trial tomorrow.

Tue, 5 Jun

 

Attended a wonderful street party in Weymouth, organised by the Waterside Weymouth Community Forum.

Due to pouring rain, the party was switched into the community centre itself, which was a wise precaution.

What fun it was, with dancing, singing and presentations of one kind or another to the children.

The mood summed up the whole way the country has reacted to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

She really is a remarkable lady and everyone agreed that we were lucky to have a monarchy.

The Mayor of Weymouth popped in with her husband and was lovely as always.

I stayed for some hours, chatting to one and all and soaking up the atmosphere.

I drove home in pouring rain, but it had not dampened Weymouth spirits!

Sat, 2 Jun

Jubilee celebrations well under way.

The country criss-crossed with red, white and blue.

So fitting that our wonderful Queen is receiving this level of homage after all she has done for this nation.

As I said in a blog yesterday, how sad it is she cannot have a naval review, as there's hardly a navy left to review!

This is down to the short-sightedness of politicians of all colours (see my recent Dorset Echo column).

We will rue the day we cannot even defend our own island waters, if push ever came to shove.

I had a most enjoyable afternoon at the Pavilion in Weymouth.

I'd been invited to attend a Jubilee Gala Performance, put on by youngsters from Weymouth, Portland, Dorchester and Bridport.

More than 100 talented youngsters, aged between three and 16, danced their hearts out for more than three hours.

The emphasis was on ballet, although some acts included tap dancing and straight acting.

The evening was down to the hard work of Caron Yardley, who choreographed and directed the evening.

I so enjoy watching young people perform because you can see just how much they enjoy it and what a huge boost to their self esteem it gives.

Afterwards, I went backstage and congratulated the performers and helpers.

They all looked exhausted, but were back on stage in two hours for the evening performance.

The rain clouds had gathered as I hopped on to my motorbike and headed home in a blustery wind.

Fri, 1 Jun

A very special day and the beginning of a four day celebration across the country to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

At home, I had organised a street-party style lunch for our team.

We had a wonderful time and the rain held off.

I marked two retirements after 43 years and made a small presentation to four other members of staff who had served between 35 and 40 years each.

It is a remarkable record and these are remarkable men.

I noted with sadness that it's due to rain on the Queen's great day.

We of course drank her health.